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Parenting- The Way We View The World

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Parenting- The Way We View The World

Hello! Long time no write!

I realize it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve written anything for this website, but since I recently renewed the website itself and a friend of mine just asked me today to pull it together and start writing about parenting, I decided, fine…I’m in.

I can’t promise regular posts. I can’t promise I will offer you the best advice for your family. But I can promise to be honest and objective and share what I know for sure…this parenting gig is a lot of work, but damn, it’s pretty amazing.

I believe that parenting is simply teaching our children how we view the world.

Our parents were our primary teachers and they taught us how they view the world. They used the words and beliefs which were taught to them by their primary teachers and only changed them if they felt they didn’t work for them. We have the opportunity to do the same.

For example, if one or both of our parents were worriers, we learned how to worry. We learned how to speak and approach life with hesitation. We spent our days mimicking the distress we were taught and even though we didn’t know why, we learned, this is just the way it is. As we got older, we had a choice on if we want to continue with this worry pattern and training on how to perfect it, or if the worrying was uncomfortable enough to question why exactly we choose to partake in it. If the discomfort bothers us enough, we choose to learn something new, something that suits us better. A new belief, a new way of thinking, a new way to communicate. We alter the way we view the world.

All of this translates to how we parent. We share with them how we see life, the rules we have developed to live in it and the beliefs we hold around how we treat people, our loved ones and ourselves. We teach our children the manners we believe are important, our insight based on lessons we’ve learned the “hard” way, and a general appreciation of why people act the way they do. We teach them our fears, our prejudices, our shortcomings and our angst. We teach them where we find joy and just how to find it. We teach them what works for us. And, what doesn’t.

And this, my friends, is why I have not written in a while.

I am not the same person I was the last time I wrote. My views on life are not the same either. The more I experience and grow as a person, the more my view of life changes with it. And therefore, who I am as a parent is changing as well.

I’ve been a single parent for three years now. Scratch that- co parent- with my children’s father. I left my secure job as a school counselor to open a private practice in counseling and figure out what I want to do next for my career. I am changing and therefore, how I parent is changing.

I am growing into my authentic sense of myself and the more  authentic I feel as my own person, the more authentic I feel as a parent. My children are almost 10 and 13. They are no longer small children and I no longer treat them as such.

My daughter is a teenager and is extraordinarily insightful and sensitive and supportive, and I am learning to treat her as the person she is, not as I want her to be.

My son is turning double digits and he is double the fun he used to be! A wise little soul, he tells his momma how proud he is of her all the time…and then drives her nuts with his little boy behaviors that are a hallmark for exactly where he should be developmentally.

We are figuring out how to be a family within our means and how to successfully support each other, while bringing in the outside stressors daily- all of us.

I am incredibly grateful to be their mom and to teach them my view of the world.

And I’m also grateful to be able to share with you. Thanks for reading.

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Making A Big Decision When You’re Not Sure Which Choice is Right

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Making A Big Decision When You’re Not Sure Which Choice is Right

I am proud to announce that I recently had an article published on Tiny Buddha, a fantastic website which shares the wisdom and experience of others, and I am honored to be a writer added to that list.  This article teaches how to make major life decisions that are right for you…my latest forte. The opening quote comes from one of my favorite authors and psychologists who solidified my belief and understanding that we have the opportunity to learn from every experience in life, the identified “good” and the “bad” and how we view those experiences will determine our satisfaction and our personal growth.

“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~Viktor Frankl

Over the last two and a half years I have made some big changes in my life. And by big, I mean enormous.

First, I moved with my husband and our children from a home I loved for ten years. Shortly after, my husband and I ended a twenty-year relationship and marriage. With that separation, I made the decision to buy the house we had moved to, which on paper, I shouldn’t have been able to buy.

Apparently ending a long commitment and beginning a large financial one on my own wasn’t enough for me though. The following year I resigned from a secure job to pursue a dream I hadn’t fully envisioned and started a business without projected goals.

When I list out all the changes, I start to question my own sanity.

I have never been one to make quick decisions, especially ones that I hadn’t thought through. I was raised by my father, a self-proclaimed workaholic, who spent his career as a high powered executive for a high risk industrial insurance company.

I was not bred to believe in taking chances, to live on instinct alone, and to leave anything that resembled security. You just don’t do that. But something was stirring in me that kept me unsettled.

I knew it was time to make changes, and I knew those changes were absolutely not guaranteed to work in my favor. I was scared—no, terrified—to alter the course of my life, but standing still gave me even more anxiety.

How do you make the decision to change your entire life and know it’s truly right for you?

I have a secret, one that I’ve used consistently in recent years when making decisions that weighed heavily on me.

It’s a technique that simplifies the agonizing back and forths of “should I or shouldn’t I?” One I wished I learned when I was younger to ward off some major bouts of indecisiveness and internal torment. Although in retrospect, I would not have been ready to use it until I was actually ready to hear it….Keep Reading

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Learning How To Recognize Our Own Voice

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Learning How To Recognize Our Own Voice

As a child, there was nothing more familiar than the sound of my parents’ voice. That voice guided my every move. I knew what the expectations were and what they wanted from me, and I knew exactly when I was ignoring it. Even when I was in trouble, the tone of disappointment was still proof that I was thought of and cared about and it was that tone I heard the next time I went to make the same mistake questioning whether it was worth it.

The voice of my parents was loud and prominent and as I grew older it was hard to decipher which voice was speaking to me when I was making decisions in my life. Are those my thoughts or the recorder of how I should think? It was hard to tell. I’d listen for the tones, but sometimes they all blended together.

As an adult and a parent in my own right, I hear the words of my father fly out all the time. They are tones of respect and expectation and authority. They speak words that symbolize strength and insight and responsibility. They are dominant words and I speak them with pride. Yet, there is a side of them that requires a softer touch and an explanation to compliment them. Those words have a tone I know distinctly as my own. I have grown to appreciate the balance between my words and his, and I’d like to think my children do as well.

The confusion for me sets in when life shifts in fast paces and I’m wavering on my feet. I hear my frantic voice looking for answers and instinctually the voice I grew up with pops in and guides me exactly where to go. But the older I get and the more life experience I gain on my own, I notice that those guides don’t fit me like they used to and I start to question that voice and wonder if it needs more independence, more depth and more of its own vocabulary to match the person using it.

And then the questions begin….

Is this the voice I want my children to hear?

What do I want to teach them?

What is the role I want to play in their life?

And most importantly, what do I want to teach myself?

So I step back and listen for the answers and sort through the words and listen for the tones and meanings behind them. And within those voices, I hear the not so distinct sound of my own. Softer and less confident, she’s in there and she actually has a lot to say. And when I listen, I really listen, I hear comfort and familiarity and honesty and bravery and I hear a woman who, in fact, is not wavering on her feet at all. And that’s her, the mother, the parent, the role model, the voice I want my children to hear and hold on to until their own voices are the loudest they hear. I like her, I respect her and I trust she will teach them well.

My hope is that when I hear my children use their own voices, which they give me snippets of often, I will make the effort to turn up the volume and let them explore just how loud they can be. And when it’s time to turn them back down again, show them that sometimes a harmony is exactly what we need.

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Paging Super Mom

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Paging Super Mom

These days my life is filled with moments of content, peace and continuous excitement. My thoughts are many, but flowing with ease.  Balance is a word no longer foreign in meaning. I am living in the skin I was born with and it feels comfortable and form fitting. In short, its quite nice.

Many days I hear myself saying “I have arrived.” Quiet whispers of joy and gratitude- filled with dreams I know are coming to life. I wait for birds to sing me a Welcome Home lullaby…But instead as I sit quietly in my moment of bliss, I hear “Mommmmm! Mommmm!” shouting from the other room.

“Mommmmm!”

Why? Why? I am now yelling in my head.

And then I hear “Whattt!??” in a tone coming out of my mouth I recognize as frustration and irritability. Ewww…I am really no better than them.

More shouting “I was on my Ipod (for the past 2 hours and you didn’t notice) minding my own business and she just walked by and kicked me!”

“I did not!” She screeches. Then tears, then more yelling, then – silence.  Okay, the silence was mine. Maybe if I ignore them and act like I don’t hear them they will go away.

But they don’t go away. Now I hear heavy footsteps- heavy because they are pounding on the floor as they develop their 2 person frantic search party to see who can get to me first to tell their side of the story the loudest and most visibly upset.

My choice catch phrases start pouring out…”You need to figure this out, preferably in a way that doesn’t involve fists and feet. Don’t hit your brother. Don’t hit your sister. How does it feel when you spit those angry words out of your mouth? You might want to find another way to communicate how you are feeling. This isn’t working.”

Yet they continue their whiny rants.

The counselor in me searches for meaning, understanding, reason and peaceful resolution. The angry human in me wants to scream “Shut the hell up and go away!” and the mother in me is feeling guilt that I can’t fix their problems quickly enough to make sure no one is feeling pain. Especially me. Its so painful- and annoying-and maddening.

So as I stare at them- wondering who will come out of me, I page Super Mom, the combo of the three. Super Mom, the voice that shows respect, but the words that come out sensible and loving. She exudes wisdom and insight they can not deny or debate.  She speaks in matter of fact tones and does not raise her voice, but lowers it to show the seriousness and validity of the words. And when they attempt to interrupt, she quiets them in her, “No, you are here to listen and accept the help you’ve asked for” tone. Damn, that Super Mom is good.

And then I hear her clear her throat to begin…

“Seriously, how many times do I have to tell you to keep your hands and feet to yourself? I am NOT your referee. Figure it out. Until then, go to your rooms and leave me alone!!” she barks.

Hmmm…Super Mom? Sorry, she’s not available. She lost her patience at “Mommmm”. Please leave a message at the beep.

In reality, I am here to be their referee, their cheerleader and coach. I am here to be their counselor and their emotional punching bag, often at the same time. I am also here to tell them exactly what doesn’t work for them and offer suggestions for what does- even when they don’t ask for it.

If the expectation is to be Jack of All Trades- and it is- I will do it to the best of my ability, but they may not always like my ability, my humanness, my limits, but that is what I am able to offer. I am Super Mom, in her truest form.

Even when all else is flowing beautifully in my life, my role of mother keeps me grounded and rooted in reality. The reality that life is awesome, but there are moments of frustration and anger, of sadness and worry and setbacks. Lots of setbacks. But even within those setbacks comes opportunity to regroup and rebuild and understand the various parts of myself.  The calm, the loving and the imperfect.

And that Super Mom, is where it’s at.

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Learning How to Fall in Love With Yourself

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Learning How to Fall in Love With Yourself

I am addicted to salt baths. I realize that DCF could show up at my house now that have stated that and its misunderstood…but I really mean salt baths, not to be confused with bath salts. I mean really, how many disastrous drugs can kids come up with these days?

But I digress, which is why I take so many salt baths. They help me focus, reconnect with myself and always, always provide some sort of epiphany or inspiration while I’m meditatively soaking. And today’s inspiration needs to be shared.

One of the intentions I set for myself for 2014 is to fall deeply in love with myself.  I thought it sounded nice and fairly important, but honestly, I wasn’t even sure what that meant or how to do it. So I asked myself what it means to be in love and I think of all the people and places and things I love in my life.

What does it mean to be in love?  To me, it means to adore and admire the attributes a person or place holds.  Its a feeling of being drawn in to what they have to offer, wanting to spend time in their presence, enjoying their company and how I feel around them.  When I leave someone or somewhere I love, I feel more peaceful and content.  It literally nourishes my soul.

And I find it easy to make a commitment to someone I love. If they need something, I want to help them with whatever it is as a return favor for the joy they bring in my life. I want them to feel joy, happiness and contentment.  I also want to them to feel loved and appreciated, because seriously, what’s better than that? I will take steps and actions to add this to their life and I will do so easily and with a giving heart.  And the bonus, it feels awesome to me.

So, if its so easy to be in love with someone else, why does it seem like such a challenge to fall in love with myself? How is it that I deserve any less than what I give to someone else? Turns out, it doesn’t need to be.

I know exactly how to love another which means I can do the same for myself. I know the steps it takes to build a relationship and the commitment involved. I know how to support and show appreciation and I know just how awesome it feels to get it in return. So why not fall in love with myself and treat myself with the same respect and admiration I do for everyone else?

Welcome to my inner thought process….

We all know and have heard that we need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone else.  We nod in understanding when we hear the words, but the part of us that we put on the back burner says…”yeah, ok, I’ll fit it in…maybe.”

Why don’t we prioritize ourselves the way we do our children, our partners, our jobs?  What makes us so less important than anyone else?  What would you tell your child if you saw them treating or neglecting themselves the way you do yourself??

If we nurture ourselves, we will be able to nurture others more efficiently. If we respect ourselves, we will know exactly what it means to feel respect and be more open to giving it out.  If we embrace our less than pretty side and accept it for what it is, we will be less inclined to judge the less than pretty side of others.

Falling in love with ourselves allows us to fully appreciate the value we bring to the table…to everyone’s table!

And so begins my love affair with myself. I have a date day with me coming up and I’m not even sure what it looks like yet, but I know its going to be filled with things I like to do and be, impressing myself the best ways I know how. And yes, a salt bath will surely be on the agenda….

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5 Ways To Teach Our Kids How to Use Their Voice

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5 Ways To Teach Our Kids How to Use Their Voice

Remember the last time you walked away from an interaction with someone where you didn’t respond with what you were really thinking?  The one where you had 27 brilliant rebuttals or hard core responses you wish you said, but clammed up out of fear of how your words would be received and what repercussions there might be for speaking your truth. Of course you do, we’ve all been there.

And then we tell our kids to “Use Your Words” when they hit or are verbally aggressive at times and overreact because they don’t know how to communicate their emotions in calm, rational ways that get their point across respectfully. Its not a double standard. Oh wait, yes it is. (I can not apologize for the sarcasm, its how I speak my truth)

Yet, we want our children to speak for themselves and learn the value of self advocacy. In my professional view, its one of those life skills that not only helps you in ANY career you choose, but also in any relationship or friendship or interaction with another human being…and occasionally pets. (I am 99% sure they understand everything we say). But I am not kidding, its that important.

Learning to speak your truth and use your voice could not be any more valuable.  Shoving down your emotions starts with a disagreement with your parent or your friend or your sibling or your teacher or the kid bullying you at school and ends with stifled interaction and communication with your boss or your colleague or your spouse and a self esteem that feels it can not get out of its own way. It becomes a patterned behavior and response when we fear that if we speak our truth we will not be supported or worse off, rejected. And most of the time we play out the scenarios in our head and fear the worst without ever having lived it. We reject ourselves before we are rejected and silence ourselves without ever hearing the sound of our voice.

So how can we stop that pattern with our children?

1- Help them to identify what they want as an end result.  How do they want to feel at the end of the conversation?  What is the intent? Its important to know what they want to feel so they will be able to tell when they have met their goal and end the conversation and embrace the success.

2-Give them the words to use.  Do a mock conversation with whomever they feel they need to speak to. Help them play it out to make the unknown a known and they can feel prepared.  All those “I wish I said this” can be played out in advance to give them a better shot at saying them.

3-Reframe any negativity. If the conversation feels remotely confrontational (and most people avoid confrontation), help them see it as a positive more so than a negative.  For example, if they have to speak to someone who they feel is treating them unfairly, explain to them that by speaking up they are teaching that person how their actions and words affect other people, something they may not know, and in turn will help them rethink how they speak to other people, thus protecting future “victims.”  Annnnd they will feel awesome once they say what’s on their mind.

4-Help them see any fear around it as simply a thought, not a reality.  There is no real way to know how a conversation/interaction is going to go without assuming….and we all know what assuming does.

But more typically, the anticipation is far, far worse than the actual event.  Help them play out the worst case scenario so they can see that nothing is truly too life altering if it doesn’t go the way they’d like.

5- Tell them stories of situations in your own life that they can relate to so they see that they are not alone and that life goes on.  Its so helpful for all of us to speak to someone who we feel gets us and our fears when we are having them and when its the strong parent you look up to, even more so.  Sometimes the most comfort comes when we hear survivor stories of those who’ve been in similar shoes.

The  hardest part for some parents will be to not do it for their children.  When our protective instincts come out, we pump up our chests and want to fix it for them with our experience, but allowing them to do it on their own actually is a far more empowering opportunity for growth.  And isn’t allowing them to grow the best way to advocate for them? I vote yes.

And if you are wondering if they are old enough to handle it on their own? If they can speak up to you and use their voice, then they are old enough to handle it on their own.

Wanna hear the super bonus of all? The more you teach them and encourage them to use their voice, the more confident and comfortable you feel doing the same in your own life. Two lessons in one. What’s better than that?

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12 Simple Lessons Every Pre Teen Girl Needs To Know

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12 Simple Lessons Every Pre Teen Girl Needs To Know

Remember high school girl drama?  You know, “I heard you were talking about me.”  “No I wasn’t.” “Then why did Betsy say you called me a slut?” “Maybe because Betsy told me you were talking about ME and YOU called ME a slut.”

Okay, there aren’t many Betsy’s in high school anymore, but for real, they still talk like that. It’s BEYOND painful. Be-yond. And they mean it…and Betsy really did tell her she called her a slut, to both parties, I’m sure of it.

Girl drama drives me nuts and yet a I have a bizarre love for teenagers. I find great joy in working with them because they are just hitting the cusp of adulthood. They are still listening even when they are pretending they are not. They want your opinions and approval even though they won’t ask for it, and the best part…I am not their mother, which means I can say whatever I want without fear of them not loving me and causing long term damage to both of us. But honestly, they are just simply kids, trying to figure it out and needing a little bit of help…or A LOT of help along the way.  As they sort out how they feel, what they think they should feel and what they think they shouldn’t, they get sidetracked on where they stand. As parents and adults who care about them, our role is to redirect and help them navigate which way feels best for them. This can be a challenge, because lets be honest, they can be stereotypically stubborn and extremely annoying. Extremely. But work we must, to assist them to the finish line of adulthood, without tearing out every last one of our pre gray hairs.

Listening to teenage girls hash out their differences can be exhausting. Often, I find myself walking away with a tension headache and a realization of the intense fear I have of my own pre teen daughter growing into adolescence.  I may have even said a few silent prayers to the Universe asking that my daughter be spared of raging hormones, latent insecurity and a need to be liked by anyone other than herself.

And like an Irish prayer (because my daughter is Irish and I think I am–even though its only true on St. Patrick’s Day) I pass on my wishes and lessons to the pre teen girl, as she works her way into blooming adolescence…

At the dawn of transition, may you find the truth in these lessons:

May you notice that for every one person you think doesn’t like you, there are 25 more who are so thankful to have you in their life.

May you learn that when your heart feels broken, that feeling of sadness will only be two blinks worth of time in your life span.

May you recognize that everyone has an ounce of pain in their life, if not more. When you think you understand them, ask again, they may only show you what they want you to see.

May you have an understanding that you are NEVER in control of what other people say and do. You can manipulate those who will buy into it, but they still call the shots as to how they will respond.

May you taste the words that are sweet and the words that are bitter as they come out of your mouth, so you know which ones feel better to use.

May you realize that your brain is by far the most attractive thing about you, because when you use it openly, suitors will follow you around and recognize you as the Goddess you are.

May you always know the difference between the story to share and the story to keep to yourself.  In the world of friendship, it is the sacred keeper of the stories that holds the key to real trust.

May you see that relationships are more about how you see yourself than how others see you.  When you see the beauty in yourself, truly see it, it won’t matter who sees it as clearly as you.

May you remember that the love you give out will always be the love you get back, but the way you define love may fluctuate.

May you experience that every ending is simply the beginning of something else to learn.

May you discover that the only limitations in life are the ones you create.

And may you always know that the earth will continue to rotate, the stars will continue to twinkle and the sun will continue to rise each day, whether we choose to see it or not. But when we choose to see it, life is so much more fun.

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What Does it Mean to “Put the Children First?”

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What Does it Mean to “Put the Children First?”

What does it mean to “Put the Children First?”

I always wonder what people mean when they say that.

Do we put the children first when we bring them into this world or our homes? When we cuddle them as babies, or when we let them cry it out to learn to soothe themselves?  Is it when we buy them healthy food or when we buy them junk food as a “treat”? Or is it when we buy them luxury items that we didn’t have as a child…or as an adult? Is it when we register them for school? Or when we choose to home school them?

What does it mean to you to put your child first?

I think we will be hard pressed to find a parent who does not “put their child first” in their own mind, but the way they define it may not be the way everyone defines it, which doesn’t make it wrong, it just makes it their definition.

For me, putting my children first means allowing them to help wash and put their own laundry away, so they know how to take care of their belongings…and so they know where their clothes are.  It also means giving them the responsibility of packing their own lunches so they know what goes into them and how to make healthy, but satisfying choices…and so they can’t blame me if they don’t like their lunch.  Putting them first to me means teaching them how to look someone in the eye when speaking to them, how to hold a respectful conversation and how to use humor to lighten up their mistakes, while taking ownership for them at the same time…key life skills to real communication that are invaluable.

Putting my children first also means taking care of myself and my own physical and emotional needs. When I’m unhappy, unsettled or frustrated, no one’s getting the best of me.  And no one wants to be around me, not even me.  So when I’m in a crappy place, I give myself permission to take care of myself, whatever that means to me at the time, and everyone else around me benefits.

Another of my top definitions of putting my children first means having a healthy relationship with their dad.  Our children learn what respectful relationships look like from watching our every move and ingesting them as their rule book for life.  No pressure… And since our family unit has been separated into two homes, it’s even more of a challenge to make sure this happens, but equally important. Marital separation has been one of the hardest  and most painful events  I’ve ever experienced, but it’s also taught me the value of a strong, working relationship with the person who is invested in my children as much as me.  The more our children watch us respect each other, help each other out and show appreciation, the more comfortable they are with our situation and understand what the framework of a beneficial relationship looks like.  (I should also add that we have worked EXTREMELY hard to hash out 20 years worth of differences in the past 8 months and at the end of the day, my parenting partner is by far one of my favorite people of all time…so that helps)

No matter what our life situation or circumstance may be, isn’t our goal for our children always the same? To keep them safe, healthy and feeling loved, in whatever way we choose and are able to show them that.  As parents, we put our children first by allowing them to see life as it really is.  Sometimes that means allowing them to experience pain and discomfort when they make decisions that don’t work for them and remind them of their other options.  And other times it means intervening when you see unnecessary disaster looming. How each of us defines this will be different but our intentions will always be the same.

So the next time you hear someone say, “Put the children first” ask them to define it and enjoy the differences that keep us all who we are.

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You Will Get Into College

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You Will Get Into College

Dear Teenager Thinking About College,

This will mark the time you look at yourself and judge your place in the future and the past.   Many of you will start wondering where you could have done better and start kicking yourself for not producing all you think you could have.  This letter is for you.

First let me tell you, YOU WILL GET INTO COLLEGE.

Whoever started the phrase, “with grades like these, you won’t get into college” might as well have said, “You are loser and you might as well accept it now.” It’s just inaccurate.

Where you get into college does not determine who and what you will be for the rest of your life.  It just doesn’t.

There is a college for everyone.  For those of you who bombed your first years of high school because you discovered your ability to ignore the advice of everyone around you, there is a college for you.

For those of you, who swore you never wanted to continue your education because you didn’t see the value earlier, but now you see it like it was always there, there is a college for you.

For those of you who had to work long hours because you had to support your family and were unable to focus on school work as much as you could have, there is a college for you.

For those of you who have learning disabilities and feel like you will never be on par with your friends, you are already on par and there is a college for you.

For those of you who feel you can’t afford college on your own income, there is a college for you.

For those of you who had long illnesses, were depressed or had emotional struggles that blocked your vision and motivation at times, there is a college for you.

There are truly and honestly options for EVERYONE.

The only person who determines your path is YOU.  If you want to continue your education you can. If you want to wait until you are ready, you can.

If you want an education, there is an education available for you. If you have a dream or a goal, there is a path to it.

You can get a “good” education anywhere, its how much you invest in it and what you choose to do with it that will determine its benefit and where you let it take you.

If you are waiting for circumstances to change, today is your lucky day. Welcome to your life.

Sincerely,

Your High School Counselor

 

For further truthfulness, be sure to read College Planning- The Prerequisite Course

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Peeling the Layers to Understand Kids and Those Around Us

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Peeling the Layers to Understand Kids and Those Around Us

I am a people person.  I like people. They intrigue me and I like to understand what makes them tick.  One of the benefits of being a high school counselor is that I get to meet all different types of kids.  I see the high achievers, the not so inspired, the funny, the bright, the anxious, the depressed, and everything in between.  A natural analyzer, I have the luxury of having multiple personalities at my disposal to read and understand, helping me craft my skills.

What I like the most about meeting people is peeling their layers in an effort to understand where they are coming from.  Each of us has layers of our personalities, of what we are willing to show and what we are more comfortable hiding.  Typically, what we hide is well protected and is revealed only at times or moments we deem as safe.

Kids are not quite as good at hiding their layers and that is an advantage  for those of us trying to get in to understand and help them.  And depending on what they show, their layers are more transparent than they’d like to think.  The high achievers have the secret underworld of insecurities, waiting for those around them to find out that they are not as perfect as they portray.  The not so inspired haven’t found their niche or their passion yet, so they choose behaviors that either keep them under the radar or keep them in full view for all to see they are struggling.  And the everything in between kids probably protect their layers more than the rest, and they are so good at keeping them hidden, they may not even notice how interesting each of their layers are.  Once you peel off the layers and see them for who they are, they each have their own brand of beauty to add to the world and their needs are basically the same…to be loved and to give love.  It’s just innate.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that I spend more time getting to know the kids who face heavy challenges.  I’ve run multiple groups for teens including Anger Management, High Risk Behaviors and Grief Groups.  Although individual counseling provides insight into the person, group counseling provides insight into the person and how that person works in a society, obviously a much smaller society, but none the less, their interactions with others is quite telling.

We’ve all watched people socialize in groups, how they interact, the way they position themselves and the body language…its what makes people watching so fun.  We’ve been annoyed with how one person presents themselves in groups and wished they’d go away.  We’ve also been surprised on occasion when we’ve talked to the same person one on one and they really weren’t that unpleasant or annoying as we originally judged them to be.  Once we let go of our assumptions and invited them to do the same, it’s amazing how the image of one person can instantly change into one we can accept and even like.

And that’s because of our layers. It is my belief, that we each have five layers.  The first layer protects us with words and actions that shelter us and portray whatever image we think will get us what we need. This is the layer we see after knowing someone for five minutes.

The second layer has increased protection with meatier words and behaviors to back up the first layer. We use our behaviors in this layer to mold others perceptions of us and assess how much more we want to share based on their reactions. This is the layer revealed after talking to someone for an hour.

The third layer holds our beliefs of other people and the world, the way we see them and talk about them. For example, do we speak of life experiences and others with a positive tone or a negative?  Do we live our lives with optimism or pessimism, or a combination of both? Our negativity exposes our fears and insecurities and our optimism shows that we are able to find faith and acceptance.

The fourth layer reveals how we see ourselves. Even to those who know us well, we keep this layer well protected as it creeps into the layer where we are most vulnerable.  Our insecurities, our pride, our truest belief in what we feel we are able to do lie here. This layer takes quite a while and a lot of trust to be revealed to others.

The last layer, our core, the culmination of it all, is the essence of who we are and this is the layer we only expose to those we trust the most. In order to see this layer, you will have to prove to us repeatedly that we are safe in your presence and we do not feel judged.  Overall, the more we trust, the more layers we’ll show.

It is typically the most annoying, the most rude, the most outwardly dysfunctional, whose layers are the most transparent, but because of their unpleasant persona, they are most often rejected as the “bad seed,” “loser” or “lost cause.”  Yet, if you take the time to peel off that first layer and then the next, you will more likely find the scared little boy or girl who got hurt somewhere along the way and recognized the need to protect themselves. And what better way to protect themselves than to choose behaviors that repel others from getting close to them and setting them up to be hurt again.

One more layer down, you will see the same little boy or girl who, like everyone else, really does want to be cared for and accepted, but just doesn’t trust enough to allow it to happen. You will also find the self loathing and sadness that peppers their mind with negativity and creates an inability to understand that different behaviors and thinking can create better outcomes.  They just get stuck in their own head which keeps the cycle going strong.

But “lost cause?” “Loser?” “Bad Seed?” I think not.  Broken maybe, but not irrepairable.

We all have layers, therefore, we all have the ability to see the layers in others.  It can take time and patience to wait for others to be comfortable enough to unpeel their layers, but our natural instincts and insight can speed up the process when we allow it to.   That young boy that lives down the road and teases the kids on the block has layers.  That teenage girl who struts around in skimpy clothes has layers too.  The quiet kid who the other kids say is “different” has his own layers.  And each of them has a need to be cared for and accepted.  Just like you and me.

One of my students gave me a card at the end of the last school year that read…

“In a world that’s easily impressed with “star quality,” it’s a rare person who sees the promise in quiet souls. Who sees beyond a shy exterior and recognizes a hidden talent.”

I was honored that she saw me this way, but in reality, it’s not a rare person who sees it. We all have the ability to see the promise in others. We just have to be willing to open our eyes, let go of the judgments that muddy our vision and have faith that our efforts will pay off…and one layer at a time, allow the beauty to shine.

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