You’re not wholly responsible for how your children turn out.

responsible

There are things about my children that I don’t like. Pause for a moment so I can be clear: I love my children unconditionally. They needn’t do anything to earn my love, and will always have it regardless of the decisions they make. That being said, I often find myself frustrated with some of the ways in which they interact with the world. I see them make choices and react to life in certain ways that I fear will cause them problems down the line. When my attention is focused on these things, I can easily spend hours worrying about how to fix them. I find myself parenting them based on fear 10 years down the road instead of on what is happening in the present moment. The weight of raising emotionally, physically, and mentally healthy individuals lies squarely on my shoulders.

Or, does it?

One of my children strikes me as more emotionally inhibited. She often tells white lies, and my husband and I joke that she is always “working an angle.” I struggle to know how she is really feeling because her responses to questions often seem inauthentic. I intuit that she prefers the answers that she believes will be best accepted versus the answers that are most true for her. When she’s upset, she sighs and hopes you’ll inquire. Or, she runs to her room and cries for an hour – very loudly – waiting for someone to come to her. I can’t even count the times she’s tried to emotionally manipulate her younger sister instead of simply asking for what she needs (ex: “If you don’t help me with these invitations, you’re not invited to my party!” instead of, “I’d really like some help because I don’t want to do it alone”).

I have had plenty of times where I have wished for her to be different. I want to teach her to be open and honest. I want to teach her the value of emotional vulnerability. I want her to know the strength that comes from learning to trust your intuition so that you make decisions for yourself instead of others. Hell, I want these things for ALL my children.

How many of you have worried that your children are learning habits and making choices that might not be good for them down the road? Anyone? ….Just me?

Here’s a radical thought for you: You are not wholly responsible for your children’s emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.

“Sometimes we see our children doing things that we know will cause them to suffer in the future, but when we try to tell them, they won’t listen. All we can do is to stimulate the wholesome seeds in them, and then later, in a difficult moment, they may benefit from our guidance. We cannot explain an orange to someone who has never tasted one. No matter how well we describe it, we cannot give someone else the direct experience.” – The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

You cannot force your children to make the decisions you deem “right.” You cannot monitor their behavior every moment of every day. You cannot force your children to be anything other than what they are, in this present moment. The best you can hope to do is to be a teacher for them.

Teach through your daily practices: do your children see you praying, or meditating every day? Do you put your smartphone away when sitting down for dinner? Do you smile at strangers, or hold the door open for someone as you walk into the store?

Teach through example: did you apologize after you yelled? Did you hold yourself back from a mean or nasty comment about someone you know? Did you tell the truth?

Teach through authenticity: do you change or disguise your personality, or the way in which you communicate, to avoid judgement from others? Or do you strive to be compassionate and generous with others while also being true to yourself?

Teach through vulnerability: do you protect yourself from all possible sources of hurt, betrayal, and disappointment? If so, you’re probably missing out on sources of joy as well. Brene Brown says, “I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”

Teach through intentionality: Are you living your life in accordance with your values? Does your day-to-day rhythm reflect what is important to you? Are you a slave to your obligations, or do you carve joy into your day?

“Right View – the ability to see the wholesome seeds from the unwholesome roots that lie within each of us – cannot be described. We can only point in the correct direction. Right View cannot even be transmitted by a teacher. A teacher can help us identify the seed of Right View that is already in our garden, and help us have the confidence to practice, to entrust that seed to the soil of our daily life. But we are the gardener.” – The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

In other words, you can only point your children in the right direction. You can show them the seeds that are there, detail how to plant them, and how often they should be watered. But you can’t do the actual work. It’s your child’s garden, and they are the gardener.

So here’s the thing: Keep loving your children. Do the best you can to raise them into wonderful human beings, but don’t beat yourself up when they make mistakes, fail at something, or get hurt. Tend to your own garden and let them watch. Invite them to join you. And remind yourself that you can’t do their work for them. 

Do you ever find yourself frustrated when your kids make bad decisions? Do you feel weighed down by thinking that you can’t “mess this up” – that you have to get this parenting thing right?

How are you spending your time?

solving purpose problem

In my last post, I talked about the relief that came after reading Liz Gilbert’s Facebook post about what I dubbed the “life purpose problem.” Have you ever struggled with confusion about what you’re supposed to be doing with your life? If you have, you’re not alone.

Liz thinks we’re asking the wrong question. Instead of seeking meaning and purpose by asking, “What am I doing with my life?” ask “How am I spending my time?” Her post has helped me evaluate how the things I’m already doing fit into the different veins of a purposeful life, and I have noticed that a simple shift in my thinking relieves me of some of the burden I feel when I believe the thought, “I don’t have my purpose figured out.

Go back and read my previous post if you’re unfamiliar with the following concepts and keep reading to see how I’ve sorted things out for myself.

HOBBY

I’ve felt confusion at times about how what I do in my spare time fits into what I should be doing with my life. If I spend hours doing something that doesn’t make me money, does that mean I should change jobs or careers? The answer is no. I just love to do it. And I don’t usually want to do it for anyone else.

My hobby, I’ve realized, is homemaking. I spent several years being a professional homemaker, as a stay-at-home and homeschooling mom. I loved it, and yet wrote more than my fair share of blog posts about struggling with the fact that it was the only thing I was doing. Fast-forward a few years later when I’m working part-time outside the home, and I haven’t been cured of the homemaking bug. I’m not wishy-washy, or confused. The truth is, I just genuinely love creating a cozy home for my family.

Decorating, cooking, organizing, gardening: these are the things I do when I have spare time. These are the activities I choose when I have no other “work” to do. They don’t fill me with dread. They don’t suffocate me with pressure. They bring me joy. They are my hobbies.

JOB

I’ve been hard on myself when it comes to my job. After my divorce, I had to jump back into the workforce after being out for 6 years. I got a job fairly quickly, had a decent salary… and was miserable. The job was soul-sucking. It wasn’t long before my disdain for the job turned into motivation that helped me find a new one, but I noticed that no matter where I ended up, I was frustrated with myself. I felt like I was doing some wrong… like I was “behind.” I hadn’t figured out my perfect job, and didn’t know where to begin. My ex-husband had always wanted to be a doctor – it was “who he was.” My new husband was a born teacher, and loved his job. He “was doing what he was meant to do.” And then, there was me. Former stay-at-home-mom who couldn’t decide on a career, and who didn’t know what she wanted to do in life.

My problem was that I was equating “job” with “life purpose.” When I remove the belief that a job is everything, I find more enjoyment in the job I have. My job isn’t my career. My job isn’t my purpose. It’s just a job. Thankfully, I do enjoy a lot of things about my job. I love the flexibility that my particular job gives me – especially as a mother of young children. My job allows me to contribute to our family finances, and helps me hone my professional, personal, and financial skills. The job I have now might not be the job I have forever, and it doesn’t have to be the perfect job. It fulfills a NEED, but it doesn’t have to fulfill ME. 

CAREER

“Career” has always been a heavy word for me. As an ENFP, I feel pulled in many directions when I think about how I can contribute to the world. And while having so many options might feel like freedom to someone else, it feels overwhelming to me. According to Liz, not everyone has to have a career, and that’s an idea I’m going to meditate on for a while. (You’ll probably see a career-themed blog post soon….) I can’t help but file away the impulse to go through life-coaching training year after year, so perhaps I’ll find myself moving closer and closer to that career choice in the next few years. Not knowing what I’ll do, however, no longer feels like a problem.

VOCATION

Initially, thinking about my “vocation” was difficult for me, but I quickly realized that any difficulty I had stemmed from the parameters I was placing on that word. “Vocation” doesn’t always look like a job or career. “Vocation” can also refer to the ways in which your soul contributes to the world. My soul is passionate about improving the experience of life. I want to raise emotionally intelligent children who raise more emotionally intelligent children. I want to help people navigate relationships. I want to increase our acceptance of, and gratefulness for, the life we’ve been given. My vocation is to move people past old ways of thinking, and towards a higher consciousness. It’s not something I chose to be interested in or pursue, but it’s what was planted in my soul before I was born.

This vocation doesn’t have to manifest itself in a single job or career. Instead, an acknowledgement of my vocation allows it to seep into every area of my life. My vocation influences the way I partner with my husband, the way I parent, the way I counsel, and even the way I manage my money. 

DON’T TRY TO BLEND WHAT DOESN’T NEED TO BE BLENDED

Since reading Liz’s Facebook post, I’ve been a little less pressured when it comes to figuring things out. Decisions about what to do for work, how to spend my time, and what I’m doing with my life no longer feel as weighty as they once did. I can make a home because I enjoy doing it. I can have good days at my job, and bad days at my job, and collect my paycheck all the same. I can move in the direction of an interesting career without feeling as though I’ve got to figure out every piece of the puzzle. And I can accept my calling from the Universe to breathe love and kindness into the world in the way that only I can.

“Don’t try to blend what perhaps doesn’t need to be blended. Don’t mistake a job for a career, or a career for a vocation, or a vocation for a hobby, or a hobby for a job. Be clear about what each one is, be clear about what can be reasonably expected, and be clear about what is demanded of you by each one.”

Thanks, Liz. I needed that.

**I’ve also been thinking of how I can incorporate these ideas into the blog. Be on the lookout for post categories related to these four areas: hobbies, jobs, careers, and vocations. Life is full of things to write about….**

So, dear readers, how are you spending your time in life?

The “Life Purpose” Problem

Life Purpose

My Myers-Briggs personality type is ENFP, which means I loooooove to come up with ideas. I once heard someone describe an ENFP as someone who “doesn’t think outside the box, because for an ENFP, there was no box to begin with.” Coming up with ideas can be great, until it’s time to focus your energy on something.

I’ve been struggling lately with this personality trait, especially as it relates to my professional life. Heck, I’ve always struggled with it. “Find your life’s purpose,” I’ve been told. “Try to make money doing what you love,” they say. “BE SUCCESSFUL!” America screams.

Earlier this week, I talked about this struggle with my good friend and life coach, Allison Evans, and she referenced this facebook post by Liz Gilbert. If you haven’t read it, I’ll sum it up for you. Liz thinks we’ve become confused about what it means to have a “life purpose.” She argues that how we spend our time in life should be divided into four categories: Hobbies, Jobs, Careers, and Vocations.

Hobbies

Hobbies have no pressure. They are the things you do when you have spare time. They’re not always the same – they may change every few years, or even every few months.

“You can tell when something is a hobby because your attitude toward it tends to be relaxed and playful. The stakes are SUPER low with hobbies. Sometimes you might make a bit of money out of your hobby, but that’s not the point — nor does it need to be. Hobbies are important because they remind us that not everything in life has to be about productivity and efficiency and profit and destiny. Hobbies are mellow. This is a wonderful reminder, and the concept should relax you. Hobbies prove that we have spare time — that we are not just slaves to the capitalist machine or to our own ambitions.”

Jobs

Unless your parents are rich, everyone needs a job. A job is what puts food on the table and a roof over your head. What I needed to hear from Liz is that we don’t have to love our jobs.

“Now, here’s the most essential thing to understand about a job: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE AWESOME. Your job can be boring, it can be a drag, it can even be ‘beneath you’. Jobs don’t need to be soul-fulfilling. Don’t judge yourself about your job and never be a snob about anyone else’s job. We live in a material world and everyone has to do something for money, so just do whatever you have to do, collect your paycheck, and then go live the rest of your life however you want. Your job does not need to be how you define yourself; you can create your own definitions of your purpose and your meaning, pulled from deep within your imagination. A job is vital, but don’t make it YOUR LIFE.”

Careers

Careers may not always pay well, and they take lots of time and patience to become what you want them to be. And here’s a shocker: did you know you don’t HAVE to have one?

“A job is just a task that you do for money, but a career is something that you build over the years with energy, passion, and commitment. Careers are huge investments. Careers require ambition, strategy, and hustle. Your career is a relationship with the world.[…] Let me make something very clear about careers: A career is a good thing to have if you really want one, but YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE A CAREER. There is absolutely nothing wrong with going through your entire life having jobs, and enjoying your hobbies, and pursuing your vocation, but never having ‘a career’. A career is not for everyone. A career is a choice. But if you do make that choice, make sure that you really care about your career. Otherwise, it’s just an exhausting marathon, for no reason.”

Vocations

Who are you? How do you breathe love and kindness into the world? THAT is your vocation.

“Your vocation is your calling. Your vocation is a summons that comes directly from the universe, and is communicated through the yearnings of your soul. While your career is about a relationship between you and the world; your vocation is about the relationship between you and God. Vocation has nothing to do with money, with career, with status, with ambition. Your vocation can be anything that brings you to life and makes you feel like your soul is animated by purpose. Tending to your marriage can be your vocation. Raising your children can be your vocation. Teaching people how to take care of their health can be your vocation. Visiting your elderly neighbors can be your vocation. You can choose your hobbies, your jobs, or your careers, but you cannot choose your vocation; you can only accept the invitation that has been offered to you, or decline it.”

I have spent years mixing those four words into one grand idea of MY LIFE’S PURPOSE. (See how important it feels? I used all caps and bold font!) Liz Gilbert’s post felt like a weight lifted off of my shoulders, and I’ve spent the last few days dissecting my interests, passions, ideas, and goals into hobbies, jobs, careers, and vocations. In my next post, I’ll let you see what I’ve come up with, and how this new way of thinking may be impacting my blog.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you struggle with finding your purpose? What do you think of Liz’s four categories?

It’s a new year. What seeds will you water?

seedlings

I might not always celebrate the coming of a new year in a special way, but for the last several years, I’ve made a point of reflecting on the past 365 days. Did I learn anything? What did I do well? What could I do better?

The start of this year, in particular, was a more stressful one than I’ve had in years past. On Christmas morning, after opening presents and genuinely enjoying Christmas morning, I went down in the basement to find my sewer backing up through pipes, and rainwater leaking into the basement because of the crazy monsoon we had on Christmas day. We eventually figured out that the problem was a cement sewer pipe built in 1940, so during the first weeks of 2016, we had a crew at the house digging up our driveway and replacing old pipe. *sigh*

On top of that, during the last week of 2015, my youngest sister (25) decided that she wanted to be homeless. She suffers from schizophrenia, stopped taking her meds, and had become delusional. She’d run off with a mentally-ill boy that she met through another group home, and she only told us that she was “happier” sleeping at the mission and being on the streets during the day. We couldn’t reason with her or talk her out of it, but she finally agreed to see my dad and he took her to the ER in Nashville and got her admitted into the inpatient psychiatric facility. We’re not sure where she will be living when she is released, so the entire family is a little stressed as we come up with some sort of plan.

On NYE, I was feeling weighed down by it all. I watched something on tv that stressed me out more, and I had a panic attack. I sat and cried in my husband’s arms, and I fell asleep at 9:30pm. Not exactly the way I had hoped to send out 2015….

But despite my crummy final week of the year, I still maintain that 2015 has been one of the best years of my life. Here’s what I did well, and what I’d like to do better in 2016:

What I Did Well

Learned to feel my intuition. I’m not perfect at listening every time, but I’ve gotten much better at paying attention to what’s going on in my body when I’m faced with a decision about something. I have often made decisions based on what seemed to be the “best” course of action – what made logical, rational sense to me (and to everyone watching). Turns out, some of the decisions I made had very little to do with what I actually wanted. I have learned that when I pay attention to what my soul is saying – often by paying attention to the physical sensations that arise when thinking about the options – I make the best decision. And here’s the kicker: when I follow my intuition, things seems to fall into place beautifully.

Learned to love my body. Some women are able to do this on their own, but as it turns out, I needed someone else to love my body first. My husband loves every inch of my body, and loves the soul that occupies it. I’m not eating much differently, or exercising more than I used to, but I feel better in my skin than I have in the previous 29 years of my life. I still have moments of feeling ugly, or inadequate, but on the whole, I have begun to enjoy the body I live in and it’s a wonderful change.

Stayed present with my children. My children are happy and healthy, but they’ve had big changes in the last year. So many times, I’ve listened as they’ve expressed feelings of fear, frustration, and sadness (along with happiness and excitement) and my first impulse is always to “fix” the feeling. I quickly try to think of what I can do or say to reason with them – an attempt to invalidate their feeling so that it’s not there anymore. Watching my children deal with difficult emotions makes me uncomfortable. So instead of following that first impulse, I’ve made an effort to simply be present with them while they process their feelings. I respond to them by telling them it’s okay to feel that way, that I’ve felt that way too, and the only “fix” I offer is a hug. And you know what? The feeling passes with no effort on my part or theirs.

What I’d Like to Do Better

Have more confidence in my ability to create and succeed. I often feel “stuck” professionally, noticing thoughts that argue I can’t be successful, that I’ll always rely on someone else’s income, and that I’m just a fake who has deceived everyone thus far. This also permeates my drive to write and blog, and holds me back from taking chances. I’d like for 2016 to be different.

How I’m working on it: I’ve joined “The Creating Collective,” led by my good friend and phenomenal life coach, Allison Evans. The collective is filled with women who, like me, feel stuck in their personal and/or professional lives, and want to see some movement in 2016. I’m excited to begin to work towards my goals, give myself permission, and end self-sabotage in such a supportive space.

Accept what I’m given. I have difficulty accepting praise, help, and even love, and I’ll go out on a limb to say that I think there are lots of people who feel the same way. If my husband or children are doing chores, I feel guilty if I’m not doing the same. If someone says I’m pretty, I tell myself they’re just being nice. If someone says I’m a good counselor, I think of all the ways I wish I could do better. Why can I not allow myself to enjoy the compliments, and even more importantly, why can I not allow myself to believe them?

How I’m working on it: One day at a time. I want to say “thank you” when given compliments. I want to enjoy a good book when my husband says he’ll do the dishes. I want to give myself a pat on the back when I know I’ve had a good day at work. All these things seem so simple, but are difficult for me to do on a consistent basis.

Looking Forward

Buddhist philosophy teaches that there isn’t such a thing as a “good” year or “bad” year. There are simply events, and then there are our reactions to them. No matter what 2016 may bring, I hope to navigate the ups and downs in a way that is authentic and intentional. I want to live in a more mindful way than I did the year before.

“In each of us, there are wholesome and unwholesome roots – or seeds – in the depths of our consciousness. […] The practice of mindfulness helps us identify all the seeds in our store consciousness and water the ones that are the most wholesome.” – The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

The seeds of love, compassion, and forgiveness are seeds that I will be watering, for the good of others AND myself.

What seeds will you water in 2016?

 

An apology letter to all the parents.

Dear parents,

Remember when I was homeschooling my kids? I loved it. And what I loved even more was posting about it. I posted pictures of amazing art projects we were working on. I posted blurbs about how much they were learning at such a young age. I blogged about how well homeschooling was working for our family, and how much I enjoyed it. I felt so strongly about homeschooling that I wondered if I’d ever feel comfortable sending my children to public school. I wanted them to be the best versions of themselves, and I was determined to make that happen.

Then, I got divorced. I moved halfway around the world, had to put my kids in public school, and had to get a job (my first since college). The first day that I dropped them off at school, I walked out of the building feeling confused about how I was supposed to spend my time for the next seven hours. It had been years since I had a full day to myself.

Fast-forward to a year later, and my kids love going to school. I honestly don’t know how I had the patience and energy to homeschool them. I love dropping them off at school and going to work. I like having time for myself that allows me to work on my career, and the person I want to be. This life that is so different from what I thought I’d have, is a life that makes me really happy.

So, last night, when I found myself feeling like a bad mother after scrolling through Instagram and Facebook, I had an epiphany. In my attempt to prove to myself, my ex-husband, and the world, that being a stay-at-home-mother was not a waste of time or talent, I professionalized motherhood. I blogged about it. I posted pictures of how good I was at it. I clung to the idea that I was doing it right because if that was true, I might not feel so unfulfilled at times about being at home 24/7. I poured myself into my children so that I’d have something to pour myself into.

I wouldn’t take back those years. I intimately knew my children, profoundly influenced what they learned and how they learned it, and made a lot of memories that I’ll cherish my entire life. What I would take back, however, is how I might have made other parents feel. I needed recognition for what I was doing; I needed someone to tell me that I was doing a good job, that I was making the “right” decisions, and that I had a purpose. So I posted. And posted. And posted. “Look at what amazing children these are” was the theme of the posts, “and I have made them this way” was the unspoken sentiment.

I now know how other parents might have felt, because I felt the same way last night. I felt guilt that I enjoy spending time away from my children. I felt guilt that I don’t know every moment of their day. I felt guilt that I have my own personal goals that I’m working toward, which don’t involve my children in any way. I felt that pang of “I’m not doing it right.” Going back to the theme that the more I learn, the less I know, I’ve realized that there isn’t a “right” way. My kids appear just as happy and healthy as they were two years ago, when their parents were married and they spent all day at home with mom.

So I offer an apology to all the parents who weren’t able to stay at home with their kids, who couldn’t imagine homeschooling, or frankly, enjoyed having their kids in school. If I made you feel less of a parent, I realize now that it was because I needed to feel better about my own decisions. Doing things the right way isn’t dependent on following a prescribed path. It’s dependent on following your heart. We all do the best we can, and for our kids, I think that’s enough.

Sincerely,

Kimberly

Our children will be fine. (If we’ll allow it.)

Helicopter moms, prepare your best stink-eye to be thrown in my direction.

*Clears throat loudly* I allowed my daughter to go to a new friend’s house without me. I had never driven by the house (though I knew the neighborhood); I had never met her mother face-to-face. And, I allowed this mother to pick up our daughters after school, transport them to her home, and let them play together until I got off of work. (gasp!)

In my defense (and I’m not sure why I feel like I need one), I had talked to this mom on the phone and our daughters had been Face-timing for the last few evenings. I had seen both her parents on the screen, and heard the background noises of their everyday lives while our 7-year-olds talked about the epic Minecraft castle they would build together. I wasn’t overwhelmed with worry about my daughter’s safety, and simply made sure she understood that if she ever felt uncomfortable at someone’s house, I was merely a phone-call away.

childrenfine

The hands-free, no-mom-attached playdate was fantastic. My daughter had a great afternoon with her friend, and I was able to avoid that awkward mom-date that mentally drains me and leads to playdates spaced very far apart.

This morning, I read an article by a mommy-blogger on Huffington Post in which she lamented what she calls our “playdate society.”

My friends who live in subdivisions have the same “problem” I do: We have to create “playdates” in order for our kids to have any friends.

It’s unfair, really; it’s unfair to all involved.

[…] Society — and, in particular, mommyhood — has comfortably moved entirely away from hanging-out-with-the-kid-down-the-street, to a playdate mentality, where we need to invite people with other children over for a short span of hours.

We are supposed to then engage in slightly awkward small talk while our children interact. Afterward, we part and go back home, across town or to different towns.

What was your childhood like?

I remember leaving the house almost immediately after the bus dropped me off in the afternoon. I’d grab my bike and head to my friend’s house. She didn’t live on my street, and, in fact, lived a few streets over. I always told my mom where I was going, but my visit to Holly’s house included plenty of bike riding through the neighborhood, playing in ditches when it rained, and very little adult supervision. Oh, I forgot to add: I was in 2nd grade. And I lived in Nashville, TN.

When I think about it, I remember relatively few “playdates” in which my mom and siblings came along for the duration of the visit. I don’t remember feeling scared without my mom, and I don’t remember any uncomfortable situations. I look back on my childhood with fond memories of playing outside until dark, and meeting up in the neighborhood with friends of my choosing. It was sacred kid time.

My kids don’t have that.

My children’s childhood seems to be in stark contrast from my own. My 7yo had a friend whom she begged to have over for months. When I talked to her mom about the possibility, I was told that it would have to be on the weekend because they didn’t allow their daughter to be anywhere without a parent or grandparent present. (?!) My 7yo has never walked through the neighborhood on her own. Our youngest children have never taken their bikes down to the playground only a block away from our back door. If they want to play with other kids, we’ve got to arrange it for them. And in today’s playdate society, my children often only spend time playing with friends under the watchful eye of not one, but two moms who awkwardly make conversation in the next room.

No doubt, this playdate society is partially influenced by our inflated sense of danger around every corner. I’m sure it would shock many parents to learn that crime rates are now lower than they’ve been since the 1960’s. We may feel like we’re keeping our kids safe by never letting them out of our sight, but new research suggests that we’re rendering them incapable of dealing with the world. Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of “The Price of Privilege,” and contributor to this year to an article in SLATE about the effect of helicopter parenting on our kids, wrote:

“When we parent this way we deprive our kids of the opportunity to be creative, to problem solve, to develop coping skills, to build resilience, to figure out what makes them happy, to figure out who they are. In short, it deprives them of the chance to be, well, human. Although we over-involve ourselves to protect our kids and it may in fact lead to short-term gains, our behavior actually delivers the rather soul-crushing news: Kid, you can’t actually do any of this without me.”

Our kids will be fine.

Instead of teaching your children that they should be fearful of strangers (which isn’t true), teach them how to spot “tricky people.” Instead of refusing to leave your kids at home alone for 5 minutes while you run out to get milk, teach them basic household safety skills. Teach them how to call 911. Teach them where to go if there is a fire. Teach them how to find a helpful adult and how to ask for help should they need it. (A great piece of advice I once heard was to tell your kids to find another mom with children.) Teach them “good touches” and “bad touches.” . With all of my heart, I believe the world to be an inherently good and beautiful place and I want my children to thrive in it. I want to teach my kids how to be safe in the world, without teaching them to be scared of the world.

I don’t want to come to your house for a playdate because I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that they can’t handle the world without me. If I’m letting my child come to your house, I’m trusting that you’ll do your best to keep my child safe. If you let your child come here, I promise to do the same. Our kids will be fine. (If we’ll allow it.)

What Happened When We Banned Screen Time

In my counseling practice, I often see families who have been referred to our office because their children have received a diagnosis of ADHD and/or mood regulation disorders. A recent article on by Dr. Victoria Dunckley at Psychology Today argues that when attempting to treat these kids, many practitioners are “barking up the wrong tree.”

“They’re trying to treat what looks like a textbook case of mental disorder, but failing to rule out and address the most common environmental cause of such symptoms—everyday use of electronics.”

In her new book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time she argues that frequent use of electronics disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, desensitizes the brain’s reward system, produces “light-at-night” that can increase the risk of depression and suicide, induces stress reactions, overloads the sensory system, factures attention, depletes mental reserves, and reduces physical activity levels and time spent outdoors.

Most of us know that screen-time needs to have limits, and conflict between parents and children over the use of screens can be an every-day occurrence. For several months, I’d noticed my growing frustration with arguments over whose turn it was to choose a show, or play the iPad, or be on the computer. My 7yo started sneaking the iPad into her bed at night, and if she didn’t have a rule about when to get up in the morning, she’d be up at 5:30am with the tv on. I felt like we were constantly having conversations about whether or not my children could use a screen, and this had a lot to do with the fact that they were saying they were “bored,” and seemed to lack the ability to play anymore. They didn’t want to go outside, needed a bargaining chip to be redirected towards something else, and stopped enjoying their toys.

When my children were toddlers, I started reading articles, blogs, and books about how to manage screen time, and, for years, I’ve never found a good solution. That is, until my husband said, “When my girls were younger, I just had a rule that there was no tv on school nights. It worked pretty well….” After trying lots of other things, a ban on screens during the week sounded like a good option. I informed the girls that when they started school, we would stop using iPads, LeapPads, tv, or computer during the week – unless a screen was needed for homework. When that first week rolled around, there were a few days of complaining in the afternoon, but I would be lying if I said there were tantrums or meltdowns. Now that we’ve had a month with screen-free school weeks, the transformation in our evenings has been phenomenal. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

There’s more play outside.

It helps, of course, that the summer heat is fading and it’s finally nice enough to play outside. When the girls get home from school, they have a small snack and head straight to the backyard. There’s been a lot of jumping on the trampoline, bird-watching, nature-exploring, bike-riding, plant-watering, and picnics under our willow tree.

There’s more play inside.

Instead of spending the evening planted in front of the television, the girls are now making use of their toys, games and art supplies. There has been a lot of drawing going on, and after my 7yo drew a doll that she “wished would come to life and be a real doll,” we’ve already figured out one of her Christmas presents.

This morning, I listened to my eldest playing with her dolls in her room, creating a story-line with different voices for each character. I thought about what a stark contrast that behavior was compared to her behavior only a month ago when she lamented about having nothing to do, and “being too old for toys.” She hadn’t grown up quite as much as I thought she had; she’d only forgotten how to play as a child.

There’s more reading.

At times, I will walk into the living room to find my husband reading his New Yorker, my 7yo re-reading “Dory Fantasmagory,” and my youngest sounding out words from an easy reader. We have always allowed our children to read after we tuck them in at night, but our 7yo has been flying through books these days. I’ve been going to the library while they’re in school to pick up books that supplement what they’re learning (both at-home and in-school) and if I leave library books on the coffee table, the girls are drawn to a cozy chair in the living room where they can pour over the new reading material.

There’s less arguing.

It might only be wishful thinking, but I swear it seems as though our youngest two aren’t bickering and arguing with each other as much as they used to. Could it be that watching the television every afternoon was making them cranky and irritable? According to Dr. Dunckley, it’s possible.

“Screen time induces stress reactions. Both acute stress (fight-or-flight) and chronic stress produce changes in brain chemistry and hormones that can increase irritability. Indeed, cortisol, the chronic stress hormone, seems to be both a cause and an effect of depression—creating a vicious cycle. Additionally, both hyperarousal and addiction pathways suppress the brain’s frontal lobe, the area where mood regulation actually takes place.”

There’s more family time.

When the television was on every evening, the grown-ups would sit in the dining room having drinks and talking, while our two youngest were in front of the tube, and our 12yo was in her room watching videos on her iphone. We’d try to have a family dinner every night and if we were successful, it was often the only family time we had together. Now, we’re sitting out on the deck while the kids play outside. We’re having family dinner outside too. We’re curling up with books in the living room, or going for bike rides and walks to the park. The 2-3 hours we have together between school pick-up and bedtime are now hours that we truly are spending as a family. And I love it.

We still run into some arguments over screen time on the weekend, so screen regulation is still an ongoing process. Our 7yo would make a great middle-aged bum if left to her own devices. Currently, she has free-reign with electronics on the weekend so it’s not uncommon to find her naked, with only a bathrobe loosely tied around her waist, taking up a permanent residence on the couch, watching television with food scattered around her – late in the afternoon. When she grumbles about turning off the tv for merely an hour, I tell her that she seems to be having trouble regulating her own screen hours, so I’ll keep stepping in to help her give her brain and eyes a break. The good news is that instead of making a big fuss, she finds a way to entertain herself without a screen. What a difference from a month ago.

Do you struggle with balancing screen-time and play-time? I’d love to hear what has and hasn’t worked for you.

A new school has been tough, for my daughter… AND me.

Early this spring, I watched anxiously as lottery numbers were drawn for the magnet school my girls were attending. We had just bought a house in a zone across town, and I was crossing my fingers that both my girls would get a lottery slot and would be able to stay at what many argue is the best public magnet school in town. To my dismay, my upcoming Kindergartener got a spot, but her sister – along with 5 other siblings moving into 2nd grade – was out of luck.

I walked into our neighborhood elementary school on Monday morning to register her for 2nd grade, and felt anxious the entire time I was there. The school is MUCH larger, with over 1,000 students. It’s much more diverse, has low test scores, is a Title I school, hasn’t had art for the last two years, and, well…. just isn’t their last school. The past few days have been very emotional for me and my daughter, and I’ve thought about a lot of things.

school is tough

I’m more judgemental and biased than I thought I was.

A Hispanic man with tattoos covering his entire body walked his son into the school and got in the registration line. Walking past him on their way out was another father-son pair. The father was a tall black man with gold teeth and large gold cross necklace. I won’t lie; if I were alone on a dark street with either of them, I’d feel nervous. Standing in those registration lines were many Hispanics, Blacks, Whites… and me.

When I left the school that morning, I was disgusted with myself. I do not believe that any single race or ethnicity is more valuable than another, or deserves different treatment. Even if I find myself feeling uncomfortable with someone, I always try to be kind and compassionate, treating them as I would hope to be treated myself. But when I found myself in a situation that also involved my children, and who they will be surrounded by every day, my own biases and judgements came bubbling up to the surface.

Even though it made me feel terribly human to come face-to-face with my own faults, I reminded myself that humanity is a work in progress. I might feel uncomfortable. I might judge others prematurely. But, I am aware of it. It’s not who I want to be and it’s not how I want to raise my children. I won’t try to influence who my daughter befriends at school. We’ll invite those friends over no matter what their skin color or socioeconomic status. And I’ll do my best to judge less and accept more.

It’s really hard to feel as though you’re not giving your child the best.

I was a homeschooling mom only a year ago. I felt frustrated when I read about a lot of public school policy, and vowed to give my children a good education – one that fosters a love of learning through art, projects, play, and interest-based units of study. When we moved back from Japan, I rented a house in the zone for arguably the best magnet school in the city. It was the perfect transition from homeschooling – projects galore, unit study, and “exhibit nights” for showing off student work, art, and music. I felt good about what my kids were doing when they were away from me during the day. I knew the families at that school were promoting education at home, and were heavily involved in the school’s operations.

Watching my eldest transition to a school which is focused on “intervention for low-performing students,” that spends most of the day on reading and writing intervention and only 30-35 minutes of combined science and social studies, has no art class, and which, in my daughter’s words, consists of “only paperwork every day,” has been really difficult for me. I feel like I’ve failed her.

It’s also really hard to watch your child feel scared and sad, knowing you can’t make those feelings go away.

Welcome to one of the suckiest parts of parenting: not being able to protect your children from everything. My kids are going to feel scared, disappointed, sad, grief-stricken, embarrassed, angry, and panicked. I can’t protect them from feeling those emotions at some point in their life. However, when I can’t protect them, I want to help them figure out how to get through it. When my daughter cries about missing her friends, threatens to run away from the school if she gets bored, and begs to go back to her old school, all I can do is tell her, “Yeah kid, it sucks. And it’s okay for you to feel all those things.” I give her extra hugs, I plan playdates with her old friends, and I take her out for ice-cream on exceptionally difficult days. I let her feel those difficult feelings, and I remind her that she’ll be loved and supported through the good days and the bad.

I didn’t feel compelled to fix public schools when my children were both going to a good one.

It’s easy to think that someone else is doing the hard work for you. Sure, I knew that public schools had their problems and needed some help, but my kids were at a good public school. I was fine with sitting back and letting someone else fix the bad schools. Now that my kid is at a not-so-good school, I feel a little differently and I know that’s not fair. Perhaps I’ve been a little obsessed with the school situation this year, but it’s made me start doing some research about how I can become involved in our county’s educational system and how I can personally help my daughter’s school.

Not being able to afford a school art teacher is a shame, so I started looking for other art options. I found a local business that provides art classes to kids after school, AT public schools, and I gave the owner a call in addition to emailing our principal. The following week, the owner and principal were having a meeting and they’re now 99% sure they’ll be sending home flyers for the new program within the next two weeks. My daughter is thrilled.

My daughter’s teacher has a pretty strict homework policy as well, and with little research showing any benefit of homework in the early grades, I’m thinking of asking for a meeting with her to see why the policy was created. Are there other ways to make sure that kids are learning what they need to, without having to send home a lot of homework and penalizing kids with a loss of recess if homework isn’t done or correct? I’d like to think so.

I knew the transition to a new school wouldn’t be easy, but I’m surprised at how difficult it has been for ME. It’s comforting, however, to remind myself that I don’t have a lot of bad memories of school – despite going to four schools in four years from K-3rd grade when I was a child, including a school right smack dab in the middle of the projects. I actually loved that school. We’ll keep taking one day at a time, and we’ll make it the best year we can.

photo 1 (2)

Did your child’s education plans change this year? How has the transition been for your child, and your family? I’d love to hear your comments.

Do my children come before me?

I remember sitting in my recliner, watching my stomach jump every couple of seconds as the baby growing inside me hiccuped. Beside me was a pile of parenting books that I poured over in the months before her arrival. “I’m going to do this right,” I swore to myself, and to her. “I’m going to be a great mom.”

Like many women, I was caught off-guard by my pregnancy. I hadn’t been trying to get pregnant, and it wasn’t exactly the best time for us to have a baby. My ex-husband was starting medical school, and I was a month away from beginning a PhD program when I saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test. I quickly moved from a state of disbelief and fear, to a state of excited anticipation and resolve to be a fantastic mother. And that is exactly what I became: a mother.

I know I am not the only woman to struggle with a sense of identity after having children, and as I contemplated getting divorced, the struggle intensified. Since my children had been born, I had been fixated on their physical and emotional health. I made all of my decisions with their interests in mind, not because I’d forgotten who I was, but because I was focused on molding who they would turn out to be. There was so much love inside my heart for my two little girls, that my priorities quietly and powerfully shifted towards them.

Making the decision to ask for a divorce was perceived by many people as a selfish decision. It looked that way to others, and it felt that way to me. Knowingly choosing something that would deeply hurt my children was at odds with the core of my being. But, at the same time, I knew that if I did not make that decision – that gut-wrenchingly hard decision – my own needs and desires would forever take a backseat to the needs of others.

Women face scrutiny day-in and day-out when making decisions for themselves that don’t appear to be based on their children. People I knew (well, and not-so-well) questioned my sanity, my dedication to my children, and even my love for them.

Since Kim needs to find self and put self first hopefully her husband can spend LOTS of time with their girls. I am certain she has validated her reasons which is fine. I was in the CHURCH when they married in front of GOD, friends, and family. Not ‘the universe’. I always cry for the children in these situations, they don’t deserve this and becoming a parent is ALL about putting them before yourself. I pray for her husband, their girls and Kim too.”

“Please somehow put the children first.”

For a woman who had been a stay-at-home mom for the last five years, and homeschooled her children, it was inconceivable to me.

“…becoming a parent is ALL about putting them before yourself.”

But… is it?

In my counseling practice, I see numerous teenage and adult women who don’t recognize, don’t trust, and don’t listen to their inner voice. They are out of touch with their own desires and sources of happiness because for most of their lives, their source of happiness has been the happiness of those around them. And when children come along, it takes things up a notch. 

One of my friends wrote a controversial blog post about her children needing her love more than her marriage, more friends got all up-in-arms over an article criticizing American parenting, and the back-and-forth argument over what constitutes “good” parenting vs. “bad” parenting has been going on for ages. The only thing I can gleam from the bickering and criticism is that, somehow, every human being has to find a balance between their needs and the needs of others.

I want my children to learn that mom is a person too. I have a job that I enjoy. I like having my own money. I like it when bedtime rolls around and I can spend some quiet time with my husband (lord knows I don’t want another divorce, so quality time with my husband is important!). I enjoy talking to my friends just as much as they enjoy talking to theirs. And I love carving out kid-free time that involves zazen, writing, or reading – the things that nourish my soul.

When it comes down to it, I want my children to learn that their needs are no more or less important than mine, their dad’s, their step-father’s, step-sisters’ or anyone else’s for that matter.

What do you think? Does becoming a parent mean that the kids always come before you?

The more I learn, the less I know.

“Before tearing your children’s lives apart, please consider counseling. My husband and I were at this cross-section in our lives 15 years ago. We muddled through and now, I can’t even begin to imagine not sharing this journey called life with anyone other than my best friend. Family is worth fighting for and working hard on. Sorry, not sure about your Universe view. Will pray to the Heavenly Father, my “universe”, for wisdom and the realization that nothing is set in stone. God allows free will. You make choices. You have consequences. May they be good ones particularly for your children.”

ceremony blog

On July 7th, 2015, I got married for the second time. According to many, it should never have happened. Less than 12 months ago, I was still married to my college sweetheart and living in Japan with our two small daughters. The full story of how my first marriage ended has never been told, and I’m not sure it will ever see the light of day in a place so public as this blog. But, the watered-down version is that I left my first husband for another man, and I haven’t looked back.

Assume what you may, but I didn’t have an affair. (The logistics of doing so while living on two separate continents made that quite difficult.)  I loved a man who wasn’t my husband, told my husband, watched as the shit hit the fan, and realized that my marriage was over long before I knew it was. I knew before divorce papers were ever drawn up that I’d get married again, and I knew who I would marry. In the most ballsy move I’ve ever made, I let myself fall deep down into the rabbit hole. I left one relationship to jump into another and it was the best thing I’ve ever done.

Opening my inbox to find a Facebook message accusing me of “tearing my family apart” and warning me of the consequences of my decisions (not to mention, belittling my spiritual beliefs), was one of the more hurtful moments I experienced when I decided to get a divorce. At the time, it seemed as though everyone had an opinion about my life; everyone knew my marriage better than I did. I notice myself struggling with the desire to make everyone understand. I want everyone to know how good this is. I want everyone to know how happy I am; how happy my kids are. I want everyone to see the difference between this relationship and my last one. I know, however, that it will never happen and the only reason that is okay – the only reason that the judgement, the opinions, and the estrangement don’t get me down – is that I KNOW.

DSM_7297

On July 7th, I married the man that I love. I said yes to the most spiritual, most intuitive, most supportive, most fulfilling relationship I’ve ever experienced with another human being. I didn’t do what many people wanted, or thought was right, but I trusted myself. A part of me loved him before I was born, and long before I knew of his existence.  In the most cliche, yet truthful way of explaining it, I acknowledged the pull of the Universe and agreed to go along with its plan.

In the last 12 months, I’ve learned who my friends are. I’ve learned how to better trust myself and my intuition. I’ve learned to stop judging work really hard to judge less. I’ve learned more about who I am and what is important to me. I’ve learned that some of the best decisions are also the scariest and most challenging.

And I’ve also learned the most important thing of all: that I don’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.

DSM_7342