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Why Parenting is Not About You

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Why Parenting is Not About You

When I was a child I dreamt of becoming a powerful attorney living in a high rise apartment in New York City. I wanted to use my relentless arguing skills and my strong sense of protection for the greater good. I did not see marriage in my future, nor could I possibly imagine having children. No interest.

When I did choose to get married, I wondered if I would ever follow the typical path of starting a family. It was hard to see giving up my independence and passion to do so. It wasn’t until I held a premature baby in my hands that I had the flash of desire to care for something so small and seemingly helpless. That was the moment everything changed.

When I became pregnant with my first child my friends had a hard time imagining me as a mom. I felt the same. Two weeks before I gave birth to my daughter, I cried to a friend that I might have made a mistake and wasn’t sure I could do it. Having tragically lost my own mother while a teenager scarred me deeply and I felt like my ability to mother may have died with her. My confidence in my abilities was non existent.

This is the part of the story where I want to tell you that the first time I looked in her eyes, I knew she was what I was waiting for. But that is not even close to true. I felt even more frightened when I met her and even more concerned I had no idea what I was doing. The fact that she was relying on me to pretend like I did was even more scary. I suddenly felt the weight of responsibility that terrified me.

What if I screwed it up? What if I hurt her with my lack of knowledge? What if she didn’t like me or worse, what if I didn’t like her? A lifetime of attachment fears fed my mind and I felt trapped. It intensified when I realized there was no turning back.

Despite my fear, I took the job seriously. I read as many books as I could on how to feed properly, what temperature to not scald the child in a bath, natural remedies for common ailments and what an irresponsible mom I was for letting my child sleep with me so I too, could sleep.

I listened to advice. I took it all in and practiced patience, openness, techniques to get my kid to listen, techniques to get my kid to talk. How to get her to use a toilet and how to get her to clean up after herself. I wanted desperately to do everything right. No one told me that having a child was the equivalent of taking my heart out of my body and holding it out for the all the world to potentially hurt it. The risks felt so huge and the fear so big.

The only thing I could not seem to learn from a book was how to fully love my child—courageously. That, it turned out, was all on me and has been the biggest challenge of all.

After 16 years now of watching my daughter grow and 13 years of watching my son, as well as a lifetime career of working with kids, parents and friends, I’ve learned a few things worth sharing.

1- It’s not about Me.

As egocentric humans we tend think EVERYTHING is about us. The choices our kids make. The paths they venture down. Their successes and failures. None of it is about us. None.

My job as a parent is to guide, to inspire, to create an environment I hope they will thrive in, and then, let them live in it.

The more I make it about me, the more I teach them to lose their confidence, independence and ability to trust themselves.

Does this mean I don’t make it about me? Not a chance. I often make it about me because that’s what we do. It’s what we’ve been taught and its a tough one to unlearn.

On the days they thrive, I pat myself on the back. But on the days I am challenged, I have to again check in with myself to see it’s my insecurities and fears that make it about me even when it’s not.

2- I am not in control.

I never have been. The illusion of control I have held is strong. On my most insecure days I am certain I am in control of their minds, their choices, and their guilt. Nope.

They always make the choice how they will respond. They will either buy into my tactics or they won’t. I have absolutely no control over either despite my best efforts.

They began making their own choices the minute they ventured from the womb. Whether to eat or not eat, to sleep or not sleep, to listen or to ignore. It’s all been their choice.

I control their environment, their belongings in my home, and their comfort in it. I control my words and my expressions. My behaviors and what I model for them.

I control how often I tell them I love and accept them as much as I control my eye rolls. After that, I’ve got nothing.

When I let go of my need to control them, I am rewarded with their trust in me, trust in myself and faith in the process of life. It is the flavor of true freedom.

3- We all came here to love and be loved. All of us.

Our biggest “lesson” in life is to experience love at its fullest capacity. We have the innate desire to be loved and to give it.

That means we have to feel fear if we want to feel faith. We have to feel anger if we want to feel compassion. We have to feel hate if we want to feel love. The extremes are how we experience the full gamut of what life has to offer.

My role is not to shield my kids from this reality, but to use my own experience and wisdom to support them through their own it. They came here to live. My job is to mentor them through it, not to do it for them.

Of course I want to shield them from pain. I want to put them in a bubble and solve all of their problems. And if I did, it would be the biggest disservice to them to not let them truly feel what will make them stronger, wiser, braver and genuinely more compassionate human beings. The same as all of my pains and hardships have done for me.

Protecting them from challenge does not make them happier. It makes them more vulnerable to deeper pains, insecurities and ignorances I can’t protect them from at all.

Loving them courageously means letting them learn to do the same.

Checking in with these truths for myself is what helps me to fully love my children (and my role as their mom) to the best of my ability. And so far, it’s working for us.

Parenting is the most amazing and brave experience I’ve signed up for thus far. The most challenging, the most scary and occasionally- the most rewarding. The attorney in the high rise I dreamt of would likely not have had the courage to work in this gig. I’m forever grateful she changed her mind.


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Teaching My Children to Live

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Teaching My Children to Live

I was eating dinner with my kids last night and we were literally eating the last of what I could find in the house to make. I was waiting for money to go to the grocery store and we had been waiting for what felt like an awfully long time. We talked of our temporary situation…more so, the temporary situation I put them in. I am constantly checking in with them about how they feel about my major life change and the decisions I’ve made. And every time, whether they mean it or not,  they seem completely unfazed and answer with cheerleading responses such as “you’ve got this Mom.” “I’m so glad you are doing what you love, Mom.” “It’s not a big deal, Mom” And with every little success I share with them, they act like I just discovered a new sugar cereal.


Our temporary situation is meant to be an upgrade and making the decision to upgrade was quite a risk. I resigned from my very stable school counseling job back in August and have been working to create a new career since. I had to take a couple of classes and study for an agonizing licensing board exam, but I am now a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice. I am also a Master Instructor and practitioner of a very intense energy therapy which facilitates deep healing. And I’m beginning to slowly follow my passion for writing. Clearly very slowly, since I haven’t even written for this blog in many months! But life change will do that to you, throw you off track and go into overdrive trying to figure out what it is you’re doing. At least that’s what it does to me.

When I made the decision to leave my job and completely start over, I knew it was not a “smart” move. In fact, on paper, it seemed irresponsible. I have a mortgage, two dependent children, and no real end goal of where I wanted to be. Who leaves a secure job with a consistent income to follow a dream that materialized over night? Apparently, me.

I didn’t sleep for about a month as I plotted out my every move and how it would impact my children and myself. The flow chart of what if’s was well highlighted and new avenues of dead ends were developed nightly. I was filled with fear, but I knew underneath the fear, it was absolutely the right move. I distinctly remember questioning what it was that I wanted to teach my children during this time of transition. I wondered how my decisions would impact their view on life.

I know they watch me, trust me and see my strengths as infallible. Yet I also know they witness my weaknesses, frustrations and what it looks like when I sit in my fear. And I had to come to grips that it’s okay for them to see me as human, as long as they know and trust that I will rise above those weaknesses and make happen what I set out to do.

So what am I teaching my children?

~That trust is essential, especially trust in yourself and your own abilities.

~That life is full of choices and each of them offers us an opportunity to grow into ourselves.

~That you will always know how you are by listening to the way you feel.

~That progress comes from action. When you feel off, change it up. When you feel good, keep going.

~That the world supports you if you support yourself. Keep your intentions positive and when your perspective shifts to the negative, look at it, acknowledge it, and then prove it wrong.

~That nothing can take your power away, unless you hand it over.

~That if you can embrace your fear, you can also embrace your bravery.

In the moments I get stuck questioning myself, I must constantly reframe and look at my role as their teacher. Would I rather teach them to settle for what is comfortable in its discomfort or take the chance to be themselves in a life they personally create? And then I pray that we will all look back at this time of transition and appreciate the unwavering faith that keeps us going.

I have made mistakes, no doubt. But I have created more successes than I knew I could. And today, I am going to the grocery store and tonight, we will celebrate every one of those successes that have added up. I’ll take it.

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Confessions of the Real Tin Man

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Confessions of the Real Tin Man

I have been working in public schools for almost half my life. My natural tendency is to help others dig deep and discover the cause of their discomfort and root of their “problem” so they can start to heal it and move on. I have listened to countless stories of grave mistreatment, dark and lonely sadness, debilitating anxiety and worry that attempts to make a permanent home in the psyche. I’ve also listened to bravery that exceeds what I knew to be possible and watched wildflowers bloom in a drought. The human spirit is amazing to watch and I am fortunate to do the work I do.

My mind is as analytical as they come (I know, shocking) and I use it to pick apart the complexity of what is handed to me in an effort to simplify and understand the whys, how’s and what ifs that we collectively face. The key to truly being able to dissect a behavior or situation is to step back and look at it from an outside perspective. Similar to watching one of those detective shows, I collect the data, piece it together with past experience and knowledge and then place it into the compartment where it fits best. Feelings analyzed, situation assessed, problem solved and explained. Done.

In order to do this method effectively, I have a strict rule of not emotionally attaching. I am allowed to feel the feelings to assess them and then I pass them back after the research has been done. I can do this all day long and by the time I am home from my 20 minute commute, I will have long forgotten the feelings of the day and move on to my own inner world. Am I a robot or the Tin Man? I’m not sure, but it is clear to me I always attempt to leave my heart at home where it’s best preserved and protected.

Recently, I was eating lunch with my friends at work. The day had been flowing great and I was feeling productive. At the end of lunch, one friend stayed behind and told me she had to tell me something in that serious tone of “you are just not going to like this.” She knows I don’t watch the news. I listened to her explain that one of our former students was found dead with a brief explanation of the bizarre cause. I continue to chew my last bite, thinking about the seemingly never ending cycle of death we kept facing as our school has had four deaths in the past year and how much more can a community take? But I am immune because I stay at arms length if not longer. Whatever you give me I can take.

And then she tells me the name as I swallow. I feel the food stop in the middle of my throat. What?? I feel the immediate sensation of tears coming up as the food tries to go down. They battle it out. I can swallow anything. You will go down. That’s where you belong. The food and tears have a standoff and almost simultaneously, I am able to swallow while the tears swell.

I am overcome with emotion and the thoughts race. How is this possible? This doesn’t make any sense. Not her. This can’t be. But I loved her. Wait, where are these emotions coming from? How did she get in? Why am I crying? Why does this hurt so much?

I spent the rest of the afternoon crying on and off. I mean like really crying. So so sad. And not empathy sad which is my normal mode. Of course I was deeply sad for her family, but this time, I was sad for myself. I was sad for my loss.

One memory after another flooded my vision. Her smiling face, the way we joked, how tough I was on her, how she responded to me and how I loved her. I loved her for who she was, not what I wanted her to be. I loved her for her mistakes and her really stupid decisions. Seriously, dumb stuff. But she knew it and admitted to them and was open and honest and lived as herself, not as an imposter. I loved how she expressed how she felt, no matter what it was, you knew how she was feeling. I also loved her for her drive to better her life and do right by others. Her intentions were always good, but they were also to survive. Survive in her painful world and make the best out of what was so very, very difficult. In every sense of the words, she was beautiful in her imperfection and I respected and admired her for that. And apparently, on a day I put my shield down, I let her into my heart and she has lived there since.

A day later, I was still crying. No idea why I was still feeling the pain. Isn’t it time to move on yet? I cried to my friend about how mad I was that I let her in, that I broke my rule and how it would never happen again, I heard myself say that she was the only one I could think of that I let slip through.

Because my dear friend is loving and respectful and talented, she gave me a slight look of surprise (her tact is exemplary) and somehow asked just the right questions to get me listing off all the kids I had attached to over the years. Turns out, there are many. So so many. This was a huge shock to me. I thought I was the Tin Man. I leave my heart at home where the wizard keeps it safe until I come looking for it.

I thought I was brave for keeping them out. I thought I was smart for staying on the outside. I thought I was doing my job well by not taking on their pain and keeping it with me. And in many ways, it is. But turns out, true bravery doesn’t keep them out, it lets them in. It teaches us to feel, to learn from others, to grow and be comfortable in our own imperfection. It allows us to connect and be caring and kind and speak our truth because we know that we appreciate hearing honesty as much as expressing our own.

And my truth is, once you let me into your heart, I will make a room for you in mine and I will keep you there and it will fill me up when I need to be topped off. And maybe, in truth, I’ve been the real Tin Man all along, my heart was always there, I just needed to be shown it to believe.

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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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Taking Our Life Back

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Taking Our Life Back

It’s time to take back your life.  Yes, I’m talking to you.  You know the life you always talk about? The one with the free time? The one where you see your friends, read a book, take a bath, journal, go for a walk, drink coffee in quiet.  It’s your life I’m talking about…and mine.

We are in this together, this life of ours.  We cry at the same movies, watch the same news reports, empathize with those in pain and laugh at the same jokes.  Maybe our level of acceptable is different, but humor is humor and pain is pain, no matter the degree.

I know it’s time for you to take back your life because it’s time for me to take back mine.  And of course, we’re all connected, so I know you are feeling the strains and aches and pains and heartache and joy and peace.  Maybe we feel them at different times, but we still feel them. All of us…every single one.

But today, you take our life back.  Today you will make a list of what its’ going to take. On that list will include making a date with a friend.  On that list will be drawing up your vision of your dream vacation. On that list will be exactly when you plan the time and day you will sit alone for 10 minutes and drink that coffee, tea, or chocolate milk by yourself in silence and breathe this week.

On that list, you will come up with the ideal job where someone pays you to do what you love.  On that list, you will write the names of all the people you want to thank for making your life special and filled with joy. On that list you will add one dream you can’t let go of and why. And on that list you will tell your significant other just what that dream is…and if your significant other is currently you, tell yourself.

If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for me. But today is the day. Its Go time.

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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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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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College Planning- The Prerequisite Course

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College Planning- The Prerequisite Course

This is a re-post in honor of my very favorite senior who was just accepted into the school of her dreams after waiting it out and the college finally acknowledging they’d be fools not to bring in her fantastic-ness.  And for all the teenagers and their parents beginning their quest- you’ve got this.

 

Let me begin with an Opinionated Fact.  Furthering one’s education is a near necessity to get to where you want to go in life.  We are fortunate to have so many options of colleges and universities with so many opportunities that allow our children to learn and thrive and grow.  However, I do not believe where one goes to college or how they get their education determines how successful they are going to be.  It’s what they DO with their education, that will get them where they want to go.

So, what’s my issue?  I don’t believe in the college admittance process.  I think it stinks…which is the kindest word I can come up with right now.  How does it make sense to rate a person over a four year period in their most hormonally driven, self reflecting and often deprecating, continuously adapting to change, time of life?  From ages 14-18, many kids are often dealing with their first major loss.  It could be over a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend or their parents divorcing or losing a loved one to death.  They are navigating the challenges of peer pressure and learning what “friendship” really means.  They are often pulling away from their parents influence and begin modeling other influences which may be good or bad.  They are like chaotic beasts really. All the while, they are going to school and expected to put all distraction aside and “do your very best because if you want to go to a ‘good’ college, they want to see you have high grades and that you are challenging yourself proving that you will be successful in life.”  Seems fair right?

Opinionated Fact #2. There is something to be said about putting on your big girl/boy pants and dealing.  That’s the ultimate goal right?  But in a society where we are so often sheltering our children from the dregs of our neighborhoods and hardships of real life, how are they supposed to know what to do when they are slammed with an unpleasant reality with no prior exposure?  They have to figure it out, of course, but with what skill?  Unless you have parents or caregivers who allow you to feel your own feelings, fight your own battles and make your own mistakes, this may be a challenge.  Sometimes the way we think we advocate for our children is really a disservice to their sense of ownership and responsibility. We need to expose them to life and support them in their journey, not walk the journey for them.

But here’s my real issue.  It’s not the kids who cry when they get rejected from their top choice school.  I actually never see them.  It’s the kids who cry from the overwhelming stress of not feeling good enough while they are applying to their list of 25 colleges, who they feel are judging them of how they managed their four years of school (in actuality, its typically 3 and half) as they were trying to figure out who they are and what on Earth they are doing here, all while they are learning the historical importance of the Great Wall of China and how not to blow up your cat when mixing some obscure chemicals you may come into contact with.  As if how they “performed” in high school defines who they are and what they hope to accomplish.

So I now prep my students in our preliminary college talks with the advice of going into the process with the framework that “it is YOU who are judging them, not them judging you.  There are thousands of colleges out there that can offer you what you need.  They all have strengths and weaknesses and you have to pick the ones that support what YOU are looking for and want to invest YOUR time and money into.  At the end, yes, they may be comparing you with other students because they only have so much room, but if you don’t get in, you can accept the fact that they missed their opportunity or you will find a way to get in if that is what you truly want. There are always two paths to every destination.” That’s Opinionated Fact #3.

When preparing our kids for college, it’s important to be realistic about our expectations and helping our kids figure out what is important to them.  Let them choose their options based on how they feel when they are there.  Personally, I tell kids never to apply to a college where the name won’t look cool on a sweatshirt.  Especially because you will wear that sweatshirt for an awfully long time.

(Insert mental image of John Belushi in College sweatshirt here)

The process doesn’t have to be as stressful as it’s made out to be.  Do a college search, visit the schools on your list and choose which ones fit.  Put your best foot forward when completing the application and see how it pans out.  It’s a lot of legwork, no doubt, and a big decision, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride.  At the end, you are still doing the choosing as to which option you want to take.  And the power of choice rocks.

Okay, Rant over.

Thoughts??

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Is it a Bird, a Plane, or Perry the Platypus?

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Is it a Bird, a Plane, or Perry the Platypus?

A few weeks ago, I was enjoying the warmth of an early Spring morning on my front porch, saturated in peace and looking up at the sky. For some reason, I very randomly snapped a photo of a cloud formation that struck me as beautiful…maybe to capture the moment. Although I like to document events I find interesting with photos, candid cloud shots is not typically my thing. The other night, I was sifting through my photos and came across this cloud formation again. It still looked so beautiful to me. And then I saw it, vivid and bold, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed the figure before.

 

What do you see?

I sent the picture to a few of my friends asking what they saw. Spongebob Squarepants, God looking at an elephant, Perry the Platypus, someone praying, people dancing and a child with a backpack were some of the visions my friends saw. Yet when I pointed out what I saw, they too, saw the figure as well.

I see the profile of an angel. A child angel specifically…with wings behind the head, holding a harp or perhaps a bow like Cupid, and legs dangling underneath. A reminder for me to look up, to notice what’s around me and to recognize that life isn’t always what it seems at first glance.

But this is my perspective. This is what I want to see. It’s also what I want you to see and I will try to help you see it. I want you to see it because I feel it is beautiful and I feel we all could use a little more beauty and spontaneous awe. So I share it with you.

Sharing our perspective is also the definition of parenting. When we are parenting our children, we are simply offering to teach them the ideas and values we believe in. We are teaching them our view of the world. We want them to experience bliss and comfort, just as much as we want to protect them from our learned fears and perceptions of angst.

When we teach them what we feel they need to know, we are educating them based on our experiences, our visions and our ideals. If we value honesty, we will teach them that lies taste bitter when they roll out of our mouths. If we value control, we will teach them that a tight grip is the equivalent of safety…even if its not. If we value independence, we will teach them that standing on your own two feet is possible, even if it means scuffing your knees a bit when you inevitably fall.

We will also teach them our perceptions of how we think life treats us. If we feel like victims, we will teach them to blame others. If we feel entitled, we will teach them to push others out of our way. If we feel gratitude, we will teach how giving is actually receiving. If we feel hope, we will teach them that although faith is invisible, it is the most prized possession we own.

Even when we want to offer them the scope of the world, we are limited by what we know and have been exposed to. We teach them our favorite past times in hopes they will share our joy. We teach them the difference between right and wrong the way we view it. We teach them what to fear based on what we were taught to fear by others or by our own experience. We teach them what we see and how we see it. And then ask that they mimic it back to make sure they are learning it well.

When we look around us, we notice that other people’s perspectives are different than our own. They parent based on their values, their experiences and their visions. It will always be different than yours and it will always be different than mine, because our experiences are designed to be different.

Just because I didn’t see Perry the Platypus doesn’t mean that I don’t see humor and that Perry doesn’t rightfully own his place between the clouds. His figure is still there and someone sees it, which make their perspective valuable and true. And if someone points it out to me, I get to see the humor too.

I chose to see an angel because I love angels. But I can also see the child with a backpack, Spongebob and even Micky Mouse if I squint my eyes. If you show me something I wouldn’t normally see, I am taking in your perspective and learning something new. I don’t have to like it or agree with it, but even if I don’t, I still get to learn something I didn’t have the vision to see before. If we all had the same perspective, what would we learn from each other…and really, what would we talk about?

And at the end of the day, don’t we all have similar goals for our children? We want to show them the angel in the sky, the child with a backpack and Perry the Platypus….the Hope, the Practical and the Fun.

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