How Aging Has Hit Me

Me. 45 years old.

There’s a weird little “challenge” going around Facebook right now. It started out innocently enough, asking people to post their first ever profile picture beside their most current one. Then it morphed or something, because all I started to see after that was a copied and pasted, “How hard has aging hit you?”, with the requisite old picture and new picture. Compliments are flying about how everyone aged so well, and look better now, and blah blah blah. It bothered me, but I couldn’t put my finger on why until today. Undeniably, with very few exceptions, people DO look better as they age… but it actually has nothing to do with looks.

If we’re basing this on just physical appearance, here’s how aging has hit me:

I’ve gained weight, to the tune of 30 pounds, due to a changing metabolism, stress eating (and stress drinking), and medication. Everything about my body is softer.

I have a lot more grey in my hair than I used to, and I go back and forth between covering it up, and letting it run free.

I have more lines around my eyes. Evidence that I’ve laughed many gales, and shed many tears.

I have more lines on my forehead too, and between my brows and at the corners of my lips.

My skin can’t decide if it wants to be dry or greasy, often vacillating between the two, or somehow being both at the same time. I have weird spots that aren’t acne or freckles, but are just… spots.

More things hurt on my body than they used to, and I’m more clumsy than ever (which pairs nicely with the fact that I also bruise more easily)

And in the grand scheme of life? NONE OF THE ABOVE MATTERS.

Because here’s how aging has really hit me:

I’m stronger. I went from a people-pleasing, frightened girl to someone who not only found her voice, but isn’t afraid to use it. Hard times shaped me, and good times smoothed the edges.

I’m wiser. Not the kind of wiser you get from reading books or taking classes, but from living this messy life we live. From making mistake after mistake and learning from them.

I love harder. I’ve endured the betrayal of false friends, and found the joy and the healing in new ones. And my kids? My kids taught me to love fiercely and unconditionally and without apology.

I’m more open. My world which was once narrow (so narrow!) and black and white, is now vast and colorful and limitless.

I’m more ME. Ten years ago, I was starting to shake off the shackles, but 20 years ago? No idea who I was, or who I could be. Not an earthly clue. Now I know me. I accept me. I embrace me.

I’m braver. Ten years ago when someone told me I couldn’t do something, I’d believe them. And now? Now my response is, “watch me.”

I’m softer (and not just my belly). You would think that becoming stronger and braver would make a person hard, but the opposite is true. Learning to love who I am made me embrace both the tough, I-can-do-anything-I-set-my-mind-to self, AND the empathetic, sensitive, emotional self that so many people told me to deny. I feel deeply, I care deeply, I love deeply. My entire life I’ve been told I was too sensitive, and you know what? This world we live in right now is full of harshness and ragged edges. The world needs sensitive. The world needs empathy. The world needs soft. The world needs people who’ve unapologetically settled in to their aging, wrinkling, grey haired badass selves.

So, no. I won’t be participating in any “How hard has aging hit me” challenges. My face tells such an insignificant part of the story. I am so much more than my aging face.

And you are too.

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The Epidemic of Belittling Our Kids

You know how sometimes you’ll be reading a book or watching a movie, and completely relating? You’ll be nodding or smiling or even laughing, and then it suddenly takes an unexpectedly dark turn? You’re caught off guard, and not in a good way. You’re caught off guard in an uncomfortable, “Wait. What just happened?” way.

That’s exactly how I felt when I read this meme:

Stop beating yourself up for yelling at your kids. Yes, absolutely. You’re human. You’re going to slip up sometimes. You’re going to have bad days, you’re going to get mad. Self-flagellation is not helpful, but mindfulness and moving into the next moment with more gentleness is. Yelling at people we love isn’t nice, so while self-forgiveness is important, it doesn’t give you cart blanche to do it any time you feel like it.

You’re an amazing mom. You probably are. But can I be honest for a minute? Sometimes I think we do more harm than good with all the back-patting. Sometimes what we need is a wake-up call. We don’t do each other any favors if a mom says, “I can’t seem to stop yelling at my kids,” and we respond with “Oh you’re doing just fine!” rather than first empathizing and following up with tools and strategies that might help.

Your kids will be fine. Again, they probably will. I’m aiming for better than “fine”.

They know you love them. There are a million and one ways to show your kids that you love them, this much is true. There are also a million and one ways to deny it. One of the most powerful pieces of parental advice I got when I was a new mom is that with each interaction, keep in mind that your choice will either bring you and your child closer together or drive you further apart. I have never forgotten that.

But the fact is, they’re annoying AF.  (For the uninitiated, AF stands for “as f*ck) So, here’s the thing. Can kids be annoying? Can spouses and parents and best friends and co-workers be annoying? Sure. Anyone with a heartbeat can be annoying. We are complicated and fickle creatures. Sometimes people just annoy us.

But the problem with memes like this is that they speak to a much larger issue. Somewhere along the way, it became in vogue to put children down, to treat them as lesser-than, and to make “jokes” at their expense. Hey, let’s end the meme by calling kids annoying AF! Hysterical.

The way we talk about kids matters. And the fact is, kids are far too often talked about as though they are not even human. It’s normal, it’s accepted, it’s FUNNY to make fun of kids. We collectively don’t even bat an eyelash anymore.

And it’s not that I need to lighten up, and it’s not that I need to learn to take a joke. It’s just that I don’t think it’s okay to make the littlest and most vulnerable members of our society a punchline. Kids need to be protected, not ridiculed. Kids need to be loved, not disparaged.

We can do better. Yet instead of encouraging more kindness towards our kids, we’re encouraging more childism. Every time a meme like this is shared it sends the message that it’s okay. It’s okay to make fun of kids. It’s okay to treat them as lesser-than. It’s okay to put them down.

There is an epidemic of belittling our children, and THAT is annoying AF.

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Rules For My Kids’ Phones

At the time of this writing, all four of my kids (ages almost 11, up to 21) all have their own phones. It’s honestly not something I think about all that often. It’s 2019 – full disclosure: I just typed 2018, and then caught myself. I could hear 21 year old’s voice, who has the best memory of anyone I know, in my head. “Mom. It’s 2019 now.” He corrected me just yesterday. But given that’s it’s only the 4th, I’m giving myself a little grace on this one. 

 Anyway.

It’s 2019, and people generally have their own phones. I view their phones like I view most things pertaining to the kids: Something to be aware of and something to keep the lines of communication open about… not something to freak out about.

This morning I saw a list of phone rules being passed around (and praised) on Facebook, and as is typical, my perspective is a little bit – or in this case, a lot – different than the author’s.

The rules were taken from a Facebook post by Bart King, and adapted from the original set of rules by a mom named Janell Hoffman. What follows is excerpts from the original rules, followed by my response to each one. It stands to be said: I don’t disagree with every single point… just enough to make me take a major pause. Also, as my standard disclaimer: This post is about ideas, concepts, and philosophies, NOT about any one single mom. (I don’t know her. She could very well be lovely.)

1. It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it.

I bought it for you, and now it is yours. Just like your room, your clothes, and the rest of your belongings. Your phone belongs to you.


2. I will always know the password.

The only time I will ask for your password is in case of emergency and/or during a matter of safety. It’s your phone, not mine. (See point 1)


3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad”. Not ever.

If it rings, see who’s calling. If it’s someone you want to talk to, answer it. You’re never obligated to talk to someone if you don’t want to talk (that goes for when you’re an adult as well!) Having said that, parents worry. If we text or call to check in, please take the two seconds to respond.


4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30pm every school night & every weekend night at 9:00pm. It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30am.

Sometimes some of the best conversations happen after hours! Just know your friends, and their own personal boundaries for texting/phone calls. Respect them.


5. It does not go to school with you.

Having never sent my kids to school, I don’t know what the common practice is. Are phones usually allowed at school? If not, leave it home. If so, use common sense.


6. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. 

Accidents happen, to all of us. If something happens to your phone, we’ll work together on the best solution, the same way we would if it was a phone belonging to myself or your father.


7. Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being.

Absolutely. Don’t do those things off-line either. Show basic respect and kindness to your fellow humans.


8-9. Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.

A good thing to remember in general. People get a certain bravado behind a screen, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Always be yourself, whether you’re on your phone, on the internet, or in person.


10. No porn

Children shouldn’t be looking at porn in any form, anywhere.


11. Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public.

I think this one comes down to respect and common sense. Yes, it’s always a good idea to silence your phone in public. It’s always a good idea to pay attention to the person you’re with, rather than the people on your phone. But the world is not black and white. You might want your phone to take pictures. You might want to Google something. You might get an urgent text. So no, I won’t tell you to NEVER use your phone in public. Use common sense. Show respect.


12. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts.

Those pictures last forever, and no, they’re not a good idea.


13. Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos.

If it makes you happy, by all means take lots of pictures and videos! I treasure the pictures and videos of my kids, my friends, and my adventures, and I love that I have a camera ready in my pocket at all times.


14. Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it.

You don’t have to leave your phone home. But know that if you do go somewhere with cell service, you will be just fine! You’re a smart, capable, well-rounded person whose life is enhanced by a phone, not enabled by it.


15. Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff.

Download music that you like, whatever that may be.


16. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.

I mean, yeah, sure? But only if you like games with words or puzzles or brain teasers. Otherwise, play what you do like.


17. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to a stranger. Wonder without googling.

This is all great advice. But it’s not mutually exclusive to owning, using, or enjoying a phone as well.


18. You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it.

Yes, you’ll mess up. You’re human. Yes, we’ll sit down and talk about it. Yes, we’ll come up with solutions together. I will only take your phone if it’s a matter of safety or respect, for yourself or others.

A phone is a tool like anything else. It’s a super cool one too! Who would have thought we’d all be carrying around miniature computers everywhere we go? Like most things we live and work and play with on a daily basis, its safe use begs self-respect and a healthy dose of common sense….. not long lists of arbitrary rules.

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Why I Don’t Pay My Kids To Get Dressed


In the past 24 hours, I’ve taken a shower, brushed my teeth, put on workout clothes, put on regular clothes, ran errands, went for a run, made dinner, got ready for bed…  

And no one paid me to do any of it!

It seems kind of ludicrous, right?  Getting paid to do basic, personal, life tasks?  (Not that it wouldn’t be nice, mind you) It’s just that it’s kind of part and parcel of being a human.  

But paying kids for these kinds of things is exactly what this article advocates.  Mom says, “As they complete tasks, they check them off and earn money.”  She also says it’s the best decision she’s ever made.

And I can’t help but wonder… what happens when they’re off at college and Mom’s not around to pay them anymore?  

But I’ll get back to that.

The general problem with paying kids to perform basic tasks (or using sticker charts, or having them earn “screen time”, or anything of that ilk) is that it is conditioning them to expect an external reward anytime they do something, rather than acting out of their own intrinsic desire.  It doesn’t actually teach them anything, except that if they do xyz, they’ll get a pony.  (A pony, a dollar, an hour of Fort Nite, whatever)

Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards says it best when he says, 
“When we repeatedly promise rewards to children for acting responsibly, or to students for making an effort to learn something new, or to employees for doing quality work, we are assuming that they could not or would not choose to act this way on their own.”   (More quotes from the same book here)

Do rewards work, at least in the short term?  Sure!  Why wouldn’t a child agree to get dressed (or make their bed or do their homework) if they get paid when they’re done?  The thing is though, raising kids is not a short-term proposition.  It’s long term.  And in the long term, rewards not only don’t work, but they are counterproductive.  The child wasn’t trusted enough to do what he needed to do without being paid.  He was, in fact, was robbed of the chance to learn to do things of his own volition.  

What happens when little Jimmy decides, “You know what, I have enough money right now.  It’s not worth it to take a bath?”  Mom’s going to have to either concede that her money plan wasn’t as foolproof as she thought, OR she’s going to end up needing to exert even more control, and as such have to up the ante.  She’s effectively taught her son that one takes a bath to get paid, not because it’s hygienic or feels nice or keeps one from stinking.

And to get back to my earlier point… what happens when Son goes off to college and doesn’t have Mom to pay him for doing his homework?  For studying for his test?  From keeping his room from becoming a giant petri dish?  It may sound blunt, but he’ll likely be stunted, unable to make heads or tails of his own sense of responsibility, of his own sense of right and wrong.  Those are lessons he’s going to have to learn as a young adult, rather than naturally as a child. 

How much better to learn these things as a child, under the watchful care and example of your parents!  

The goal (at least my goal) is to raise children that are responsible, capable, kind, and well-adjusted.  Children who operate from their own internal sense of what is good and right. And that just won’t happen if they’re paid every time they take a breath.

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A Plea To Parents This Holiday Season

Dear Parents,

As I write this, we are right in the middle of the holiday season.  It is – or it should be – a festive time.  A happy time. A time for loved ones and gifts and decadent meals.  It’s a time for generosity of spirit, a time for setting aside differences and a time for holding out a hand to our neighbors.

It’s also a time of stress.

And listen.  I’m a big girl.  I can deal with stress.  I don’t always deal with it well, mind you, but I deal with it, even during the holidays.

Kids though, kids are another thing entirely.  Yes, they can handle stress.  Some deal with way more stress than any kid (or adult!) should ever have to deal with.  This much is sadly true.  But how much harder it is for these young humans!  Kids don’t have the life experience, the tools, or the maturity we have as adults.  As parents, we can do our parts to lessen the stress our children feel, but this time of year there seems to be an overwhelming amount of added stress, doled out in generous measure by well-meaning parents.

This year, I BEG YOU, respectfully ask you to take the following to heart when it comes to planning and navigating the holiday season with your kids:

Never tie gifts to behavior, or tell your kids that they won’t get any presents if they’re “naughty.”  Don’t tell them that Santa is spying on them, or elves are spying on them, or creepy Santa cams are spying on them.  Gifts should be just that:  GIFTS.  They should be given freely, with no strings and no expectations.  Want your kids to grow up knowing how to give and receive gracefully?  Show them what that looks like!  If you’re giving a child a gift just because they behaved in a way you deemed appropriate, it is no longer a gift.  It’s a transaction.  Manipulating kids is not okay any time of year, but it’s especially not okay during the holidays, a time that is supposed to be about generosity and love… not about tricking our loved ones into doing what we want.

And while I’m on the subject of behavior…

The holidays are a great time to give your kids extra grace and understanding.  Their schedules are all wacky, they’re going to parties and events, they’re likely not getting enough sleep, they’re eating all kinds of rich, sugary foods, and they’re excited one minute and cranky the next.   Just like adults, all of the above is going to affect their mood, and thus their behavior.  I used to work in retail, so I’m intimately familiar with how out-of-sorts the general public can get this time of year.  Kids are no exception.  The answer is not extra rules, punishments, or manipulations, but extra patience.  Extra love.  Extra deep breaths and extra hugs and extra reminders to ourselves that sometimes it’s hard to be a kid, and that it’s especially hard to be a kid during the maelstrom of holiday activity.  Extend grace.

Never force your kids to hug, kiss, or otherwise show physical affection to someone else, whether it’s yourself, Uncle Tom, or great grandma.  Most of us grew up with the refrain – or command – “Come give Grandma a kiss!”, and it seems innocuous enough at first glance.  But if we want our kids to learn about bodily autonomy, it’s important that they know that they always have bodily autonomy, even if it’s Grandma.  They get to decide who does and does not touch their bodies, and when, and how, and for what reason.  This includes relatives at Christmas time.  Your child doesn’t want to give Aunt Sally a hug?  That’s okay.  (It’s good actually, that they’re showing ownership of their body)  Lightly tell Aunt Sally no thanks, and move on.

Finally, be extra respectful of your child with unique needs such as anxiety, sensory issues, or ADD.  These make things like holiday gatherings ten times harder, and require mindful consideration.  Don’t force or cajole when your child isn’t comfortable with something, and let them do what they need to do to keep their experience as pleasant as possible… whether that means leaving the room for some time alone, sitting quietly with mom, or re-centering with a book or a calming game on your phone.  Be understanding of the fact that their experience of the holiday might not look like yours, and that’s okay.  The goal isn’t to have a perfect holiday, but to have an enjoyable holiday, and that won’t happen – for anyone – if you’re trying to force something that just isn’t going to work.  Having the day go according the “plan” is never, ever worth it if it makes your child miserable in the process.  Listening, understanding, and respecting differences goes a long way towards ensuring that the holidays are as pleasant as possible for all involved.

I know it’s easy to get caught up in the holiday rush, to lose sight of what’s important, and to drag your kids kicking and screaming along for the ride.  This year, I’m asking you to turn the holidays on their head.  Change your focus and make your kids the priority.  Treat them not the way you would like to be treated, but the way they would like to be treated (The Golden Rule 2.0)

Just be nice to your kids.

Please.

Love,

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Gentle Parenting (When You Really Don’t Feel Like It)

It’s 27 days until Christmas.  Maybe you’re starting to feel the stress of the holidays.  Or maybe money’s tight.  Maybe you’re not sleeping well.  Maybe you’re dealing with health issues, or with the health issues of a loved one.  Maybe you’re just plain TIRED, and when your 3 three year old has her seventh tantrum of the day, while you may want to respond with patience and understanding, your first knee-jerk thought might well be, “Are you freaking KIDDING ME??”

Now matter how committed you may be to parenting gently, and no matter how much you love your kids, you’re still a human, dealing with your own human emotions.

Here are a few things to help get you grounded again when you’re about to lose it.

1. Breathe.  It’s said so often that it feels like its a cliche, but it’s not.  Consciously stopping to breathe is the very best first line of defense against any emotionally charged situation, bar none.  It sends oxygen to your body, calms your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and reduces the flight or fight response.  Before you speak, before you do ANYTHING….. breathe.  And then:

2.  Slow down.  I love this one because it seems so counter intuitive.  When everything’s crazy, and you’re in a hurry, and you’re rushing around, and everything’s going wrong… slowing down seems like the least helpful thing you can do.  But it’s essential to keeping your cool. Slow down, take a step a back, and regroup.  You’ll be more productive, you’ll make less mistakes, and you’ll be much less likely to say things you’ll regret.

3.  Focus on the current moment only.  We are so, so good at stressing out about the past, and worrying about the future.  So, so good!  The problem is, it takes us out of the current moment, and makes it that much harder to respond with patience and calm.  Breathe, slow down, and focus on making THIS moment a kind one.  Just this one.

4.  Put yourself in your child’s shoes.  Empathy is one of the greatest tools we have when it comes to relating to other people, our children included.  How is she feeling right now?  What is he going through?  It is HARD to be a toddler (and a preschooler and a middle-schooler and a teenager)  It’s hard to be a human.  Life can be frustrating.  Remembering that your child is having a hard time with something goes a long way toward making it more about the person, and less about the behavior.  It’s not personal.  They’re not trying to annoy you.  Rather, they’re trying to communicate in the only way they know how at the moment. Remember a time you felt the same way, and treat your child the way you wish you’d been treated.  They need your compassion, not your anger.

5.  Keep your perspective.  AKA don’t sweat the small stuff (and it’s all small stuff.)  In the moment, when big feelings are rampant, and people are triggered, and the situation is escalated, it often feels like the most catastrophic issue in the world.  Except… it’s not.  It’s not even close.  In the grand scheme of things, this moment is but a little blip.   Spilled milk, Sharpie on the wall, meltdowns over getting the wrong colored cup, sandwiches shoved in the DVD player…. I promise you it won’t matter later.  It won’t.  And nothing – seriously NOTHING – is more important than that little human standing before you, waiting to see how you’re going to react.

6.  Apologize when it’s warranted.  You’re going to have your not-so-gentle moments.  That’s a given.  Sometimes, even if you do everything “right”.  Even if you breathe, and slow down, and take a step back, and empathize and keep your perspective… your frustration still comes out sideways, and you find yourself snapping or yelling, or otherwise responding in a way you regret.  The positive part?  Now you have an opportunity to model genuine remorse.  Apologizing to your children shows them 1) That you, too, are human. 2) That it’s okay to mess up sometimes, and 3) The steps to take to make it right.  And when apologies are freely and honestly given, forgiveness is a natural by-product.  I can’t even think of a time when I’ve apologized to my kids and they haven’t graciously and authentically forgiven me.

The concepts of positive parenting are simple.  Not always EASY, but simple.  I think when it comes right down to it, the answer is that your kids want what all of us want.  To be heard.  To be seen.  Forget the behavior for a second.  Forget the frustration or the anger or the annoyance, and really SEE your child for the unique and complex and multifaceted perfectly imperfect human that they are.  And then act accordingly.

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I Wish That I Could Be Like The Cool Kids

Now that the song’s in your head…

I saw this meme come through my Facebook newsfeed this morning.  What’s interesting is that I had to do a double-take.  The person who posted it was someone who I indeed consider a “cool mom.”  Someone funnier and smarter and more liked than myself.  Someone who I could never fit in with, because I was too much of an outcast.  Too boring.  Too dorky.  Too weird.  Too…. something.  Too anything.

I’m just not a cool kid.

I am the odd man out in every group I’m ever part of, even if it’s my own group!

I’ve done this thing.  Every year, for the past five years, I’ve hosted a conference.  Every year 300 to 400 people gather together to play, to learn about unschooling and gentle parenting, to make new friends, and to just generally enjoy each other’s company.  Nothing ever makes me feel like less of a cool kid.  There’s always at least one moment (usually there are several) where I stop and look around.  I’m by myself, because I’m usually by myself.  And I look around, look at all the happy socializing and I go:

Nope, wouldn’t fit in with that group.

Wouldn’t fit in with that group either.

That group wouldn’t even let me sit with them.

Wow, I’m the most lonely, uncool person at my own party.

And on the one hand, I’m okay with it.  I am.  I’m NOT like everyone else.  I’m an awkward, dorky, unique little weirdo, and I like it that way.  I like me.  But, oh, on the other… what must it feel like to fit in, just once?  To not be the outcast?  To not be the black sheep?  To not come from a social gathering berating myself for every awkward thing I said, or thought, or did, but instead feel…. confident, like I’d behaved like I actually belonged?

And then these memes come along, and my poor little outcast brain goes, “Wait.  What?  IT’S NOT JUST ME?!”

I think the cool kids are just a mirage.

We’re all a bunch of misfits.  I think what we all have in common is that we all feel like the outcast, at least from time to time.  We all suffer from impostor syndrome.  We all have to fake it sometimes.

I mean, granted, some fake it better than others, but they fake it nonetheless.

And if I think about it, really stop and think about it, would I even WANT to be one of the cool kids?  Well, no.  Not if it meant compromising who I am.  Not if it meant squeezing my square pegged self into a round shaped hole.  Not if it meant doing or saying or going along with anything that wasn’t 100% authentically me.

All I can do is do me.  And if I do happen to approach your group, know that it took a lot for me to do so.  Know that my self-consciousness is second to none.  And know that I really DO genuinely want to be your friend…. and that if you can handle someone who trips over air, awkwardly stumbles through long stories that have no point, and chokes on her own spit…. We’ll all get along just fine.

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An Eye For An Eye Leaves The Whole World Blind

This video recently went viral.  Now, I don’t know who Caidyn Bennett is, but this is an adorable child.  Truly.  Absolutely endearing.  Sweet.  Funny.  Sassy.  Everything I love.

Having said that….

Nooooo. No. No. No.

I think it’s telling that this is the second time in just a couple of weeks that I’ve felt compelled to write about bullying.  Bullying is a BIG issue right now.  And it’s not just in schools, either.  We’ve got parents bullying kids, spouses bullying spouses, strangers bullying strangers.  This is for real.

And honestly?  I don’t know the answer.  I don’t.  I think like most things, it is multi-faceted, and needs to be looked at from lots of different angles.

I do believe… strongly, very very strongly… that it begins at home.  That it begins with how we treat our children.  How we treat others in the presence of our children.  How we talk about others.  How we talk to others.  How we build each other up, instead of tearing them down.  How we give our children a sense of pride, a sense of positive self-ownership, a sense of confidence, a sense of selflessness, a sense of kindness, a sense of humility …. so they won’t want to go bullying anyone in the first place.

What we don’t want to do is to teach them that might makes right.

Which brings me back to little Caidyn.

Caidyn says if little Johnny is going to punch him in the face, then little Johnny’s gonna “catch these hands. Cuz Johnny’s gonna learn to keep his hands to himself.”

So,  Johnny’s going to learn to keep his hands to himself by getting punched by someone else who can’t keep his hands to himself? I don’t really expect someone this young to see the irony in these words, but as adults we certainly should.  Hitting in response to hitting is the height of hypocrisy.  (Much like spanking, but that’s another topic for another day)  It escalates instead of deescalates.  It sends the exact opposite message of the one you wanted to send:  that hitting is wrong.

And make no mistake.  I am not in any way suggesting that you should just sit back and let yourself be hit.  But standing up for yourself, and yes, even defending yourself, does not need to involve hitting.  In fact, if you’ve ever taken a self defense course, you would have learned that hitting is actually a last resort.  You learn blocks, you learn holds, you learn defense.  Hitting is what happens when you need to go on the OFFENCE, and it is not the answer for a one-off hit from a school yard bully.  Without knowing any specifics, a simple and confident, “I don’t like that,”  “That hurt”, or “I won’t let you hit me,” might be a good place to start.

So no, I haven’t taught my children to hit back.  What I have taught them is that violence isn’t the answer (and that includes violent words as well).  I’ve taught them to be kind, to show love for themselves and others, to live as peacefully as possible with the people around them.  I feel like focusing on them, and focusing on what kind of people they are, will yield a much greater return on investment than making them practice their right hook.

And if they do ever find themselves on the receiving end of someone else’s anger?  I hope they stand up for themselves.  I hope they try to deescalate.  I hope they start with words.  I hope they remember that much like harsh words, a punch can never be redacted, and should never, ever, be used as a first resort.

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BPD: Another Coming-Out Story

I first posted this over on my Patreon page, to see how it felt. I sat with a few days, and decided to post it here too.
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I first told my bipolar story two and a half years ago (it’s been two and a half years already!) You can read about it on my blog here. In a way, it was kind of anti-climatic. I’d known in my heart of hearts that it was bipolar for SO LONG before I had the official diagnosis. What I didn’t know, what I couldn’t know, was that it didn’t exist on its own. I didn’t know that even as I was getting better – and I was… the depression was getting shorter and less severe, and the mania was getting less, well, manic – I didn’t know that there was something else there. Something that was not getting better. Something that was in fact getting worse.

That something was Borderline Personality Disorder. Scary words, right? They’re right up there with Schizophrenia and Dissociate Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder). And as an aside, you know what? People live productive lives with those disorders too.

But despite the weight of the words themselves, learning it was BPD was one of the most freeing, AHA, light bulb moments of my life. The more I researched, the more I went, “Ooooooooh.” It made sense. It made So. Much. Damn. Sense. I was reading about MYSELF. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t just “too sensitive”. I wasn’t failing at getting better at bipolar. My bipolar was actually under control. There was just this … thing. This thing that was still ruling my life. This thing that I had no idea had to handle. And it was destroying me.

The list of possible BPD symptoms is lengthy. In order to be diagnosed, you need to exhibit 5 of the 9 main criteria.

What follows are some of the bigger ones of which I am painfully and intimately familiar. These are the things that made me ask – even as I went through therapy (which turned out to be the wrong kind), and took my medication and did everything I was supposed to do – “What is WRONG with me? Is this supposed to be SO HARD?”

1) Fear of abandonment. Every relationship I’ve ever had, romantic or otherwise, has been marked with my severe, irrational fear that I am going to be abandoned. That I am eventually going to f**k it up. This fear made me clingy, paranoid, and overly attached. It’s made me pick fights so that there’d be some reason for them to eventually leave me, other than that I was just an inherently unlovable person.

2) Unstable relationships. This is kind of the hallmark of BPD. I am BAD at relationships. I get quickly attached, and quickly unattached. Like noted above, I have an intense fear of being abandoned. Even with this fear, I often have no problem walking away myself. I idealize someone one second, and then rapidly devalue them or get angry or hurt at the slightest infraction the next. I get irrationally paranoid. My feelings are hurt. Often. I worry that I’m hated, even by people who, in a lucid moment, I know love me. I worry that I said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing or thought the wrong thing. While lots of people can relate to some or even all of the above, I cannot overstate how extreme it is in BPD. It takes over. It rules my whole mind. I love hard. I feel hard. I hurt hard. My relationships are intense. Crazy intense. Fleeting. Unstable. I don’t know how to do relationships like “normal” people.

3) Impulsivity – Risky behavior, substance abuse, self-harm…. Check. Check. Check.

4) Emotional instability and inability to regulate emotions – This is the thing that tripped me up for a long time. I couldn’t understand why I was still having so many emotional problems even as we got my bipolar under control. Emotional instability is of course a symptom of bipolar as well (this seems a good a time as any to point out that they share a lot of symptoms, and they do often co-exist) but they’re different in the two. With bipolar, it’s like a roller coaster. Sort of swoopy, sometimes even predictable ups and downs that might span weeks or even months. With BPD it is a day to day, minute-to-minute dysfunction. I can be feeling on top of the world one moment, and then someone will say something that triggers me (I hate the word triggered, but regardless, it’s the right word), and I am sliding down a shame-filled, self-loathing spiral like none other. I hate myself, I hate the other person, I hate everything and everyone, with the fire of a thousand suns. And then I’m cool again. Over and over and over all day long. It is intense, scary, and more exhausting than words can possibly explain. It’s like it takes over, and I have no control over it.

5) Suicidality – Self-explanatory, and another one that’s shared with bipolar. Yes, I’ve been there. Boy howdy, have I been there.

6) Disturbance of self-image and self-concept – Anyone who’s read my blog for any length of time knows this about me. I struggle with this. A lot. A lot a lot.

In a nutshell, I think BPD is best described by the quote up above. I have no emotional skin. I have raw nerve endings all over my body, and everything hurts. Things that would just brush off most people’s backs are excruciating. Which is why, it never ever helps a person with BPD to be told that they’re just being too sensitive. I stand before you to tell you it actually makes it much, much worse. In fact, it probably needs to be said that in almost all cases of BPD, the person grew up in a home where their feelings were continually invalidated. And invalidation of my feelings, or feeling like I’m being talked down to in some way, has always been, and continues to be, my absolute biggest trigger into breakdown territory.

The good thing? I don’t tell you this to excuse poor behavior. I don’t tell you this to garner sympathy or to convince you you need to walk on eggshells around me. I mean, yes, it’s helpful for me if you understand a little bit about why I am the way I am, but make no mistake:

I’m working on it.

I’m learning how to handle my emotions. I’m learning how to have healthy relationships. I’m learning how to respond like a “normal” person. I’m working with my psych on symptom management. I’m practicing the principles of DBT (the gold standard of treatment for BPD)

I’m working on it.

My God, I am working on it.

And now I’m talking about it too, because it’s important. It’s important to put a face to these things. It’s important to fight the stigma, it’s important to encourage people to get help, it’s important to reach even ONE person who can say, “I’m not alone. And if she can do this, I can too.”

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Bullying the Bully

via ABC News

bul·ly
ˈbo͝olē
noun
-a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.
synonyms: persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, tormentor, intimidator;
verb
-use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.
A few days ago, BuzzFeed ran an article about a mom’s “unique” parental move to punish her son.  He’d been unkind to kids at school, so she made him wear a t-shirt that said, “I’m a bully”, both front and back.

(Unique, by the way, is in quotes because, Buzzfeed?  This sort of public shaming is anything BUT unique.  It’s – unfortunately – one of the most popular parenting trends out there, and one I’ve written about several times.)

Mom has, as expected, been widely praised for this decision, with few people failing to recognize its sad irony.  The biggest problem with this type of parenting tactic (and make no mistake, there are plenty) is that it is teaching the child that it is okay to do the very thing you don’t want them to do!  Read the definition of bully again.  “A person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.”  Or as a verb: “to use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.”  This mom, by very definition, is bullying her son, for….. bullying.  She is in essence telling him that it’s okay to use force, intimidation, and humiliation to make your point.  She is telling him that it’s okay to negatively use your position of power and authority over someone to make them do what you want.  She is telling him that it’s okay to throw a child’s mistakes in their face, chastise them for their bad decisions, and publicly shame them for their poor choice in judgment.

Is what the boy did wrong?  Absolutely!  But as the proverbial saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right.  Mom’s bullying of the boy does not in any way absolve either one of them of their behavior.

I can’t pretend to know why this particular boy chose to bully.  What I do know though, is that people have a tendency to act as well as they feel.  There’s a reason why the expression, “Hurt people hurt people” is so often touted to explain poor behavior.  Someone who is hurting, or feeling unloved, or unseen, or unappreciated, might lash out and hurt others.  Someone who feels badly about themselves might look for flaws in others to make themselves feel better.  Someone who feels weak might pick on someone who seems even weaker.  Someone who’s bullied may very well turn around and bully others.  People who are hurting inside hurt others.  It is a sad truth, but it’s one that can’t be ignored.

And make no mistake, bullying should never, ever be excused.  Unkindness of any sort should always be addressed, and discussed, and navigated together as parent and child.  It’s a particularly … yucky  (for lack of a better word) part of parenting, but it’s an important one nonetheless.  In fact, just a few days ago, I had to help one of my children around a bullying situation – my child was on the receiving end – and I walked away with many feelings, one of which was gratitude at how it was handled by all parents involved.

Kids are still learning.  Their brains are literally still forming.  They’re human, and sometimes they mess up.  Sometimes they mess up badly.  And yes, sometimes they might be unkind.  It’s not our job as parents to respond to unkindness with more unkindness!  Our job is to set a boundary, yes, but to also offer unconditional love (which, in its absence, may be the very thing causing the bullying in the first place.) Our job is to show them how to treat others.  Our job is to be the ultimate models of kindness to all people… starting with our own children.

And when your child IS the bully?  It comes down to compassion, and understanding, and finding out the WHY.  That “why” is so important!  Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  People aren’t unkind for no reason.  If your child is a perpetrator, or for that matter a victim, of a bullying situation:  look for the why, and then go from there.   Responding to bullying with more bullying will only make the situation worse.  Talk to your children, but even more importantly, listen.  They’ll tell you what you need to know.  Once you have a frame of reference, you can form a plan and move forward with a solution.

No shaming t-shirts necessary.

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