Faking It

So, the other day I was complaining to a friend about my statistics class.  The class hadn’t even started yet now that I think about it, but I’d read the syllabus and the individual modules and learning objectives and I was…. overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed before I’d even started.  (This is my second go-around with Statistics, by the by.  I’d taken it a hundred years ago in my first foray at college, and I ended up taking it pass/fail so it wouldn’t bring down my GPA.)

Anyway.

I complained to my friend, and she said:  “You can do it!”

Me:  “I’m not so sure.”

Friend:  “Fake it till you make it?”

Me:  ::Sigh::  “Sometimes it feels like that’s my whole life.”

Just last week, a mom I’d recently met through Tegan’s play was chatting with me while we washed our hands at the bathroom sink.  “You have four kids?  How do you do it?  You’re so calm!”

I don’t even remember what I said in response, but what I did not say was the truth:  That whatever calmness she saw was through the aid of pharmaceuticals and faking, in equal measure.

Like many depressed people I know, I’ve gotten really good at “smiling depression.”  Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside.  Putting on a (if I do say so myself), reasonable or even impressive display of happy.  Of friendly.  Of normal.  I smiled a lot last week.  I also went to sleep crying at least two or three nights, and woke up crying just as many.

I write so much about gentle parenting.  I dismantle all the common mainstream ways of doing things, and I wax poetic about how we can do things better.  I don’t write about the fact that as of late my patience and emotional reserve have been so shot that it is taking all of my energy not to snap at my kids just for … talking, or for making any sort of noise, or for being in my space.  I don’t write about the fact that I’m currently so completely flummoxed about an issue I’m having with one of my children that I’m immobilized.  That I haven’t the slightest CLUE how to handle it.

I’m good at faking.

Some days are hard.

Some days are really, really hard.

I am, as I write, and as I stand before you, the proverbial man behind the curtain.  Pay no attention to him.  Listen to my booming, confident voice!  Listen to my authority!  Listen to my wisdom!

And know, that sometimes, I am faking it.  That I am broken.  That I am scared.  That I, like so many of the rest of us, struggle with not knowing what the hell I’m doing on any given day of the week.  That sometimes, I feel like an impostor in my own life.

I’m good at faking.

My one consolation is in knowing that all of us, at one time or another, at least a little, have faked it.  Faked the happy, the confidence, the friendliness, the conversation.  Faked the fact that we were completely capable of interacting like a normal person when we really just wanted to be home, in bed, with the covers pulled over our head.  Just like my friend suggested, we fake it until we make it.

Today I have things to do.  I have people to see.  I have to put on pants.  I have to have conversations.  I have to be okay. I have to smile and make the right faces and say the right things. And I’ll do it!

And I’ll be faking it.

Because between you and me, right now, in this moment?  I’m tired.  Deep, deep in my bones exhausted.  Mentally, physically, emotionally spent.  At the present time, I am not okay.

But you know what?  Sometimes being not okay is okay too. Sometimes the answer lies not in faking it, but in raw, brutal honesty.  Right now, I’m not okay.

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Filed under about me, anxiety, bipolar, depression, life

What Do Your Kids Own?

With one of his all-time favorite possessions. Photo credit: Angela Morgan

We are currently in the middle of getting our house ready to sell.  Which means a lot of different things, but mostly means a whole heck of a lot of sorting, culling, packing, and organizing 12 years worth of accumulated… stuff.  And if you’ve ever sold a house, or moved in general, you know that this is hard work.  Not just hard, but exhausting.  Physically, mentally, deep-in-your-bones exhausting.  There is a reason that moving is so often cited as one of the top most stressful life events.

But I digress.

So we’re packing and sorting and throwing out bags upon bags upon bags full of trash. The kids have all helped out with assorted general projects around the house. but they’ve mostly been tasked with dealing with their own rooms:  decluttering, tidying up, getting rid of what they no longer want or need, and packing anything that they don’t need at the moment but still want to keep and move to the new house. Their father and I offer opinions or help when it’s asked for or relevant… but far and away, the decisions are ultimately theirs.  Because, well, because it’s their stuff.  Everything in their rooms, from clothes, to games, to books, to phones, to electronics belongs to them.  And that holds true whether it was purchased by us, gifted by someone else, or bought with their own money.

There’s a very strange dichotomy that exists amidst the conventional parenting world that goes something like this:

“My kids don’t own anything.  *I pay for the house, *I pay the bills, *I buy their things.  Therefore, it all belongs to me.”  (Which, by the same token, would also mean that myself and all my fellow stay-at-home moms also technically own nothing.)

AND, at the same time:

“This house belongs to them too.  They need to help keep it clean.  They need to show pride of ownership.  They have to take better care of their things.”

So… which one is it?  (Hold that thought. I’ll get back to that)

There is a ubiquitous need by most of society to view children as lesser humans.  If they’re treated like people at all, they’re treated as people with less rights, less of a voice, less importance.  They’re treated like they are ours to own, and ours to control.  This is evident in a myriad of ways, but for the sake of the conversation at hand:  It always makes me shake my head a little (or a lot) when I see parents posting about the contracts that they make their teens sign when they “give” them cell phones (give, by the way, is in quotes because it’s not really giving if it’s so damn conditional.  At best, it’s a loan, with a whole hell of a lot of strings attached). Our interactions with our kids should not be transactions, but beyond that…. how is a kid to learn how 1) take pride of ownership and 2) make responsible decisions with a phone that is not even theirs?  How do you learn to trust them if you do not give them the space to show you that they can be trusted?  Not because of a fear that you’re going to punish them and take their phone away if you don’t… but because of a genuine, intrinsic desire to act from a place of their own personal sense of right and wrong.  How do they learn about privacy, about healthy boundaries, and about autonomy if they’re literally not given the opportunity to do so?  Not to mention the fact that demanding passwords, reading texts, and checking history is a pretty surefire way to ensure that your kids learn to get really good at hiding things, and really unlikely to share when or if they do run into trouble.

DISCLAIMER (If you’re just skimming, please stop and read this)

A few complaints that I get a lot, particularly when it comes to things like cell phones:

Kids need guidance!  Yes.  Absolutely.  They do.  Which is why I’ve never said, in this or any other post, that they do not.  Further, different ages need different amounts of guidance.  As kids get older, they are going to need less and less interference.  JUST AS MUCH COMMUNICATION, but less interference.  There are age appropriate ways to help ANY aged child navigate the line of responsible ownership while still giving them the guidance they need.

But the internet is DANGEROUS!  Well, sure.  The internet can be dangerous.  So can the public school yard.  So can the work place.  So can a night club.  All the more reason to work WITH your children when it comes to things like technology.  Not against them.

Kids have to prove they’re responsible before they can own anything!  Tegan, who’s ten, really wanted a hedgehog.  She talked about it for a year, she researched, and she followed a whole bunch of YouTube channels and Instagram accounts to learn about their personalities, their quirks, and their care.   She saved up her money.  I helped her find a reputable breeder. Last year, around her birthday, we bought her the hedgehog (a baby girl she named Oreo), and she bought the habitat and supplies.   Because I’m just as much as an advocate for animals as I am for kids, I don’t believe that any pet should be brought into the house, no matter whose it is, unless there is an adult who is willing to be the Backup Person… the one who will take responsibility for the pet (which, make no mistake, is a new member of the family).  should there ever be a need.  I appointed myself as Oreo’s Backup Person, but she is Tegan’s.  Tegan feeds her.  She changes her cage.  She gets her out to play.  She gives her baths.  Does she need reminders on some of the above occasionally?  Yes.  Does that mean that she’s not responsible enough to own a pet? No!  It means she is young, still learning, and sometimes needs a partner to help.

The way kids learn – the way any of us learn – is by DOING.  And the only way they can learn to be responsible owners is for them to, well. own things.  It’s our job as parents to model appropriate behavior, to partner with them, to keep open lines of communication… and to help them when they’ve made a mistake.  Not punish them.  And that is true whether we are talking about a cell phone, a hedgehog or anything in between.

When kids are acting up in some way, there seems to be a common knee-jerk reaction to take things away from them.  And after all, that’s your right, because you bought them, right?   Well, there are a few problems with that strategy.  1)  It’s not particularly nice.  I don’t take my husband’s things when he behaves in a way that I don’t like.  2)  It doesn’t address the problem at hand.  Sure, it’s easy, but what does it ultimately accomplish?  Not a whole lot besides making your child (rightfully) resentful.  If you find out what the actual issue behind the behavior, you can deal with it directly, rather than applying the quick and arbitrary band-aid of taking things away.  3) It sends an incredibly mixed message, especially if you fall into the trap I mentioned above.  If I were a child, I would be incredibly frustrated, or even straight-up pissed off, if I was told through words and/or actions that I can’t possibly own anything, AND that I somehow also own a little bit of everything?

Adults need help with taking care of their things all the time.  Why should kids be any different?

As so often happens, I just (literally, just a few minutes ago) had a real-life example of the responsibility of ownership.  I recently bought these noise cancelling headphones, which – it needs to be said – are one of the greatest inventions ever.  They have a switch on them that does something to cancel the noise even more, and I always turn it on…. but then have the hardest time remembering to turn it off.  As a result, I’m burning through batteries like crazy.  I just had to put in another new battery, which I’ve had to do far more than I care to admit in the past few weeks.  Is the solution to take them away from me?  Well, no.  The solution is to realize that I’m a human who is thinking about 57 things at once, sometimes forgets things, and needs a reminder of some sort.  So today, I’m trying this:

If that doesn’t work?  I still won’t make myself get rid of them.  I’ll brainstorm, I’ll try something else, I’ll figure it out….. the same way I’d brainstorm, and try something else, and figure it out with my child should a need ever arise.

So.  To get back to the original question:  Which is it?  Do they own nothing, or do they own everything?  Well, because those are two black and white extremes, and life is shades of grey, I actually believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  They are members of the family, and as such we all work together when it comes to keeping up with the house.  They do – like all the rest of us – need to learn pride of ownership, and are encouraged to take care of their things.  But their things are just that:  THEIRS.  And the younger they are, or the more assistance they need, the more involved we are when it comes to care and responsibility.  But we do this by helping, guiding, watching, talking, listening, modeling….

Not by taking away the very thing that they need help learning to manage.

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Katy Perry, We Need To Talk About Consent

ABC/Mark Levine

My daughter is 10 at the time of this writing.  Like me, she is a lover of all things pop culture.  She loves music, she lives for her TV shows, and she is always on top of the latest Next Big Thing.  Along with this comes a lot of admiration for her favorite stars, whether they be from TV, movies, music, or YouTube.  Now, I can’t – and don’t – tell her who she can and cannot look up to.  That’s her choice.  But you can rest assured that I do keep up a continual dialogue about what makes a good role model, what integrity means, and what we can learn from the people in the public eye (for both good and bad.)

Right now, her very favorite is P!nk.  I adore P!nk.  She’s awesome.  She’s all about empowerment.  She’s strong, she stands up for what she believes in, and she’s by all accounts a devoted mother.  She’s also all about being yourself, and not what society says you need to be.  And you guys?  We just saw her in concert a few weeks ago (AMAZING concert, by the way).  She’s almost 40, and she still straps herself to a harness, and flies and does acrobatics – while singing, no less! – way over a crowd of 10’s of thousands of people.  She is a BADASS.

And now here’s Katy Perry.  Up until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t have a particularly strong opinion about Katy Perry either way.  I have to admit some of her songs are catchy.  And I saw a documentary about her once – I am a total sucker for behind-the-scenes, musician documentaries – and it stirred up some compassion, for sure.  There was one scene where she was in tears, total panic attack mode, right before she had to go onstage and make this grand entrance.  Her marriage was ending, she was emotionally spent, and she didn’t know if she’d be able to do the show.  But she gathered herself, put on a smile, and went out to give a killer performance.  No one knew what had just been taking place backstage, until/unless they saw it on the documentary months later.  It made me gain new respect.

But Katy.

You did something really, really wrong.

In case you missed it, she is a new judge for American Idol.  There was a young man (still a teenager at the time of the audition) who said he’d never had a girlfriend, and therefore had never kissed a girl.  Katy called him up to the judge’s table, inviting him to kiss her on the cheek.  He was embarrassed, clearly, but did he want to kiss her cheek?  I don’t know.  But he obliged, kissed her on the cheek, and she immediately complained, “No, you didn’t even make the smoosh sound!” And then she held out her cheek a second time.  This time, when he went in to kiss her (again, on the cheek), she turned her head at the last second, kissing him on the mouth.  He was so shocked he literally fell over.  Katy threw her arms up in victory like she’d just scored a goal in soccer, the other two judges laughed and whooped it up, and the poor kid was so shaken that he had to ask for a glass of water before he could even perform his audition.  His performance, by the way, was greatly influenced by the whole thing, and his nerves got the better of him.  The judges found this funny; one of them commenting, “He’s still trying to recover from that kiss!”

Shame on Katy Perry.

Shame on the other judges for laughing and encouraging.

Shame on ABC for using this footage as advertisement, again and again and again.

Because let’s be clear on a couple of things here:

1) If the situation had been reversed, and it had been one of the male judges kissing a young female contestant… we all would have seen in for what it was:  sexual harassment.  He likely would not have had a job the next day.

2) She abused her power and her celebrity to take advantage of someone in a sexual way, which is never okay.

3) Despite those who argue “chill, it was just a kiss!”, kisses are intimate.  Yes, there are different kinds of kisses, that connote different things:  The kiss between a parent and child; the kiss between friends and relatives; the kiss between lovers.  But no matter the kiss in question, it is intimate.  It is personal.  It requires and demands consent from both parties.  Katy Perry kissed someone on the lips (someone who, it should be noted, was barely a legal adult) without his consent.  That is the very definition of sexual harassment – at a minimum.  Some would say sexual assault.   And it was applauded!

I don’t care that it was “all in good fun.”  I don’t care that it was Katy Perry.  Does she just assume that anyone should be happy to receive a kiss from her??  I don’t want a kiss from Katy Perry.  And this young man didn’t want one either.  Which should bother us.  A LOT.  And it’s backwards and disturbing that we need to reverse the roles in order to understand the severity and the ramifications of what she did.  If it had been a male judge?  We would have been horrified.  We would have had an immediate, visceral, angry reaction.

It’s intensely disturbing that I need to say this, but consent matters, no matter your gender.

What Katy Perry did was wrong.  The fact that people are laughing about it, applauding it, thinking that this young man should consider himself lucky: that’s wrong too.  Full stop.

I find it sad and ironic that in today’s current climate, when we are finally calling out all the men for their actions, that we’re not doing the same for women.

Consent goes in both directions.

Every time, in every situation.

If there is ever to be any change, we at the very least need to have some consistency.  It really does nothing for our cause if we (rightly) chastise men for their crimes, but somehow excuse women… because, what?  Because they’re Katy Perry?  Because this boy should be counting his lucky stars that this famous pop star gave him his first kiss on the lips?  It doesn’t work that way.  We need to be standing up, again and again, and saying “no more” to sexual harassment, no matter the gender of the person doing the harassing.

 

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Therapy Ends. Chapter Two Begins.

 

The beauty is I’m learning how to face my beast
Starting now to find some peace
Set myself free

Today, I don’t have to fall apart
I don’t have to be afraid
I don’t have to let the damage consume me,
My shadow see through me

Fear in itself
Will reel you in
And spit you out over and over again
Believe in yourself and you will walk

Fear in itself
Will use you up and break you down
like you were never enough

I used to fall but now I get back up

~Fear, Blue October

On May 23rd, 2016, I walked into therapy for the first time.  I’d seen a doctor, been diagnosed, and started meds  just a few weeks before that, but it’s that first day of therapy that I really remember.  Partly because I’d spent the better part of my adult life actively hating the very idea of therapy (I thought therapy was WEIRD.  I still think therapy’s weird.  My mind reels at the fact that there’s this human just walking around out there knowing my deepest darkest secrets, the ugliest parts of my psyche, my biggest fears, and my greatest aspirations.  All the big things, and all the little things, and everything in between.)  But even more than that was just the fact that, well, I was terrified.  Like, more terrified than I’d ever been of anything.  Ever.  The end.

I wore my “Coffee is My Spirit Animal” t-shirt that day, because it was a favorite, and it made me less nervous.  I also had on pretty much every beaded bracelet I owned, for the same reason.  They gave me as much confidence and courage as possible on a day when I was having trouble mustering either one.  My fingernails were painted a very dark brown, a new favorite color (aptly) called Espresso.

I was scared.  So, so scared.

And now, I’m remembering.  Remembering it all with a detail and acuity that is making it hard to breathe.  You know how people say their life flashes before their eyes right before they die?  Well, it’s kind of like that, but … the opposite.  I’m not about to die.  I’m about to live.

Therapy obviously wasn’t my whole life, but it was a very big part of it, at least for the past 21 months.

And I hated it.  I did.  I hated therapy.  And I don’t feel bad saying that, because I never exactly made it a secret (to anyone, but least of all to my therapist).  Therapy was hard.  It hurt.  It brought me to my knees.  I spent more time being mad at my therapist than I think I’ve ever been at anyone that I wasn’t related to in my entire life.  Usually just because he was right, and said what I needed to hear but didn’t want to hear… but very occasionally for reasons that I felt were justified.  I got my feelings hurt.  I got my toes stepped on.  I constantly feared I was doing it “wrong”… that I’d say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing, and that I’d screw up this professional relationship just as adeptly as I’d screwed up my personal relationships.  I wanted to quit so badly.  I wanted to quit all the time.  I fantasized about just not showing up one day, and sometimes accompanied said fantasy with a scathing letter just for good measure.  Some weeks, making myself drive to therapy took every single ounce of willpower in my body.  And some weeks?  Some weeks I had no willpower left.  I had nothing left.

Because it had broken me.  Make no mistake: therapy broke me.

But.

It also put me back together.  It healed me.  It made me stronger.  It taught me things (about myself, about the people around me, about life) that no self-help book in the world ever could.   And it was cyclical, in that it made me filled with gratitude – SO VERY MUCH GRATITUDE – and then frustration, and then stubbornness, and then anger, and then gratitude some more.

Last summer was my first try at leaving, but it didn’t take.  The timing was …. off,  I was spiraling into a deep depression even as we were trying to pick an end date, and my whole life just crashed and burned in what very nearly culminated in a hospital stay.

And I’m glad it happened.

I am.  I’m glad for it, and I’m glad for the hard, and for the very very hard, sessions that followed.  I just had more things to learn.  And I needed that time, and I needed those lessons.  It was all part of my story.

Because the thing is, I’m not afraid of the darkness anymore. Therapy taught me not to be afraid anymore (Full disclosure:  Certain things do still touch on that fear.  When a celebrity dies by suicide?  It breaks that most tender part of my heart like none other.) But I’m stronger now.  I have tools now.  I know – like really, truly, deeply in my soul know – that even when the darkness comes, that I’ll eventually see the light again.  That I can keep putting one foot in front of the other.  That I can keep breathing.  That I can keep myself grounded in the moment.  That I can ignore and question and re-frame all the negative thoughts in my head.  That I am NOT those thoughts…. no matter how much my brain or the world or the other people in my life try to make me believe otherwise.  That those are just old stories, and that I can choose not to listen to them.  I can choose not to give them power.

I’m okay now.  But you know what? I’m better than okay.  Because for the first time in my life, in my whole life, I accept me.  I like me, warts and bruised broken bits and all.  And really, those warts and bruised broken bits?  They’re beautiful, because they’ve made me “me”.  They’ve brought me here.  They’ve made me strong.

I believe I can do the thing now.  And it doesn’t even matter what the “thing” is.  I believe I can do it.

I believe in me.

I believe I’m enough.

I’ve learned about the importance of self-compassion in these past 21 months.  And of the importance of self-forgiveness (sweet baby Jesus, that’s a big one for me.)  I’ve learned what awareness looks like, and what a huge step that is in and of itself.  I’ve learned to take responsibility for me, and for MY issues, and leave everyone else to deal with their own.  I’ve learned to say, “no”, and I’ve learned to stop trying to please everyone else. I’ve learned to respond with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love (or C.O.A.L., just one of many such tidy little acronyms that I used to decry as cheesy, but now turn to again and again.)  I’ve learned practical steps for panic attacks, for those negative voices that just. won’t. shut. up., and for taking care of myself even when I really really really don’t want to.  I’ve learned to question the validity of what my brain is trying to tell me at any given time, I’ve learned to stop taking everything so seriously, and I’ve learned that no matter how many times my brain fights me on this:  IT IS NOT ALWAYS MY FAULT.

Therapy didn’t cure me, this much is true.  There’s no cure for bipolar.  But there’s also no cure for… life.  It’s going to have its hard moments, and it’s going to have its REALLY hard moments.  It’s going to have its “No.  Screw you.  I’m not getting out of my bed/putting on my pants/stopping feeling sorry for myself”  moments. But my God, it’s also going to have its beautiful moments! Its exquisitely perfect-in-all-their-imperfectly-gloriousness moments.  I think of those moments sometimes.  Of those perfectly beautiful moments of the past two years that I quite literally could have missed had I not kept going to therapy.  I’m still here.  I’m still here on the planet.  Which is a multifaceted accomplishment to be sure, but therapy played such a big role in that puzzle.  A role so big, that fills me with a gratitude so great that I almost don’t know what to do with it.  What are the words?  There can’t possibly be the right words, can there?

My life tends to be one big example of irony, so now, right at the moment of the end of therapy, I’m finding myself in a bit of a downward rather than upward swing.  But unlike last summer, I’m not afraid of it.  I’m not.  I know that I’m strong. I know that I will see the light again.  And if I have to come back to that sentence a million times to remind me, I will.  I’ll see the light again.

I’m excited for it.

I’m hopeful.

I’m optimistic (which, by the way, is a word that was not in my vocabulary for.. oh, 44 years)

I owe that, and so very much more, to therapy.  And while I’ve consciously used the general term “therapy” rather than the more personal, and more accurate, “my therapist”, I can’t close this out without correcting that.  I mainly kept things generic because I didn’t feel like crying just yet, and there was zero chance at all that I could write this without crying.

Tony.  My therapist’s name is Tony.  He taught me more than anyone’s ever taught me.  And he taught me the most important things, because, I mean…. what’s more important than LIFE?  I was a slow study sometimes too, and a stubborn one, and a… well, did you get the part about how angry I was all the time?  It must be noted though, that despite all the hard work, and the frustration, and the yuck factor, that there were days I actually enjoyed.  A lot of them in fact.  It feels important that I note that, lest you get the idea that it was 21 months of utter misery.  It wasn’t.  There were days we laughed, often at ourselves.  Days we bonded over silly things like Seinfeld.  Days I was allowed to see little bits of Human Tony instead of just Therapist Tony (those were some of my favorites).  Days we celebrated one of my small victories.  Days we celebrated my really big victories.  Days that I truly felt and knew and believed that he believed in me, that he believed I could do it, and that he believed that I could do it well.  Not because it was his job, and not because I was paying him to be there, but because human to human, he just DID.  I told him not too long ago that I wished that privacy laws didn’t preclude him from having a wall of success stories… because I really wanna see my face up there.  I want him to be able to tell people (again, in a vague way because… laws):  here was this girl who didn’t think she could do the thing …. BUT SHE DID.

It was a Very. Big. Deal.  It was all a big deal. It was a big deal that I did it, and it is a very, very big deal that it has ended.  Because the whole point has always been to get me to a place where I didn’t feel I needed therapy anymore.

And we did that.  I’m there.

Today, on March 6th, 2018, I walked out of that therapy office for the last time.

And I got in my car, turned on my music (which is always on shuffle), and in one final, serendipitous, post-therapy gift from the universe, the song that started playing was, “I’m Not Broken Anymore.”  I was fully prepared to cry… but all I could do was smile.

And now?  Now I take what I learned – and what I worked so hard at; and will continue to work so hard at – and I move forward.  Move on to the next chapter of my life, and whatever that may bring.  And I’ll do it with the deepest and sincerest and most life-long gratitude to Tony, who not only helped me learn how to have a good quality of life, but who quite literally also saved it.

____________________________________________

 

If your mental health isn’t what it should be please know when to seek professional help

If you’re having thoughts of suicide, call the crisis helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

You can also text START to 741-741 if you’d rather text than speak with someone on the phone

If you’re in imminent danger to yourself, PLEASE go to the ER.

You’re loved, and you’re worth it.

 

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Filed under about me, anxiety, bipolar, depression, gratitude, health, mania, mental health

The Conversation About Mental Illness

People have often asked me how I can stand writing about controversial things, and/or how I can handle the negative comments when I write something that’s widely read … especially the people who know how very sensitive I am (which is anyone who’s known me longer than about 90 seconds).   The truth is, sometimes I do get my feelings a little – or a lot – hurt.  And sometimes I wonder why I keep doing it.  And sometimes I want to just take my ball and go home.

But in many ways, it is far easier to be brave on my blog, where it has the potential to reach many people, than it is on a smaller forum.  Or than it is with people I know – even if you’re using the word “know” in the loose, Facebook-era kind of way.  I like to keep my own little personal Facebook bubble generally light and happy and controversy-free.  Partly because that’s just who I am when I’m not railing about my various causes, but also because I can’t handle the heat.  I can’t.  Every time, EVERY TIME, I think I’m brave enough to post something that’s going to garner mixed opinions … I regret it, I end up crying, or both.  That’s just the way I’m wired, for better or worse.  My blog is different, because even though there’s the potential for a much larger group of people to be much meaner to me, there’s also anonymity.  There’s safety behind the curtain.  There’s the “imagine everyone in their underwear” mind-tricks to keep things in perspective.  In small groups though, there’s just so much raw vulnerability. For a person whose greatest blessing and biggest curse happens to be vulnerability, it can be a lot to handle.

Sometimes I forget, though.  And sometimes I post something controversial.  And then I regret it.  And then I delete it.

I did that very thing tonight in fact.  I posted the thing, a respectful conversation followed, and still I panicked and deleted. I felt an immediate sense of relief …. promptly followed by whatever the opposite of relief is, promptly followed by bawling in the bathtub (the kind of crying where you feel like you’re never going to stop), and texting my friend to talk me down.

The thing is, I wish I hadn’t deleted it.  Because I think it’s an important conversation to be had.  I think it’s one of the MOST important conversations we should have.  So I’m bringing it over here where I feel brave.  Where I won’t feel the need to delete.

Like all of you, I was horrified by the news of another school shooting.  Like most of you, I have strong opinions on what I believe should and should not be done to hopefully help solve the problem.  Like a lot of you, I’ve been saddened and frustrated and angered by many of the memes I saw floating through my Facebook feed.

For reasons that are obvious to any of my regular readers, I’ve felt particularly stung every time I saw a meme screaming, “Mental illness!  MENTAL!  ILLNESS!”

I finally saw one that flipped a switch in me that turned off all reason, and I posted this:

I have a mental illness. It is currently well-managed. When it is not well-managed, the only person – THE ONLY PERSON – I’ve ever thought of harming is myself.

As I said up above, what followed was a respectful conversation.  No one was mean, no one called me names.  The comments were, even from the people who disagreed and/or didn’t understand the point I was trying to make, pretty benign.  “There are lots of different kinds of mental illness.”  “Different people are affected differently.”  “There are many factors at play.”

Yes.  Sure.  All true.

I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but for the sake of clarity:  I am not at all suggesting that the shooter was not mentally ill.  People who are of sound mind don’t typically go on shooting sprees.  The fact that people are suggesting he’s mentally ill isn’t actually my problem.

My problem is that we’re perpetuating a stereotype.  My problem is that we’re feeding a stigma.  My problem is that we’re taking this tiny percentage of those with mental illnesses (you guys, this is a TINY percentage) and using it as a scapegoat.  As a way to explain something away.  As a way to make ourselves more comfortable with a situation in which there IS no comfort.  “Oh, well he was MENTALLY ILL.  Of course.” My problem is that we’re holding this one, extreme, violent person and saying:  This.  This is what mental illness looks like.

I hate to break it to you, but mental illness FAR MORE OFTEN looks like the guy sitting next to you on the bus minding his own business.  Like the co-worker you’re joking with next to the water cooler. Like the person who sold you your house, or cut your hair, or did your taxes.  Like the girl in the bare feet and the owl pajamas.  The who falls and keeps getting back up again.  The one who isn’t going to bed until she hits “publish” on her blog post.

A few fast facts about mental illness and violence:

People with mental illnesses are far more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators. (source)

The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is very small. (source)

The public is largely misinformed about any links between mental illness and violence.   (source)

These inaccurate beliefs lead to widespread stigma and discrimination. (source)

Someone in my since-deleted Facebook post asked me, “Are you saying that you think talking about mental illness is harmful?”  And what I think is very much the opposite.  I think we need to be talking about mental illness.  I think we need to know what mental illness is (and is not!). I think we need to have more compassion.  I think we need to harbor less judgement.  I think we need to demand true information, and real awareness.   I think this conversation needs to happen openly, honestly, and in an ongoing fashion.  Because what’s happening in the media right now?  That’s not a conversation about mental illness.  It’s fear-mongering.  It’s sensationalism.  It’s perpetuating a stereotype, it’s increasing stigma, and it is HARMFUL.

Let me say that again:  Make no mistake.  What’s happening right now is harmful to those with mental illnesses, and making those who suffer even less likely to seek help when it’s needed.

I’m going to close with something I wrote on the thread on my Facebook page before I deleted.   It was responses to this comment that were what eventually led me to delete the post.  Because it was so, so deeply personal.  And if you don’t feel heard when you write something so personal … I don’t know.  I think it’s one of the most painful things we can experience.  This is what I wrote, and the kernel from which this whole post was born.

There are so many people, so so many people, who’ve had or currently have suicidal ideation, who are afraid to get help for various reasons. I think the stigma is a huge one, as well as the fact that there is so much judgment attached (ie: How could anyone do something so *selfish*?, etc). But I also think that talking about it just makes people so damn uncomfortable that they’d do anything to avoid it. I get it. It’s uncomfortable. No one’s even mentioned it in this entire thread, despite my having led with it. But my life is valuable too, as is everyone’s who suffers from a mental illness. The problem is, it seems like no one wants to talk about mental illness until someone commits some horrific crime. This tiny, tiny segment of mentally ill people is literally the only exposure that people are getting. And by sensationalizing it, and using it to explain something away (something that is obviously multi-faceted) so many people are hurt. The feeling that one gets, from this side of it, is that your average, run-of-the-mill person who has a mental illness – which is SO many more people than most are aware of – is unimportant. If they take their *own* lives, oh well, as long as they’re not violent towards others. So sure, let’s have a conversation about mental illness, but that conversation needs to include the vast vast majority of people who live/work/exist without ever harboring violent tendencies. Otherwise, it’s just propagating stereotypes and increasing stigmas.

Let’s do better.  Please.

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An Open Letter to Kelly Clarkson

In a January 10th interview, Kelly Clarkson defended her decision to spank her kids, saying in part: “My parents spanked me, and I did fine in life, and I feel fine about it, and I do that as well.  That’s a tricky thing, when you’re out in public, because then people are like, they think that’s wrong or something, but I find nothing wrong with a spanking.”  The following is my response to those remarks.

You love your kids.  I don’t doubt this.  You would give your life for them.  Like the rest of us, you’re doing the best you can with the information you have, and you have the added pressure of having your every decision critiqued by the general public.  I can’t pretend to know what that’s like.

I understand what you are saying here.  I do.  You are simply doing what your parents did, and probably their parents too. Those patterns run deep, and they require a lot of effort, self-reflection, and often painful realizations to break.  Your parents loved you after all, so why would they do something that hurt you?  The fact is, they just did the best they knew how to do, with the information that they had at the time.  But we’re not our parents.  And we have more information now.

You say you’re “fine”, which is one of the most common refrains that I hear from those who spank their kids.  But – and I say this in the most gentle way I know how – you’re believing a lie.  You’re not fine if you think it’s okay to hit children.  That’s what spanking is.  It’s hitting.  And it’s hitting someone smaller and weaker than yourself.

The great thing about the passage of time is that we can learn from the generations before us.  Our parents did (and didn’t) do all kinds of the things that we now know more about, and can ideally learn from and do differently.  We didn’t wear seat belts.  Or bike helmets.  People smoked through their pregnancies. They were encouraged to wean after just a few months, or even weeks.  Just the other day I was thinking about piercings (I’m currently in the process of healing my latest one), and how the old school of thought told us to twist the jewelry every day.  Now, of course, we know that this actually impedes the healing process, and that the best thing to do is to just keep them clean and leave them alone.

When we know better, we do better.

There is a big movement right now admonishing moms to stop judging each other, and instead just recognize that people do things differently.  To a large extent, I agree!  I don’t care if you make your kids a homemade balanced breakfast, or if they eat a Pop-Tart in the car on the way to school.  I don’t care if their bedtime is at 7:00 or 11:00.  I don’t care if they spend their free time watching SpongeBob or reading Moby Dick.

The thing is though, spanking is not a parenting issue.  It’s a human rights issue. Children, like all humans, have the right to be free from violence, especially in their own home.  They have the right to autonomy, to decide who does and does not touch their bodies, and when, and how, and for what reason.  Hitting your children not only teaches them that it’s okay to solve problems by hitting, but it specifically teaches them to hit people who are smaller and weaker than themselves.  It also seriously blurs the lines of consent, and lets them believe that, well, sometimes it’s okay for people to touch private areas of their bodies, as long as the person doing the hitting is unhappy with their behavior.

Hitting a spouse – or a friend or a neighbor or a stranger in a bar – is assault, and a serious offense.  There are even animal cruelty laws to protect animals.  46 of the 50 states have enacted felony penalties for certain forms of animal abuse.  The fact that there are no such laws to protect children does not make it right.  Your right to parent as you see fit never supersedes your child’s right to be free from harm in his or her own home.  Because make no mistake.  No matter how you frame it, spanking is still hitting.  And hitting in any way, shape, or form (other than in self defense) is violence.  And it’s wrong.

The ironic part?  Parents that spank do so because they think it’ll improve their children’s behavior.  But study after study shows that spanking actually has the opposite effect.   Spanking makes a child less likely to listen, not more.  It also contributes to later aggression, anti-social behavior, and mental health problems.  This is real.  This is not an opinion, nor is it just empty words. Spanking is harmful, on every level, and the best of intentions (and absolutely, I believe that most parents are well-intentioned) doesn’t change that.

Our kids need our protection. They need our support and our guidance.  They need us to be living examples of what it means to be respectful and patient and kind.

More than anything though, they need our love.

And hitting should never, ever be conflated with love.

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It’s Okay To Be Annoyed (Or Angry Or Sad Or Hurt Or….)

The other day I asked a question on Facebook that basically started with, “Does it bother you when…” (The topic is not relevant to this post, and probably deserves its own conversation.) I asked mainly because I was curious, and sometimes I like to be curious out loud.  People’s answers ran the full gamut from, “No, not at all,” to “Sometimes”, to “I absolutely hate it!”  The one comment that is standing out to me though is this one:

I try not to be bothered by things like that. Life is too precious to worry about the little things.

Is it true?  I mean, sure.  Of course.  It’s important to try not to sweat the small stuff.  (And indeed, most of what we tend to stress out about is small stuff.)  I’ve written entire blog posts about it, including one about my then 3 year old throwing her brother’s shoes into a lake, and why I was able to laugh about it.  That was the post that initially led a lot of you to my blog, so I kind of have a soft spot for it.

But … I would write it differently were I to write it today.

The above comment, even in its truth, bothered me.  Largely because it sounds so patronizing, but also because – just like the blog post I wrote all those years ago – it glossed over the fact that we are given a full range of human emotions, and that THEY’RE OKAY.  It’s okay to get annoyed sometimes.  It’s okay to get sad and mad and frustrated and scared.  Because real life?  Real life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.  It’s just not. In real life, sometimes we do get upset over little things (and big things, and everything in between).  Sometimes we’re cranky and irritable and don’t even know why.  We’re human.  We’re gonna feel stuff, and it’s not always going to be pretty.  And we can have those feelings, and recognize them, and accept them, and allow them to come and go with curiosity and without judgement.  There’s no prize for being perpetually happy.

I’ve been in therapy for the past twenty months  – I totally just counted on my fingers for that number – and not once in those twenty months did he ever tell me, “Don’t feel that.  Don’t think that.”  We’re going to think what we think and feel what we feel.  We can’t help that part.  Our brains do it all by themselves.  We can absolutely change how we respond to those thoughts and feelings, the tools for which therapy has taught me in spades.  Ha.  Tools, spades, see what I did there?  But the feelings themselves?  Sometimes they just come, and they’re okay, no matter how much someone else tries to shame us for having them.

I want my kids to see me dealing with my emotions in a healthy way.  I want them to see me continually doing the work I need to do to interact with myself and with the world around me in the best way I know how.  I also want them to see me being a human.  I want them to know that it’s okay to get annoyed sometimes, even over something that someone else would consider small.  I want them to know that it’s okay to have bad days and cranky days and I’m-going-to-hole-up-and-listen-to-melancholy-music-all-afternoon days.  I want them to know that they can feel whatever it is they feel, and that their feelings don’t make them more or less than the person next to them.  I want them to know that what they feel – whatever they feel – is VALID, and that I won’t try to tell them they shouldn’t feel it.

I think one of the greatest gifts (and rarest gifts, it seems) that we can give each other is the space to just …. be.  No trying to fix, no telling someone that they shouldn’t feel what they’re feeling.  No judgement.  Just space.  Acceptance. Sometimes the best thing we can do – really, the only thing we can do – is to just be there.  To just sit beside someone, literally or figuratively, in the hard and the scary and the uncomfortable and let them feel what they feel.  And it IS hard.  It IS uncomfortable. And oh my gosh, do we want to fix it.  Even I want to fix it, and I’m not generally a fixer. Sometimes though, you Just. Can’t. Fix. It. Sometimes, there are no magic words, and there are no solutions.  There’s just space, and time, and empathy.

I was venting to my go-to person recently (I don’t even remember what it was about anymore), and I was just having a moment of feeling the injustice of the world, and of life, and of circumstances.  And I told her how MAD I was, or SCARED, or SAD, or whatever it was I was feeling at the particular time, and the words were all flying out, and when I was I done she simply said, “I know.”   That response kind of blew me away, and instantly tempered a lot of what I was feeling.  It wasn’t a patronizing, “I know.”  It was a genuine, heartfelt, “I heard you, and I get what you’re feeling.” She didn’t tell me not to feel that way.  She didn’t tell me what I should do about it.  She just … heard me.  She saw me.  And I’ll tell you what:  That kind of response is a million times more helpful than any well-meaning “Look on the bright side; don’t feel that way; just think positively” admonishments could ever hope to be.  Having someone – or I guess more than one someone, if you’re lucky – in your life that can just hear you that way is utterly invaluable.

I spent the good majority of my life trying to be someone and something other than what I was.  “You’re TOO SENSITIVE,” was the refrain I heard – and to be honest, still hear – over and over and over, until it was like the scarlet letter that I wore around my neck.  And oh, it was heavy.  And it hurt.

But now?  Now I own my sensitivity.  I’m proud of my sensitivity.  I’m not “too” anything.  I’m me.  And yep, I feel things deeply.  Yep, my emotions are often always on a hair trigger.  Yep, my feelings are hurt easily.  Yep, I sometimes feel annoyance at something that you deem too small to worry about.

And you know what?

It’s okay.

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Why My Kids Are Not Impatient, Bored, Friendless, Or Entitled

Articles that talk about how terrible kids are these days are quite prolific.  Throw a stone anywhere on the internet, and you’ll hit one:  Kids are more entitled than ever.  More lazy.  More disrespectful.  And if this latest article is to be believed, they’re more friendless too.  They can’t possibly make friends it seems, because they’re too busy buried in their electronics, expecting life to serve them with a silver platter, and avoiding all human interaction.

Aside from tiring me (I mean really, you read one of these articles, you’ve read them all), these articles genuinely confuse me.

As a friend recently noted, “Where are all these unpleasant kids? I never meet any of them.”

And indeed, it’s true.  I know quite a lot of kids.  Besides my own four, I’ve spent a lot of time with their friends (Yes!  They do have friends); my own friends’ kids; kids we know through theater and sports and homeschooling groups; kids from the neighborhood; kids that come to our conference every year.  And by and large these kids I’ve had the pleasure of knowing are wonderful humans.  Kind.  Smart.  Creative. Compassionate. Well-spoken. Confident.  Ambitious. These are kids that blow me away with their maturity and their integrity and their grace.  These are not the kids that the above author talks about.  I don’t know where those kids exist, because it’s not in any world that I live in.

The article in question blames the  – theoretical – decline in kids’ attitudes and behaviors on five main things.  And yes, these are the same five things that are cited over and over in similar articles, and the same five things that need nothing more than a perspective shift to be disproved.

  1. KIDS GET EVERYTHING THEY WANT WHEN THEY WANT IT

None of us gets everything we want, when we want it.  Let’s just start there.  An unfortunate reality of life is that sometimes we just have to wait.   By navigating these situations together when they arise, your kids will naturally learn the art of delayed gratification…. without your having to manufacture contrived and artificial scenarios in order to teach them a lesson.  The article gives the example of a child being thirsty, and the parent offering up a vending machine.  This is bad, it tells us, because the child will never learn to wait.  But if I were thirsty, and there was a vending machine nearby, I would in fact buy myself a drink.  Wouldn’t you?  It is categorically unfair to hold kids to a different standard, especially under the pretense of teaching them a lesson.  Life (particularly time, finances, and circumstances) sometimes dictates that we must wait for what we want.  Helping your kids cope when it happens is a far more preferable, respectful, and kind alternative than making them wait just for the sake of making them wait.

  1. LIMITED SOCIAL INTERACTION

The author says,

“Kids used to play outside, where, in unstructured natural environments, they learned and practiced their social skills.  Unfortunately, technology replaced the outdoor time.  (Emphasis is mine)

This incredibly common refrain is built on the erroneous assumption that these two things – technology use, and outdoor time – are mutually exclusive.  Just a couple of days ago, I saw a meme that said, “I’m so glad I grew up doing this,” {insert picture of kids playing in a stream}, “Instead of this.” {insert kids standing and looking at their phones}. As for me, I am incredibly thankful that we live in a day and time when kids can do both!  My kids, right down to the nine year old, love their technology.  They do.  They also love being outside, being active, hanging out with friends, playing games, cooking, being creative… well, you get the idea.  Appreciating technology does not preclude an appreciation of other forms of socialization or activity.  In fact, I will go as far as to say that technology has been a tremendous aid in both forming and nurturing relationships.   And having a friend at your fingertips whenever you need one?  Invaluable.

Just last week, I was at an appointment with the 13 year old – who spends a good amount of time online, playing cooperative games with his friends – and the doctor commented on how smart and well-spoken he was.  Am I worried about his (or any of my kids’) socialization skills?  No.  No, I’m not.

  1. ENDLESS FUN

This was a fun one because the author directly contradicted herself on this point later in the article.  (More on that later) She says we have made life too fun for our kids, and that they’re constantly being entertained.  This of course leads to their inability to deal with necessary tedious tasks, and/or with the aspects of life that may be boring or monotonous.  She tells us we need to do a better of job of making our kids do unpleasant things, so that they’ll get used to it, because:

This is basic monotonous work that trains the brain to be workable and function under “boredom,” which is the same “muscle” that is required to be eventually teachable at school.

I’m not going to mince words about this.  I find the above to be incredibly sad and even concerning.  Boredom is a necessary muscle for learning?  After watching my four kids grow and learn over the past 21 years, I’d say it’s actually the exact opposite.  Learning in any sort of meaningful way requires engagement, not boredom.  It happens when the person doing the learning is interested, and invested, and indeed an active and “plugged in” participant.  It does not happen when one is bored and disinterested.  You know what makes an ideal environment for learning, no matter your age?  An activity that you find fun.  Does she have a point though?  Are there tasks in life that are boring or monotonous?  Well, sure.  But like the rest of us, our kids will learn to handle such tasks naturally and easily as life unfolds around them.  Unless you deliberately shield them from this aspect of living (which, I’m honestly not even sure if that’s possible), they’ll learn.

  1. TECHNOLOGY

Again with the technology.

My best friend lives in another state.  I talk to her every day, every day, thanks to … technology.  My two youngest boys have a group of close friends that they love to play games with.  When circumstances permit (they don’t all live nearby), they get together in 3D life.  And when they don’t, they play the same games together online.  How cool is that?  Technology has enriched our lives, not damaged it.  The author worries that access to so much technology keeps us from staying emotionally connected to our kids.  But again, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  When a parent is paying attention and putting in the effort, it IS possible (probable even!) to have a close, connected relationship with their kids, and allow and appreciate and embrace their use of technology.

Finally, she worries that the highly stimulating world of video games makes the rest of life boring, and leaves kids “vulnerable to academic challenges.”  Which confuses me, because earlier she wanted kids to be bored?  In any case, we need to give kids way more credit than they’re being given here.  They know the difference between video games and real life, between online conversations and in-person hugs, between action movies and cars on the freeway.  And in the event that those lines are blurred, the answer is presence, connection, and assistance with navigating.  The answer is NOT throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  Technology has been such an incredible tool in our lives, both for reasons of practicality and enjoyability.  Could we live without it?  Well, technically, sure.  But I’m so thankful that we don’t have to.

  1. KIDS RULE THE WORLD

I think this is the part where entitlement comes in.  Something that a lot of people fail – or refuse – to understand, is that there is a marked difference between letting kids “rule the world”, and respecting their autonomy as individual and unique humans with their own needs, tastes, preferences, and ways of interacting with the world around them.  Too many parents fall into the trap of micromanaging.  Of treating their kids like robots instead of people:  In goes a pre-determined set of variables, and out comes a perfect, obedient product.  Except kids are people and it doesn’t really work that way.  But speaking from (a lot of) experience, if you dare question the status quo on the matter, you’re accused of, well, letting kids rule the world.  Like so much of parenting, and of life, this is not a zero-sum game.  This kind of black and white thinking presupposes that there are exactly two options: 1) Control and manage and limit every moment of your children’s day, OR 2) leave them completely alone, and indeed do not be a parent at all.  But there are other options.   From food to bedtimes to clothing choices, it is entirely possible – and preferable! – to take a team approach, to give them choices and autonomy and respect, without leaving them to essentially raise themselves.  The author argues that “if we leave it all up to them, all they are going to do is eat macaroni and cheese and bagels with cream cheese, watch TV, play on their tablets, and never go to bed.”  First, no one is advocating for “leaving it all up to them.”  Second, it is categorically untrue that a child would never go to bed.  Finally, extremes and straw man arguments never helped anyone get to a closer, more connected relationship with their child.  And isn’t a closer, connected relationship the ultimate goal?  If it isn’t, it certainly should be.  Giving kids a safe, secure, and happy home… one in which they are heard, respected, and valued members of the family… is a great place to start.

 


 

In my house, and my family, my kids are real.  They have moods and moments and hurdles just like anyone else.  They are also kind.  They’re considerate.  They’re smart and respectful and responsible.  They are the kind of people I would choose to be around even if they were not my kids.

I don’t need to “train their brains” (the author’s solution to today’s problem children) to be anything other than what they already are.

I don’t need to micromanage them.  I don’t need to manufacture unpleasant tasks or situations in order to teach them a lesson.

Side note:  Under a heading of “Don’t be afraid to set limits”, she suggests  “converting things that they don’t like doing/trying into fun, emotionally stimulating games.”  I’m… confused, as this is in direct opposition to what she said in point three.

I don’t need to choose between technology and emotionally connecting with my kids, because the two can and do exist simultaneously.  I don’t need to train them to delay gratification, and I don’t need to force them to do monotonous work.

What I do need to do is treat them kindly.  Gently.  With respect and courtesy and in a manner that I’d like to be treated myself.  Does that ensure that they’ll be perfect, or that there will never be bumps in the road?  Well, no.  See above about them being, like myself and their father, human.

But I’ll tell you what.  My kids, as well as the vast vast majority of other kids I have the privilege of knowing, are individuals who are lovely, engaging, and a true pleasure to be around.   Maybe it goes without saying, but I find it incredibly sad and disappointing to know that so very many people have such a low opinion of today’s young people.  These impatient, bored, friendless, entitled kids the author writes about?   Maybe they exist – if they do in fact exist at all – because no one believed in them.

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There Is ONE Person To Blame For Sexual Harassment (Hint: It’s Not The Victim)

Happy New Year!  I didn’t at all intend to start this year with a post like this, but I saw a meme, was swiftly irritated…. and, well, nothing inspires me like a little (or a lot) of irritation.  

So the Golden Globes were this past weekend.  I used to be a big fan of the award shows, but have mostly stopped watching them.  We did have the Golden Globes on though, mainly because Stranger Things was nominated, and Tegan is still into all things Stranger Things, all the time.  It didn’t win, but Lady Bird did, as did its protagonist, Saoirse Ronan.  I was really excited to see that, as I’d just seen that movie a few weeks ago, and absolutely loved it.  Very well deserved win.

People have incredibly strong feelings about the Golden Globes, and all the award shows, and Hollywood in general.  This post is not about that.  People get all worked up about how much money is spent on dresses and jewelry and hair and makeup, and it’s not about that.  Other people stress out about the political climate, and celebrities getting on soapboxes, and how everyone has an agenda.  It’s not about that either.

This is about sexual harassment, and about the fact that we are still – in 2018 – blaming the victim.

This is the meme that came across my newsfeed:

I’m feeling particularly generous, so I won’t start out by pointing out the fact that “harassment” is misspelled.

It’s not nice to tell people that they’re dressed like hookers.  Let’s just start there.  A person’s attire does not dictate their profession.  And even if it did,  it’s gross  – and easy – to turn sweeping generalizations and stereotypes into insults.  Seriously, calling people hookers?  Wow.  What a well thought-out and mature argument.   (Side note here, because it has no bearing on my point: I think all three women look gorgeous.  Also, Halle Berry is 51!  I hope I have even half the confidence she has to so totally own and rock that dress when I’m 51.  The masses like to tell people what they should and should not wear at certain ages.  Malarkey.  Wear what makes you feel good.)

Comparing them to hookers isn’t the biggest problem here, though.

The problem is that sexual harassment is caused by the people doing the harassing.  Full stop.

A woman’s wearing a low-cut top?  Still the fault of the harasser.

A woman’s wearing a short skirt?  Still the fault of the harasser.

A woman dares go out into public with her hair done and her face made-up and lots of skin showing?  Still the fault of the harasser.

Sexual harassment is an actual problem, and blaming the victim just perpetuates it.  Writing or agreeing with or sharing memes like this makes you part of the problem, not part of the solution.  If you think certain clothing gives men carte blanche to say whatever they want, you are part of the problem.  If you think that woman should feel complimented or flattered when they’re cat-called, or receive unwanted advances, or are touched in a way that makes them uncomfortable, you are part of the problem.

And while it should go without saying (except that I’m having to say it), not only is it insulting and unfair and disgusting to make “suggestive” clothing the cause of men’s misbehavior, it’s also just categorically untrue.  Lots of women are harassed.  Wearing lots of different kinds of clothes.  True story:  A couple of weeks ago, I was driving to an appointment downtown.  I’m a 44 year old mom, driving a mom-car, wearing my mom-uniform of jeans and Chucks.  I glanced over at the car next to me at a red light because, well because that’s what you do at red lights.  The driver looked over at me, made eye contact, and smiled.  Not a friendly smile, but a decidedly creepy, leering smile.  I forced myself to give him the benefit of the doubt, and decided that maybe it was innocent after all.  Maybe he just had that sort of face.  A few more sideways glances at future lights (he was beside me for what felt like 15 miles), told me my instincts had been correct.  He was leering.  And being gross.  And making me incredibly uncomfortable.  I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  It wasn’t okay.  And guess what?  If I’d been wearing any of the dresses in the above photo, it wouldn’t have been okay either.

Sexual harassment is the fault of the one doing the harassing.  Each time.  Every time.

The great irony in this that the ones blaming the victims,  the ones taking the onus off the men?  They’re actually showing their distinct disregard for both genders, in one fell swoop.  They’re turning women into objects, sexual non-humans that are merely present to attract attention.  But they’re turning men into objects too:  Walking penises incapable of controlling themselves, doing nothing more than looking for their next conquest.

Our women deserve better.

Our men deserve better too.

Most men manage to make it through the day without harassing a single person.  Most men know how to respect women.  Most men see women in low cut dresses as…. women in low cut dresses, not as a get-out-of-jail free card to treat them however they’d like.

As for the others?  The ones who do use power and intimidation and ego to sexually harass women?  That is their fault. 100% of the time.

And it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what their victim happens to be wearing.

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10 Tips For A Low-Stress Holiday

Christmas is ONE WEEK from today, which is… weird.  It’s just really weird.  This was a strange year for me, and the holidays came up quickly.  I had finals for the first time in 20 something years, and Tegan’s play was wrapping up.  When those two things were over (the first week of December), life suddenly exhaled and went “whoosh”, and things got quiet again.

And now it’s one week before Christmas.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have REALLY stressed out during some Christmases past.  Like, truly, severely stressed out.  I held myself to this ridiculous expectation of having to have everything perfect… from the (of course, homemade) advent calendar, to the paper snowflakes, to the photos, to the parties and the light displays and the hot chocolate and the cookie baking and the shopping and the wrapping and the Christmas cards and the new pajamas and the Christmas Eve church services and the big Christmas day spread of food,

and and and and….

And we were going to be happy about it, dammit!  It was exhausting.  I’m exhausted right now just thinking about it.

A few years ago, I decided that that really wasn’t too fun, and I wasn’t going to stress about it anymore.  The first thing that went were the Christmas cards.  And you know what?  Life went on even though we stopped sending Christmas cards.  (The sad thing though is that since we stopped sending cards, we almost completely stopped receiving cards as well… which makes us appreciate the ones we do get all the more).

But we didn’t stop doing everything.   In fact, we still actually do a lot of things on the above list. It’s just that we now do them because we want to do them, not because we feel like we have to do them.  And it has made all the difference.

Here’s a partial list of some of the things I keep in mind every year to keep the holidays (much) less stressful.  I can’t rightly say stress-free, because… well, because life comes with stress sometimes.   But the following surely helps.

1. Adjust your expectations.  Your house doesn’t really need to be cleaned in every corner to have company over.  If it’s stressing you out, skip it!  NO ONE WILL JUDGE YOU IF YOU DON’T DUST YOUR CEILING FANS (and if they do, honestly, are they the kind of people you want to be inviting over in the first place?)  They came to see you.  You don’t HAVE to send Christmas cards.  You don’t HAVE to make 87 kinds of cookies.  You don’t HAVE to read “Twas The Night Before Christmas” just because it’s Christmas Eve.  It’s not going to be perfect.  It never is.  That’s okay.  Let go of whatever’s not serving you. Let yourself off the hook, rid yourself of the need to be perfect, and just enjoy the holiday.  If you’re expecting a perfect holiday, with perfectly coiffed children, and perfectly well-behaved pets, and chestnuts happily roasting in an open fire… you’re likely going to be disappointed.  Instead, enjoy it for all its beautiful, messy imperfections, no matter how they may unfold.

2. Keep your kids a top priority.  This is perhaps the most important thing of all, especially during a time when many parents are finding themselves reacting to stress and/or unusually high energy by controlling, punishing, etc.  This is a time when kids need parents who are patient, calm, and looking out for their best interest.  Are they getting enough rest?  Are they eating nourishing foods?  Do they WANT to go to another holiday party?  Do they WANT to sit on Santa’s lap?  Getting tuned in, staying super connected, and respecting their needs and desires will not only be a great thing for your relationship, but it will also alleviate a lot of the collective holiday related stress.

3. Go with the flow of changing needs and preferences. This was one I had to learn over time, to be sure.  At the time of this writing, my kids are 20, 17, 13, and 9.  Christmas is different than it was when they were little … and that’s okay too.  They’re not interested in the same activities.  They’ve outgrown certain traditions.  Not taking it personally when they say, “No thanks” to driving around the neighborhood to look at the Christmas lights goes a long way towards lessening your holiday stress.  Kids grow, things change, holidays are different.  The upside?  Kids grow, things change, holidays are different.  A new thing for us this year is that the 17 year old offered to cook Christmas dinner (he’s making lasagnas), and the 13 year old offered to bake some of the treats and cookies.  Which just means that we get to enjoy them in a whole new way.  And that’s really, really cool.

4. Focus on the little things.  In a practice that really should continue all year long, enjoy all the fun little things of the holiday!  Making the paper snowflakes, decorating the gingerbread house, picking up the special drink from Starbucks, watching the favorite Christmas movie for the 87th time, enjoying hot cocoa made from scratch (or from a canister, if that’s more your style!), just being together.  This is the 21st Christmas we’ve had since we’ve had kids, and while we’ve done some pretty cool and big and interesting things during the holidays…. it’s the little moments that I remember the most.  Because in reality, they’re really not so little.  They’re the important stuff.

5. Simplify your gift-giving.  It has taken us a little trial and error, but streamlining our gift-giving has helped a lot in terms of keeping our focus less on just getting a whole bunch of “stuff” and more on picking out the few things that we know someone else will love.  Mike and I stopped getting gifts for each other several years ago (though he does break the rule sometimes :)), mainly because we get what we need throughout the year, and we’d rather spend our Christmas money on the kids and/or other people who may need it more than we do.  For the kids, we generally do “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.”  We’re not super rigid about sticking to it exactly, but it is a great place to start, and it’s made us really think about what we’re getting them.  It also feels like it makes each present more meaningful than when we’d get piles and piles of gifts, just to…. get piles and piles of gifts.  We do buy for all the nieces and nephews, but for the adults, we do a name drawing for each side of the family, so we only buy for whatever sibling, parent, or inlaw that we’re paired with.  Which makes it fun, and easy, and lets us think about something that will be meaningful and enjoyable for that one specific person.  Your mileage may vary of course (you do you), but this way has worked well for us, and made gift giving fun again, instead of stressful.

6. Keep only the traditions that are important to you.  When Spencer was born, I went a little crazy with the new traditions we “needed” to follow.  From the books we’d read, to the movies we’d watch, to the activities we’d do.  And because life happens, and things change, and kids grow, I’ve had to accept and realize that not all traditions have to be kept.  We did hang on to a couple though.  Christmas Eve is always sacred, and has been for the past 20 years.  It’s just for our own core little family.  We’ve gone to church some years, we’ve stayed in and watched movies some years, we’ve hung out and had carpet picnics some years…. but we’ve always spent it with just us, and if I have to, I pull out full mama bear protection over that Christmas Eve bubble.  The kids all exchange presents on Christmas Eve too – they do a name drawing among the siblings, and all really enjoy it.  I really, really appreciate Christmas Eve with all six of us, and I know that it’s not something we’ll have forever. We also watch the same movies every year, though not everyone chooses to watch anymore.  There are still a couple of cookies that I HAVE to make too (black and whites and Oreo balls are my specialties.) But other than that, we’re …. fluid, and we let the kids lead.  

7. Don’t be afraid to say no.  Just like with point number 1, there should never be any “have-tos” during the holiday season.  You don’t have to go to that party just because you were invited.  You don’t have to go caroling.  You don’t have to go to that cookie swap or that White Elephant gift exchange.  If you and/or your kids are feeling stressed, burnt out, or like you’ve taken on too much, it’s perfectly acceptable (preferable, even!) to politely decline.

8. REST – I PROMISE you that the world won’t come to a standstill if you take an hour or an afternoon or a whole day to drink tea and watch Christmas movies.  I promise you that the holidays will still come and go and be perfectly fine and lovely and joyful if you ignore the chores one day.  I’d even argue that taking care of yourself and making sure that you rest is every bit as important – if not more so – than anything else on your holiday to-do list. Unless literal LIVES hang in the balance, it’s okay and good and vital to rest, recharge, and take some regular time for yourself…. even during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

9. Live in the present.  One of the lessons I find myself needing to learn over and over again (and have written about several times on my blog) is the importance of living in the present.  This is never more applicable than during the busy and stressful seasons of life.  I took a Buddhism class this past semester, not because I want to convert to Buddhism, but because I needed a religion credit and I always found it interesting.  Lo and behold, I learned some hugely meaningful things in this class, one of them being…. the importance of presence.  There is only right now.  Truly getting this, and LIVING this, is life-changing.  For real.  My therapist, who is not Buddhist, and does not resemble Buddha in any way, has stressed this same point to me many many times.  In fact, one of my biggest take-aways, over 18 long months of therapy, is this:  “Right now, there is no problem to solve.” Problems come when we’re focused on the past, or worrying about the future.  When you’re really and truly in THIS MOMENT, there are no problems.  Including the shopping, the wrapping, the cleaning, the baking, the decorating…. right now, there are no problems, and therefore, no stress.

10. Remember your reason for the season. I deliberately said, “your” instead of “the” because my reason for the season might not be the same as yours.  Christians like to say that Christ is the reason for the season, but I think that it’s important to remember that 1) most of what we do at Christmas time has been adapted from Pagan traditions, not the other way around, and 2) that there are many many more holidays than Christmas, and that they’re all celebrating something different.  I know it’s a cliche.  It is.  But whatever the season means to you, focus on that rather than on the busy, the crazy, the chaos, the stress that the holidays can sometimes bring.  And the rest of the extraneous “noise” tends to fade away.

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Just because you’re invited to the stress of the holidays, it doesn’t mean you have to accept.

Wishing you all a calm, peaceful, and stress-free holiday, no matter what it is you celebrate.

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