Friday, December 31, 2010

Food as Love

Moms and food go together.  We imagine moms making chocolate chip cookies to go with the milk for the after school snack.  Jewish mothers, Italian mothers, and many others stereotypically encourage even their grown children to eat more.  Cooking food is how they show their love for you, eating more of what they cook is proof that you love them.  In some families dads and food go together, too.  Food is not just about calories and fuel for our bodies.  The messages that go into the bowl along with the soup are many and complex.

We have a particularly full figured cat.  He was large when we adopted him from the shelter and despite all efforts on my part he is still 20 pounds of food fixated feline.  Sometimes, when he is staring hopefully at me, while sitting attentively by his bowl, I sing him a song, 'Love is better than food, Love is better than food, Love is better than, Love is better than, Love is better than food."  But for him, and for many people, food is love.

I have watched people making my children food: special treats, family recipes, or something they are positive my children will not only like but love.  When my children do not like this food, specially prepared for them, the preparer takes it personally.  They are disappointed, but it is more than that, they feel rejected because their offering of food has been rejected.  Even if the person rejecting the food is three years old, even if the person rejecting the food does so politely.

Food is personal.  It is entangled with our culture, childhood, and our memories happy and sad.  In a world that can feel big and scary food can be a comfort.  We eat foods in hopes of preventing terrible diseases and we avoid foods because we believe they will cause us harm.  For some people food is the focus of their Fanaticism.  Food is also social, it brings people together and is shared at celebrations and holidays of all types.  For people who live with life threatening allergies or diseases like Celiac Disease, living a safe and healthy life among the other food eaters can be challenging and even dangerous.

No matter what our own relationship is with food, our children are born with their own particular set of taste buds, metabolism, sensitivities and tolerances.  Our children are born with their own preferences and those preferences expand as our children explore the world and try new things.  We can try and make our children eat according to our schedule and expectations, our own preferences and sensitivities.  We can try to brainwash our children so that they believe exactly the same things we do about food and nutrition and health.  We can try to control and manipulate our children's relationship with food.  On the other hand, we can accept our children for who they are.  We can respect that they are a different people than we are and what they eat, how and when they eat it, may be drastically different.  We can aim to be a Family of Connected Individuals in regards to food as well.  We can also remember that our children are going to be in the world, playing at friends' houses, going to school, visiting relatives, shopping in stores, and they are going to be exposed to a wide variety of foods, as well as a lot of different information and ideas about diet and nutrition.  They are going to have the opportunity to make choices about food, even if we never give them choices at home.

When we focus on our relationship with our children, instead of on their relationship with food; when we explore life, and food, along side of them as partners, we are available as a resource and a support system.  When we have a relationship built on trust and connection, our children know that they can come to us and discuss their thoughts and ideas without being judged, criticized or shamed.  When we can let go of our expectations our children are free to express what foods they like or do not like without fears of disappointing us or being forced to eat something.

As parents who love their children we want them to be healthy and we often jump right from that thought to food.  We are deeply invested in what they eat, how much they eat and when they eat.  Perhaps we are missing out on the importance of Why they eat.  Why do your kids eat what, how much and when they eat?  Do your kids eat because they are hungry?  Do your kids eat foods they enjoy?  Do your kids eat as much or as little as feels right to them at the time?  Or, do your kids eat because you have told them it is time to eat?  Do your kids eat foods because you told them that they have to, or because they want to please you?  Do your kids eat the amount you put on their plate because they know they have to eat it all?  Do your kids eat to please you?

When we focus on our relationship with our children, instead of on their relationship with food, we can share the joy and pleasure that food brings to our lives.  We can share our relationship with food with our children and they can share their relationship with food with us, an exchange of ideas and experiences.  Together we can learn and grow as a family with healthy relationships with food and with each other.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"What makes us fat is...."

It seems that everyone has some theory about what foods make us fat, which foods are evil, and what foods will cure every known illness.  The list of what not to eat keeps growing, as does the list of what you absolutely must eat if you are going to be healthy.  Most parents want their children to be healthy and often that includes not wanting their children to be fat.  Because of this parents often enforce  rules and restrictions about food, convinced that it is in the best interest of their children.  Parents may be completely unconditional and uncontrolling in every other area, but remain rigid and restrictive when it comes to food.

Recently a friend was posting gluten free recipes on facebook, which makes sense since she lives with Celiac Disease, and one of her friends asked if it was the flour, the gluten or the carbohydrates that make us fat. Well guess what?  Baring any real health issues, none of those things "make us fat."

Before I go any further let me point out that how much someone weighs is no indication of their level of health, fitness or happiness.  It is entirely possible to be a well rounded person and to be happier and healthier than a person who wears a size 0.

What should matter to us is whether or not our children have a healthy relationship with food.  The question "What food makes us fat?" is not the question I want to ask in relation to my own body or the bodies of my family.  I would rather ask:  What makes us feel good?  How does food bring us joy?  How do we ensure that our children have a healthy relationship with food?  The answer to that last question is Trust.  We must trust that our children know what is best for their bodies.  When we trust our children, we give them the space they need to learn about their own bodies and what their bodies need.  Our children will create their own relationships with food.  When we try and control that process we get in the way of their ability to know what they really need.  We cause them to doubt their own wisdom, we pass along our own food issues, we get in the way.  We must accept that different bodies need different foods.  We must remember that people have all different shaped bodies, and not hold one up as ideal or healthiest. When we explore life with our children we can be a resource of information, but we must be careful that we are giving them accurate information.  When it comes to food it can be hard to know what the truth is.  The best way to find out the truth about food is to try different things and pay attention to our bodies.  It may be true that if I eat 2 Red Vines I feel sick, but my daughter may be able to eat a whole package without feeling any affect.  When I tell my daughter,"If you eat more of those you will feel sick," I am telling her my truth.  However, if she eats more and does not feel sick then she knows that my truth is not her truth, and I become less trust worthy when it comes to providing information about food and its affects on her body.  It is more helpful when I say, "If I eat more than two I feel sick, how do they make you feel?"

When it comes to food, what are you afraid of?  Are you afraid that your children will get some terrible disease?  Are you worried about what the grandparents will say if your child tends to be chubby?  Are you afraid your children will have the same issues around food that you have, even as you are creating new food issues that your children will be struggling with their entire lives?  Fear makes our world smaller.  We need to embrace food as we embrace life.  We need to celebrate the joy and pleasure that comes from sharing food with our families.  We need to let go of our fears.  Look around you and notice what people are eating.  You will see that there are people living joyful lives eating all kinds of foods.  You will also notice that people who eat "healthy foods" get sick some times and people who eat "junk food" can be healthy.  You may notice that in families where children make their own choices about food those choices are diverse, nutritious and as individual as the children.

Remember: nothing is more important than your relationship with your children, and that includes food.  Your relationship with your child can directly impact their relationship with food.  Some people who have an unhealthy relationship with food do so because they learned to use food to self-sooth.  The struggle some adults have with food and weight can be a mirror of the struggles they faced in their childhood for acceptance and love, a reaction to the controls or restrictions adults placed on foods, or a response to the messages they received about their body shape or size.  Children who grow up with unconditional love, in a family with strong connections and trusting relationships, are more likely to have a healthy relationship with their body and with food.  Children in these families have been able to explore a variety of foods and eating patterns, listen to their bodies, and figure out what they need to eat to feel healthy.

If food is creating conflict or power struggles in your family think about the messages you are sending to your children.  Do you use guilt, fear, bribes or threats to get your children to eat what you think they should eat?  Are your children learning to listen to their bodies?  Are you telling them how food can make them fat and unhealthy, or are you supporting them in becoming healthy individuals who enjoy food?   Unless your child has a severe allergy or a serious health issue nothing they choose to eat is going to hurt them as much as the disconnect in your relationship that is caused when you try to control what they are eating.

Nothing is more important than your relationship with your children, and that includes food.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The gift we give our family

People are celebrating many different sacred days this time of year with diverse traditions.   Each family celebrating in their own way.  Through out the year we have different days that we hold sacred.  We create rituals that give those days special meaning and remind us of our blessings.  Birthdays, anniversaries of many different kinds, the passing of the seasons, and days that are holy or sacred give us times to reflect and remember, or rejoice and create new memories, with those we love.  In the end, a holiday is what you make of it, what meaning you give it, what traditions you choose to embrace and continue year after year.  Often the special days we celebrate involve giving and receiving gifts.

In my blog posts I often emphasize that everyone's needs are important and that the goal is to find ways to meet each person's needs.  Readers question if that is possible.  They ask if it's true that my own needs are met while I'm busy meeting the needs of everyone else.  There are two ways to answer the question, both feel equally true in my life.  The first answer is no, my needs are not always met.  I live with three children and a chronically ill husband who works a job he is good at, but a job that is exhausting and takes most of his functional energy.  It is a meaningful job, but not a high paying job, which means we have limited financial resources.  I live in a house populated with pets which are my responsibility.  There are times when my "what about me?!?" level starts to rise.  I begin to feel like all I do is meet the needs and expectations of my family.  From this perspective, no, my needs are not always met.  In fact, there are times when my needs don't even seem to matter.

The second answer is, meeting the needs of my family is meeting my needs.  I have chosen this life.  Every day I make the choice to get up and live a life of love with my family.  I can view meeting their needs as a gift, an expression of my love for them, a blessing to be shared with them, and a blessing that I am able to live this life with them each day.  I also know that while our needs are equally important, I have an ability to delay gratification, to know that my needs will get met eventually, that my children may still be developing.

Meeting the needs of my family can feel like a burden or a gift, it depends on my focus and perspective.  When The laundry and dishes and clutter start to pile up and feelings of resentment that I am the one responsible for doing everything start to build in my mind nothing has really changed but my mind state.  If I'm not paying attention, soon I am banging about in the kitchen, grumbling under my breath, snapping at whomever dares ask me for one more thing.  Then I feel angry with myself for being so hateful.  My emotional and mental state become increasingly volatile.  My family vanishes into various bedrooms and I am left alone to get myself back on track.  When I remember to pay attention I can catch myself before my mind state deteriorates.  When I'm paying attention, I have the ability to know when one of my needs cannot wait or when my mind is turning wants into needs.

As I wrote previously, "There's a kind of parental enlightenment that we can attain. It is easier for some people than for others, but for most of us it does take practice. When we reach this state of parental enlightenment our day to day life may be the same (though it will probably feel easier and may actually be easier) but our attitude changes. We still spend our days meeting our children's needs, making food, cleaning up messes. The difference is that we now do these same things from a place of joy, as a gift to our children, instead of from a place of resentment and frustration." (The Parental Practice)

Our family's life together is what we make of it, what meaning we give it, what traditions we choose to embrace and continue year after year.  We can built rituals and reminders into our days that help us stay focused on the gift we give our family when we meet their needs.  We can cultivate joy in the small gifts of love that we offer each day when we make our children a snack, read them a book or listen to them with our full attention.  We can remember that the years we have living together with our children are often a small portion of our lifetime, and in the future there will most likely by plenty of time for our own needs to be met.  We can remember that making our relationships with our children a priority is a gift we give them and ourselves; a gift that will affect our future, their future and generations not yet born.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Be Kind To Everyone

We were buying sneakers for our younger two girls.  We found cute pairs for each of them and we had a coupon that made them more affordable, but the reality was that buying anything right then felt like spending too much money.  When I handed the cashier the coupon she asked me to wait a minute, I smiled and said, "O.K." When she returned she had another coupon that gave me an additional 20% off.

This was not a random act of kindness on her part.  I know the main cashiers at the U-scan checkout at our grocery store by name.  They know my name, too.  One even calls my husband "Mr. Jenna."  I have seen pictures of their grand babies and I know about their tough times, and illnesses.  Because I have taken the time to cultivate a relationship with them, because I have been kind to them, they do what they can to be kind in return. 

I am not advocating being kind because you might get something in return, though sometimes it does work out that way.  I am advocating being kind because we all have our struggles.  We may look at someone else and think that they have it so easy.  We may envy their supportive relatives, their income, their beautiful house, their above average children, or their marriage.  It is easy to think that other people have it better than we do, but in the end, we all have challenges in our lives.  I also advocate being kind because it is through our kindness that our children experience kindness.

Being kind to everyone includes being kind to our children, our partners, and ourselves.  Kindness begins at home.  When children live in a world of kindness they internalize being kind, they understand that when someone is kind to you it feels warm and fuzzy, and they understand that when you are kind to someone else you both feel blessed.  Children who experience kindness and respect in their homes are more likely treat others they meet with kindness and respect.

If we grew up without consistent kindness in our lives we may struggle with being kind to ourselves.  If we verbally berate ourselves in front of our children when we do something wrong this increases the chance that they will do the same thing.  If we are critical of the product of our own efforts, a craft project, the dinner we made or our ability to keep the house clean, our children may rightfully assume that we will be critical of their efforts as well.  If people in our own childhood did not regularly model kindness we may have to practice being kind until it becomes our first response.  

Metta is Buddhist loving-kindness meditation.  The practice involves first directing loving-kindness towards yourself and then gradually expanding outward until you are directing loving-kindness towards all living things.  Studies show that Metta practice actually changes your brainwaves.  It not only boosts positive emotions, it can also improve your health, decrease your pain and help you feel more connected to others.  If you are interested in learning more about Loving-kindness meditation Gregory Kramer's "Loving Kindness for Children" is a place to start.

In my life I try to be kind to everyone.  Sometimes I fall short, but that's my goal.  Be kind to everyone.  When we start with being kind to ourselves, we can then expand our kindness outward to our partner, our children, our extended family and eventually to all living things.  When we are kind to everyone we strengthen connections and relationships.  When we are kind to everyone the blessing of kindness is shared.  When I am kind to my children we both benefit, and so might other people who witness the kindness of our interactions. 

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”  
Dalai Lama

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Family Time

I've been hearing a lot about "family time" from my children lately.  Mostly along the lines of their friends not being able to play or hang out because families were having "family time."  I think families spending time together is great!  I love it when my husband and children are with me and we are enjoying time together.  Families who have activities that they all enjoy doing are fortunate in that they have a natural way to spend time together.  Creating family traditions, such as game or movie night, can be a lot of fun.  If you are big fan of "family time" I ask you to remember this: nothing is more important than your relationship with your children, not even family time.

Being respectful of our children involves respecting their individual preferences or needs for social interaction.  This includes time spent together as a family.  It also involves understanding that as our children are progressing on their path to adulthood there may be times when they need more time alone or with their friends.   Parents who do not employ manipulations such as praise, punishment, withdrawal of affection, shamming or guilt trips, are more likely to have a connection with their children that in turn makes their children more likely to choose to spend time with their family.

Family time that is designated as such by parents, with mandatory attendance, may be an effort by the parents to create connection and develop a pattern of spending time together that will last for generations.  However, family time of this variety often creates feelings of resentment and frustration.  Instead of strengthening the family connection it can instead cause conflict and become a trigger for yelling, threats and punishment.  For more on triggers, read Here.    When negative feelings build up about family time children end up looking forward to the day when they have control over their lives and can choose to spend as little time with the family as possible.  Your child may not be showing how they feel about mandatory time spent together.  It is possible that what your child is expressing on the outside is not really how they are feeling on the inside.  If you think your child doesn't mind family time, reread my blog post "My child doesn't mind."

Spending time together as a family can be fun, heart warming, cozy, silly, relaxing and wonderful.  However, when it becomes something our children are required to do, instead of something they are choosing to do, the possibility for negative effects on our family relationships increases dramatically.  When family time becomes more important than our children we have lost focus of our priorities.  What we should aim for is A Family of Connected Individuals.

Family time may be held up as an ideal, something that good families have on a regular basis.  The reality may be that for your family having each parent spend time one on one with each child is a better way to build connection.  Spending time in different combinations of family members instead of all together is also a possibility.  Letting go of your own need for enforced family time may open the door to new and wonderful ways for your family to connect.  Your child will most likely feel more connected to you when you cheerfully kiss them goodbye, as they head out the door to hang out with friends, then they will spending several hours together during mandatory family time.  When you shift your focus from family time to the relationships in your family you will experience a greater love, joy and connection when you are together, and when you are apart.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Problem Behaviors"

Someone contacted my husband asking if he would be willing to help them with their child's problem behaviors.  When I mentioned this to my 14 year old daughter she laughed.  Then she said something like, "To us the solution is so obvious."  And what was the solution that was so obvious to a teenager?  The child had needs that weren't being met.  As I have written before, meeting the needs of children is the Easy Button of Parenting.

When parents seek help for their children's "problem behaviors" what they are really asking for is a way to make the behaviors stop.  When parents focus on the behavior, instead of on their children, the solution is often staring them in the face unnoticed.  On the other hand, some parents know what the solution is, but they are not willing to acknowledge it because meeting the needs of their children may seem daunting, inconvenient, or require them to make changes in their life.  We must remember that we chose to be parents and we made a commitment to our children.  When they are young, our children are completely dependent upon us to meet their needs.  While our needs are important, we have a greater number of resources, and that includes the ability to delay gratification.  Yes, our needs are equally important, but if we are not willing and able to occasionally put our children's needs ahead of our own then perhaps we should reconsider being a parent.

If you are struggling with "problem behaviors" start by asking yourself, "What does my child need and how can I meet those needs?"    Be honest about what needs are going unmet even if you are not sure how to meet them or it seems the only way to meet them will be drastic changes in your life.  If you need help identifying needs that need meeting reread this blog post.  Also ask yourself if you are truly accepting and embracing your child.  Notice if you say things like, "I love my kid, but I wish he wasn't so loud."  "She's a great kid but she won't sit still for school/church/meals."  "Why can't he be tidier, like his brother?"   Perhaps the problem is not with the behaviors.  Perhaps the problem with with your attitude about the behaviors.

Remember that there is a reason for your child's behavior.  Usually the behavior is an attempt to get their needs met to the best of their ability.  If you are proactively meeting your child's needs your child will not have to resort to "problem behaviors" in an effort to get your attention and get their needs met.  If you stop a behavior without meeting the underlying need you are creating an unhealthy situation for your child.  Your child may bottle up their emotions only to have them erupt in anger, depression, or physical illness later in their life.  Your child may find other people to meet their needs, not always in healthy ways.  Your child may develop learned helplessness: they know their needs aren't going to be met so they give up trying.  See "My child doesn't mind" for more on learned helplessness. 

When you find yourself thinking that your child has problem behaviors unhook yourself from the thought that you need to stop the behavior.  Try looking at life through your child's eyes.  Approach your child with unconditional love and compassion, and find ways to connect with your child.  Include your child in figuring out what their needs are and how their needs can be met.  Remind yourself that nothing is more important than your relationship with your child, and that includes stopping "problem behaviors."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

You'd better watch out...

It's the holiday season.  There are many special days celebrated this month by our friends and family.  Magic is in the air.  It is often with joy and excitement that friends and families get together to exchange gifts, eat food and share their traditions.  It is also a the season of increased financial stress, over stimulated children, and exhausted parents.  For many children their happiness and wonder is tempered by a subtle but ever present threat that they had better be good.  For some kids there is an increased harshness of parenting that darkens their month of December.

"If you don't stop that right now Santa is not going to bring you any presents!"
"Santa has spies everywhere and they know if you are being good or bad."
"Do that again and I'll take all your presents back to the store!"
"Santa only brings presents to good children, so you obviously aren't getting any presents this year."
"You don't deserve any presents."

I'll admit to having been one of those parents who sang "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good....." under my breath as a not so subtle reminder to my small children that they were not behaving in a way worthy of Santa's gifts.

"Worthy of gifts."  My perspective and my parenting have changed a lot since then.  Being worthy of gifts is not a concept that fits with unconditional parenting.  My children are worthy just the way they are.  My children do not have to earn gifts through good behavior anymore than they have to earn my love.  Gifts are given because the giving brings all of us joy.

When I go back and reread my blog post "How we live at our house" I am reminded that the idea of using Santa to guilt trip our children into behaving the way we want them to is completely counter to our principles: "We do not control our children. We do not use rewards or punishment, we do not threaten or bribe. We do not use love, praise, negative attention, disapproval, or the withdrawal of love and positive attention, to manipulate our children's behavior."

When parents choose to use Santa as the bully who keeps their kids inline they are missing out on the joy of the holiday season.  And sadly some children who have been bullied this way will grow up and decide to avoid having Santa in the lives of their children because of the painful memories he evokes.  Some parents will also tell you that they don't "do Santa" because they don't lie to their children.  If you have read my blog for a while you know that I do not in any way advocate lying to children.  I believe that families should be built on trust, honesty and respect.  However, I do feel that it is possible to keep the magic of the holiday season alive without ending up with children who feel betrayed.*

In our house we believe in Santa.  We also believe in fairies and dragons.  Actually, I think we may believe in fairies and dragons to a greater degree than we believe in Santa.  My children enjoy sharing these beliefs and the magic involved.  If my children ask me if I believe in Santa I explain that I do believe in Santa, but that I don't think Santa is actually like he is portrayed in movies or commercials.  I talk about the spirit of the holidays versus an actual person.  My oldest daughter loves to help create the magic for her younger sisters.  I am also open to changing our approach to Santa's role in our holiday celebrations if that becomes necessary.

Each family must have holiday traditions that meet the needs of their family members.  No matter what your spiritual path, examining the traditions that have been passed down for generations is valuable and necessary.  Just because "it has always been done this way" does not mean that you have to keep doing it that way.  Traditions are not more important than your relationship with your children.

This season watch out for traditions that are causing tension in your family.  Be aware of how the extra activities and stimulation affect you and your children.  Be prepared to meet the needs of your children and to put their needs above everything else, including the expectations you or your extended family may have regarding holiday traditions and the behavior of children.  Embrace the joy of the season.  Look at the holidays through the eyes of your children.  Find new ways to celebrate that make room for energy and excitement instead of smothering them in the name of tradition.

*Update 2013:  As a parent you learn a lot along the way. Sometimes the ideas that you feel confident about, the things you Know, end up in the graveyard of Truths Proven Wrong. My statement in this post, "However, I do feel that it is possible to keep the magic of the holiday season alive without ending up with children who feel betrayed" is among those ideas in my life.

I did end up with a child who was devastated the year that she came back down stairs, after we thought she was in bed for the night, while we were hanging up stockings. She loved the magic of Santa Claus and had a special relationship with the Tooth Fairy, and if one wasn't real the other wasn't either. My desire to keep the magic alive for her back fired, and she still has sad and angry feelings about it a couple years later. It is my hope that as the years pass she'll see that my intentions were good and she'll feel better about stockings and filling them with the spirit of the holidays. Perhaps I should have been more straight forward when she asked tentative questions about mythical/fictional characters, even though I could tell she wasn't sure she wanted to hear the truth. She was going to be sad at some point, finding out that the stories she loved were made up, not real, and she enjoyed the years of believing, which makes me think that I wouldn't do much differently if I could do it all again.

Parenting is like that, a lot. You do the best you can, you learn from your mistakes, and you realize that there isn't always a way to avoid heartache and sadness. And when heartache and sadness arrive you respond with compassion and understanding, apologizing for any part you played in the situation, and validate the feelings of everyone involved.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Unnecessary risk"

"If I did say yes, I would be awake the whole time.I would likely just worry about tired drivers, distracted teens behind the wheel, other people leaving bars and driving, carjacking and a host of other scenarios that would sound to my teen like I was trying to be a killjoy. But there are things that are just more dangerous in the middle of the night. Not to mention the environmental impact of driving around in a gas-guzzling van for fun.It all seems like an unnecessary risk to me." 

Someone left the above comment anonymously on my "Real Trust - no strings attached" post.  For the past week I have been mulling over the idea of "unnecessary risk."  What is unnecessary risk?  Who gets to decide what qualifies as unnecessary risk?  What is unnecessary risk for one person may be a whole lot of fun for another person.  It seems that to a certain degree increased risk taking equals a more meaningful life. 

We drove to my in-laws for Thanksgiving.  The roads were snow packed and icy.  For me, driving on icy roads qualifies as unnecessary risk.  However, it was very important to the grandparents and the children that we visit.  We discussed the risks.  We checked the road reports and the weather forecast.  My in-laws offered to rent a more reliable vehicle that would fit the chains we had in the garage.  For me it was an unnecessary risk, but for the rest of my family it was acceptable risk.  I took every step possible to increase my comfort level.  We drove a rental, carried chains, had blankets and water in the car and my husband drove.  Fortunately my husband is an experienced winter driver, having driven the passes between Montana and Washington a ridiculous number of times during his college years.  We made the drive safely.  We had a wonderful visit.  The girls were thrilled to be able to go sledding.  When it was time to return home the forecast was calling for freezing rain and the road conditions were dangerous.  We decided that it was too risky.  We called our pet sitter and made arrangements to stay for another day.  When we did head home, the roads were clear of all ice and snow. 

In families different members may have very different levels of comfort with risk.  We must be respectful of the differences and be willing to explore creative solutions so that everyone is comfortable with any potential risk.  When we have a child whose comfort with risk far exceeds our own we may find ourselves grasping for control when we need to let go.  Our relationship with our child can help us find peace in this situation.  When we have a connected relationship, with a firm foundation of trust, our child will more likely be sensitive to our feelings of discomfort and be open to information we may provide about potential consequences of taking any particular risk.  This does not mean that our child will never take risks that make us nervous.  It does not mean that our children should avoid risks that we think are unnecessary to make us more comfortable.  We should not distort facts or guilt our children into staying inside our comfort zone.  If my child is comfortable with a risk I do everything possible to support them in taking that risk.  I do my best to avoid inflicting my children with my fears.  See "Fears- yours, not theirs."  If I have serious concerns about a particular risk I may ask my children if they will do things to help me feel more comfortable, but I need to remember that the decision is theirs to make.  When my daughter is with her friends I know she is only a text away if she needs support or I want to touch base.  If a child wants to slide down the stairs in a sleeping bag I suggest we put pillows at the bottom.  And sometimes I just have to let go and trust that my child knows her own abilities.  My middle child should go ahead and stand on the sled as she goes down the hill.  It's completely within her comfort zone, even though it's outside my own.  As the other people who commented on the "Real Trust" post pointed out, your children are going to make their own decisions and take risks.  As your children grow older, your relationship with them will determine whether you know about the risks they are taking.

People who take risks do amazing things with their lives.  It is often the people who have taken the biggest risks that we most admire.  People who go to the moon, climb tall mountains, travel the world, drop out of college to invent a computer, spend years writing novels while barely paying their bills, and auditioning repeatedly until they land their first big part, are the people we wish to emulate.

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.”
Leo F. Buscaglia

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” 
T.S. Eliot

“He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.”
Paul Tillich

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Real Trust - no strings attached

It's around 1:00 a.m. and my 14 year old opens my bedroom door, waking me up.  A couple of her friends have asked if she can go drive around and listen to music with them.  I say yes.  I hear her head out the door a short time later and then I'm back to sleep.  I didn't hear her come back in, and when I woke up once during the wee hours I didn't go check her bed.

I didn't ask for details, I didn't tell her what time to be home.  I did tell her to get $5 out of her dad's wallet in case they stopped for food, and suggested the 24 hour grocery store up the road.  She had a wonderful time.  She spent an hour and a half with three of her friends, ages 15, 17 and 20.   They drove to the friends' house to pick up a few things and then they drove the long way back to our house, while listening to music.  No deviant behavior.  No scary risk taking.  Friends, hanging out, enjoying each others company.  At least one of teens' moms knew what was going on because they were using her van, with permission.  My husband was aware of the request to go out, but he went back to sleep and didn't find out any of the details until morning.

Could that happen at your house?  Would your teen trust you enough to ask if she could go out in the middle of the night with friends?  Would your teen not ask and not go out, know that interrupting your sleep and making such a request would result in yelling, scolding, or worse?  Would your teen not bother to ask and slip out for a few hours without your knowledge?  Would your teen tell you which friends he was really going to be with?  Would she provide a fictitious plan for where she was going in order to get permission to get out of the house?

When your teen wants to do anything with their friends at any time of day or night do they have to negotiate?  Do you need to have control over where they are going, what they are doing and who they are with?  Do they have to be back at a certain time, arbitrarily set by you?  Do you wait up until they get home, pacing the floor, waiting to give them hell if they walk in the door one minute late?  Do you tell them they have to earn your trust and that if they get home late that shows they can't be trusted?

If the above describes what goes on in your house then your teen already knows that you don't trust him.  Your teen is fully aware that you need to be in control and that you don't trust her to make good choices or be responsible without considerable input and manipulation on your part.  I described the consequences of that lack of trust very clearly in my post "What can your teen tell you?"  Your teen does not need to earn your trust.  Trust is the natural result of a respectful relationship and your unconditional love.  Teens who have a trusting relationship with the adults in their lives are teens who do not need to lie or sneak around behind their parents' back.  Teens and parents who have this kind of relationship do not argue because they do not grapple for power and control.  When my daughter asked to go out I could say yes because I not only trusted her, but I also trusted her friends.  I knew that her friends would be respectful of her feelings and would do everything in their power to return her home safely after their adventures.  I have a relationship with her friends, too.  I like her friends!  We are friends on facebook and we all watch Glee together on Tuesday nights.       

In my blog post "Trust" I wrote about trust in our relationships with our children from infancy onward.

In "The other side of trust" I wrote about how our children need to be able to trust us.

If trust is not a natural part of your relationship with your teen, or your children no matter what their ages, take a moment to click on those links and read more.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Summit on Learning at the White House

Dear Mr. President,

I have read books and articles about the problems with our country's approach to education.  I have taken my children out of the school system because it wasn't meeting their needs, and subsequently I have seen them blossom into life learners at home.  I have been learning more about how children learn.  The more I learn the more I wonder if you, and the people in Washington who affect school policy and funding, are paying attention.  Is anyone reading the research and studies about how children learn?  Is anyone considering how we could better meet the needs of our children, instead of trying to force our children to fit into an antiquated system?

It is time to change the starting point.  It is time to re-frame the questions being asked about education.  Instead of having schools scrambling to figure out how to get their students to score higher on tests it is time to ask a new question, "How can we support the natural curiosity and passion for learning in each child?"

Our country needs to stop focusing on reforming education and focus instead on supporting learning.  And that starts at the top.  It is time you held a Summit on Learning at the White House.  You need to bring together the brightest, most radical, most progressive minds who understand how children learn and how schools need to be changed - not reformed - so as to support learning.  The studies have already been completed, the facts are irrefutable.  Our current school system is not working and that has nothing to do with our children lacking ability, motivation or creativity.  It has nothing to do with a lack of funding.  Our current system works against children, not for or with children.  Until we support learning, until we create an environment that focuses on the needs of children and how children learn, our school system cannot be successful in supporting our children as they grow up to take their places in a rapidly changing world.

To assist you in planning the guest list for your Summit On Learning at the White House, here are some of the people with knowledge and ideas about learning that will benefit our children and our country:

Sir Ken Robinson
You can watch two of his talks on TED:

Or watch one of his talks with animation, Changing Educational Paradigms :

Alfie Kohn:

Peter Gray:

Pat Farenga:

John Taylor Gatto:

Jenna Robertson

Sunday, November 14, 2010


At least one reader felt that my solution to yelling in my post "You can stop yelling at your children" was trite.  For parents who are just trying to get through the day any advice can sound unrealistic.  The feeling of "that's easy for you to say...." bubbles quickly to the surface.  My closing, "You can stop yelling at your children.  Start by focusing on your relationships, letting go of your expectations and meeting the needs of each family member" would have pushed my buttons when I was struggling through each day with three children ages 4 and under.  I would have told you that all I did was meet my family's needs: laundry, dishes, cooking, nursing, and changing diapers.  If you felt that way about the post, I hope you will go back to it and click on some of the links to past blogs.  The past blogs go into more detail and explain what I meant by focusing on relationships, and to which expectations and needs I was referring.

I would like to offer another key to ending the yelling and conflict in your home:  Identify and neutralize the Triggers.  What are topics that cause conflict?  What behaviors seem to trigger yelling?  Try paying attention to what causes you to yell, or starts you down the path towards conflict.  If you tend to get busy and forget what you are trying to paying attention to, write a note that says, "What are the triggers?" and put it on your refrigerator, mirror, back door, or where ever you will see it as you go about your daily activities.

Typical triggers are: bedtime, homework, chores, money, playing/hanging out with friends, clothes, shoes, hair, makeup, required family activities, food, sibling conflict, video games, television, computers and cell phones.

Once you have identified the triggers, neutralize them.  Neutralize them? What does that mean?  A trigger is something that initiates or causes a reaction.  In this case we are talking about something that causes us to react by yelling.  To neutralize them we have to take away their power.  We must find a way to stop letting them cause conflict in our relationships.  The quickest and easiest way to do this is to let go.  When you stop trying to have control over the trigger there will no longer be a reason to yell.  Make it your goal to parent through connection.  When you focus on connecting with your children instead of controlling them or their behaviors it allows you to focus on relationships.  You can step back and ask yourself, "What does my child need?"  "How can I meet my child's needs?"  "How is my behavior affecting my relationship with my child?"  When you live a life of mutual respect it makes time spent together as a family more peaceful.  When you have a relationship based on trust each family member can relax.  Each person isn't fighting to get their needs met, to get attention, to win approval, to feel loved.  Each person knows that they are loved and cherished unconditionally, they don't have to earn their place in the family.  Unconditional parenting involves love, respect, trust and communication.  It does not involve bribes, threats, punishments, discipline, time out, logical consequences, praise or shaming .  When you parent unconditionally the triggers are neutralized.  You are no longer telling your child that they must meet your expectations in order to earn your approval, appreciation or love.  When you let go of trying to control your child's behavior you can focus on loving your child and enjoying your life together.

If your parenting at this time involves bribes, threats, punishments, discipline, time out, logical consequences, praise or shaming, you need to understand that when you let go, when you embrace unconditional parenting, when you remove the expectations that your child previously was forced to meet, your child will most likely revel in this new freedom.  You must truly let go for the process of becoming a family of connection, respect and partnership to unfold.  Your child has to know the freedom is consistent, that you are not going to jerk back on the reins and punish them for their enthusiasm for this new way of life.  They must be free to say, "No" when you ask them to assist you with setting the table.  They must be free to make their own choices.  And the more you have been controlling the more dramatic the child's response to their new freedom may be, and the harder you are going to have to work at letting go and building the trust that has not been present in your relationship.  If you have been parenting through extreme control or manipulation, and depending on the age and personalities of your kids, it may be best if you let go of one area at a time.  At our house our children were older when we changed to unconditional parenting and it worked well for us to explain to our children how we were going to be parenting.  This freed them up from feeling confused when we completely changed our attitudes about things like candy and bedtimes.  It also allowed them to support us in our changes.  They could point out to us when we were slipping into old patterns.  When we were less than the parents we wanted to be they would tell us, "Your being conditional."  This was extremely helpful since we could change course right in that moment.

What are your triggers?

Do you yell at your children because they won't clean up their rooms?  Accept that the rooms are their space and it is their choice if they clean.  Ask them if they would like help cleaning, but the minute you start feeling tension creeping into the situation take a break, get a snack, go outside

Is your child refusing to go to bed at night?  Remove your expectations about bedtime and start looking at night time as a time to connect and enjoy quiet time together.  Read books, snuggle, watch a movie until they fall asleep.

Do you yell about homework?  Homework is not more important than your relationship with your child.  Visit Alfie Kohn's site to learn more about the realities of homework, or read his article on "Changing the Homework Default."

Do you yell about food?  Do you argue about how much your child should eat?  Shame them for eating too much?  Bribe them into eating more?  Fight about candy?  Read about my journey of letting go of candy in my post "I Love Candy." 

Read more about letting go of control  (and a whole lot more) at Joyce Fetteroll's site: Joyfullyrejoicing

And visit Sandra Dodd's page on Parenting Peacefully.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


There is only one topic about which I expect to continue learning and growing but to never change my position, one area where I am fanatical:  Children must have their needs met.  My daughter says that should not be considered fanatical, it should be considered normal.

I really don't care how you parent, how you live, what your religion is, what your eating habits are, who you vote for or pretty much anything else.  Live how you want to live, but make sure your children's needs are being met.

What are your children's needs?
Food, shelter, love, having their feelings and experiences validated, to feel understood, being able to speak honestly with safety to their parents, being loved unconditionally as they are, for who they are.  To feel loved and valued just because they are alive.

Live however you want to live, but realize that your child is their own person and may need to live differently.  Your child may need to eat a different diet, sleep on a different schedule, or follow a different spiritual path.  They may need to ride the roller coaster while you wait holding your breath at the bottom, or they may need to wait at the bottom while you go for a ride.  Do not let your beliefs, your way of life, or anything else become more important than your child.  Do not let your fanaticism get in the way of your relationship with your child.

Merriam-Webster defines fanatic as, "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion." I know a lot of fanatics.  Religious fanatics, dietary fanatics, spiritual fanatics, exercise fanatics, fanatics of various healing methods, political fanatics, and unschooling fanatics.  Enthusiasm is good, passion is a wonderful thing.  Having a cause, a calling, a belief, something that gives us a feeling of belonging or community, enriches our lives and gives us a reason to get up each morning.  However, when we go past enthusiasm to the point of "intense uncritical devotion," when we stop asking questions, when we refuse to consider that someone else's views might be valid, when we are completely uncritical of our own beliefs and values, we risk becoming fanatics.

Nothing is more important to me than meeting the needs of my children.  Nothing is more important than my relationship with my children. Nothing.  Not even high fructose corn syrup, not even saving the planet.  In the last 20 years I have changed my values or beliefs regarding God, eating meat, and the school system, just for starters.  I continue to learn and grow.  Things that I thought I would never do I have done and things I thought I would always do I have given up.  I have been a vegetarian for a dozen years.  Where as once I chose to eat meat, I no longer do.  And once I would have told you that everyone should be a vegetarian, but I no longer believe that.  I know that in the future I may one day eat meat again.  My children are all vegetarians at this point, but they are free to eat meat if they choose.  And if they choose to eat meat they will not get lectures or guilt, by way of obvious guilt trips or passive aggressive comments and behaviors.  They are free to eat as they choose and to try different ways of eating to see what fits their lives and their bodies.

When it comes to parenting, I cannot say that everyone should parent any one way.  I cannot say that I have all the answers and that the way our family lives is the only way to be a happy, healthy, connected family.  Your child may go to school, do chores, have a bedtime and eat a restricted diet because of life threatening illness or allergy.  Your family's life may look very different from mine.  You child may stay up all night, sleep all day, play World of Warcraft for eight hours straight and not take a shower more than once a month.  Your child may thrive on structure or your child may need to live spontaneously.  What matters is your relationship with your child and your child's freedom to be who they are.  If your child goes to school and their needs are being met, that's great.  If your child does assigned chores because they truly are happy to help,and not because of the reasons described Here, fine.  What matters is that your children are respected, have a voice, can make their own choices and have those choices respected.  What matters is that the needs of everyone in the family are considered equally important and valid.

What areas of your life border on fanaticism?  Is there some value, belief or issue that you are making more important than your children?  Remember, nothing is more important than your relationship with your children.  Please make sure you are meeting their needs.

I talked extensively about meeting the needs of children in my post, "The Easy Button of Parenting."

And in follow up I wrote, "Identifying needs that need meeting."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


This year I am participating in NaNoWriMo, a particularly intense undertaking where you attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November.  Quite a few of my friends join the insanity each year and I thought it was time to jump in.  My oldest is doing NaNo with me.  My younger two are too, by doing the NaNo Young Writer's Program which allows them to set their own word goal for the month.

I was planning on writing for NaNo, and then as November drew closer I started having second thoughts.  I had only been blogging for 6 months and had been feeling really great about my ability to publish at least one new blog post each week.  My readership had been picking up and I was starting to focus more on my writing as it related to my blog.  If I took a month to focus on novel writing how would that affect my blogging?  I just didn't know.  I had never tried writing something of such length before.  I'm not really a fiction writer.  Character development, description and setting tend to trip me up.  I love to read beautiful prose, but I'm not know for writing them.  The essence of NaNo is to focus on writing words, quantity not quality.  Muffle your inner critic and start writing whatever you can write.  I had talked my sister and best friend into joining in on the craziness which was self-created peer pressure.  Only a few days before the start I took a deep breath, went to the site and signed up.  Two days before it began I had a name for one character and thought I would write about a teenage girl.  Hours before I was to begin writing I decided to write about a mom instead.   I had a name and a very vague idea of what I would be writing about.  No outline, no plan, no real plot to speak of.

The die hards begin writing at midnight on November 1st.  I was really tired and was planning on going to bed around that time.  I woke up after a very brief sleep and knew the girls were still awake.  My story ideas started rolling around in my head.  I headed to the kitchen and found myself writing from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. before returning to bed for more sleep.  I completed the entire days word count goal in those two hours and started thinking that perhaps I might be able to do this after all.

For some crazy reason I had thought that the house would be particularly peaceful and quiet since we would all be focused on writing.  I had forgotten that for some people writing involves a lot of procrastination.  I also didn't realize that I would be wanting to write and write and write without stopping.  I would get up in the morning while the girls were still asleep so that I could get in a couple solid undisturbed hours.  Then I would focus on food needs.  The week was unusually sunny and warm so we took a lot of walks to enjoy the weather get our vitamin D before the rains returned.  Late afternoon I would write for a while since the younger two were often playing with friends.  However, stopping to make dinner was a challenge.  Most of the time I really wanted to keep working.  I was writing on a desktop in the kitchen that couldn't go online.  It was good to not have the option of going online because that would have been an easy distraction.  However, it was hard to write in the kitchen when the house was full of people or the TV was on in the evening.

What really caused the most tension in the house was that I was zipping through my word count.  My words were piling up at a ridiculous rate that was completely unexpected.  The problem with this was that it frustrated the girls.  Even though the younger two weren't trying to accumulate the same number of words, even though I was an adult with an English degree, even though it wasn't a competition, the girls were seriously annoyed every time I mentioned my word count.  We were trying something new together and it turned out I was doing great and they were feeling bad.  I was trying to make sure that I was not ignoring them because I was writing, I was making sure their needs for food and attention and interaction were being met.  I was determined not to let my writing become a higher priority than my family.  However, I wasn't sure what to do about their feelings.  I was finally writing, finally doing something I had wanted to do my entire adult life, and I was totally rocking it.   But if it was really bothering my children should I keep writing?

Sometimes when our children have strong feelings we don't need to do anything to fix the situation, we just need to validate those feelings.  I didn't try and change my girls' feelings.  We didn't have long discussions about how this wasn't a competition or how I had years of experience, I didn't tell them that they didn't need to feel envious of my word count or frustrated by what I was accomplishing.  As an adult, if had a friend zipping through the word count many times faster than I was there was a good chance I would feel the same way they did: frustrated and annoyed every time that friend posted their word count while I was banging my head against the computer not coming up with anything to write.  It's entirely possible that I did have some adult friends out there cursing at me through the computer screen and I just didn't know it.

In the end I didn't need to give up writing, I didn't need to slow down my writing. I needed to be respectful of my children's feelings.  My oldest was o.k. with hearing my word count.  She would grumble a little, but I knew she was happy for me.  My husband was always ready to congratulate me on my latest word pile.  For the younger two we talked briefly and I agreed to block one of them from seeing my word count when I posted it on facebook, and I tried to avoid talking about my word count when they were in the room.  As with so many tensions, this one passed and after a couple days was no longer much of an issue for any of us.  The girls got farther into their own writing and began to feel better about what they were accomplishing.  I kept writing while trying to stay available.

It turns out that I can write 50,000 words in a month.  I ended up writing all 50,000 in one week!  I also managed to keep our family functioning and finish one blog post. And while I didn't make a big deal of it to the girls, part of me really wanted to throw a party for myself when I hit 50,000 words on day seven.  This week I'm exhausted, which isn't at all surprising.  Having completed my goal, my word count is now a non-issue in our house as the girls continue their writing adventure.  I'm working on my first rewrite at a more leisurely pace.  And my mind is already considering trying the same process for a nonfiction book in a month or two.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Love Candy

As Halloween has come and gone I have had the opportunity to reflect on my personal growth over the past two years.  Once upon a time, not very long ago, I absolutely hated Halloween.  I hated the pressure of creating costumes, I hated the way it made me feel uncreative and not up to the task.  I wasn't fond of the slimy pumpkin guts that I cleaned out of each child's pumpkin.  However, these negative feelings originated from the fact that I hated the candy.  And as much as I hated the artificial colors and dyes and the high fructose corn syrup, what I really hated was the added negativity the candy brought to our house.  I hated being asked over and over and over for "just one more piece."  I hated trying to set limits and then getting angry because I was being pestered or I gave in and let the kids eat more.  I hated my own desire for the candy because I really wanted to eat the stuff, too.  My feelings about candy lead me to resenting the teenagers who came to the door in thrown together costumes "just to get the candy."

This year Halloween was great!  I really enjoyed the night as we walked around the neighborhood with friends and our family, the kids going to doors we would never approach otherwise.  The people handing out candy were friendly, the kids often said trick-or-treat in unison and even said thank you most of the time.  The older kids helped the younger kids without being asked.  And I now firmly feel that you are never too old to trick-or-treat.  I even dressed up, instead of just putting on our hat w/ ogre horns and calling it my costume.  We arrived home tired but content.  The kids dumped out their candy for sorting and trading, while the men caught a bit of the football game on TV.

The holiday didn't change, the candy didn't go away, the need for costumes was still there, we carved pumpkins and I roasted seeds.  Nothing changed except my perspective.  The only big difference was that I no longer hated the candy.  I let go of my need to control the candy and that made room for peace in our house, and for my children to make the decisions about how much candy they would eat and when they would eat it.  The interesting truth is that when we let go of control, and give our children information instead of rules, our children are remarkably capable of knowing what they need.  Yesterday afternoon, November 1st, I read multiple accounts on facebook from mothers whose children had asked to eat eggs or "real food" after the children had been enjoying eating their candy.  Mothers told of how their children had decided when they were done trick-or-treating the night before.  It happened in my own house, too.

Over the past two years we have let go of all control over food at our house.  We do not tell the kids what to eat or what not to eat.  We do not tell anyone that they have to eat at a certain time.   The girls often come along to the store and help me pick out the food that we will be eating.  No food is off limits. In the process, we have all developed a healthier relationship not only with food, but with each other.

When you control foods you give them extra value.  The forbidden fruit concept.  The more restricted something is the more precious it becomes.  Candy, cake, ice-cream, and cookies are often given higher value.  They are used as treats, bribes, and rewards.  They are highly desired because they are kept in scarce supply.  The more they are limited or controlled the more desirable they become.  If, at this moment, you are saying that if you didn't control foods your children would eat candy all day then you are proving my point.  When something is given such a high value then when it is available binging becomes much more likely.

When we originally dropped the controls on candy I really struggled with letting go.  I had a daughter who would eat up to a pound of candy a day.  That was terrifying to me, and brought up a whole lot of issues from my own childhood.  It was not until I truly let go mentally and emotionally, and stopped those voices in my head that were going on and on about how terrible it was that my children were eating candy, that my children had the freedom to figure out what they really needed.  It was not until they got past their feelings of lack created in the past that they could move on to listening to their bodies and understanding how different foods made them feel.

If you have a child who has allergies, sensitivities, or reacts behaviorally to certain food additives then you may feel you have to control what your child eats.  Unless the allergy is life threatening, letting go of control and respectfully providing your child with information is still an option.  And if the allergy is life threatening, being respectful of your child when you need to protect them should be your focus.  Children do not want to feel sick any more than an adult.  If they are given the opportunity to see how foods affect them and are supported in making their own choices they will almost always end up choosing not to eat the food that is problematic, or will eat it mindful of the potential negative effects.

As we walked home this Halloween I asked the girls if they wanted to go to more houses along the way.  They said they didn't, pointing out that they can wear costumes, eat candy and walk around in the dark any day.  The only thing different on Halloween is that they go knock on doors, and they had done enough of that to satisfy their needs for this year.

For more ideas about food visit Sandra Dodd's Full Plate Club page.

She has a page just about Halloween candy, too.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Does your child want to stay home from school?

Facebook provides many insights into people's parenting, their attitudes about children, and their relationships with their children.  I previously wrote on this topic in my post "What your words say about you."  Recently a mother posted that her child did not want to go to school.  She admitted that the child did not like school and would do anything to stay home, including faking being sick.  She was obviously frustrated and angry.  Other mothers responded that they knew exactly how she felt.  Some moms had rules like "If you are not vomiting, bleeding or have a fever you have to go to school."  And one mom suggested that the frustrated mother make staying home worse than going to school.  The moms lamented that they did not know when their children were telling the truth and that made them mad.

I understand how these mothers feel.  When my girls were still attending school it was not uncommon for me to decide if they were well enough to go to school.  There were times when I sent my girls to school even though they did not want to go.  For at least one of my children this was damaging, and I am deeply sorry for the times I made her get on the school bus despite her tears.  As parents we are inclined to give in to the power and control of the school system.  We are made to think that it is our duty and responsibility to make our children go to school.  We end up believing that it is in our children's best interest to get on that bus.  We stop listening to our inner wisdom and we stop listening to our children.

The child mentioned above told the truth: She did not like school.  She did not want to go to school.  When her mother could not or would not hear that truth, the child did what she needed to do to get her needs met: she faked being sick.  Then her mother got angry.  There is a good chance that the mom's anger was stemming from her conflict between being a good mother and meeting her child's needs, and being the good mother the school system told her to be and sending her child to school.  Perhaps she also needed to get to work and was feeling stress from that as well.

There are many reasons children do not like school.  Not all of them are life threatening, but each of them needs to be taken seriously.  As a parent it is your job to advocate for your children and make sure that their needs are being met.  The school system is focused on test scores and managing behavior, not on making sure your children are having their needs met.  Having spent six years volunteering in public school classrooms I can assure you that meeting the diverse needs of 25 children in one classroom is not possible.  Living in a world where many children go to before and after school childcare, as well as spending over six hours a day in the classroom, very few children are getting even their most basic needs met.  If your child is not one of the daycare kids, they are still in a classroom with children who spend up to twelve hours of their day in the care of someone other than their parents.  The behaviors caused by the unmet needs of these children consume the time and energy of their teachers.

Home should be a refuge, to suggest that a parent make staying home worse than going to school is tragic.  Home should be the safe place, the soft spot in a hard world, the place where a child knows they are safe, loved, cherished, listened to and respected.  If you choose to make staying home worse than going to school there is a good chance you will not be seeing much of your children once they are old enough to choose where they spend their time.  Not all children in our world have the luxury of a home that is a refuge.  For some children school is their only safe place and for these children my heart aches.

If you have a child who does not want to go to school please find out why.  Listen to your child.  With teen suicides making the news on a disturbingly frequent basis it seems all the more urgent for each of us to connect with our children.  If your child does not want to go to school there may be very serious reasons.  Some parents do not find out what they were until they are reading their child's suicide note.

Please listen to your children.  If your children are unhappy in the school system bring them home.  There are many different ways to learn and there is a way that is a good fit for you and your children.  If you need help finding options or resources please ask, I would be happy to help.

Remember that nothing is more important than your relationship with your child.  That includes school.

For more reasons your child might not want to go to school read Peter Gray's article at Psychology Today, "Why Children Protest Going to School: More evolutionary mismatch." 

Monday, October 25, 2010

What can your teen tell you?

Your teens must know that they can tell you anything - ANYTHING - and you will respond with love and compassion.  If you parent by controlling your teen's behavior through punishment, they will fear telling you the truth because they know the consequences.  If you parent by controlling your teen's behavior through shaming, they will not tell you the truth because they risk humiliation.  If you parent by controlling your teen's behavior through criticism, they will not tell you the truth because they risk judgment.   If you parent in any way that fails to create a climate of trust, unconditional love and connection in your family then you are literally putting your teen's lives at risk.

If your teen is being bullied at school they need to feel safe telling you about their suffering.  Would your daughter feel comfortable telling you that other girls are calling her a slut and spreading nasty rumors?  Would your son be able to tell you that a couple boys ganged up on him in the locker room and gave him a wedgie?  If your teen broached the subject and said she was being bullied would you discount or disregard what she said, or would you listen in a way that would support her in telling you more of the details?

If your teen goes to a friends house, the parents aren't home and the party gets uncomfortably rowdy, will your teen feel that she can call you to get a ride home?  Does she know that you will not lecture her about her choices, ground her or yell at her all the way home?

If your teen is depressed can he tell you?  Will you pass it off as typical teenage angst or will you take the time to get him the help he needs?

If your teen has questions about her sexuality, if your teen thinks he might be gay, if your teen feels different in some unexplainable way, can your teen come to you and talk it through without risking rejection, derision, harassment, or being made to feel unworthy of your love?

Can your teen tell you who he is, what her passions are, what he believes, what she wants to do with her life?
Or, do you constantly hold up your expectations of who your teen should be, reminding your teen that if she does not live up to your expectations she will be a disappointment and you will withdraw your approval and support?

Are you putting your teen's life at risk?

Teens are dying.  They are dying because they feel isolated, bullied, depressed, hated, and unloved.  They are dying because they do not feel safe in their communities, their schools and their homes.  They are dying because they did not have the support and acceptance that they desperately needed.  They are dying because the adults in their lives failed.  Teachers, parents, spiritual leaders, politicians, grandparents, bus drivers, friends' parents, every adult in their life had an opportunity to be the person in their life who made a difference.  Perhaps their parents were unwavering in their love and support but that was not enough because the other adults looked the other way.  We must all take responsibility for supporting the teens in our community. 

I cannot promise you that if you parent unconditionally, with respect and love, by putting your relationship first, that your teen will be just fine, that you can sit back and relax knowing that your teen will never commit suicide.  However, I can tell you that nothing is more important than your relationship with your teen.  I can tell you that if you make that relationship a priority in your life there is a much greater chance that you and your teen will come through these years alive.

Wrap your teens in unconditional love, and create a climate of respect and trust in your house so that they know you will be there for them no matter what.  (If you are not sure what that means read "How we live at our house.")   If something is causing conflict in your relationship ask yourself if it is more important than your teen's life.  The answer to that should be easy: Nothing is more important than your teen's life.

For more on Trust and Teens read Here. 

"Hopefully some day you will have a teenager"

For more on my relationships with teens read "I don't tattle." 

For more on being trust worthy in our relationships read Here.

And my previous post on this subject "Tolerance vs Acceptance."

Other resources:

To Write Love on Her Arms 

The Trevor Project

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A failure according to whom?

When my girls were little I felt like an epic failure at bed time.  They nursed to sleep when they were young.  The books and the pediatrician, who didn't have any children of her own, said you should not nurse babies to sleep so they could learn how to fall asleep on their own.  When the girls were older bedtime involved many stories and then many songs, and ultimately me staying in the room until they were all asleep.  We often played musical beds in the night and you never knew where everyone would be sleeping come morning.  If a conversation with other parents turned to the topic of bedtime I would tell them that I had always been a failure at bedtime.

To know if you are a failure you must know what you are trying to accomplish.  If my primary goal was to have children who listened to one story and then drifted off to sleep, alone in their room, then yes, I was a failure.  If my primary goal was to have children who felt safe and loved and connected to their parents then I was a huge success.  In the latter case I was a failure when I let experts and society, and other people's advice and expectations, distract me from being the parent I wanted to be.  I was a failure when I walked out of the room because, "I should be able to have time to myself at night after the kids are in bed."  I was a failure when my children were crying and I failed to offer comfort because "they need to learn how to go to sleep on their own."  I was a failure when I did not listen to my heart and when I failed to meet the real needs of my children.  I look back and am saddened that I felt like a failure when I was meeting their needs.   Instead of enjoying our night times together, too often I struggled with guilt and frustration because of my "bad parenting".

Society does not encourage us to meet our children's needs.  Parenting books, magazines and television shows primarily focus on how to parent through controlling our children's behaviors and changing them so that it makes our life easier.  They tell us that if our child does X then we should do Y, and then our child must do Z.  If our child yells, "I hate you!" at us then we should put them in time out.  The child must also apologize for being disrespectful and promise never to yell "I hate you!" at us again.  These sources of parenting information focus on behaviors, not on children.  (Read The Case Against Time-out HERE)

Mainstream parenting information aims to support parents, not children.  It tells us how to get our children to conform to societal expectations, not how to celebrate and enjoy each unique child.  It does not tell us that if our child yells, "I hate you!" at us that we should take our child's feelings seriously and validate those feelings.  We are not told that our best response will happen when we stop, take a deep breath, and consider what it is our child needs in that moment.   Most parenting information will fail to mention that what your child does not need is isolation, separation, with drawl of love, or a punishment of any kind.  And that your child does need patience, compassion, understanding, respect and your unconditional love.  We are not reminded to to look at the situation from our child's perspective and that we also may need to examine our role in the situation because often we unintentionally or unknowingly cause situations to escalate, as I discussed Here.

When you get advice on how to parent consider the goal of that advice.  Evaluate whether what you are hearing will ultimately strengthen your relationship with your child.  Is the goal to reach a greater understanding of your child and his needs, or is it to stop your child from expressing his needs?  Are you being encouraged to gain a greater understanding of what needs are causing her behaviors, or are you being told how to stop behaviors while ignoring any related unmet needs?

When you are find yourself challenged by some aspect of parenting, frustrated by your child's behavior, at your wit's end regarding any particular stage your child is going through, start asking questions.  Start with "What does my child need and how can I meet this need?"  You may need to ask, "What do I need and I can I get my needs met?"  Keep asking questions until you find an answer that truly resonates with you, your child and your family.  My post "Learning from the questions we ask" shows how one question can be the starting place for a stream of questions that can challenge and inform your perspective on a particular parenting topic.

When you feel that you have failed as a parent ask yourself where that feeling is coming from.  If you realize that you are letting society tell you that you are a failure take a moment to make a mental list of all the ways that you are an amazing parent who is meeting your children's unique needs.  If you are truly struggling to be the parent you want to be reach out for help, search for like minded friends as discussed in my post on Peer Pressure and be gentle with yourself as you continue on towards becoming the parent you want to be.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

For Mothers with Babies and Young Children: It will get easier

A comment on facebook, made by a mother with young children about my Stop Yelling post, caught my attention.  The feelings of frustration and desperation, combined with the feeling that there was no answer to the situation, were painfully familiar.  I was reminded of how desperate, trapped and depleted I felt for years when my girls were young.  If you are a mother living in survival mode right now please know, you are not alone.  It does get less intense, you will get more sleep, and you will get to go to the bathroom alone.  If you are a parent or grandparent or guardian of any kind who is feeling over whelmed by the needs of the children in your life and you cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel please hold on.  Tell yourself you only have to get through this one moment at this time, and then you can face the next moment.  You are not alone.   

When I was living in survival mode, see Personal Lack for the story of what my life was like then, I couldn't see a way out.  I did not feel that there were any resources, that I had any options, that I could do anything to change the situation.  When you are parenting three children ages 4, 16 months and 1 month, just nursing and changing diapers consumes the day.  I did not have a single friend who was inclined to come over for a visit, much less help.  My husband was gone all day and several nights a week for work and classes.  Our only car went with him.  These are years of my life that I barely remember.  Dishes regularly grew moldy on the counter.  The laundry lived in a pile on the couch.  I think I mopped our tiny kitchen floor twice in two years.  Because I lived in survival mode for so many years, and was not one of those mythical Super Moms who manages to have a clean house, and children, too, I did not think I had much to share about the early years of motherhood.  I was wrong, I need to share because you need to know that my family survived those years and yours will, too.

I also need to share because those of you who no longer have small children need to be reminded that mothers do not stop needing support when their baby reaches 6 weeks of age.  We need to reach out because often an exhausted mother is not going to ask for help.  We need to bring over a meal or take the older kids to the park, we need to stop by for a visit and wash the sink full of dishes while we chat.   We need to stop thinking we are too busy with our own lives and figure out what kind of helping we do best.  Do you like to cook, or clean, or cuddle a baby so mom can take a shower?  Do you have the resources to send over takeout?  Do you have a teen or tween who would be happy to be a mother's helper for a few hours each week?

When you are are living in survival mode, exhausted, depleted and possibly suffering from depression, all advice sounds trite, impossible or just plain insensitive.  No matter how ridiculous someone's advice may sound, ask yourself if there is some small way to apply it to your life.  Remember, it will get easier.  Little by little, in ways so small you may not notice them at first, things will get easier.  When you feel like all you do is meet other people's needs, clean up messes, wash dishes, make food, wash more dishes and wash laundry, stop for a moment.  Take a deep breath, exhale just as deeply, then take another deep breath.  Ask yourself what small thing you can do for yourself.

Here are some ideas:

*Eat chocolate.
*Ask for help: call a friend, post of facebook, text someone; be honest about how you are feeling and what you need.
*Take your vitamins.
*Buy food that only has to be heated, even if you think it is something you can't afford:  frozen french fries, pizza, ravioli, desserts.
*Keep fruit frozen in the freezer so it is easy to blend up a smoothie when you realize you have forgotten to feed yourself.
*Put on music that you love.

Look for ways that you can nurture yourself and your children at the same time:

*Get everyone out of the house for a walk, even if you only make it to the corner and back.
*Grab a pile of books and some snacks and spend time reading and cuddling in a pile.
*Let your children watch movies for as long as they want.
*When your children are doing crafts get creative with them.
*Tell yourself three things you love about each of your family members.
*Remember that food is food and ice cream for breakfast is just fine, as are popcorn and apples for dinner, or pancakes for lunch.
*Use a slow cooker/crock pot so that dinner can be prepared earlier in the day when you may have more energy.

When you have dishes in the sink, laundry on the couch, toys all over the floor, and at least one mess to clean up that you would rather not mention out loud, remember, you are not alone.  Take a deep breath, eat some chocolate, put on some music and go dance with your children, the mess can wait at least until the end of the song.         

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You can stop yelling at your children

Once upon a time, I was a mom who yelled at her children.

Why do we yell at our children? You might say "because my children are misbehaving" or "because I lack self-control" or maybe even "because I don't know what else to do."  Why did I yell at my children?  I yelled because I was exhausted and couldn't see a way out of my exhaustion.  I yelled because I was frustrated that life didn't look like my mental image.  I yelled because at our weakest moments we fall back on how we ourselves were parented.  I yelled because my expectations weren't being met.  I yelled because my needs were not being met.  In retrospect I know that the yelling was not because of my children.  My children did not make me yell.  It was all about me: my issues and baggage, my lack of resources, knowledge, support and sleep.

I went from yelling to not yelling, from conflict to peace, from feeling like a crappy parent to feeling like a competent parent, most of the time.  While writing this I realized that there are answers to how I stopped yelling in my previous blog posts.  Here are some ideas on how to stop yelling, with links for further reading.

Focus on relationships. 
Nothing is more important than your relationship with your children, not clean bedrooms, not homework, not bedtimes.

Practice unconditional parenting.  Your children do not need to do anything to earn your love, your help, or your approval.  Your children are perfect just the way they are.  Read "Tolerance vs. Acceptance" to understand how important it is to accept our children for who they are.

In "Conflict or Connection" I wrote about how we as parents can be the cause of conflict in our relationship with our children.

View yourself as a support person, a facilitator, for your child.  You are exploring life together.  In "Saying 'yes'" and "Supporting Our Children's Passions" I describe two very different ways we have supported and facilitated for our children.

My summary "How we live at our house" explains the principles we try to live by in our family that focus on our relationships.
"A Family of Connected Individuals" discusses the balance of creating space for each individual while living as a family.

In "...and my husband" I expand on the idea of relationships to include the people with whom we co-parent.  Nothing more important than our relationship with our family.

Let go of your expectations
Remembering that your expectations are just that, your expectations.  It is not up to your children to meet your expectations.

I blogged about expectations and acceptance of life when it turns out differently than we expected in my blog post "fighting what is."

I blogged about how other people's expectations can affect my relationship with my children Here.

Meet needs.
Validating the needs of each family member and collaborative problem solving to meet them are vital to a connected, non-yelling, family.  I wrote about meeting children's needs as the "easy button of parenting" Here.

Further ideas on identifying needs were written Here.

My experience with getting my own needs met is described in my blog post "Personal Lack."

You can stop yelling at your children.  Start by focusing on your relationships, letting go of your expectations and meeting the needs of each family member.

UPDATE: At least one reader felt that this post was trite and superficial. In response to their concerns I wrote another blog post about Triggers and how to remove the triggers that cause us to yell at our children.  You will find that blog post Here.