Sunday, December 4, 2011

Education, Employment and Learning

This week I wrote a letter to my legislator, Tim Probst, in response to an e-mail he sent out asking his constituents for input on six different economic recovery ideas. You can read the ideas and our exchange here.

In his proposed ideas for economic recovery this statement resonated with my feelings about society, education and children:
"There is dignity in all work, and there are critical skills shortages across all post-secondary levels, from technical training to apprenticeship to two-year degrees to university degrees. Yet our culture seems fixated on a “college or bust” attitude. Too many of our students do not seriously explore their career opportunities at an early age, and too many see themselves as failures if they're not on a college prep pathway."

All too often we discount certain jobs or careers. We look down on people who hold jobs that we feel are beneath us or less worthy than other jobs. Some people look down on jobs that require manual labor while other people scorn white color jobs, it depends on their upbringing, their background, what job they work and the jobs of their friends and relatives. We need to step back and think about how all jobs have value. They have value because they are necessary for the smooth function of our society, they have value because the people who work them enjoy doing them, they have value because we depend on people who do the work that we don't enjoy or can't do ourselves.

As parents we need to support our children's passions and interests. We need to pay attention to what lights up their eyes. And we need to value whatever that might be. We also need to value all types of learning. In some families school is held up as the sacred grail, something that everyone must go through to succeed in life. Our society is presently putting a huge emphasis on science, math and technology. The reality is that only children who really delight in science or math or technology should follow the path towards a career in those fields. The other side of that reality is that there are only a small number of jobs in our society that require advanced learning in those fields.

There are children who were born to dance, draw, create new technology that we can't imagine, find cures to diseases, help families heal from past wounds, cook amazing meals, and to bake fabulous cakes. Some children were born with a passion for heavy machinery and others for flying airplanes; some children run like the wind and others prefer to curl up with a book. Each child is unique and we need to embrace that, support that, and love them for who they are. We should not try to squash them into a one size fits all educational mold that spits them out at graduation prepared for jobs that they will never enjoy. Our children need to know that whatever they love to do, that is what they should be doing.

In the same way we need to value all different kinds of learning. Some children spend hours playing video games or creating new worlds with their computer. Some children want to spend hours in their room drawing pictures, writing stories, or composing songs with their guitar. Some children prefer Legos and building elaborate structures, others want to bake, train their dog to do tricks, or swim for hours at the pool. Learning is taking place in all these situations. This learning is not less valuable than what might take place at school. In fact, this learning is most likely much more important than the learning that takes place in a school. Children should be encouraged to explore their interests and follow their passions. It is precisely by doing this that they will figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. For some children school may play a role in their path to a fulfilling future, but for other children school and college are unnecessary at best and quite possibly deterrents in their process of becoming who they are.

It is time to reconsider our attitudes towards education, employment and the messages we are sending children. We need to be respectful of all career paths and all educational options. We need to provide our children with opportunities to explore the amazing possibilities for their lives. As Representative Tim Probst said, "For our students, it means a more accurate view of the real world, a better chance to become the person they are meant to be, and a well-earned sense of pride in themselves, their talents, and their future."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Successful Parent/Child Interactions

What qualifies as a successful parent/child interaction? The child agrees to do what the parent wants? The child changes their future behavior because of the interaction? The parent accomplishes whatever they were hoping to accomplish through the interaction? The child does not fuss, complain, talk back or argue? The child is obedient?

How do you define a successful parent/child interaction?

My husband and I were have a discussion with one of our girls about painting on the walls. She had painted sea creatures on her bedroom wall and now wanted a larger canvas. Could she paint on the living room walls? We discussed that option and came to the conclusion that in shared areas, like the living room, everyone in the family should have a voice in what was on the walls. As it turned out, not everyone in the family wanted sea creatures painted on the living room walls. We discussed other possible options and we agreed that the hall bathroom was in need of painting and sea creatures seemed at home in a bathroom, so this became her new walls for painting.

For me, a successful parent/child interaction is defined as an interaction when I am the parent I want to be regardless of the situation. When I manage to stay rational and respectful no matter how dramatic the moment or how strong my child's emotions; when I am thoughtful and sincere and I do not expect my child to handle the moment with any more maturity than they are already demonstrating.

When I focus on everyone's needs, instead of getting grumpy about my own needs or discounting the needs of my child, we have a successful interaction. When my child feels love, heard, and understood; when I express how I am feeling without blaming, shaming or making someone else feel guilty we have successful interactions. Any time we feel more connected we have had a successful interaction. When we are silly and get the giggles, solve a problem, watch a movie, work through strong emotions and find our way back to peace, and even when we are sitting together in the same room with each person doing their own thing, we are successful.

When my love for my children is louder than any other voice in my head, any message from society, any critical comment from a stranger on the street or a friend on facebook, when I remember that nothing is more important than my relationship with my children, that is when I am successfully the parent I want to be.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

What is important?

We have been car shopping. We find car shopping to be a long, hot, exhausting process. The used car salesmen are feeling a bit desperate, though some are willing to let us walk away when they hear our price range because they just aren't that desperate. Desperate car salesmen make me uncomfortable. Well, really all car salesmen make me uncomfortable. And I use "salesmen" instead of "salespeople" because we have yet to find a car saleswoman. We visited one lot where the salesmen aren't paid commission but you know that each sale counts because they are quick to step up and do their best to make sure you become their customer, not the customer of some other salesman on the lot. It was at this lot that we met Colin.

Colin was nice enough, eager to figure out exactly what we wanted and to find a vehicle on the lot that would meet our needs. The challenge being that we are quite specific in our search parameters. We took a test drive in a van only to find the air conditioner wasn't working and on that hot drive we started talking about kids. We found out that Colin has a two week old son. He showed me a picture of his wife and son on his phone. I asked if he was getting much sleep and he assured me that since his wife was on maternity leave she was the one on night duty.

It was getting late on a Sunday, we'd been car shopping for hours and had promised our daughter that this was our last stop before heading over to get a blended coffee drink to cool her off, but Colin kept trying to figure out some way to make a sale. There was one other van they had that might work for us but it was in a locked building and wouldn't be on the lot until the next day. Colin asked us to come back in the morning to see that van. He asked what time we would be coming because it was his day off and he would be driving up from Portland. We set up a time, he took down our phone number, and we finally ended our day of car shopping.

As we thought it through we became increasingly uncomfortable with the thought of Colin coming in on his day off to show us a car that we were not at all sure we would be buying. More importantly, we were uncomfortable having Colin come in on his day off when he could be spending precious time with his wife and son.

The next morning we got up early and called the dealer and asked them to let Colin know that we wouldn't be keeping our appointment. Later that day, as we expected, Colin called to see why we had cancelled. I explained that we didn't want him coming in on his day off because we were reevaluating our options and we needed to do some more research. I also said that we thought it was more important that he spend time with his wife and baby than it was for him to come show us a car. He paused and then thanked me for thinking of that. He seemed truly appreciative of our consideration of his new family. And then he was back to being a car salesman and assured me that being a car salesman was a 24 hour a day job and we could contact him at any time.

I wanted to tell him that no matter how important a car sale was at that time, that it was not more important than his wife and baby. Maybe his mother-in-law was visiting and was helping his wife, maybe he was feeling the financial burden of being the provider for a new family, maybe he really needed to make a sale to keep his job, I don't know the details. What I do know is that his wife and son need to know that they are more important than a car sale.

It was a reminder to me that it is easy to get caught up in jobs, obligations, blogging, sports, our "me time" and our friends.We need to remember to show our children, and our partners in parenting, that nothing in our lives is more important than they are. We need to tell them this, but words alone aren't good enough, we need to consistently show them through our choices and actions. We need to make it clear through our body language and our tone of voice. Saying, "I'm here for you" and "you are the most important people in my life" doesn't do any good if they don't have good reason to trust our words. We need to pay attention, to our families and the messages we are sending them.

Do we talk on the phone when we need to be talking to our children? Are we ignoring them while we spend time on the computer? Are we getting irritated with their behaviors when their behaviors are our child's best attempt to get our attention, to try and get us to show that we do care, that they are important. Do they feel like something, anything, is more important in our lives?

Our families need to know, deep down inside, without a doubt, that they are the most important people in our lives and that we are there for them no matter what. If they don't feel it then we need to find ways to show them, over and over, until they know they can trust us, until they have no doubts. And then we need to show them again. Every day, in big ways and small ways, we need to be showing our families that they are more important to us than anything else in the world.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hate Speech is Not Acceptable

LZ Granderson wrote, "Permissive Parents, Curb your brats" which left me feeling sad and upset. Here was an gay man of African descent who has won awards from organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation which promotes "understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality." A man who would not stand for hate speech towards members of the gay community and yet he spews it towards children.  A man who subtly advocates for corporal punishment in our schools, says that parents should not rule out spanking young children, and yet I seriously doubt he would support violence towards LGBT people.

Vickie wrote a thoughtful response to LZ's piece, "LZ Granderson Needs a Hug. He's having a tantrum." Vickie reminds us what it's like to be a child and she points out something that came to my mind when I was reading LZ Granderson's original piece:

"I think that deep down inside any adult who hates children must be a child who was raised to hate himself.  

If he didn't deserve love as a child when he "misbehaved," then no child does. You can hardly blame him for feeling this way. It is part of a cycle that leads to more and more misunderstandings of how children should be and how we should be and how we should force them to behave."

What must his early years have been like? He's a successful writer now, but once upon a time he was a boy. He grew up, married, had a son, got divorced and now he lives with a partner and is an openly gay sports writer. How could his life experiences have not brought out a more compassionate attitude towards all people? What must his childhood have been like for him to hate children so much that he would post a opinion piece about it on CNN. Or maybe it's their parents he hates.

A couple threads on facebook lead me to do some serious thinking about how our society views children. Which lead me to write the following:

Imagine if I said, "Why do they let those old people onto planes? They take forever to get to their seats. They can never get their own bags in the overhead bins so *strangers* have to help them if a flight attendant isn't right there. They have to get up to go pee all the time. Then they have to get up to walk because of their lack of circulation. It's so annoying when they grab my seat for stability. Then they need to get up when the drink cart is in the isle and the attendants have to move back and it makes everyone wait for their drinks. I give the old people really nasty looks so they'll know I don't think they belong on the plane. I hate it when they forget to turn up their hearing aides so they talk Really Loud and you can hear them from rows and rows away. And if you have to sit by them they want to talk to you, I mean make conversation! I just want to be left alone. I can't stand old people. They completely ruin the flight for me, it really pisses me off. Their families should lock them up in nursing homes where they belong.

I've heard complaints like these about children countless times and yet it would be shocking to most people to hear the same thing said about the elderly. Simply put, we should not be disrespectful to senior citizens or to children. They are people, just like we are. They belong out and about in our communities just like everyone else. They need and deserve the love and support of the whole community particularly because they may need a little extra help now and then. Just as the families who care for them may need extra support and understanding.

We were children and hopefully we will live to be old. Why do we deny them what we ourselves should have had when we were young and hope to have when we are old?


I had just finished writing this post when someone posted a link to this: "Majority of US Adults Had Troubled Childhoods: Study finds that nearly 60 percent lived with abuse or other difficult family situations."

"About a quarter of the more than 26,000 adults surveyed reported experiencing verbal abuse as children, nearly 15 percent had been physical abused, and more than 12 percent -- more than one in ten -- had been sexually abused as a child."

We need to stop the perpetuation of abuse and trauma in families. We need to stand up and say, "Hate speech is not acceptable towards anyone." I can't believe that I have to point out that hate speech and violence towards children is wrong.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's the Process

When our children are very young and we decide to do any kind of project with them it is vital to remember that it is the process, not the final product, that matters. If it's a craft project it will not end up looking like the pretty picture of the completed project on the pages of Family Fun Magazine. Those pictures are almost impossible to duplicate by anyone considering the projects were completed by a skilled adult artist with all the right tools. If we are baking we need to let go of the idea of perfectly shaped cookies and be glad that some of the cookie dough made it onto the pan and into the oven. What matters is not what we end up with as a product, what matters is how much fun we have along the way, that our child had a positive experience that leaves open the possibility of doing another fun project in the future, that our child got to feel the texture of the dough or select the colors of paint that ended up more or less on the paper. And we need to expect a lot of mess to clean up afterwards, particularly if there is glitter involved.

When we take on any kind of project, supporting our children in expressing their creativity is important. Letting go of the picture perfect finished product and embracing their enthusiasm as they explore the medium and create something that reflects who they are in that moment should be our focus. When we get caught up in telling our children what to do and how to do it, with the expectation that not only will they finish the project but that it will look "right," we often destroy the joy of the process for our children and ourselves. Projects of any kind are best seen as a starting place, a jumping of spot, an inspiration, and where it goes from there is up to your child as you get into the process and start creating.

The idea of focusing on the process and not the product applies to other areas of our relationships with our children, not just art, crafts and baking. In the broadest sense we need to focus on the process of childhood and not on how we want our children to "turn out." We should keep our eyes on how we can meet our child's needs today, not on the person we want our child to become in the future.

This concepts of process and product came to mind after I spent a great deal of time the past two months supporting two of my children through the process of deciding if they were going to go to camp for the first time this summer. If you and I had talked about summer plans back in April I would have said that two of my children would be attending camp, one in June and one in August. When you have to sign up over 6 months before camp begins, there is a lot of time between sending in your deposit and when you have to send in the rest of your payment to process the idea of going to camp. As it turns out, neither of my children will be attending camp this summer, but I think they might next year. I signed them both up for their respective camps, I sent in the required deposits, and in the end I contacted the necessary people to cancel each registration. For one of the camps the deposit, $150, was non-refundable. While some parents might get upset about the time and energy and money spent on something that resulted in nothing, I see it as part of the process. This year was part of the process that my children need in order to get to a place where they are comfortable spending a week or two at camp. The time and energy and money wasn't wasted, it was an investment in the process. If my children never end up going to camp then it was an investment in my children figuring out that they are not really interested in going to camp. The out come is irrelevant, it's the process that matters.

As parents we are here to support our children through the process each day, that's what is important. If that means picking up a child from a sleepover at 2 a.m. or feeding a pet that a child isn't ready to take full responsibility for, or making a snack at 11:00 p.m. for a child who is going to stay up into the wee hours reading a new book, it's all part of the process. When we support our children with unconditional love and respect they can fully engage in the process, and that can bring about some pretty amazing results.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Privacy and Trust in the Tween and Teen Years

My girls were talking to me about the rules and requirements that some of their friends live with. They told me of parents who read every text their child sends and parents who read every facebook message. Imagine for a moment that your children told you that they were going to read everything that you post of facebook, every text you sent, every private message, and every e-mail. Imagine your child reading every communication between you and your closest friends.

Or perhaps it's easier for you to imagine how would you feel if your spouse, partner or your own parents made you hand over your cell phone and computer at the end of the day so that they could see everything you had done. Can you tell me that you never need a space to vent? That you never have a day when something is going on with you and your spouse, or your child, that you need to talk about privately with a close friend? That you never have something to say to someone else in confidence?

Your children need that, too.

Two of my children have cell phones and all three of them have their own netbooks. They have friends all over the world and they communicate with them via texting, facebook, tumblr, skype and polyvore. I know this because they have talked to me about it, by choice, not because I have checked. I do not snoop. I do not use their computers without asking first and if they prefer that I not use their computers, I don't. If they leave their computer sitting on the couch with tabs open I don't glance over to see what they have been doing. As far as cell phones, I don't know how to use one so I wouldn't know how to read their texts.

Before you start leaving comments about how irresponsible I am, let me assure you that my children know about using safe search, and that there are icky people on the internet, they know that it's not a good idea to post their full name or address anywhere, they understand that clicking on some links can infect their computer with a virus or take them to places they aren't ready to go. But more than the knowledge of internet safety, my children and I have a relationship based on trust. They can trust me not to snoop  and I trust them to let me know if they have concerns when they are out and about in cyber-land.  If they are not sure if something is a good idea they may ask my opinion, though usually I don't know much more than they do so we may research together or talk about the trust worthiness of a specific site.

Parents who snoop through their children's communications without their children's knowledge, and parents who require full access to their children's cell phone and computers, will tell you that it's for their child's own good. They will tell you that they are doing it to keep their child safe. They will tell you that it's their right as a parent to know what is going on in their child's life.

What do parents gain by intruding on their child's friendships and personal communication? Sometimes I wonder if the parent's primary reason really is to protect their child or if it's more because they can't stand not knowing every little detail about their child's life, or their need to feel in control. The reality is that the more parents snoop and the more they intrude, the more the child is going to hide and find sneaky ways of doing things under their parents' radar. Whatever parents hope to gain by intruding they lose a whole lot more, they lose their child's trust.

As your children get older, and by that I mean the tween years through the teen years, approximately ages 10 through 17, they increasingly need their own space. They are expanding their explorations of who they are and how they fit into the world. They need space and privacy to figure things out. They need to be able to write stories that you never read, to text or tweet how they are really feeling and the chance to dream about the future with their friends with no adults present. They need your trust and support, not invasion of their privacy.

Did you ever do things your parents didn't know about when you were younger? Did your parents ever forbid you from doing something that you found a way to do anyway? Did you sneak out at night? Smoke cigarettes or drink beer with your friends?

Do you think that your children aren't smart enough to find ways to get around your rules and restrictions? I know kids with secret facebook accounts, and most kids know how to clear a browser history. If you really want to keep your child safe you need to have a relationship based on trust. You need to have a real relationship based on respect and partnership. If you are snooping and checking and demanding access you can be sure that your child will find ways to avoid detection. The more your child feels the need to hide things from you the greater the chance that your child will get into a bad situation that you don't know about. The more distance there is between you and your child the greater the chance that someone will prey upon your child, using that distance to their advantage.

I've never controlled what my children do on the internet. Because of that my children don't need look at things at a friend's house that they can't see at home, they don't need secret accounts where a predatory adult may start gaining their trust. If you think I'm naive because you just know my children have done and seen things on the internet that I don't know about then you're missing the point. Of course my children have done and seen things on the internet that I don't know about. As they get older they gradually expand their exposure to topics relating to sex and relationships, as they are comfortable, as they feel ready. It's not about my comfort level, it's not up to me to decide what they are ready to view. They need room to explore things without me looking over their shoulder. I'm here if they want to talk about things they've read or seen, but that's up to them as well.

Didn't you do the same thing when you were a young teenager? Maybe you secretly read romance novels or headed over to a friend's house to look at pictures of naked women in a magazine. Perhaps you got into an R rated movie with an older friend or sibling.

Children in the tween and teen years need space and privacy. It's part of their process. They need to spend hours in their room alone or with friends. Not only do they need privacy so they can talk to their friends about their lives and your parenting, their friends may also desperately need to be able to talk to your child in confidence about their own life, relationships and parents. When we demand to know everything they say and do we create a disconnect. When we intrude on their personal communications we give them reason to be angry, hurt and distrustful. When we have a relationship build on trust, and as a part of that we respect our children's privacy and their need for space, our relationship with them grows closer and more peaceful. With all the complaining I hear about tweens and teens it seems to me that every parent would be interested in a closer, more trusting and more peaceful relationship with their older child. It may seem to good to be true, but it is possible and it depends upon you, not your child.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reflecting

Our family is home again after spending 5 days with 700 people at an unschooling conference. This conference is the one family vacation that we find a way to afford each year. We spend time with like minded families talking, making music, learning, and laughing. While reading the online group list for people who attend the conference, the facebook group wall and interacting with people over the long weekend one thought kept tripping me up. I would read something or see a behavior of someone attending and I would think, "That makes the conference look bad."  Because the conference is so important to our family, a sacred time when we get to turn a hotel into a home that we share with some of our favorite people in the world, I feel protective. I don't want anything to ruin this amazing experience. I want everything that is said and done to reflect well upon the conference and unschooling.

Considering there are 700 people with diverse backgrounds, all at different places on their journey as parents, as unschoolers, and as people, it's not a realistic expectation that any of us can make it through a weekend of too little sleep and too much stimulation without ever saying or doing something we might think better of during our usual day to day life. I can think of several times when I was reactive, I know there were situations that I could have responded to with more compassion, and there were even a few moments when I could have interacted with children more respectfully.

As the weekend progressed I found myself thinking a different thought, "Why is it anyone's job to make the conference look good?" It's a crazy and intense time and everyone there is doing the best they can in the situation. People attend for the same reasons my family attends, and maybe for a few reasons all their own. We aren't there to make the conference look good, we are there to embrace the experience, to learn and grow and have fun. We learn as much from the moments when we don't quite get it right as we do from those moments when we think, "I totally rock!" What we don't need is people criticizing our less than stellar moments because we might be making the conference or unschooling look bad. What we do need is people supporting us and saying, "Hey, it looks like you're having a rough time, can I help?"

I started to think about how parents want their children's behavior to reflect well upon their family. Parents get upset when their kids do something that might make the parents or the family look bad. Parents want their kids to get good grades, succeed in sports and/or the arts, and to be polite, among other things, to make the parents look good. Your children aren't here to make you look good. It isn't your child's job to do things your way so you can bask in the glow of having a "good kid." Your children are here to learn and grow and have fun. Your children are here to be their authentic selves, not to be a "good kid." Life can be crazy and intense and over stimulating. There will be times when your children are frustrated because something didn't turn out the way they hoped it would, they will be in emotionally difficult situations, they won't always do or say what they wished they had done or said. In those moments they don't need punishment, criticism or an "I told you so!" In those moments they need our unconditional love. They need someone there to say, "Hey, it looks like you are having a rough time. I'm here for you in what ever way might help."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I'm a better parent when...

I have been sick for a few months. The herbs, vitamin therapy and medication are starting to have an effect and my energy is beginning to increases. This is a very good thing, particularly since my husband suffers from chronic illness and our family depends upon me to be the parent who consistently functions. However, I have noticed that the improvement of my health has actually caused some challenges in  being the parent that I want to be. When I was exhausted, sitting on the couch for hours out of the day watching multiple episodes of "Bones" on Netflix was fine. When I was sick and doing the absolute bare minimum to get through each day my expectations for myself and everyone else were also at a bare minimum. Now that I am starting to feel better I want to get things done. I want to make up for the months of inertia, get the house cleaned up, get rid of piles and generally do everything that I haven't managed to do in the past 1.5 decades of parenthood. As my expectations increased I realized that in some ways I was a better parent when I was sick. Our life was a mess but our relationships were better. I had all kinds of time to be present for my children. I wasn't hurrying about trying to get things done and getting annoyed if they interrupted with needs or if they didn't feel the same need to get things done. When I was too tired to crochet while sitting on the couch, I was too tired to fight my body's need for rest. I rested all the time. Now that I have energy sometimes I stop paying attention to my body and try to do more than I have energy to do. As a result I get tired, frustrated, and irritable with my family.

This experience has reminded me take time to reflect when there is conflict or tension in the house so that I can figure out what is keeping me from being the parent I want to be. I find it interesting that something so wonderful as feeling healthy and having energy was having negative repercussions. As we all readjust to the most recent changes in my health, changes for the better, I'm reminded that all changes require a period of adjustment. When I stopped to think about it I realized that this is actually quite common for families. Things that are supposed to be good, that should be fun or could be positive, result in the need for a period of adjustment, turn out to be a bad fit for the family or require an adjustment of expectations or attitude on the part of the parents. When we are growing and learning as a family change is constant. We are continually adjusting to where each person is on their journey. It should not surprises us when things get out of balance.

When change happens and we are adjusting we need to remember that it is a process. We need to remember that not everyone will adjust to change in the same way or in the same amount of time. As parents we are adjusting to our children's ever growing skills and abilities at the same time they are adjusting to having those skills and abilities. We are adjusting to having a baby who now walks at the same time our baby is adjusting to being able to walk. We are adjusting to having a teenager who dates at the same time our teenager is adjusting to dating. I am adjusting to having more energy and being able to get things done at the same time as my children are adjusting to having a mom who wants to zip around and clean up the house.  Focusing on our relationships with our children, and our connection with them, can make meeting all of our various needs during times of adjustment easier.

Friday, April 29, 2011

What is good to know...

This week the sign outside our neighborhood elementary school reads:
"Whatever is good to know is hard to learn."
After a quick google, the only source I could find was in the introduction to a course at Princeton entitled, "Animal learning and decision making: Psychological, Computational and Neural Perspectives." A three hour class taught on Tuesdays from 1:30 - 4:30 p.m. the Fall of 2010. I hope the students who took the course ate a light lunch, brought a big mug of coffee and were intrinsically motivated to learn about the topic.  At the bottom of a screen about operant conditioning was the quote, cited as a Greek proverb. Since the e-mail addresses for the professors was listed I am tempted to ask them why they chose to add this quote, particularly since the other screens are quote free. I also want to know if they believe this quote. Is it true? Do they have scientific proof, that "whatever is good to know is hard to learn"?

Do you believe this is true?

What have you learned in your lifetime? To talk, walk, cook, drive a car?  What do you love to do? Is it hard to learn the skills to do something that you enjoy? Even if it's challenging, takes time and there are frustrating moments, if you are engaged, excited and interested, learning does not feel hard.

In my own life I have enjoyed learning to bake, garden, crochet and blog. There may have been moments of frustration when the recipe turned out inedible, the slugs ate my lettuce, I had to rip out all of the stitches and try again, and my writing fell flat, but it wasn't hard. It was part of the journey.

What is good to know?

Do you need to know the same things as someone who lives somewhere else?  What is good to know in Florida definitely differs from what is good to know in Alaska. What is good to know in Australia is decidedly different from what is good to know in Greenland. What is good to know in Brooklyn or LA is different from what is good to know in Lost Springs, Wyoming. What is good for me to know is not necessarily what is good for you to know, you may not need to know anything about yarn, garden seeds and vegetarian cooking.

What message was the school trying to give children  by posting this message on the board? If you were a 10 year old on a school bus going past that sign what would you think? "Today I have to go to school and I'm supposed to learn stuff and it's going to be hard."  "What's so good about this stuff I've got to learn for the test on Friday?" "If it's going to be hard why bother." What purpose is served by sending children the message that learning is hard? 

While I was thinking about the message on the sign I happened to read Alfie Kohn's article, “'Well, Duh!' -- Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring"  number eight on this list is:
"8. Just because a lesson (or book, or class, or test) is harder doesn't mean it's better
First, if it’s pointless to give students things to do that are too easy, it’s also counterproductive to give them things that they experience as too hard. Second, and more important, this criterion overlooks a variety of considerations other than difficulty lever by which educational quality might be evaluated.
We know this, yet we continue to worship at the altar of "rigor." I've seen lessons that aren't unduly challenging yet are deeply engaging and intellectually valuable. Conversely, I've seen courses -- and whole schools -- that are indisputable rigorous...and appallingly bad."

For children if something is hard to learn perhaps it is not relevant to their life or interests. Perhaps it isn't being presented in a manner that fits the child's learning style. Perhaps they aren't cognitively ready to learn whatever it is that someone else has decided would be good for them to know.
Learning is good. Learning is fun, engaging, and exciting. Learning is innate, we do it from before we are born and keep doing it all our lives. But forget the ideas that learning is hard and that making children learn things is good. Those ideas quickly snuff a child's natural love of learning that blossoms when a child is learning at their own pace, in their own way, following their passions.


 "What is essential is to realize that children learn independently, not in bunches; that they learn out of interest and curiosity , not to please or appease the adults in power; and that they ought to be in control of their own learning, deciding for themselves what they want to learn and how they want to learn it." ~ John Holt ~ How Children Learn

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Enjoy Media with Your Kids Week"

I was invited to attend the following event on Facebook:
Screen-Free Week (http://www.screenfree.org/) is a national celebration where children, families, schools and communities turn off entertainment screen media (TV, video games, computer games, apps, etc.) and turn on LIFE! It's 7 days to unplug and play, read, daydream, create, explore nature, and spend time with family and friends.

My RSVP is "No," our family will not be attending.

Our LIFE is heavily invested in screen time. Turning off screens would result in no communication with many of our family and friends with whom we only communicate via text, skype and facebook. We wouldn't be able to learn about science via watching Myth Busters and Bones, my girls wouldn't be able to work on stories they are writing, daydream on Polyvore, look up plants and animals and a lot of other nature related topics, or read fan fiction. The way I look at it, we play, read, daydream, create, explore nature and spend time with family and friends through and with media. I don't see that as a negative, I see it as an amazing blessing that comes from living in this day and age. We can learn anything we want any time we want, together, with the click of a mouse.

If you have read my blog before you should know that I would never impose "Media Free Week" upon my family. I think that if kids want to participate that's cool, but if they do not then turning off media becomes a negative, creates conflict in families and it can feel like punishment. I know some families enjoy Media Free Week. The parents and kids are on board for the challenge and they make it fun together, but those families are rare. Most kids feel pushed, forced or manipulated. Schools, parents and toy stores do their best to bribe kids into participation with toys, stickers or other rewards. Rewards do not increase a child's intrinsic motivation to do something again on their own. In facts, when you bribe or reward a child for a behavior they are less likely to engage in that behavior by choice.  If you don't believe me take the time to read Alfie Kohn's book "Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason."

I believe someone should start "Enjoy media with your kids week" to encourage parents to sit down and watch a movie, play a game or text with their kids more often. It is very likely that you will strengthen your relationship with your children a whole lot more by turning on media with them instead of turning off media for them.


"Researchers found that girls that played video games with their parents (mainly their fathers - not many mothers questioned admitted they played video games) were better behaved, felt more connected to their families, felt less aggressive, and demonstrated decreased levels of internalizing, which can lead to depression."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Spoiled?

My daughters have had friends tell them that they are spoiled.  These comments have lead to conversations at our house about what it means to be spoiled and what would cause someone to say that about someone else.  Why would other kids say that my girls are spoiled? We live in a house with sub-flooring in the living room (we pulled up the nasty old carpet but haven't had funds for flooring), with one car that is uncomfortably small for our family and we consider sharing foot long sandwiches at Subway eating out. The children who have called my girls spoiled come from families with more material possession such as larger TV's, gaming systems, and more new clothes. Their families have multiple cars and have gone on really cool vacations. These are nice families who do activities together and these kids have "good parents." Why on earth would they think my children are spoiled?

One of my girls suggested that when one kid calls another spoiled it is usually because they are jealous or they want something the other kid has. We discussed what the girls might have that the other kids didn't and an immediate answers was, "We have our needs met." I think there are probably many aspects of our family's life that could bring up feelings of envy in other children, for example: not having to go to school, not being required to do chores, being able to decide what and when to eat, being able to choose if and when they play indoors or out, sleeping when they are tired and getting up when they are rested, having the freedom to choose if they want to join in a family activity or not, and being accepted for who they are. When children look at our family and call my girls spoiled it is not about material possession and money, it's about connection, respect, and the fact that in our family children know that their needs are important. That's how we live at our house.

When adults talk about children being spoiled it means something different. Adults are often suggesting that indulgent parents are creating "spoiled brats." Adults aren't really concerned that the children are being given too much, adults are concerned that the children's behavior will become a problem (to the adults) because the children get what they want. When I talk about meeting my children's needs, and saying yes to the things that they want as often as humanly possible, I know that there are adults out there thinking that I'm spoiling my children. These people think my children will turn out to be ungrateful, disrespectful, spoiled brats who are unable to delay gratification. They think that children need to be taught how to deal with not getting what they want, that children need these lessons for their own good. These adults think that doing for children that they could do for themselves will create me-centered monsters who only think about themselves and disregard the needs of others. These parents are sure that their children have to be made to do chores or they will never learn how to be helpful. These parents will tell you that's just how life is.

For these adults it will probably come as a surprise that children who have their needs met do not grow up to be spoiled brats with "problem behaviors". Children who grow up to be stereo-typical spoiled brats, throwing fits to get what they want, being demanding and disrespectful of their parents, are not children who have had their needs met. These are usually children whose parents buy them stuff, but deny them unconditional love and connection. Parents who fail to meet their children's emotional needs. Parents who try to make their children happy with presents but who deny them their actual presence. When children regularly do not have their needs met they get desperate, this desperation can take the form of behaviors that people think come from being spoiled. If you see a child and you find your self thinking, "What a spoiled brat!" take a moment to see how the parent is treating the child. Is the parent creating Conflict or Connection? Is the parent focused on the needs of the child? Is the child hungry, tired, or over stimulated? Is it possible the child has a history of  having needs that have not been met?

Children who regularly have their needs met, who trust the adults in their lives to be respectful of their needs and to support them in getting their needs met, do not have to rely on extreme behaviors to draw attention to their needs.


"The baseline fear is that if we give our children what they want, they will always want more. However, this theory is rarely tested because we seldom keep giving until they are satisfied. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy because they don’t get enough opportunities to learn what “enough” feels like." 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Punishment and Consequences


Punishment or Consequence?
Natural Consequences or  Logical Consequences?


Punishment:  suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution  (merriam-webster.com)

 Punishment is something you do to your children.  I can't say "we do to our children" since I do not punish my children.  I have been involved in several discussions lately where parents have implied, or stated out right, that you cannot raise children without punishment because they won't be ready for life as adults.  They think That's just the way life is so they are doing their job and preparing their children for the harsh realities of life.

Consequence:  something produced by a cause or necessarily following from a set of conditions (merriam-webster.com)

Consequences happen as the result of cause and effect. If you jump up and down long enough you will get tired. If you take a bath you are going to get wet.


The term "Logical consequences" has come to mean a consequence that is determined by a parent to be the logical punishment for a child's behavior or action. Some parents and parenting experts think that it is logical to create consequences in addition to the natural consequences. Any consequence that you dole out, influence, or create as a parent is actually a punishment.

Natural consequences on the other hand happen without any effort on the part of the parent. Natural consequences are those things that happen naturally. Life is hard enough, you don't have to make these up. However, some parents feel the need to enhance natural consequences by not stepping in to support their child and some parents feel the need to use natural consequences as a "teachable moment" by pointing out the consequence and shaming the child in the process.

Yes, there are natural consequences in life for adults and yes, there are natural consequences for kids, too.  However, as adults with more life experience I think that we can often soften the natural consequences for our children, as opposed to making them more harsh with "logical consequences." Children do not have the life experience and maturity to always understand what the consequences of a behavior or choice will be. If we know that our child splashes in puddles we can plan ahead and bring along a change of clothes where ever we go.  How much kinder than looking at our soggy child and saying,"You'll just have to be wet and cold, there's nothing I can do about it." Yes, there is something you can do about it, you can show your child the kindness of having extra clothes at the ready.

For those of you who think that parents must punish children or they won't grow up prepared for the realities of life and for those of you who think that we must make sure our children suffer the consequences of their choices and behaviors, I ask you, what is wrong with treating our children how we would like to be treated?   If your husband was getting ready to go to work and he couldn't find the tie that matched his shirt would you tell him that was the consequence of his not hanging it back up, and continue drinking your cup of coffee while he searched on in frustration? If you headed for the door only to find that your keys weren't in their usual place would you expect your children to tell you that was the consequence of not putting them were they belong as they continue to playing their game?

We all forget things, we all lose things, we all make mistakes. When we do isn't it wonderful when someone goes out of their way to help us out, offer us support or tell us they know what it's like because they had the same thing happen once upon a time? We're human, we are imperfect, we don't always get it right. Our children are human and imperfect and they are also new to this world. Why would we expect them to always get it right? They have so much to learn and we have the opportunity to support them in the learning process.

If my child is heading out the door and cannot find the shoes that would match her outfit I am not inclined to say, "You'll have to wear your sneakers, that's what happens when you don't put your shoes by the door." It doesn't matter if my daughter is 2 or 14, I will do everything I can to help her search for her shoes in the amount of time we have before she heads out the door.  Do you think I am making life too easy for my child?  Do you think I am helping her avoid the consequences of her behavior? Here's what I think: When I help my child find her shoes I am showing her that I care about her. She knows that her shoes aren't by the door, she knows she can't find them, she knows that it means rushing around at the last minute.  And if she's too young to know that, then she's too young to be expected to put her shoes by the door in the first place. For some children keeping track of their shoes is easy, for other children it is a challenge. There is no one age when a child is old enough or should know better. Children will do the best they can. If a child fails to meet your expectations than your expectations are out of line, not the child.

"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."  (from my post Be kind to everyone)

As Dana Ellis said, "Yeah, the whole "natural consequences" thing always annoys the shit out of me. My family doesn't hold ME to that! If someone else is making dinner and I get home after dinner, they don't tell me I can't eat! They ask if I want some warmed up! Or if I can't find my shoes they don't make me wear others--everyone crawls around under the furniture to find them for me! It doesn't make me less likely to lose my shoes, it just makes me more happy I have the family I have! :)"

If you think you have to punish your children, create consequences for their behaviors, or let them suffer the natural consequences without support please reconsider. Punishment does not need to be a part of parenting. Learn about unconditional parenting and living a life with your family built on a foundation of unconditional love, respect, trust and connection. If you don't think you have the time to read books here are some articles to get you started:

"The Case Against Time Out" by Peter Haiman

"Parental Love with Stings Attached" by Alfie Kohn

"Atrocious Advice from the Super Nanny" by Alfie Kohn

From my blog:

"Problem Behaviors"

"Arbitrary parenting"

And pretty much every other blog post :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"I hate you!"

A reader asked how I handle things when siblings are saying (or yelling) "I hate you!" to each other.  Here is my reply:

I've struggled with the "I hate you!" statements made by my children towards each other.  It can be hard not to feel reactive when people you love, and who you hope will love each other, are using the word hate to describe how they feel.  However, that was actually the answer for me, realizing that the word was being used to describe how they were feeling.

If I say "Don't say that!" I am discouraging them from expressing their feelings.  The reality is that they are using such a strong word to express some very strong feelings. When there are strong feeling swirling around it is easy to get sucked into the situation and become emotional or angry. However, I have learned that if I can disconnect from the word they are using and connect with the emotions they are feeling it makes it a lot easier for me to stay calm and compassionate.

It is then easier to say, "You are really feeling angry towards your sister," instead of lashing out at the use of the word hate.  Sometimes validating their strong feelings can help diffuse the situation and lead to each child feeling more heard and understood.  Sometimes we have to step back and make room for the children work it out for themselves, particularly with older children. In that case we can then make time later on to reconnect with each child to provide them with the opportunity to talk with us about what happened and how they felt about it and how they are now feeling.

If we get distracted by the words that our children use it is easy to lose sight of what our children need.  If we start scolding our child for using a particular word we are creating a disconnection.  If we focus on how our children are feeling and what their needs are we are creating connection.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Parenting Without Hate


What can you do to promote world peace?
Go home and love your family.  
~Mother Teresa 


Some parents seem to think that hate is a necessary part of the parent/child relationship. They believe that if they are doing their job there will be times when their children will hate them. They assume that teenagers will be angry and resentful and that there will conflict. When a parent says publicly, in real life or on-line, that their child is mad at them because of some punishment other parents will respond with support. The other parents say that it's normal, that the child will get over it, that the parent needs to stay strong, and that it's important for children to know who's boss.  Some parents think that they have to use punishments that will upset their children and make their children angry.  They think that they have to do this to control problem behaviors.

Definition of HATE: intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury (Merriam-Webster.com)

Is that really what you want for your family?  Do you want your children to hate you? Do you want yelling and screaming and tears? Do you want hostility and aversion to be a part of your relationship with your children?  Do you want your children to fear you?

Do you remember being punished as a child? Did it make you less likely to do something again or less likely to get caught the next time?  Did punishments make you more likely to do something because it was the right thing to do or less likely to do something because you were afraid of punishment? When you were sent to your room did you think about what you had done or did you think about how mad you were at your parents?

Many parents think that by punishing their children they are being "good parents."  Some parents parent this way because it was how they themselves were raised.  Many parents simply do not know that happy, confident, loving, generous, capable children can be raised without parenting that causes conflict in the parent/child relationship. Many parents don't know that the most effective way to have children who are all of those things does not involve punishment, bribes, rewards or other forms of parental manipulation and control.  If you don't believe me I encourage you to read Alfie Kohn's book "Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason."

Parenting does not need to involve hate.  In fact, parenting should not involve hate.  Parenting should be based on unconditional love, respect, compassion, trust and connection. Imagine a family without conflict, without yelling, without punishment, without consequences that are created by parents.  Imagine a home where parents respect the children and the children trust the parents. This is not some fantasy I've created in my mind, this is how families I know are living today. This is how my family lives.

Do you enjoy parenting?  Do your children enjoy spending time with you?  Do your children choose to spend time with you?  Do you choose to spend time with your children? Do you want to have relationships built on trust and mutual respect? Do you want to be able to trust your children?  Do you want your children to trust you?

We can be our children's partners on the journey of life. We can live together joyfully in peace. This is possible when we meet the needs our our children. Meeting our children's needs is The Easy Button of Parenting.

If you are parenting with punishments and find that yelling, tears and even hate have become a regular part of your family it is time to look at what is causing the conflict.  My blog post on Triggers which will help you begin identifying and neutralizing the triggers that are causing conflict.

It is never too late to create a more loving and peaceful relationship with your children.  I know because I made dramatic changes in my parenting when my children were between the ages of 8 and 12.  I am now enjoying the teenage years of my oldest daughter which lead me to write "Hopefully some day you will have a teenager." I'm actually looking forward to when I have three teenagers in the house.

Hate has no place in our house.  If my children are angry with me than I know I need to find out why and figure out what I can do to reconnect.  Notice that the above sentence is all what I need to do, not what my children need to do.  I do not want my children feeling "intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury" because of something I have done.  If they do then I need to examine my behavior and apologize for what I have done. Have you apologized to your children for your behavior lately? Perhaps that's a good place to start as you begin to change your own behavior and learn to parent without hate.

If we have no peace,
it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
~Mother Teresa

Friday, January 21, 2011

That's just how life is...

Most parents will tell you that they are preparing their children for life.  Most people would agree that this is part of the parental job description.  My question is, what kind of life are we preparing them for?

Parents justify all kinds of parenting decisions by saying, "That's just the way life is." When a child has a teacher who is harsh and negative, or one they just don't get along with, a parent will say, "She needs to learn how to deal with people like that because some day she will have to work for a boss who is like this teacher." When a child doesn't like the food that the parent prepared for dinner the parent may say, "This is what's for dinner, you need to learn to eat what you are given. There will be times in life where you don't have a choice about what you eat." When a child is teased by another child the parent may say it is a normal part of childhood and that their child needs to toughen up. When a child tries a new sport or activity, and finds out that they really don't enjoy it, their parent will say that they can't quit. They need to learn how to stick with what they have started. The parent will tell you the child needs to learn how to deal with things they don't enjoy doing because they will have a job in the future they don't like. Parents tell their kids that that is just the way life is.

Parents tell their children that they must do what they are told, be respectful of adults, go to bed at a specific time, go to school, complete their homework and do chores. Parents tell their children how much time they can spend on the computer, who they should be friends with, and what and when to eat.  Parents try to prepare children for life by controlling them, teaching them lessons, and making them do the things that adults have decided are important. Parents do this because they want to be good parents. They do these things because this is how it was done by their parents before them. Parents often say that they do these things to prepare their children for life. They do these things because they want their children to be prepared for how life is.

How often do we as parents stop and ask why life is the way it is? Do we stop and ask ourselves if we want our child to live in a world were life is set up so that people have bosses they don't get along with and jobs they don't enjoy? Do we consider what life would be like if everyone ate food they liked when they were hungry and participated in activities because the activities brought them joy? Have we considered that not only does life not have to be the way it is, but that life is rapidly changing and it isn't how it was 20 years ago and it won't be the same 20 years from now. We really have no idea what life in the future will be like, we have no idea what the world we are preparing our children to live in as adults will be like.

When we prepare our children for life by teaching them lessons based on the "That's just how life is and you need learn to deal with that" philosophy we are helping to perpetuate life like it is. If we teach our children to accept a life with bosses they don't get along with and jobs they don't enjoy, what life are we preparing them for? Is that the life you would wish for your children?

The next time you say to your kids, "That's just how life is..." or something similar, ask yourself if that is true.  Parents tell their children that they have to go to school, that's just how life is.  But that's not true.  My children don't go to school.  Their life isn't like that.

Instead of perpetuating how life is, ask yourself, "What kind of life do I want for my family?"  "What do I want my children to know about how life is?"

I want my children to know what foods they enjoy and when they are hungry. I want my children to know how to recognize if a situation, job, relationship, or activity brings them joy. I want them to know how to remove themselves from situations that are not healthy. I want my children to know how to use the resources around them to learn whatever they want to learn. I want my children to know that there are all different kinds of ways to live life and I will be right here with them as they explore the options. I want my children to know that they do not have to accept someone else's definition of how life is.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Compassion

I am presently reading "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are" by Brené Brown, which I decided to read after watching the author's Ted Talk  "The Power of Vulnerability.  In the book, Brené Brown talks about how we need to be compassionate and accepting in order to create connection with the people in our lives.  I agree with that.

She went on to say, "...if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior."  (Brown,2010,p.17)  This statement did not ring true for me.  I kept reading as she described a work situation where the boss was frustrated because two of his employees did not listen and would always do things their own way even after he made sure they understood every detail of a project.  Her answer was to hold the employees accountable for not following the project protocol.  She said the boss should tell them that that he was going to write them up or give them an official warning the next time they didn't do things according to protocol.  This was holding them accountable.  She went on to generalize this idea, "We can confront someone about their behavior, or fire someone, or discipline a child without berating them or putting them down.  The key is to separate people from their behaviors - to address what they're doing, not who they are." (Brown,2010,p.18.)

And with that, she had completely lost my agreement.   Looking at the work situation I see a boss who says it has to be done one way and employees who consistently do it a different way.  Without knowing anything else about the situation I have to ask "why?" " Why is it so important that they do it a specific way?"  and "Why do they always do it differently even if they understand how they are supposed to be doing it?"  It seems much better for the relationship between the boss and the employees, and for the general work environment, for the boss to find out why the employees are not doing their work according to protocol.  There has to be a reason.  Employees do not willfully do something against protocol without a reason.  Separating the people from the behavior takes away all understanding of why they feel the need for that behavior.

The same is even more true for our children.  Children are their behaviors.  If you say to a child,"You aren't bad, but your behavior is," however nicely you want to phrase that, you are still saying to the child that they aren't good enough.  A child doesn't behave randomly.  There is a reason for every behavior.  As a parent we need to figure out what need our child is trying to get met through the behavior.  When we show compassion for our children we take the time to validate their feelings and experiences.  When we take the time to understand the Why? of a behavior our children feel understood, listened to and loved.  Children use behaviors to get their needs met.  When we as parents focus on stopping behaviors we are only exacerbating the situation, as I explained in my post "Problem Behaviors."


Brené Brown concludes that section of the chapter by saying,"When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated....It is also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment.  If we're going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability." (Brown, 2020,p.19)

Even though she quotes Pema Chödrön in preceding paragraphs regarding compassion, it seems that Brené Brown does not actually understand the Buddhist practice of compassion.  Our compassion does not rely on anything outside of ourselves.  We can bring compassion to every interaction in our lives, even with those people who we feel have mistreated us and those we have feelings of anger towards.  No one needs to change anything before we can practice compassion, they do not need to be held accountable for their behaviors.  The only person we need to hold accountable is our self.  Are we acting with compassion?  Are we doing our best to understand the "Why?" behind someone's behavior?  Similarly, the boundaries we may set are for ourselves.  We may say, "I will not let you hurt me," and we may remove our self from the situation.

I recently found myself at a red light behind a large pickup truck with truly unpleasant political bumper stickers.  I found myself thinking negative thoughts about the driver.  Then I remembered a blog post from Single Dad Laughing which said, "And so, I will ask you now to not hate the bullies. Experience tells me that hating them, or being angry with them, will always make it worse. Instead, put your arm around them. Love them. Tell them that they are valuable. Tell them that you expect great things from them. They will stop the bullying. They will stop, because they will start to love themselves. And people who love themselves don't bully others."  I started thinking about the driver of the truck as someone who could really use a hug.  I felt compassion for someone who felt so angry at the world.  Nothing changed but my perspective.  I chose to feel compassion for the driver.

We do not need to hold people accountable for their behavior in order to live a life of compassion.  We need to hold our selves accountable for our thoughts and behaviors.  We must cultivate a spirit of compassion for everyone around us so that our response to their behaviors is not limited to reacting and trying to make their behaviors stop.

     "True compassion is not just an emotional response
but a firm commitment founded on reason.
Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others 
does not change
even if they behave negatively." 
- The Dalai Lama

I found it interesting that the Dalai Lama's message on compassion speaks specifically to the needs of children, starting at conception and continuing through childhood.  "Then there is the critical period of brain development from the time of birth up to at least the age of three or four, during which time loving physical contact is the single most important factor for the normal growth of the child. If the child is not held, hugged, cuddled, or loved, its development will be impaired and its brain will not mature properly."  This was taken from the middle, visit the Dalai Lama's website to read his message on compassion in its entirely.
 
Sometimes when we come across a passage in a book that challenges us we find that there is a shift that needs to take place in our lives or in our thinking.  We may feel defensive and realize that this is a signal that we need to look more deeply, with an open mind, into something we believe to be true.  Other times we may realize that while much of what a particular writer or speaker says is in agreement with our own beliefs and philosophies, we take exception to something in particular.  We need to examine the Why? of our own feelings and reactions in order to gain a clearer understanding of the person we want to be and the life we want to live.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

The final answer is...

There is no final answer.  If you are looking for a blog that tells you exactly how to live, what to say to your children, what to feed your children, when and how long they should sleep, how they should learn, how many hours a day you should spend together building craft projects to ensure that they will grow up to be happy, healthy, confident, capable adults then you are missing the point.  No one can tell you the final answer.  You need to live knowing that your life will change, your children will change, what works today may not work tomorrow, what your children enjoy today may be irrelevant tomorrow.  I do not know you or your children.  I do not know how you have raised them up to this point and I cannot know all the variables in your life.   I do not know the final answer on any specific topic, even for myself.

What I do know is this:  If your children are happy and feel safe, know that you are there for them no matter what, that nothing they do will make you withdraw your love, that who they are and who they become will not change your love for them, that you are going to do everything you can to make sure their needs are met and that they are more important to you than anything else in the universe, then you should probably keep doing what you are doing.

If you and your children fight or argue frequently, you resent your children and feel the need to vent about them to friends, family and absolute strangers, if your children have "problem behaviors" that leave your frustrated and angry, if you cannot wait for your children to leave the house to go to school, their friends house or to get an apartment of their own, if your family life is full of stress and anxiety, if your children fear you, if your children hide their feelings from you and avoid expressing what they want and need, then you need to consider if this is what you really want for yourself and your children.   I'm hoping that this is not what you want for yourself and your children.  In that case, I encourage you to keep learning and growing and finding new ways to heal the hurts and create connection, trust, and respect in your family relationships.

How do you want to live as a family?  Have you ever written up how you want to live as a family like I did in "How we live at our house."  What kind of relationship do you want with your children now and in the future?  When you think about your life with your children do you feel warm and fuzzy?  Are you comfortable with how you interact with them?  Do you feel good about where you are getting information about parenting and living together as a family?  Is someone telling you to do things that don't feel right to you?  Does it not feel right because it is different from how you were raised, how you believe things have to be, how you believe things should be?  Does it not feel right because it is causing conflict between you and your children, making you feel sad when you implement a proscribed punishment, or causing your child distress?  There are so many people who will tell you that they know how you should parent, they have the magic solution, they can tell you exactly what to do and guarantee you results.  There are no guarantees.  Listen to your heart, listen to your children, seek out new ideas about parenting, but be aware that only you can know what really works for your family.  No one should be giving you a final answer.

Please remember that when I am writing I cannot cover ever possible variable, every allergy, sensitivity, combination of family members, health issue of parents or children, spiritual path, financial situation and educational option.  If I tried to write so that I covered ever possible variable my blog posts would be pages long and my children would not be getting their needs met.

If you feel the need to justify your life, or your parenting, or your relationship with your children after reading one of my blog posts then ask yourself if you are making excuses, feeling defensive because you have doubts about how you are living, or if you actually do have a special situation where what I'm suggesting would not help you and your children live a more connected, trusting, love filled life.

Nothing is more important than my relationship with my children but how we maintain connection, what our relationship looks like, changes, shifts and grows as we grow together.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Bowl Of Hot Cereal

A simple bowl of hot cereal.

I decide to have a bowl of hot cereal on this very cold morning.  ("Have you considered green smoothies?  They are the best way to start your day.") ("Cereal?  Have you thought about a veggie omelet?  It's really important to start your day with protein.")  ("I'm not hungry in the morning, I usually skip breakfast.")

I've burnt the bottom of my smallest sauce pan so I decide to make it in the microwave.  ("A microwave?  Are you kidding me?  Don't you know they change the molecular structure of your food?!? Not to mention the radiation they leak.")  ("Oh, I couldn't live without my microwave!  It makes heating up leftovers so much easier and the kids can make their own hot chocolate.")

I get out my Bob's Red Mill Creamy Wheat Farina ("You eat wheat?!?! Don't you know that eating grains causes inflammation, ruins your digestion and is really bad for you?)  ("Is that wheat whole grain?  You really should only eat whole grains.)  ("That sounds so nice.  I love how content I feel after eating a bowl of hot cereal on a cold day.  It reminds me of when I was a kid and my mom made hot cereal for us in the winter.")

I get out my organic raisins.  ("You are mixing fruit and grains?  Don't you know that you should always eat fruit first thing in the morning and *then* eat your cereal?")  ("Organic is good!  Got to avoid those pesticides.  But where are they from, are they local?")  ("Raisins?  Ick!! Raisins look like bugs in my cereal.  I can't believe you like raisins.")

Once my creamy wheat is cooked to the point of being creamy, I add in some butter.  ("Butter?  Is it organic?  Is it local?")  ("Animal fats are really good for you, since you're a vegetarian it's good that you eat butter.")  ("Butter?  Don't you know that butter leads to high cholesterol?" )  ("Butter?  Why would you add fat to such a great low fat food?")

And then I add a touch of soymilk.  ("Seriously?  You still drink soymilk?  Haven't read the studies?  Soymilk is so bad for you!  Have you considered raw cow milk?")  ("I love soymilk on my cereal.  It makes me so happy to know that I am not supporting the veal industry, and it's good for me, too.")  ("Soymilk?  Have you considered a nut milk?  Or maybe hemp?  That would be so much better for your body.")

Finally, I sprinkle the top with brown sugar.  ("Refined sugar?  You eat grains and refined sugar?!?! Do you want to end up with diabetes?  Don't know know that sugar destroys your immune system.  I seriously thought you were smarter than that!")  ("Have you considered honey?  Honey from local bees would be best.  And make sure it's raw.")  ("Oh yum, I love brown sugar!  I can eat it by the spoonful!")

And I sit down at the computer.  ("You eat at the computer?  Don't you know about mindful eating?")  ("You eat alone at the computer?  Don't you eat together as a family?  Families that eat together all the time have better relationships.")

And I enjoy eating my cereal.

I think about my friends for whom eating a bowl of wheat cereal would result in an immediate and unpleasant response in their bodies.  I think about how thankful I am that I have food to eat, raisins for my cereal and butter in the fridge.  I think about the people who would take my simple bowl of cereal, one meal on one day of my life, and turn it into something tragic, some horrific act against my health, a social cause and reason for political action, an excuse to get up on their soap box and bang on their pans (should those be aluminum free, cast iron, soap stone or stainless steel?)  And then there are those people who would barely give what I'm eating a second thought as they continued on with their own lives.

And I wonder.  Why is what I eat so important to you?  You probably don't even know me.  Why do you care so much about my bowl of hot cereal?  Does my way of eating threaten your way of eating?  Do you think that everyone on the planet should eat exactly like you do?   What button is my bowl of cereal pushing?  If you do know me well you might know that some days I do have green smoothies and some days I have a veggie omelet.  Some days I just eat fruit in the morning and some days I have a nice soothing bowl of creamy wheat farina.

May your pantry be full, your fridge over flowing and I hope you enjoy whatever you eat today.