Sunday, December 22, 2013

You Better Watch Out... Revisited

Originally published 12/04/2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 25, 2013

Consent, Shameful Parenting, and Supporting Self-discovery in kids

I've been blogging quite a bit over at Raising Allies.

Helping Our Children Understand Consent is a follow up to my post Consent and Parenting Young Children here at With the Family.

Shameful Parenting addresses the topic of public shaming being used by parents, as well as other forms of shaming. "Shaming doesn't work as a punishment. Shaming doesn't work as a way of "encouraging" someone to change their behavior, try harder, or do better. Shaming goes beyond embarrassment, it makes the recipient feel mortified, as if they are no good, worthless, isolated, and diminished. Children who are shamed internalize these feelings. Shaming attacks who they are, undermining their feelings of self-worth. And while shaming may temporarily stop a behavior, it does not solve anything, and is terribly destructive in the long run."

My most recent post Create Space for Growth, Change, and Trying New Things talks about how "It's awesome to support our kids in being who they are, but we also need to be open to change. We must guard against pigeon-holing them or putting them in a box and then resenting them or getting upset when they want to paint their box a different color."

You can "like" Raising Allies on facebook Here.
I post relevant articles and my latest blog posts.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why I Buy Red Vines with my EBT Card

There are a lot of judgments made, and spread around, about people who are on food assistance. The majority of those judgments are made by people who have never relied on food assistance to feed themselves or their loved ones. Some are made by people who get food assistance, or have in the past, who want to feel that they are in some way better than "those other people" who get food assistance.

Some people are critical of people getting food assistance. Other people are critical because people on food assistance buy low quality food or junk food: why should tax payers pay for someone's potato chips?  And then there are the people who criticize people for spending it on organic food: I mean really, they could get so much more for their money buying non-organic and do they really think that poor people get to be choosy?

My family gets food assistance. I'm not going to explain the complex reasons for that, or justify it, or play for your sympathy.

Here's what I want to share with you:

I buy Redvines with my EBT card. (That's what food stamps are these days, a debit card.) I also buy ice cream, soda, chips, and pretty much anything else my kids request. Not large amounts of any of those items, but I do buy them. And there's a chance that you'll be behind me on one of those runs to the store where we are picking up milk and eggs, along with a sugary or salty treat for at least one of my kids.

But why? Why, when every penny counts, and at our house it does, do I buy what most people would consider "non-essentials" or "junk food."

Here's why:

When you have to say no to your kids ever single time they ask for anything: No, we can't buy you shoes, jeans, a coat or a bra. No, we can't go to that movie, even at the $3 theater. No, we can't buy you the next book in the series, even though the library doesn't have it. No, we can't go to that cool museum exhibit that will only be here for 2 months. As a parent you want to be able to say yes, at least once in a while.

Every year there are fewer and fewer activities and traditions that we can continue. When the kids were little we went to the fair every year. It has been 5 years since we've been able to afford the fair. The kids would love to go to the county fair. Every year the fair happens, every year we feel sad about not going.

We used to go to the local pumpkin patch to buy pumpkins. Now  it costs $9 per person to get in, take they hayride out to the field, pick out your pumpkin, pet the animals, drink hot cider and generally enjoy the festivities. It's been at least 3 years since we've been able to afford to go to the pumpkin patch, maybe more.

Our friends go to shows, musicals, exhibits, and on road trips. Our friends take classes and lessons and buy cool art supplies. My kids know we can't afford to, most of the time they don't even ask anymore. And that breaks my heart.

Recently the financial stress has been eating at all of us. My girls snap at each other if we go to the grocery store and one of them asks for something extra. I spend the entire trip adding numbers to make sure we don't go over the amount on the EBT card. And I say no to every non-essential that isn't food, because the EBT card doesn't cover any non-food items. While I haven't figured out how to explain to the cats that they don't get canned cat food anymore, my kids understand the reality of living in the land of "no."

And so, on those days when my kids ask, "May we please get candy?"  "We haven't had ice cream in a while, could we get some today?" I'm going to say Yes! I'm going to embrace that moment when a request doesn't have to end up in disappointment.

When we get to the end of the month and our EBT money is running low I have to start to say no even to the least expensive treats. But on the 3rd of the month, when our money shows up on our card, I get to say Yes! once again. And for a moment all is right in the world. We can fill up our cart, we can even go to Costco!

Once a cashier said in a confounded way, "You seem really happy to be getting food."  YES! We are thrilled to have food. It's something we can have, it's something we need that we get, unlike other things that we need that are just a hope for some day in the future.

So go ahead and judge me if that makes you feel better about you or your life, but I refuse to feel bad about buying a treat, or two! Because, it's a bright spot on those days when we are all feeling discouraged, stressed, frustrated, and in danger of losing hope. Because of all that I can't give my kids, buying treats at the store is a big deal. And while we may eat a whole lot of potatoes, cabbage, and carrots, we will also eat a small amount of Red Vines, potato chips, and chocolate. When life is hard, those little things make a big difference.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Matronly Women: Reclaiming the Term Matronly

Disclaimer: This post isn't really about parenting, but it is about body image and self-acceptance. How we view our bodies and our level of self-acceptance directly affects how our children view their bodies, so in my mind there is a connection.

If you search Pinterest for "matronly" 99% of what you find are posts that comment about something or someone looking "too matronly."  The other 1% looks like this:

Websters online defines matronly as: like or suitable for an older married woman

Google search pops this up at the top of the search results:
ma·tron·lyˈ /mātrənlē/  adjective
1. like or characteristic of a matron, esp. in being dignified and staid and typically associated with having a large or plump build. "she was beginning to look matronly" 

I have been gifted a subscription to Ladies' Home Journal. On the cover this month is "How to Look Sexy at 30, 40, 50, and 60." Each of the women features in this photo shoot are tall, thin and shown wearing heals and body hugging styles that would be appropriate at any age, as long as you were tall and thin, and capable of wearing 4 inch heals. 

The very next article in the magazine is "The LHJ Guide to Anti-Aging," which begins with this lead-in, "Let's face it: Once you hit a certain age, turkey necks don't just show up on Thanksgiving anymore. Thanks to a combo of age-related fat and muscle loss, genetics and sun damage, many of your once-perky parts start to look crepey and head south. But are you going to let the sagging get you down? No way. From small changes in your daily routine to surgical nips and tucks, there are plenty of options to keep everything on the up-and-up."

The article focuses on "Saggy Boobs," "Droopy Eyelids," "Baggy Arms," and "Neck Wattle." Under each heading you will find two sub headings "Defy It" and "The Surgical Solutions."  Defying it can involve exercises, lotions, Botox, the non-invasive use of "radio-frequency technology to reduces the circumference of the arm and decrease fat," or lasers.  

Google "What's wrong with looking matronly" and you will get a slew of articles about how not to look matronly.

But wait, what's wrong with looking matronly?

 I'm 45, according to the fashion police, mainstream media, and 99% of the internet, I should aim to look like the women featured in this Huffington Post piece on "Amazing Bodies Over 40: Celebrities Whose Astonishing Figures Have Us Deeply Impressed."  

Many people lump matronly and frumpy into the same category, and I believe both words were used to describe Adele's outfit at the Grammy's, which I thought was wonderful, but then I'm matronly so it figures: 

I wear long skirts, mostly because I have a health condition, chronic urticaria, that makes it uncomfortable to wear anything else.  But I like long skirts! Does that make me frumpy or matronly?  

I'm 45, I have given birth to three children, and I have two medical conditions that have affected my weight directly or though medications. And while I've rarely been thin, I'm leaning way more toward fat then ever before in my life. Not counting when I was pregnant, which doesn't count, because I was pregnant. As I work toward improving my health, physical and mental, I am working toward accepting my body. And, part of accepting my body is accepting that aging happens. Why should I defy that, as suggested by the Ladies' Home Journal, when I can accept it. Perhaps I can even embrace it, or revel in it. 

Instead of reading articles like "How to Avoid Looking Frumpy or Matronly," Perhaps I can research How To Rock Molly Weasley's style. Because, if ever there was a role model for the bad-ass matronly woman it is Molly Weasley. 

Women of a certain age have choices. If Molly Weasley isn't your style, spend some time looking at photos at  Advanced Style, where the women come in all shapes and sizes, and while they may not embody the traditional (negative) idea of matronly, they are fabulous in their unique self-expression through fashion. 

Reclaiming words that have been used negatively,or as insults and slurs, is becoming more common. Perhaps it's time to reclaim the word matronly.  Perhaps it's time to remind the world that women who are over 40 or who have given birth come in all shapes and sizes. And if that size happens to be rounder or thicker or greater than a size 8, that doesn't mean they can't be fabulous, sexy, a milf or a cougar. It means they can dress with confidence however they choose to dress because they are women of a certain age. They have life experience and have lived in their skin long enough to be comfortable wearing it just the way it is, wrinkles, fat folds, sagging breasts and all.

And then there's my personal attachment to the idea of matronly. As a kid I saw matronly women as comforting. The idea of being gathered to an ample bosom in times of distress was in my mind comfort and softness and "there, there, dear, let me make you a cup of tea." Perhaps similar to the image of a the soft breast of a mother hen who warms her chicks and provides shelter and safety for them in a big scary world.

Would I rather look "good" in form fitting clothes or be soft and huggable?  Well, gee, when I put it that way the answer is easy! When my kids think of me do I want them to think of someone who was their shelter in the storms of life or someone who spent a lot of time at the gym and looked great in photographs? Now I realize that matronly women can spend time in the gym, and women who fit the Ladies' Home Journal's idea of sexy at 30, 40, 50, and 60 may not spend any time at the gym. I realize that matronly women can be more like Miss Trunchbull in Matilda and less like Mary Poppins. 

Perhaps that's my point, how a woman looks on the outside isn't nearly as important as who she is on the inside. And if we let our outsides match our insides then we're beautiful, just the way we are, as long as we're beautiful on the inside. But it's circular, or interwoven, or really just not that simple! We can become more beautiful on the inside by accepting what we look like on the outside. And we can become more beautiful on the outside by accepting who we are on the inside.

O.K. now I'm talking in circles, so what am I getting at?  Well, as Ren, from Faces by Ren says, "Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful." Embrace who you are, inside and out, express that in how you dress, and how you decorate your body. Stop trying to fit into some narrow definition of beauty and stop trying to defy aging. If you are aging count your blessings, not everyone gets that opportunity.

Side note (which by placement here is actually a footnote) If you are wondering what is meant by a "woman of a certain age" you'll find the answer Here.

I've written a couple blogs about body image, fat shaming and related topics over at Raising Allies:

Let's Stop Comparing and Judging: Size Doesn't Matter

Worthy at Every Size

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Raising Allies

My most recent blog post, Consent, quickly reached over 900 page views in a week. For some blogs that is just a drop in the bucket, but for my little blog that made it my 6th most read blog post, including all page views since I began blogging in May of 2007! I started thinking about why people took the time to read and share that post when I can write a post that I'm quite proud of, or think says something important, and it will be lucky to reach 30 people. I also considered what I'm passionate about and what inspires me to write.

Before I knew it a new blog, Raising Allies, had come to life in my mind and was launched online before I could talk myself out of it. If you follow With The Family, you may want to start following Raising Allies. I hope to continue blogging both places, but for a while Raising Allies will be my focus.

So, what's this new blog about? Here's what it says on the Welcome page:

Welcome to Raising Allies!

Raising Allies is a blog that advocates parenting respectfully, with unconditional love and compassion, fully accepting our children as the individuals they are. 

My desire is to raise children who are compassionate people, and who experience diversity and inclusion as the norm. 

Blog posts relate to straight allies, body acceptance, slut shaming, rape culture, accessibility, inclusion, diversity, non-binary gender, and similar topics. 

Links to resources about these topics, particularly as they relate to parenting or children, will be included.   

Raising Allies is a safe, supportive, and encouraging space.

I would love your ideas and input on topics to write about, resources to add, or links to go with any particular post. I'm also open to kindly worded constructive criticism.  Email me at

You can "like" Raising Allies on facebook HERE.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Consent and Parenting Young Children

“I'm right and you're wrong, 
I'm big and you're small, 
and there's nothing you can do about it.” 
from Roald Dahl's Matilda

A six year old boy is asked if he's feeling brave, before he can reply his grandfather says he's "always brave!" The child then has no choice but to be brave, it has been decided for him. He is picked up and put on the bare back of a pony. The pony has also not been given a choice, but she's practiced in the art of making her preferences clear and she makes a quick move, dumping the child on the ground. The little boy cries. The adults ask, "Are you hurt or just upset?" The child manages to say, "Upset." And since that's the case, the adults tell him he's fine.

But he's not fine, he's upset, shaken, scared, and probably bruised at least a little. However, the adults have once again decided for him how he's feeling: he is fine. They have defined his experience. Later he is presented with a Bible verse from one of the adults involved that speaks of being "courageous," and the chance that he'll ever tell anyone how he really felt about the experience is diminished further.

What the child doesn't know, but the adults involved did, is that this particular pony has displaced everyone who has tried to ride her, with only one exception. They knew from the start that the chances of a 6 year old child, who had sat on a horse once before in his life - earlier that day, would end up on the ground were high.

While my husband and I were upset about the decision the adults made to put a child into a dangerous situation, it was my daughter, who will be 17 next month, who pointed out the larger issue at play in this interaction: the lack of consent on the child's part.

And why did this bother my daughter? Because she looked at this 6 year old boy, and how the adults treated him, and she saw how this treatment set him up to become a teenage boy who doesn't understand the meaning of consent.

That teenage boy will have relationships with teenage girls, or boys. And if he has learned, from the adults in his life, that the bigger person gets to decide what the other person will or won't do, it increases the likelihood that he will pressure that other teen to have a physical relationship on his terms, not based on conversations and mutually agreed upon boundaries. And as his feelings and emotions have been ignored and discounted, he is much less likely to show concern for the feelings of others once he's big enough to make his agenda the priority. 

How we interact with our children when they are small sets the example for them of how to interact with others when they are big. If we want our children to be compassionate, respectful, and empathetic, then we must be those very things in our interactions with them from birth. We must acknowledge their experience, particularly when it varies from our own. If they are frightened by fireworks but we are not that doesn't mean they shouldn't be frightened. They *are* frightened, and we need to let them know that we empathize, that we can put ourselves in their shoes, and we understand their feeling, even if we aren't afraid ourselves. Instead of saying, "There's nothing to be afraid of!" which discounts their feelings and experience, we wrap our arms around them, find out what they think would help them feel less frightened, and listen to what they have to say. 

We must validate their feelings. It is vitally important that we give them time and space, and our attention, so that they may express how they feel. We are there to listen and support them in exploring their emotions so that they may understand their experiences and gradually grow in their ability to feel comfortable with, and take responsibility for, the strong emotions they will feel during their life. This helps them grow up to have emotional maturity in their future relationships, with adults and children. 

We must also respect our children's boundaries when it comes to their bodies. That means not putting them on a pony, up in a tree, on a swing, or anywhere else, if it's not o.k. with them. It means not tickling, wrestling, or over powering them as a form of play, unless they explicitly give their consent. And even then, it means being aware of their comfort level during play, and stopping as soon as a child says, "Stop!" or "No!" 

Some children may consent to these forms of attention if it is the only seemingly positive interaction, or way of getting attention, from an adult in their life. Roughhousing can be great fun, but only if it is done completely on the child's terms and with their authentic consent, and when the child knows they can stop the play at any time. Authentic consent means that the child is freely entering into an activity without being pressured, manipulated or threatened. 

How we interact with our children, from birth, directly impacts the way they will interact with others in the future. If I want my children to be respectful of other people's boundaries, to be involved in non-abusive relationships, to not be the abuser in a relationship, to understand what consent means, and that it's o.k. for them to say no, just as it's o.k. for other people to say no, then I must model this for them in big and small ways in our interactions every day.

Update: I've written more on the topic of consent over on Raising Allies: Helping Our Children Understand Consent. There are some great links at the bottom of that post as well.

photo credit: doctressstory on instagram

Really, you should talk to all children about both safety and consent. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Our 5th Not Back To School Day

Tomorrow the children in our school district who are between the ages of 5 and 18 will get on the bus and go to school. Tomorrow our family may go blackberry picking.

As we head into our 5th year of life without school, I've been reflecting on our journey. Having had a few conversations this summer with people who weren't familiar with our family and how we go about learning, I've been reminded of how differently we approach life. After hearing about my daughter's friend who has been physically ill due to anxiety created by the thought of going to a new high school for her junior year, the sadness I feel for those kids, who are miserable but whose parents won't consider any other option, is ever present.

Today I reread the blog posts I've written about the first day of school, the effects of school on our kids and our relationships, and learning. As the school year gets underway, perhaps you will find something among them that will be helpful to you and your family. Click on the titles to read the full blog posts:

The First Day of School
"Whatever you do on the first day of school, I hope it strengthens your relationship with your child. If your child dreads school figure out why and find a way to meet their needs. If your child is begging to go to school, let go of your need to homeschool. Your child may cheerfully wave from the school bus window on the first day, but if after the first week school mornings have become something to dread it is time to look for options. Ask yourself, "What are my child's needs and how can I meet those needs?" No matter how official and in control of your child's life school may seem, remember: School is not more important than your relationship with your child. It took me years to figure that out. This will be our second first day of school that we celebrate in our own way. Last year we went to a park and made S'mores. How are you going to celebrate the first day of school with your children?"

The Other Side of the First Day of School
"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.... 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."

Does Your Child Want to Stay Home from School? 
"...Recently a mother posted that her child did not want to go to school.  She admitted that the child did not like school and would do anything to stay home, including faking being sick.  She was obviously frustrated and angry.  Other mothers responded that they knew exactly how she felt.  Some moms had rules like "If you are not vomiting, bleeding or have a fever you have to go to school."  And one mom suggested that the frustrated mother make staying home worse than going to school.  The moms lamented that they did not know when their children were telling the truth and that made them mad....The child mentioned above told the truth: She did not like school.  She did not want to go to school.  When her mother could not or would not hear that truth, the child did what she needed to do to get her needs met: she faked being sick.  Then her mother got angry.  There is a good chance that the mom's anger was stemming from her conflict between being a good mother and meeting her child's needs, and being the good mother the school system told her to be and sending her child to school....If you have a child who does not want to go to school please find out why.  Listen to your child."

Schools, Suicides and Stockholm Syndrome
"This week there was another teen suicide in our community. The girl had been bullied for two years. As I read further articles I found that there have been at least seven suicides locally, all teens in middle school and high school, in the past year. Those are the seven we will hear about, the kids who died, but there are so many more kids in crises. Statistics and estimates vary but there are at least 11 attempted suicides for every one reported suicide. ...And even when children are so desperate that they are suicidal, parents and child still see school as the answer. Even then parents fail to put their foot down, reclaim their child's life and bring their child home. Why? Because they can't see any other way. Even when their children's lives are at risk they still identify with the captors, they still believe in the system because after a life time, 30 or more years, of being told that school is sacred they truly believe that without school their child will have no future. But here's the truth: when a child commits suicide they have no future. When a child is freed from the school system not only do they have a future, but their future expands and brightens, as do their chances of growing up to be a happy, fulfilled, functional adult."

As the school year begins remember:  Nothing is more important than your relationship with your child. The school district schedule, homework, the dress code, and grades, are not as important as your relationship with your child, your child's mental health, or your child's life. It's hard to believe that a system for education can become so influential that parents lose sight of this very simple truth, but sadly it happens every day. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How can we help? An open letter to friends and family.

Friends have asked how they can help our family right now. It's no secret we could use help. Jess has been unemployed since he was laid off last October. Unemployment benefits ran out in April. Jobs in his field are hard to come by, jobs that can support a family - even modestly - are even harder to find. Instead of taking any old job he finished writing a book, published it, and started to work more seriously at being self-employed as a Parenting Coach.

To increase his knowledge of the business world, as well as his hire-ability at the administrative level, he has been taking business classes at Clark College.

Because Jess has always worked for non-profit organizations, with salaries that have never topped $36,000 a year, and that periodically would lay him off due to lack of funding, losing grants, or changes in the government requirements for particular jobs, we've never had the opportunity to build up much in the way of savings. Every time we have had money in the bank, we've hit a time where we had to use that money to survive.

Conventional wisdom says that it takes at least two years to get a small business up and running, if it ever gets up and running. We don't doubt that wisdom and we know we have a long way to go. We are doing our best to keep our focus on future goals, while also doing everything we can to keep the bills paid in the present. It's a tough balancing act, and right now we'll admit that we're struggling to keep our balance.

I feel that we are in an awkward position because of various unrelated situations among our friends and extended community. I also feel the need to explain that the trips various members of our family are taking this month and next are all being funded by the grandparents. And while it feels a little odd to be sending two of our kids off to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter while we are trying to figure out how we're going to pay the next month's bills, we are exceedingly grateful that we have an extended family that makes fun and adventures possible, even as they are helping us buy toilet paper and other basic household supplies.

I feel like I shouldn't ask for help because there are other people who seem to be constantly asking for help, people who need help a lot more than we do, or people who have suffered tragedies or challenges that make our life look like a walk in the park. We all face different challenges, and it's impossible know everyone else's story, which means that the best bet is often to trust that everyone is doing the best they can where ever they've ended up.

We all make choices and the why behind the choices we make is personal and often complicated. I know that life is more than just the culmination of a series of choices. For instance, our life involves health issues that are beyond our control. Women in my family have been afflicted with Grave's Disease for generations, it's genetic. And, Jess didn't end up with fibromyalgia because of an unhealthy life-style. And then there are the good choices that have created more challenges, instead of fewer. Jess has never taken a job just because it paid more, he has taken jobs because they would enable him to help parents, children, and families. That choice has made his own family's life harder at times, even made it harder for him to be the father he wants to be, but we've supported him in that choice because we believe in following your passions, doing what you are good at doing (even if the pay is crap), and working to make the world a better place.

I also feel that, in certain circles, the prejudice against anyone who might possibly be seen as an expert, or heaven forbid a Guru, causes people look at what Jess is offering with cynicism and criticism.

But here's the truth: Jess is a professional parent educator. He has degrees, work experience, and a whole lot of training under his belt. He has worked with children and families professionally for 20 years. He's been a parent for 17 years this October. He's not some wanna-be, he's the real deal. Someone who can help families in crises, who can help parents who are at a loss as to how to handle their child's behaviors, who can support new dads, and not so new dads, in become involved fathers their kids enjoy spending time with.  Jess doesn't want to be a guru, he does want the opportunity to use his skills and abilities to help families live with greater unconditional love, mutual respect, and stronger relationships.

When people ask what they can do to help sometimes I hesitate because I don't want to ask for too much, other times I simply can't come up with something on-the-spot. Here's an answer that question.

You can help our family by:

  • Posting a link on your web-site, blog, or facebook page, to Jess' book
  • If you've read Jess' book give him feedback, even if it's suggestions of how to make it better, perhaps, particularly if it's suggestions of how to make it better! 
  • Telling people you know about the work Jess does
  • When someone is struggling with the behavior of their child, with being a new parent, or adjusting to parenting a child who isn't exactly the child they expected to have, tell them you know someone who might be able to help.
  • Visit Jess' website to see what he has to offer.
  • "Like" Jess' professional page and share some of the articles he posts. 
  • Ask Jess to speak to a parenting group you're involved with. 
  • Ask Jess parenting questions on his professional facebook wall.
  • Hire Jess to help you with a parenting challenge. He takes confidentiality seriously, no one needs to know you asked for help if you don't want them to.  

You can also help our family by:

  • Hiring Ember as a mother's helper. She's also happy to make My Little Pony cosplay ears to order.
  • Ordering  fandom T-shirts from Tasha. She will make them to order, tell her your artistic vision or ask her to come up with her own design. 
  • Buying hand crafted items from Jess or me. Jess makes cool steampunk-ish sonic screwdrivers and light saber hilts. I crochet and am trying my hand at felted sweater crafts.
  • If you want a babysitter, as opposed to a mother's helper, someone in the family can probably help - which of us will depend on the situation. 
  • If you need a teenager to act, sing and/or dance in a commercial, video, or movie, Clare Marian would love to help you.
  • If you need a young teenager for some voice acting Ember is interested in giving that a try. 

We also happily accept hand-me-down clothing.
If you have 100% Wool Sweaters that have holes in them, I'll love to have them for crafting.

And paypal is always an option:

Some days I'm more hopeful than others. Recently I spent time on the phone trying to work something out with the credit card company only to be told that without an income they aren't willing or able to adjust our minimum payment due. Then they put me through to a credit counselor who went through our entire financial situation in painful detail. In the end she told me that we have done an excellent job of cutting our expenses down to a bare minimum. When it comes to frugal living, I have over 20 years experience, so that came as no surprise. However, once again, because we don't have an income, she couldn't help me. The bottom line was that we can keep doing what we're doing, or we can seek legal help which will lead to filing for bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy would decrease our monthly bills by $580 a month at most, making it possible for us to live on a little over $2,000 a month. Ironically, that's what we were living on when Jess was employed. And that's the reason that we believe self-employment is the answer for our family. We don't want to file bankruptcy. We don't want to default on our debts. To avoid doing that Jess needs to make a living wage, and that just hasn't been possible for him to do in the world of non-profits.

Every day we're looking at the situation and considering what else we can do to support our family financially and how we can align our work with our values. Some days it feels like it's hopeless, other days we can still see that vision of what our life could be like if Jess gets his business up and running, if we keep writing books and people actually buy them, if we sell the art we make, if we don't give up. We also see a day when we can give to others, support others during difficult times, and pay forward the kindnesses of those who have helped us through this time of transition.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Proximity and Technology and Relationships

People love to post quotes with pictures, also known as memes, on facebook. Today I came across this one:

We have just returned home from picking up a child who spent the past week at camp, in the wilderness, without her phone, computer, or any contact with the outside world. On that trip we drove for most of a day in remote areas with a complete lack of cellphone reception. As we drove through the mountains, I considered if I'd be happier living in the woods without technology. While it may seem attractive for a short period of time, I'm not sure I would be.

In our family we consider interactions with other people via computer or cellphone just that, interaction. Many of our friends and family live far away. Some of them we see once or twice a year. Some of them we've never met in person! And while I do not personally have a cellphone, all of the members of my family do. Knowing that cellphones are the primary means that my children have to communicate with their friends, I respect the role that cellphones play in their relationships. When we are out and about they can use cellphones to share their experiences through tweets and texts, or take pictures and share them on facebook. My oldest is the only one in the family with a smart phone, and it's not uncommon for us to ask her to look something up. In our experience, technology does not interfere with interaction when that interaction is the choice of those involved. Technology does not interfere when the members of our family are authentically engaged in an activity or outing.

When it comes to memes, anyone can compile photos that seemingly prove a point. This particular set is the typical mash up of random shots taken from unrelated places on the internet. The "frens" having coffee may be coworkers who are using a coffee break to catch up with their actual friends and family, the group on the bench may be taking time out from doing something more active to check their phones and catch their breath, the kid at the game could be texting the score to a friend who is home sick and couldn't make it to the game - or maybe he's texting his mom to let her know the game just went into overtime so he'll be later than expected, the "couple" on an "intimate date" are quite possibly two completely unconnected people who happened to be sitting near each other - their body language doesn't speak of intimacy, the people in the car - which has something covering the windshield so they are decidedly not seeing any sites except those on the internet - may possibly have been wandering around a car show for hours until they all piled into a car to sit and wait for a friend who was talking to a sales rep, and the dinner eaters don't have any food on their plates - who knows what the real story is, but I doubt it's a family meal. These pictures don't really tell us anything conclusive, the same way that just seeing a brief moment or exchange between people doesn't give us the back story or knowledge of the actual relationship between the people we observe.

While we were traveling we had lunch in a small cafe. An older gentleman came in and ordered "the usual" for himself and his dining companion who had not yet arrived. A woman walked in the door. He wrapped his arms around her from behind as she chatted with the store owner. They then sat down at a table by the window, settling in with their pencils and crossword puzzles. When their food was delivered they commented appreciatively about how quickly it was ready and then returned to their silent pursuits.

People commonly assume that people who are sitting together silently at a table at a restaurant, looking at their respective cell phones, playing Sudoku, doing crossword puzzles, or reading on their Kindle, have a poor relationship. It's easy to feel sorry for those couples who are sitting together and yet are not engaged directly with each other in conversation or physical contact. But the couple we saw at the cafe had a warm relationship, were cheerful and thoughtful, and they were enjoying a lunch together seemingly quite content with their individual crossword puzzles.

This brought to mind a quote from my husband's book, Radical Family! Parenting: A Guide for Parenting with Compassion, Honesty, Respect and Unconditional Love, "What separates Proximity from the other parenting tools is it can be used to enhance relationships without direct interactions. Being in the same room without speaking to your child can enhance your relationship. Proximity is especially helpful when your child is focusing and/or wanting some space from others. Reading a book in the living room while your child is surfing the internet is Proximity. Sitting next to your child and watching a television show together is Proximity. Knocking on the door of your child's bedroom to say hello and deliver snacks is Proximity. At its core, Proximity is being around and available without directly involving yourself in your child's activity. Proximity is often useful with tweens and teens. As a child gets older, he or she often has a personal life and interests that he or she wants to explore without parents involved. Proximity is also a good place to begin if you are starting Radical Family! Parenting in a strained relationship with your child. Being in the same area may lead to other opportunities for relationship building."

Technology can be wonderfully useful when we spend time in proximity to our family members. Right now I'm sitting on the bed typing this post, while my husband is reading his brother's latest novel, Reapers, the fourth book in his Breakers series. We are enjoying being together in the quiet of our room, both engaged in something we enjoy doing. Our cat is also practicing proximity, she's nestled between us, glad to have us home after a three day absence. At the same time our girls are in the next room watching a TV show on Netflix together, enjoying reconnecting after the return of our camper. And, while they watch, it's likely that our oldest daughter is texting her boyfriend, allowing her to feel connected to him without detracting in anyway from the time she's spending with her sisters. We are all a bit worn out from the last week and this time spent near each other, enjoying the many wonders of technology, is a way for all of us to feel connected without any need for deep meaningful conversations or mentally taxing games.

I just don't see technology creating a generation of idiots. For our family, technology may enhance or facilitate interaction. It also fuels our curiosity and supports us in exploring the world. After our trip this weekend, I got up the next morning and looked up the difference between biome and ecosystem. After my daughter returned home from camp she was greeted by new friend requests on facebook and photos being posted online of her adventures.

We may not be sitting together listening to a radio show, we may not be huddled around the firelight darning clothes, and we're way past painting stories of the hunt on the cave walls. That's to be expected. Time passes and how we spend our time together changes. One way isn't better than another, but the old ways are no longer necessary. Trying to force-ably recreate the past is not going to increase our family's peace and harmony. We live in a time when we can communicate in real time with people in outer space! Technology provides us with the opportunity to become life long friends with people we may never meet in person. The ways we can interact with others have multiplied, and that in no way decreases our interactions or our intelligence, it expands our world!

Side Note (well, more of a footnote, really): Technology allows us to verify all kinds of information. For example you may be wondering if Albert Einstein was really the author of the above quote. A quick search, using technology, shows that skepticism was warranted.  Ah the irony when the very people who post memes about technology creating a generation of idiots fail to use the technology available to verify the accuracy of the information they present.

The Quote Investigator says, "In conclusion, QI believes that Albert Einstein did not write or say any of the three variant quotations. Individuals who were aggravated by the behavior patterns of cell phone users probably facilitated the construction, evolution, and dissemination of this meme. The phrasing of the saying has changed over time and different sets of pictures have been attached. QI hypothesizes that the origination date was recent, perhaps as late as 2012. The efforts of the creators have been successful for now. The basic saying has achieved viral status with its dubious ascription.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Reminder About Trust

Recently my middle daughter was in a 6 woman production of Steel Magnolias. She played Annelle, and she was decidedly not type-cast in the role. On opening night she was feeling a bit anxious and she texted her sister asking that we sit where she wouldn't be able to see us. We asked another parent who had seen the dress rehearsal how far back we should sit to be safely lost in the darkness beyond the spotlights, as it was a small theater. The stage was floor level and the seats started on level with the stage. Fortunately our seats were in the 4th row, far enough up and back from the stage.

The second performance I went along to the theater, as I was helping with concession sales before the show and during intermission. However, my daughter had asked that I not watch the show. She wanted one performance where there weren't any family members in the audience. That request may seem a bit odd, but she wanted the freedom to play her character without us watching. Since her acting career is about her, and not about me, I was fine with that request. I brought along a sewing project and planned to sit out in the lobby area during the performance.

Several of the other mothers found out I wasn't going to watch the show because of my daughter's request. Each of them encouraged me to go sit up in the small balcony, assuring me that my daughter would never know. Having just met most of them, I simply smiled and said I was fine not watching the show. But I was thinking, "My daughter trusts me, I'm not going to betray that trust."

As I sat sewing during the show I considered my interactions with the other mothers; I thought about the behavior they were suggesting I model for my daughter. And I thought about the relationships most parents have with their teenagers. It's stereotypical teenage behavior for teens to do things and figure that their parents will never find out. It's a stereotypical teen peer pressure tactic to say, "Oh, come on, do it!  Your parents will never know."  And it's a stereotype for a reason, it happens. And some times it happens with disastrous, life altering, results. Other times it happens and the parents don't ever find out. When that's the case, and when that happens often enough, a chasm starts to build between the parent and the teen. Walls go up so parents won't have the opportunity to find out.

It goes both ways. When parents do things figuring their child will never find out: read a diary, view private on-line accounts, read private texts on a cellphone, and the child does find out, the damage to the parent/child relationship can be extreme.

If I don't want my child doing things that I've asked her not to do then why on earth would I do something she has specifically asked me not to do?

I want my daughter to know that if she asks me to do something, or not do something, because it is important to her, then I will honor that request if at all possible. And if I cannot honor her request for any reason then I will try to be honest with her about why that is, so that we can figure out a compromise or come to an understanding. In doing this I strengthen our relationship. And on those occasions when when I ask her to do or not do something because it is important to me, I hope our relationship is strong enough that she will consider my request and honor it, or be honest with me about why she isn't comfortable honoring it. Mutual trust means that we can communicate honestly, respectfully and without fear of damaging our relationship.

I wish I had had the courage to speak up while interacting with those moms. I wish I had said, "I can't do that. I won't betray my daughter's trust." But at least I know that I didn't give in to the parental peer pressure and I acted with integrity and my daughter's trust was not misplaced.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Is Me?

Lately, I have been struggling with "what is me."  Am I who I am in any given moment: cranky, groggy, brain foggy, tired, irritable and forgetful? Or, am I that person I think I am on a good day: thoughtful, considerate, smart, and sometimes even funny? If me on a bad day is still me, how do I learn to accept that? If every day is what I would consider "a bad day," how do I learn to accept that?

Right now I'm on 3 different medications - and I consider myself a person who doesn't go to the doctor or take medications! At the age of 45, with 2 different (possibly related, but maybe not) medical conditions, and the 3 medications, I never know what's the disease, what's the med's and what's my hormones - oh and what's just life with 3 kids, a chronically ill unemployed husband, and no money in the bank.

When I look in the mirror I don't see the body I am living in as me. The illness and med's have caused weight gain, particularly in areas where I don't usually gain it, but part of that also has to do with my age. I'm getting older, I've given birth three times, some things are just going to sag.

It's odd to feel so awkward in my own body, as if I need to explain to people who haven't known me for the past 25 years, which is everyone in my life except for the family members I grew up with, that I don't usually weigh this much, that this isn't really me, that the real me is somewhere, lost inside, but I'm not really sure how to connect with her.

But then I realized, this is how life is. From conception to decomposition, our bodies are ever changing. We are not static beings. We recognize this, commenting on how quickly a newborn becomes a walking toddler, how fast the years go as our small child blossoms into a teenager. But we also deny it, particularly from the time we turn 21 until some time in our 30's. For a decade and a half, we cling to the delusion that we are immortal, that we will always be young, strong and healthy. Unless some unfortunate event or illness wipes away those lies, and then we say, "But they are/were so isn't right." Psychology texts may tell you that teens deny their mortality, and that causes them to take risks and push boundaries. This may be true, but the desire for immortality doesn't end there.

Living with three girls, presently ages 12, 13, and 16, I have been reminded of how awkward growing up can be. Not that my girls are awkward, but that they have each had to adjust to their every evolving body. At times they have chosen to wear more clothes, to stay a bit more covered up, until they were more comfortable in their own skin, ready to move about in the world freely and with confidence once again. I have seen how societal norms and pressures have affected them. As smart, strong, aware young women, they know that pictures in magazines lie, that the narrow definition of beauty in movies, on TV, and along red carpets is as fictitious as the plot-lines. And yet they can't help but to compare themselves to that standard, to want to be "pretty," to wish that they were taller, smaller, or different in some way.

As I try to have compassion for this amazing person that I think I could be, trapped in body that doesn't quite feel like home, I am reminded of how much compassion we should have for our fellow human beings. The babies growing in teeth when they aren't capable of expression how much it hurts, the toddler who wants to run and play with the big kids but is thwarted by unsteady legs, the tween who isn't quite ready to grow up but whose body is on a path of rapid growth and development, the teen who is not at all sure they are ready to take their place in the adult world, but feels the pressures and expectations as they head toward their 18th birthday, as well as the teen who wants greater responsibility and freedom but is denied that because of  parents, laws, and their date of birth. On and on, until we reach what are called our "golden years."  Wow, who came up with that? Perhaps, more accurately, they could be called our rusting years. The stage in our journey to the grave where we once again have greater adjustments to who we are, as our bodies deteriorate, our memories fade, and we face just how mortal we have been all along.

So, what is me? This, this is me. Whomever I am in this moment, at this stage, in this place. I am only the sum of the best and the worst, my reactions, my desires, my disappointments, and how they come together and are manifested in my behavior, in the present moment.
And who is my child? They are the same as I am. And as I strive to love myself, just the way I am, I remember the importance of loving my children unconditionally, as they are right now, in whatever moment we find ourselves, with whatever behavior the sum of who they are is manifesting in that moment.

Some parenting experts will tell you that you should never tell a child that they are bad, but make it clear that their behavior is bad. I disagree. Our behaviors are the essence of who we are in any moment. That can be painful, as our behaviors may not live up to our ideal of who we are. But by tuning in to our own behaviors, reactions, and expressions of emotion, we can learn more about who we are in that moment, and what we need to do to take care of ourselves so that we can, perhaps, move closer to the ideal vision we hold of our-self. And in the same way, by tuning into the behaviors, reactions and expressions of emotion expressed by our children, we can learn more about what their needs are, how they are feeling, what it is that we can do to support them as they learn about themselves, who they are, and how to survive living in a body that is never going to stop changing, at least not in their lifetime.  

(My Halloween costume last fall: 
a celebrity trying to avoid the paparazzi.
And yes, there is all kinds of unintentional symbolism 
in my choice of costume.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Will I Pass the Test?

Spelling is hard for me. Memorizing how to spell a word is a daunting task; often the spelling of a word just doesn't stick. This has been true my whole life. As a child in school, the ever present spelling tests were painful. Generally I did well in school, my college degree is in English, but spelling was just plain hard. The fact that children who received perfect scores on their spelling tests were often lauded, given prizes, or special treatment, only made it worse. It wasn't that I didn't try, my low score did not reflect the amount of time I spent studying, writing the words over and over, and spelling them out loud. The worst was the weekly vocabulary test in sixth grade. We had a workbook with ridiculous words like gambol, as in, "We watched the lambs gambol in the field."  Now there's a useful word that you'll use every day! Or how about the word kowtow, "Each boy would kowtow before the king."  I cannot think of any time in my 45 years when I've used that word in a sentence, other than the one I just wrote. These weren't words that would help us in life, that we needed to know how to spell to succeed, they were just words some workbook writer plucked out of a dictionary to make my life miserable. The hardest part of the test was that they gave each word's phonetic spelling.  Some how the odd letters and symbols between those slanted lines made remembering the actual spelling of the word all the more difficult. 

Now, some people are really good at spelling. That's another way of saying that for some people the way words are spelled easily sticks in their brain. They may have a photographic memory and once they've seen the word in writing they will always remember how it's spelled, or perhaps they are particularly good at memorization. I don't know what the mechanism is in their brain, but they are gifted with the ability to spell. My daughter has this ability and in second grade she always got 100% on her spelling tests. I would pester her about studying, thinking I was being a good mother, but she didn't need to study, which made it a total waste of her time. She resented being tested on words she could easily spell. In the end we worked it out with her teacher that if she got 100% on the pre-test that they took when they were first given the words, to see which they didn't know how to spell and therefore needed to study more during the week, she wouldn't have to take the actual spelling test.  This teacher also gave students candy if they got 100% on their test. That made me sad for the other students. I knew that I wouldn't have ever gotten the candy and that it wouldn't have been because I hadn't studied or didn't work hard, it would have been because spelling was hard for me. And yet my daughter would get candy every week, not because she studied or worked hard, but because spelling came easily for her. 

How unfair is that?  Reward the kids who do something because it's naturally an area where they excel, but punish the kids who didn't do well in an area where they struggled because of how their brain worked, or didn't. (For more on the detrimental affects of prizes, gold stars and rewards read Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards.)

In school, more than once, I had teachers call me out in front of the class for misspelling a word in a paper. In 6th grade we were making Mother's Day cards and I signed mine, "From your loving dotter."  Over 30 years later I remember my teacher pointing out my mistake. I can picture the classroom, her hair, I remember her name: Mrs. Holman, I feel the shame.  In 7th grade I had Mrs. Brown for English. She was tough and I tried to avoid her wrath whenever possible. One day I wrote her a note asking her to "except my late assignment."  I don't remember what the reason for my tardiness was, but I do remember how she handed my assignment right back to me, in front of the class. I stared at her in confusion. She then went into a lecture about the difference between "except" and "accept," saying that she was doing what I had asked, she was excepting my paper. The humiliation was brutal. 

So, what's my point. Why write about how hard spelling is for me, to this day when I live with great appreciation for spell check and still with the fear that I'm going to make a glaring error and not see it before someone else does?  Because, it's still a sensitive spot for me. And in a world where people create memes for everything, now and then a graphic crosses my facebook page that is posted by someone who is blasting those who make grammatical errors or common spelling mistakes. There are times on facebook when I hesitate to post because my grammar or spelling might be inadequate and I worry that people I know, people I'm friends with, will think ill of me because of my mistake. As a writer, I'm drawn to friends who like words, writing and literature. And those people often have been blessed with the ability to spell and write, to remember how words are spelled and what the rules of grammar are, with ease.  The child in me doesn't want them to see my mistakes, to find the errors, to have to opportunity to roll their eyes at my inability to do something so simple, because it's not simple for me. 

I have a degree in English, but I still regularly doubt my ability to put a comma in where it's needed, or to craft a sentence that has a proper structure. And if I feel that way, how do kids feel? As people, parents have a tendency to express their pet peeves around their children. We often fail to filter ourselves when we are talking about our views and beliefs, partly because we want our children to share those views and beliefs, but sometimes just because we don't stop to consider what our kids are hearing and how that might be affecting them.

If I am harshly critical about other people's poor grammar usage in front of my child how does that make them feel if they struggle to understand when to use the past tense? 

The same is true in every area of life. I have known quite a few children whose parents were openly critical of other people's size or weight. When those children started puberty their bodies did what young bodies do, they started storing up for future growth. In other words, the kids started gaining weight. This is completely normal, and actually quite necessary. And yet, I've heard several kids talk to my girls about how they were "getting fat" in worried tones, and I'm not just talking about little girls, boys have done it, too. 

When your children are born you have no idea what they will be good at or what will be challenging for them. You may have come into parenting with expectations that your son would be good at sports and your daughter would be naturally graceful. If you verbalize your expectations, if they are aware of your biases and prejudices, and then they realize that they aren't what you expected, or they fall into a group that you openly criticize, this is going to hurt them deeply and it is going to hurt your relationship with them. 

I've written about this before and I'm sure I'll write about it again: Our children need to know that we accept them for who they are. Our children need to feel our unconditional love, they need to know that whatever their strengths, weaknesses, natural abilities and challenges, we love them as they are. For that to happen, we need to be aware of when we criticize others in front of them and stop. I'll admit, I tend to be critical and this is a challenging area for me. 

As I wrote in my blog post Tolerance vs Acceptance, accepting our children can be a matter of life or death. Young people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and experience family rejection, are more likely to attempt suicide, suffer from depression, use illegal drugs and engage in unprotected sex, than those with supportive families. You can go Here to see the statistics. 

Children are always listening. They are always learning. As a parent it can be hard for me to be aware of the subtle messages I'm sending my kids about what I appreciate and what I find worthy of ridicule. It is so important for me to listen to what I'm saying, and not just with my mouth, but what I say by my actions, my facebook posts, a sigh, or a dismissive shrug. 

Parenting should push us to become better people for the benefit of our children. Ultimately we benefit, too, from a closer relationship with our children and a kinder, less critical view, of the people who share our world. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

....And engage the next moment without an agenda

I'm presently reading: Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chodron. In the chapter, "Life without the story line" I found these words of wisdom:

Be fully present.
Feel your heart.
And engage the next moment without an agenda.

As I reflected on the message of these words, I considered how directly they apply to parenting. 

There is life, and then there is life according to the story we tell ourselves. There is life, and there is life interpreted by the voices in our heads. 

As parents we can get caught up in the story line. Our child has an emotional tantrum in the grocery store because they want candy and we say no. We then tell ourselves a story about how horribly they are behaving, how they need to be taught that throwing a fit doesn't get them what they want, that they can't always have what they want and we need to set limits for their own good.

Or we can experience that moment without a story line. We can avoid projecting our expectations, personal baggage, or concerns about other people's opinions, onto our child's behavior or onto how we "should" respond.

If we stop, take a deep breath, and engage fully in that moment, we can remember the kind of parent we want to be and the kind of relationship we want to have with our child. We can remember that nothing is more important than our relationship with our child. We can feel our heart, and then engage in the moment without all of the voices filling our mind. We then truly see our child and are able to connect honestly, respectfully, with compassion and unconditional love. And that frees us up to respond in a way that validates their feelings and experience. This helps us recognize what we can do to alleviate their distress. Now we can follow through in a way that will bring our child a sense of comfort and safety, knowing they can trust the adult in their life to help them, to love and support them when they have reached the limit of their ability to hold it together, when they have needs that haven't been met, or they don't have the words needed to express their feelings.

What does that look like?  Well, for starters if we are had been following those words before the tantrum started and we could have been fully present, felt our heart and engaged in the moment without an agenda.
 If we had done that it's entirely possible that we would have been more aware of how our child was feeling and what their needs were, and we could have circumvented the entire tantrum experience for everyone involved. Or, when our child started to melt down we could have been present for our child, checked in to see what our gut reaction was. Were we responding authentically as the parent we want to be, or were we letting voices, expectations - our own or those of others - get between us and our child? Why can't our child have candy? Do we really not have enough money? Does the candy contain ingredients that would cause an anaphylactic reaction in our child? If not, then why can't our child have candy? (For me there aren't many reasons beyond those two that merit a "no" response when it comes to buying any food at the grocery store.) If you really can't afford it then explaining that calmly and with compassion to your child may be your best response. Or perhaps, if you know your child is prone to wanting candy and that they may not be in a place to go calmly into a store without getting candy , it may be best to avoid the store until you can go without them or you have the money for candy. If the issue is a truly life threatening allergy then finding something they would like to get that is safe may be an option....

But let's not get distracted by the example, or the story I'm telling you.

The point is, focus on your child, be fully present, find the truth of the moment not the story you've created, engage in that moment without getting distracted by all the voices in your head, and let go of your expectations. Accept the moment for what it is, don't try and make it what you want it to be or what you thought it should be.

When you find yourself in conflict with your child, your child is behaving in a way that makes you uncomfortable, or things aren't going the way you'd hoped and planned:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What is a Parenting Coach

When it comes to being a parent there are more resources available than every before. There are Yahoo! groups, facebook pages, mommy web-sites, daddy web-sites, blog after blog about every aspect of parenting, books and magazines, as well as parenting classes. And of course there are the friends, family, and even strangers, who are more than happy to tell you what you are doing wrong and how you *should* be parenting. This plethora of information can be pretty over whelming. When any person can find a platform to spout their views as if they are an expert in the field, knowing where to turn and who to trust can be hard. 

When you are struggling with your child's behavior, you feel a disconnect between the relationship you want to have with your child and the relationship you actually have with your child, or the parent you are doesn't match up with the parent you want to be, where should you turn?

Would you consider hiring a parenting coach? 

Before you can answer that question you may need to understand what a parenting coach is and what services a parenting coach can provide for you and your family. Because there is no required certification or license for a parenting coach it's also important to know what to look for. Some people who call themselves parenting coaches have their own experience as a parent as their only credential. This would be similar to the life coaches whose primary credential is that they are alive and thus have a life. This kind of parenting coach is not what I'm talking about.

A parenting coach is a professional. The credentials of a parenting coach may vary, but they should have them. A parenting coach should disclose their degrees, training, work experience with families, and references.  Anyone can put together a professional web-site, so you need to look past the virtual first impressions and read the "about" page with a healthy amount of skepticism. 

I've heard people on parenting lists suggest that no one needs to pay for parenting support since there is so much available online for free. It may be helpful to hang out online and get support and encouragement from other parents online, but the advice you get online or from friends and family, while usually well intentioned, may be short sighted. If you build a campfire on dry ground that is made up of decomposed pine needles, pine cones, leaves and branches it is possible to put out the fire that you can see only to leave a fire that spreads underground through roots and decaying matter. The same is true with parenting, you may think you've extinguished a behavior, taught your kid a lesson, put out the fire, but that fire can go underground only to cause serious damage to a child's mental and emotional health, as well as to your relationship.  

For example: A mom posts on a group page that her daughter has been given detention for repeatedly swearing in class at school. She is at a loss as to how to deal with her daughter so she asks for advice.

On a group page the answers will reflect the bias of the person responding. In many groups that person will not know the mother, her child or very much about their relationship or life situation. The responses will usually cover the spectrum of popular parenting philosophies. Suggestions may include punishments, such as  taking way her phone or grounding.  

A parenting coach would meet one-on-one with the mother to discuss the situation. The discussion includes information gathering: trying to understand the mother and daughter's relationship, finding out why the mother thinks the daughter would be acting out in school - was the daughter acting out of anger, boredom, or as a way to release stress? If the mother does now know why her daughter is acting this way then the discussion might turn toward ways the mother could rebuild a closer more trusting relationship with her daughter. If the mother can clearly identify some reasons for the behavior then the conversation might turn toward ways to meet the daughter's needs so that swearing in class is no longer her best way to get them met. If the mother is unsure of how to talk to the daughter about the situation then the parenting coach would be able to help her work through how to broach the topic or how to communicate with her daughter in a non-threatening and empathetic way.

With a parenting coach the support is more than a "you should do [this] to get your child to stop doing [that.]" Parenting coaching provides a unique solution to a parent's unique challenges. Parenting coaching goes beyond helping parenting with one incident, instead it supports parents in strengthening their relationship with their child over-all. 

Ideally a parenting coach will meet with you in person, spend adequate time getting to know about you and your family, and will spend time talking with you, not at you, so that they can offer you feedback that not only addresses your concerns about a particular situation but also gives you information that will help you be the parent that you want to be.

A parenting coach should also be familiar with a variety of parenting methods and philosophies so that they can assist you in creating your own personal parenting philosophy or goals. If you find all the advice available confusing or over-whelming, if you aren't sure what the right thing to do is because there are so many supposed "right ways" then a parenting coach should be able to help you sort through the noise to discover what not only feels right for you personally but is a good fit for your family. 

Often we, as parents, feel uncomfortable asking for help. We may feel that asking for help from a parenting professional is a sign that we are a bad parent or that our children are out of control. The truth is that seeking help is a sign of strength, proof that you are committed to being the best parent you can possibly be, and not only should we not be ashamed to ask for help, we should feel good about ourselves for taking that step.

I've been co-parenting with a parenting professional for almost 17 years. This has been to my advantage, and has hugely benefited our children as well. Having someone right beside me who is able to suggest ideas for better communication, or let me know what I might do differently next time after I have had one of my less than stellar mothering moments, hasn't always been easy, but I am truly grateful for that support. I do think that one of the reasons people hesitate to work with a parenting coach is because it will require them to be honest about their imperfections as a parent. Admitting that we don't always have the answer to a problem, or that we haven't always handled challenges in a way we are proud of, is really hard. If we are brave enough to admit that we don't always get it right, and to ask for help, we have the opportunity to feel really good about ourselves in the long run. Even more importantly, we have the opportunity to have an amazing relationship with our children that is based on compassion, honesty, respect and unconditional love.

Since most of you don't live with a parenting coach, how do you find one?  Start by asking parents you know if they have used or heard of a parenting coach that they would recommend. Once you have a name, go online and start googling and search for their professional page on facebook. Check out their credentials and see if their website explains their parenting philosophy and their approach to working with parents. If you feel like this is someone that is knowledgeable, qualified and experienced, contact them. Ask them any questions you still have about what services they provide. 

Some parents balk at the idea of spending money on a parenting coach, particularly since their services aren't covered by insurarance. When I'm considering the cost of something I tend to look at the value of what I'm getting. What is it worth to me to have a positive relationship with my children?  What price would I pay to get the support I need to be a parent who has children who move through the world confidently, who are comfortable in their own skin and who enjoy my company? Another thing I do is compare the cost to other things I spend money on in my life. If I'm willing to spend a large amount of money for cable TV, or cell phones with data plans for myself and/or my children, shouldn't I be willing to spend a comparable amount of money to get support if it will benefit me and my children? Considering parenting coaching involves an investment of time and money for a short period and has benefits that can be felt in future generations, why wouldn't I be willing to spend as much money as I would on a weekend trip to a theme park with my family? 

So, would you hire a parenting coach? 

If you're interested in parenting coaching, particularly if you live in the greater Portland, Oregon area, I feel comfortable recommending my husband, Jess. You can check out his website HERE  and you can find his professional facebook page HERE.