Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tolerance vs Acceptance

My daughter, who will be 14 next week, pointed out today that one of the creators of the TV show Glee said that the show is about tolerance, when he should have said it is about acceptance. Acceptance of self and others. Accepting our children for the people they are, instead of trying to make them into the people we imagined they would be, is something I have mentioned before. Our children's first experience with acceptance should be at home, from their family. Our children also need to see our acceptance of ourselves. This can be hard. We may not have grown up feeling accepted by our family and we may struggle with knowing and accepting who we are as adults. If that is the case, then we need to model the journey to self-acceptance for our children. Through us, our children also learn to be accepting of others. Just being tolerant is not good enough for ourselves, our children or our world.

Accepting our children as they are, for who they are, unconditionally, is vital if they are going to grow up to be healthy adults who live authentically, following their passions, secure in who they are. I feel it is incredibly urgent that we remind all parents of the importance of accepting children in light of the four suicides of gay teens in our country this month. These teens were not accepted. They were bullied. Many teens are bullied but they don't all commit suicide. What makes a difference? Family acceptance is a pretty good place to start.

"Higher rates of family rejection were significantly associated with poorer health outcomes. On the basis of odds ratios, lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection. Latino men reported the highest number of negative family reactions to their sexual orientation in adolescence."

Accept your children unconditionally. If there is something about one of your children that makes acceptance challenging admit that this is your problem. Get the help you need so that you can get over your issues and start being the parent they need and deserve. You child came into this world a very special person, find joy sharing life's journey with that person. If you are just tolerating your children you need to figure out what is getting in the way of acceptance. If you have rejected a child you may both need help if your relationship is going to get to a place of connection, trust and acceptance.

My heart goes out to the families affected by these suicides. I don't know the relationship they had with their children and I am not implying that these deaths are their fault. These deaths are the result of our flawed society. We must all step up and embody acceptance in our communities. Accept your children, accept their friends, let them know just how amazing you think they are. Practice acceptance until it flows through your life. Acceptance isn't just a nice idea, it can be a matter of life or death.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Easy Button of parenting

If there is an "Easy Button" for parenting it lies here: Meet the needs of your children.

If your first response is "but that's not easy" I would suggest that you consider the consequences of not meeting the needs of your children

When you focus on meeting the needs of your children you short circuit the parent child dynamic that is created when parents focus on their own needs and the child's needs are unmet or unrecognized. This sets up the following cycle of behavior: The parent focuses on his own need. The child has an unmet need. The child tries to get her need met through behaviors that are irritating, frustrating or against the rules. The parent tries to control the child's behavior through punishment/reward/time-out often without meeting the child's need. The child is now angry/hurt/frustrated and still has an unmet need, which has often only grown larger. The child tries again to get her needs met...and the cycle continues.

Now consider what happens if the child's needs are met: The parent focuses on her own needs and the child's needs. The child has a need. The child knows from experience that the parent will support him in getting his needs met. The child expresses his need. The parent helps the child get his need met. The child and parent relationship is strengthened. The child has learned more about how to get his needs met and has greater trust that his parent will continue to help him get his needs met in the future. The child has also learned that people who love each other support each other in getting their needs met and is more likely to help others get their needs met in the future.

A child with unmet needs is needy. As obvious as that may seem, parents often overlook that the natural consequence of failing to meet a child's needs is living with a needy child. A child who is needing positive attention and affection, who does not feel safely connected to a parent, is often clingy, whiny, interrupts conversations and phone calls, and constantly wants to be with their parent in an effort to feel connected. A child who is hungry, tired or thirsty is crabby, reactive and prone to melt downs. A child who feels rejected or not heard may withdraw and become increasingly angry. This anger will be expressed at some point. A child with unmet needs will continue to look for ways to get their needs met, which may leave the parent feeling pestered, annoyed or even like the child is being manipulative. A parent's inability or unwillingness to meet their child's needs may lead to the child having unhealthy relationships with others in an effort to get her needs met. The child who has stopped trying to get her needs met is discussed in my blog "My child doesn't mind..."

When we live life as a connected family we become familiar with the day to day needs of each family member and we are able to be proactive in meeting those needs. If we know that our child becomes irritable when he is hungry, and that he gets hungry about every two hours, we can plan ahead and make sure that we provide a snack ever two hours. When we are away from the house this means that we are prepared with snacks. When we pay attention to who our children are we are better prepared to proactively meet their needs and circumvent melt downs, frustrations, and unsuccessful outings or activities. When we meet our children's needs they are empowered to be who they are. When our children's needs are met, and they know that we are their partners in supporting them in getting their needs met, they are freed from resorting to attention seeking behaviors that often lead to negative attention. When we are respectful of our children's needs, not discounting their preferences or belittling them when their comfort zone is different from ours, we learn more about who they are and deepen our connection. When we model acceptance of each family member's different needs our children learn to be more accepting of the differences in the people they meet. When our children's needs are validated they are less likely to end up in unhealthy relationships with people who are disrespectful or abusive. When our children's needs are met they grow up learning how to creatively problem solve, and are more flexible when it comes to finding ways to meet the needs of multiple people.

One of the amazing results of meeting our children's needs is that they are more content, they trust that we are willing to meet their needs, and in turn they are able to respect our needs and support us when we are finding ways to meet our own needs. This may mean that they leave us alone when we say that we need fifteen minutes of quiet in our room or they wait to talk until we are done with a phone call that requires all of our concentration. When we are tired or sad they may offer an unsolicited hug and sympathy.

If you are struggling as a parent, finding your children's behaviors intolerable, or feeling like your children are constantly trying to get your attention, start by asking yourself what your children need and how you can meet their needs. Fill your children up with love and attention before they start the behaviors that they use to get your attention. Be present for them in concentrated chunks of time instead of giving them unfocused attention while you are trying to accomplish something else. If something is important to them take it seriously. Learn to say yes to their heart's desires. Work together to find a way to meet their needs. If they have a need that you absolutely cannot meet, even after creative problem solving and looking into every possible resource, express this with compassion. Refrain from saying, "You'll get over it" or "That's life." I have found that once you start living the life of taking needs seriously you may be surprised at how often there is a creative solution or a resource shows up at just the right moment. Be open to unexpected answers and you may find that meeting the needs of your children is not as hard as you expected. Proactively meet the needs of your children and you will find that parenting just got a lot easier.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hopefully some day you will have a teenager

Last night my daughter asked, "Why do people have kids if they are just going to spend their lives arguing with them?"
Why do people have kids? There are as many answers to that as there are people, however, most people don't say, "I want to have kids so we can argue." Actually, while people may talk about having kids, they often end up saying, "I want to have a baby." They picture experiencing the joys of cuddling a baby and picking out cute baby clothes. Their minds may travel down the road to first words and first steps. Some prospective parents may dream as far down the road as block towers, tea parties, and cheering for their mini-soccer player. But that is as far as the fantasy of parenthood usually goes. Have you ever heard a couple say, "We've decided to have a teenager"? Fortunately, parenting is a journey. Starting with conception we are given time to learn and grow, as our child learns and grows. With the exception of parents who adopt older children or who come into a family that already has children, most of us do not jump into parenting mid-stream.

If you have a baby you will also, hopefully, have a teenager. Some people might sarcastically ask why anyone would hope for a teenager, but I assure you that the alternative is not something most parents like to contemplate, much less experience. Hopefully some day you will have a teenager. How do you feel when you think about your child reaching the teenage years? Our society has cultivated a terribly negative attitude towards young people ages 13-19. I have three daughters so that may affect my perspective, but I think that girls get more than their share of this attitude. The number of times I have heard someone say, "Wait until she's 15" is astounding.

The truth is that I look forward to when they are 15. Not that I am in a hurry for them to grow up, I think their ages right now are pretty cool. However, my oldest will turn 14 in a few weeks and, if the past year is any indication, I expect that the next few years will be an enjoyable experience. I have had the pleasure of getting to know some of my daughter's friends who are older, and have found them to be delightful and amazing people. Their parents would agree with me, too.

How is it, in a society that almost universally maligns teenagers, that I am looking forward to the teenage years? Who are these other parents who think that people in the later years of their transition from child to adult are a whole lot of fun to have around on this adventure called life? What makes us different? What makes our children different?

The answer lies in our relationships. We are not perfect in our parenting, we have our grumpy days and times when we do not live up to our own ideals. Our children are not mini-me's who live lives of obedience and compliance. We do not expect our children to live their own lives in ways that make our lives as parents easier. We live our lives in partnership with each other. We all live within the realities of our chosen lives and our children understand that some times there are limits, but these are not arbitrary limits. We put our family relationships before everything else. We do not feel that because our children are teenagers now they need less of us. We are as committed to meeting the needs of our teenagers as we were to meeting the needs of our newborn babies. Think about that for a moment: We are as committed to meeting the needs of our teenagers as we were to meeting the needs of our newborn babies.

Meeting the needs of young adults can be every bit as exhausting, challenging and complex as meeting the needs of a baby. It is even more so if their needs were not met during some period of their earlier childhood or infancy. If there are wounds that need healing or trust that must be mended, if you as a parent are not used to being aware of their needs or if they do not trust that you really want to meet their needs no strings attached, the path before you may be intimidating. Meeting the needs of your child at any age is much easier if you made your relationship a priority from the moment you decided to become a parent. The relationship you have during the teen years is the relationship you have been building for over a decade. It is also affected by your attitude, expectations and beliefs about teenagers.

Hopefully some day you will have a teenager. Hopefully some day you will enjoy having a teenager. The choice is yours. Do you want to spend the years arguing with your child or do you want to spend them enjoying your life together? When your child is a young adult do you want them to spend as much time as possible away from you, counting the months until they can move out and have a life of their own? The choice is yours. You can spend your time and energy trying to get your child to live life according to your expectations of who they will be and how they will behave and what they will do, or you can let them live their own life from the day they are born and spend your time and energy on your relationship. You can support them in who they are and what they like to do and how they like to do it from the start.

Putting your relationship first means that as a young adult your child will be able to trust you. They will know that they are free to be who they are without being criticized. They will come to you expecting honest, respectful communication about anything they want to discuss. They will know that if something does not turn out as they hoped or planned that you will be there to support them, no matter what, without lectures or punishment. They will feel your support for their dreams and passions. Putting your relationship first means that you and your child can enjoy the teenage years.

Revisit my blog post Trust to read more about parenting and trusting our children.

If you already have a teenager in the house and you would like to argue less and enjoy life together more revisit my post Conflict or Connection.

You will find a glimpse of the relationship I hope to have with teens in my post I don't tattle.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

But we're happy...

Last week I felt like I wasn't providing adequately for our children. We live on a modest income. We have always lived on a modest income. Some day that will change, but I see my girls growing older and wonder if it will change while they are still here to benefit. We live quite comfortably all things considered, but there are times when all of the shabbiness and hand-me-downs and things that need to get fixed pile up in my mind. This time I felt it while I was changing the sheets. One of my girls sleeps on a mattress that is probably 30 years old. We all sleep on hand-me-down mattresses. Once, when Jess was in the running for a higher paying job, the girls actually said they would like new mattresses. That caused me to pause. How many kids, while dreaming of things they would get if they had more money, would think to ask for a new mattress?

My oldest and I go for a walk each night so we have a chance to talk. I told her about my feelings of lack. I told her that I felt bad because the house wasn't neat and tidy, and we didn't have money to pay for repairs, buy things, or afford more experiences. She responded, "But we're happy."

She went on to talk about the families we know where both parents work so they can have the latest things and nice cars and cool vacations. She mentioned the families we know where the kids do chores to keep their parents happy. She continued on to the families that look like nice families from the outside but have children who are struggling, with parents who are either part of the problem or who aren't doing anything to help the situation. And then there were the families with teens and parents who argue a lot, and who think that's just the way it has to be. She even covered the families where one parent is really cool but can't be the parent that they want to be because they have to keep the other parent happy, and the other parent is very controlling. And then she said that she would rather live the life of our family, because we are happy.

Whenever I find myself looking at someone else's life with envy I ask myself if I would trade lives with that person. I have yet to find anyone that I would trade lives with. Other people may have more money, a nicer house, a better car and more than one car at that, but when I really look at their life there is something affecting their happiness. Often it is their marriage relationship or the sacrifices they make to maintain their financial situation. It has occurred to me that as long as I prefer my life over anyone else's life I must be doing okay. As long as my children can look past all of the things and experiences we cannot presently afford, and appreciate that we are happy, we must be doing okay.

Are you happy?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My child doesn't mind...

The topic of challenging behaviors comes up regularly in conversations about parenting. There are parents who will lament their difficult teen, or share their exhaustion from caring for a high needs baby, or tell you about their strong willed child. On the other hand there are the parents who will tell you how well behaved their child is, how easy their baby is, or how good their teenager is. These parents will tell you how their child doesn't mind doing chores, and sleeps through the night, and doesn't get into trouble. There are children who are born mellow, easy going, easy to get along with, and generally happy to be here. There are children who like order and have a knack for organization. There are children who go to sleep quickly and easily, and sleep soundly until they wake up happily the next morning. I do not question that these children exist any more than I question that there are children who are born sensitive to loud noises, or with a special affinity for chaos, or who do not stop crying no matter how attentive, nurturing and attached their parents may be.

When parents talk about how their child is one of these easy children I wonder, was their child born this way or did they mold their child into this people pleasing, obedient, good child? Many parents will say that they are supposed to mold their children. Some may say they want to raise a well behaved compliant child, and if this describes their child they are successful parents. Parents are supposed to mold, shape, control and train children so they grow up to be responsible adults, aren't they? If you are concerned with the mental, emotional and physical health of your children you may want to rethink that idea. When parents are results focused, good behavior from their children being the most important proof that they are good parents, they may not realize what their child is learning in the process.

Humans are born learning. Infants learn from their interactions with the adults who care for them. The parents learn to respond to the baby's body language and sounds. If the parents are attentive and close by the baby will not have to cry to get its needs met. (Some babies cry more than others, I'm not suggesting that all babies won't cry if their parents are responsive and their needs are met.) If a baby is left alone in a room, in a crib, it will generally have to cry before its needs are met. If it cries and its needs are ignored the baby may stop crying. This does not mean it's a good baby, it means that it has given up. This is not a good thing, in fact it can lead to depression and anxiety in the future. You will find an article about the importance of attachment and the damages of learned helplessness Here.

The pattern of ignoring the needs of a baby can continue on in the parent/child relationship. Have you ever seen a mother who bumped into a friend at the grocery store and is now chatting away while her children stand silently nearby? Is your first thought about how well behaved these children are? I was at the store and a friend was walking out. As she started talking to me her children slumped down on a nearby bench. I learned that she was at the store picking up a prescription for one of her children. As she continued talking, I realized that her sick child was sitting on the bench. The children were not being respectful. The children knew that their needs were not as important as their mother's desire for conversation. They had learned that the best thing to do was to sit and wait, even if they were sick, even if they should have been home in bed. Their needs were not going to be met so they had given up trying.

One of the challenges of parenting is separating who we are and what we expect, from who our children are and what they need. Our children spend their lives, from birth or before, internalizing messages that we may not even know we are sending. They may have learned that we need our house to be clean or we get irritable and irrational. They may understand that it does no good to express their fear of the dark and the separation night time brings, because they will have to go into that room and go to bed even if they are terrified. They may know that even though they are painfully hungry they are not going to be fed because "it's not meal time yet."

Because they started learning these things before they remember, before they started talking, and before you thought they were learning anything, it is easy to think that this is who they are: a child who likes to clean up, who goes to bed without fussing and who only eats at meal times. Ultimately they have become a child who does not expect to get their needs met, and who understands that the parent's needs rule the house. They have become an overly compliant child. They have become desensitized to their own needs. They have been conditioned to meet the needs of their parents to avoid negative consequences. They have learned that they do not have control over their life and that they are not capable of getting their needs met. To the casual observer they are every parent's dream child. They do what they are told and often anticipate what they should do without being asked. Eventually this good child is going to grow up. They may make it through their teenage years still bowed under the weight of their learned helplessness. However, it is often in their teen years that all their unmet needs and disregarded feelings, that have been bottled up inside for over a decade, explode as anger and frustration as adulthood looms on the horizon. Then the parents wonder what happened to their "good child" and place the blame on the teenage years, never considering that this is a result of their parenting.

As parents it is vital that we frequently ask ourselves, "Is this what my child wants or is this what I want?" We need to let our children know that we are open to conversations about what they would and would not like to do. In new situations we must be aware of the verbal and non-verbal messages our children are sending. Our children need to feel safe enough in our relationship to tell us what their needs are. We must be open to the person our child is and guard against molding our child into the person we want them to be.

If you find yourself saying "My child doesn't mind...." check to make sure that is true. First you may have to establish a relationship of trust and create new paths of communication, because right now your child may know that telling you how they really feel is not an option.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How we live at our house

While trying to come up with useful suggestions for a friend who is interested in changing her parenting I wrote down how we try to live as a family. While I was sorting through my ideas I realized that when we say "mothering" we think of nurturing and warmth and love, and when we say "parenting" we think of discipline. Parenting in the conventional sense of the word speaks of getting our children to do what we want them to do, shaping them as they grow up so they will meet our expectations. I wouldn't use the word "parenting" to describe what we do at our house. If you are interested in learning more about how we try to live each day as a family here is what I came up with today:

We are all partners in our life together. Everyone's needs are equally important.

We acknowledge that our children are people. We respect them for who they are and do not try to mold them into the kind of people we think they should be. They are free to express who they are in what they wear, what they do with their hair, what they eat, when they sleep, how they spend their time, the kind of friends they have, what they believe, and any other way they can come up with.

Our children have choices and we have choices. When we are making choices that affect other members of the family we try to take their needs and feelings into consideration.

We recognize that we chose to bring these children into our life, they did not choose to be here. Because of this we are aware that it is our responsibility to meet their needs, but it is not their responsibility to meet our needs. Our children are not here to meet our expectations of what it will be like to have children and be a family.

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.

We know that nothing is more important than our relationships with our children. We are respectful, honest, and dependable. We validate their experiences, take their feelings seriously and make their needs a priority. We do not tease, discount or belittle. We avoid saying anything that is followed by "I was just joking."

How do you live at your house?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tasha's Conversation

Today my daughter, Tasha, who will be turning 14 next month, spent quite a long time on Polyvore, a website relating to art and fashion. She commented on a woman's set that celebrated kids returning to school. Tasha's comment lead to a lengthy conversation. I wanted to share that conversation here because she explains so much about our relationship, which many of you will appreciate even if the woman she was responding to did not, and gives some great insight into the life we are living.

A Conversation I had with a Conservative Christian Grandmother on a Fashion Site.

by Tasha Kiri on Sunday, September 5, 2010 at 8:38pm

Her: The kids may not be glad school has started, but there's a party going on in the parent and grand parent corner, lol!

Me: I find it wrong that parents and grandparents can't wait for school to start so they can get rid of their kids. You have kids because you want them, not so you can ship them off to a place where they won't get their needs met and are forced to do things they don't wanna do. There are so many alternatives to school. My sisters and I started Unschooling last year, and my mom loves to have us home. My mom wrote a blog on the subject:

Her: Dear it was meant as a joke! And when we "ship" you off it is to better your mind and your life! We love you so we don't want you to grow up to be ignorant. I do not have a problem with Homeschooling, especially in light of the schools teaching their stupid Evolution classes. If a person is qualified to teach their kids at home, I say more power to them!

Me: When I was sent to school it was not better for my mind or my life. The classes were boring, and I was terribly bullied because I stood up for my beliefs. Now I learn about what I'm interested in and am so much happier.

Her: That is great. But some parents are not qualified to teach their children at home. Also your name that you chose to call yourself on here lends me to believe that there is a bit of rebellion there! You are NOT UNschooled, you are HOME schooled dear!

Me: Unschooling is a form of homeschooling.

Her: Well maybe in your book but to define it correctly, here it is: Home School, Home Schooling..Homeschooling or homeschool (also called home education or home learning) is the education of children at home, typically by parents but sometimes by tutors, rather than in other formal settings of public or private school. ...Definition of Un Schooled...lacking in schooling; "untaught people whose verbal skills are grossly deficient"; "an untutored genius"; "uneducated children"....If you like to be called "grossly deficient " then have at it! It is more likely that you are trying to make your schooled friends jealous of the fact that you do not have to go to school, which is not right either.

Me: "Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities led by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child."

What we actually do is radical Unschooling, which is this:"Whereas unschooling philosophy applies primarily to learning activities, radical unschooling applies to all areas of life. For example, the radical unschooling lifestyle necessarily excludes authoritarian and punitive parenting practices. While unschooling parents may use conventional parenting practices such as set bedtimes, food restrictions, television or video game limitations, etc., radical unschooling parents favor cooperative practices to meet the needs of all family members in equitable ways. Radical unschooling parents may use some tools like those listed below in complementary philosophies."

I would never try and make most of my schooled friend jealous. If they are jealous, it is because they want what I have, which is a happy, non-controlling family. They most always prefer to come over to my house, when their houses have Wiis, big TVs, and lots of other stuff we don't have. They like it here because it's a safe environment, where they will not be forced to do things (ie. chores) and are allowed to do pretty much anything they want.

Her: I disagree with what you say all around! It is still considered HOME schooling! Unschooled is a lack of education, a willful decision to not be taught an education!....Also are you assuming houses that have Wiis, big screen TV's and such are unsafe environments? If so, that is stereotyping people unfairly! Also I am sure they like it if you and your friends are allowed to do whatever you want., BUT what does that say about your home life? I loved my children enough when they were kids and now my grand children so much that I care about what they are doing at ALL times! I want them to have structure and stability and learn that life is about following rules and having respect for authorities! What kind of message is your mother sending out to you if she allows you to do what you want? I was active in my kids lives and now my grandkids. They strive to make good grades, be responsible by doing their chores and learning to respect authorities. These things need to be learned to make it as an adult. Chores never killed anyone! Just the opposite! It helps to grow them into being a responsible, hard working, self sustaining, reliable adults!.

Me: The label that is used for what we do is Unschooling. I know of hundreds of people who do it, and all of the adults I know that were unschooled turned out successfully. I don't think you understand what I'm trying to say. I'm not saying that houses like that are unsafe. I'm saying that I think it's cool that my friends choose to come over to my house, and feel safe there. My mom trusts me and my friends enough to not need to know what we are doing all the time. She lets us do what we want, so there is no sneaking around. I tell her almost everything. She understands that there are things that I don't wanna tell her, and she excepts that. My mom doesn't want us to grow up and feel that we have to do things we don't wanna do. She wants me to be a strong, independent adult, so she starts by treating me like one now. She is very active in my lives, and in my friends' lives. I tell her things they tell me not to tell anyone because I know she won't go out and tell their parents.

Grades are not that important. On that subject, neither is college. What's important is doing what you love, and what you wanna do.

When my mom used to try and get me and my sisters to do chores when we were in school, it caused a lot of conflict. We all hated cleaning because of that. Now that we don't have chores and school, we have all the free time that we need. Because of that, we are more likely to help with the dishes, or clean our rooms. There's nothing that we have to do, so the things that we used to not do because we had to, we do. Chores are not necessary.

I feel more prepared for the real world now that I can do whatever I want.

Her: Well whatever your reason or your moms, I still don't agree with it, but it's your choice...I praise God that I had parents that cared enough about me that they told me what I could and could and couldn't do. They made me go to school, pushed me to be an honor roll student, made me go to church, decided who I could hang out with, where I could go and knew what I was doing! All these things molded me into the responsible, hard working, caring, self sufficient adult I am today. Because of their constant involvement and input in my life, I was able to raise my kids in that same environment and their kids as well......Grades ARE important! Do you really want to be known as the kid with a D and F average?? I was proud that I was an A & B Honor Roll student.....

Me: I honestly would hate if my parents pushed me to do something, or decided what I could and couldn't do. My mom has helped me dye my hair every color in the rainbow and is fine with me choosing my own friends. If I wanted to I could get almost any piercing or wander around the city at three am with my friends, and she would trust me to do that and be safe. I pick out all of my clothes, and she says as long as I feel good in them I can wear them. I could even date anyone I wanted to (boys, girls, gender queer) and she would still except me for who I am.

I was known as the good girl with all A's all through out elementary school and part my first (and only) year of middle school, and I hated it. All of the teachers expected too much out of me, and if I didn't do my work they would be disappointed. By the time I left middle school I didn't care about my grades (I still finished the year with mostly B's). I'm still considered a good kid, and most adults enjoy hanging out with me.

Also, I have no piercings and have never dated anyone. I don't dress super inappropriately, and I have amazing friends.

Her: Well that sounds like to me a lazy way for your mom to get out of her parenting responsibilities! I for one DID care if my child were running around on drug ridden, gun-toting, gang infested streets! I DID care if my child was engaging in sexual relationships not only without the sanctity of marriage, but also not to mention in a sinful gay relationship! I DID care if my daughters were wearing skirts up to their booties, tops low enough to see their cleavage and pants tight enough to see every curve on her body! I cared enough because I wanted others to look at them with respect and not drooling at the mouth with lust! I do care because I wanted them to know they were more than a sexual object, they were a woman whom God made to become upstanding, moral, respectful individuals who grew up up to be good mothers and wives! I did care who they hung out with because "Bad company corrupts good Character"!.......I think it is sad that your mother doesn't have enough interest in your well being to know who you are hanging out with, what you are doing, when you are coming home and etc...... What will she do if you end up pregnant or on dope or in jail??? Will she say "she did what she wanted to do"??? I think it is irresponsible way to raise a family!

Me: My mom DOES care about me too. The streets here are very safe. I NEVER mentioned sex once. In my family we are excepting of everyone, and love is love. I DON'T wear tight clothes. My mother knows who I hang out with, and enjoys hanging out with them too. I let her know where I am, and when I'll be home, even more than my more traditionally raised friends tell their parents. I don't do drugs, I've never kissed anyone, and I don't do bad things. If I was in a bad situation my mom would be there for me. She loves me just as much as you love your kids. Oh, and my dad teaches parenting classes through a social services organization.

Her: You contradict yourself! One minute you say you don't have to answer to anyone, you come and go as you please, and so on. Mow you say she knows everything you do, everyone you hang out with and so on. Which is it??

Me: I don't HAVE to do it, but I choose to. That's not contradicting myself.

Her: And yes, you did mention sexuality..."I could even date anyone I wanted to (boys, girls, gender queer) and she would still except me for who I am.".....If she loves you as much as she should, then she would be raising you in an environment where she decides what is best for you, not you! She is suppose to be the mother, the responsible one!

Me: That's sexuality, not flat out sex. There's a difference. She loves me, and lets me be my own person. And she is responsible, but so am I.

Her: Yea well, letting you do as you want is not being responsible! I hope when you are practicing being your own person, you don't get into something you cant handle. Will she blame you then because you were "doing your own thing"??

Me: I don't need to practice being my own person, I already am. In our family we don't divide by adults and kids, we are all individual people.There is no blame. If I did get into a bad situation, she would be there for me and take care of me.

And then she blocked me.

The End.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The other side of The First Day of School

A friend posted on facebook that her daughter was headed to the bus stop. One of the comments on the post was "you are so lucky!!! My kids dont start till next week!!!"

Other parents have posted the Staples commercial that declares "It's the most wonderful time of the year again" because "Their going back!"

When a mother posts, "you are so lucky!!! My kids dont start till next week!!!" I wonder if her children are her facebook friends and know what she's posting. Then again, she is probably also saying it out loud in her home. Her children are hearing this message and, no matter what their age, they are internalizing, "I can't wait until you go away." In that moment it is hard to imagine that the child feels loved and cherished.

I used to send my children to school. I will admit that in the past I talked about how great it would be when my children were all in school. Then when they were in school, I did look forward to the beginning of school in the fall and the end of holiday vacations.

I also used to be that mother who yelled at her children and tried to control what they ate, when they slept, and tried to make them do chores. Notice that I use the word "tried" because I was not successful. Because I was not successful a vicious cycle of lack of success, more frustration and more yelling, which lead to less success and more frustration and more yelling, took over our family. You may not think that looking forward to the start of school and being a mother who yelled at her children are related. My life is an example of how directly connected they are.

When I stopped trying to control my children and started focusing on our relationship, and being respectful of them as people, things changed. When my relationship with my children changed from "controlling parent and child who should do what she was told", to "parent and child who are partners in the exploration of life" spending time together at home became easier, more fun and enjoyable. We have always been a family that had successful outings and enjoyed doing things together. We have always been a family that outsiders would look at and say "They are such a nice family." However, we have not always been a family that lived happily together in our home. For the most part it was because of me that our house was not always a place of peace, love and joy.

I changed my parenting before our children stopped going school. Because I changed how I was parenting my need for time away from my children decreased. Because I changed how I was parenting my children's desire to spend time with me increased. We have chosen to be a family who loves and supports each other. We have chosen to live a life of respect and connection. Because of this, our lives have been transformed. I can no longer imagine wanting my children to get on the bus and leave me for 7 hours. My children are sad when their friends go back to school, but they have no desire to get on the bus that drives past our house each day. Instead, on the first day of school we celebrate who we are as a family. In small ways we mark the day that reminds us how far we have come and the blessings of our chosen way of life.

If you are a parent who yells at your children and who looks forward to the first day of school I hope you will read the books that started me on this journey to a better life together as a family:

"Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Punishment and Rewards to Love and Reason." by Alfie Kohn

"Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming parent-child relationships from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joy." By Naomi Aldort