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Behavior Management

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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The Big Ass Circle of Truth in Parenting

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The Big Ass Circle of Truth in Parenting

At some point I felt confident. I knew the consequences I was dishing out to my child made sense.  My intentions are the same every time. I want my kids to learn. I want them to grow from their decisions, no matter what they are.  I want them to have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t work.  Isn’t that what we all want?

Yet I keep finding myself in these moments, feeling unsure of my convictions, and remembering just how challenging this gig is.

My daughter is officially a teenager.  Since her birth, I’ve dreaded this time of her life. “Stay little,” I’ve pleaded.  “Stop growing,” I’ve demanded.  Neither children obey my commands.

My girl is months away from being taller than me. Hell, it could even be tomorrow.  I just know it’s close. Dangerously close. She is already more confident than I was at her age.  More self-aware, self-assured, self-loving. She is kind, respectful, and sensitive, yet with a thicker skin she’s developed for protection after a few experiences encouraged her to grow it.

Overall, she’s well rounded and a person I genuinely enjoy being around.  I am proud to be her mother.

So what’s my issue?

The mood swings, the attitude, the typical adolescent poor decisions, the uncertainty of my creating long term damage with my responses to them. My own personal desire to want to get it right the first time…you know, fear.  Fear that I’ll say something to hurt her. Fear that she’ll feel neglected or rejected. Fear that I won’t be able to combat her natural inclination to feel like she’s not good enough…despite intellectually knowing I can’t actually do that.

So when I do upset her and I know how angry she is at me, I have to take a big step back and look at myself and my own insecurities as a parent.  I look at my desire to create the mother/daughter bond I didn’t have. I look at my interest in wanting her to trust me like I do my own father.  I want her to want to spend time with me and ask for my help.  And in that moment, when she wants nothing to do with me, I have to remember that I’m making decisions to support all of those things, even if they look like they will push her away.

The biggest thing I’ve learned in the past year with my children is that as they grow and my desire to stay connected to them increases, my approach has had to change as well.  I found myself hitting a wall with my daughter and she didn’t want to open up with me.  I realized that if I wanted her to let me in, I’d have to do the same.  I told her about my fears of her aging. I told her I knew I had no control over her and how letting go of the small belief that I do is a big piece for me to accept. I told her how the only way we were going to comfortably get through the next few years is for her to not shut me out and for me to trust that she will make decisions that will support her instead of hurt her…and that in the end, everything is going to be okay.

And in these moments of questioning myself, I find that my insecurity always comes back to the same concern…my own wanting to be more than enough for them. I think we refer to this as the big ass circle of truth.  I may have just made that up, but hopefully you see where I’m going with this. I fear for her what I’ve felt myself; feeling like I am good enough. I want to protect her from what it’s taken me my lifetime to work through and understand. And all I can do is trust myself to offer the best of what I’ve got.

In my circle of truth I see it. I know that what I’m creating is to help us both.  When I trust myself, I teach my kids to trust themselves. When I am honest about my fears and flaws, they are more open to share their own.  If I allow myself to be authentic and true to myself, they will observe this and ideally be inspired to do the same, on their terms, in their timing.

This practice of trusting is ongoing.  For everyone. I know that.  But when it comes to parenting, I’ve yet to discover anything more powerful than trusting my instincts, trusting what I teach my kids is in their best interest, and trusting that they will make decisions that are beneficial for them. Most days, my sense of trust IS the best I’ve got.

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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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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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“Just When You Think You’ve Hit You’re Limit….”

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“Just When You Think You’ve Hit You’re Limit….”

I am in the middle of re-reading one of my favorite books.  You know the ones that you read and they just make you happy being completely pulled in to another world?  I read this book a few years back and loved it and decided to re-read it in my quest to bring in some revived joy.

As I’m reading it, I laugh at the same parts I once found funny, I smile at the style of writing that I enjoy so much and I am amazed at the similarities of the stories and desires that are so much like my own.  And I realize, I am reading this book as the Old Me with the New Me’s eyes and perspective.  Eyes that see different, clearly, focused, and knowingly.  A perspective that has new insight, experience and wonder.  My life has changed significantly since I read those words the first time around and my view of living with it.  Same book, same affinity, different perspective.  Fascinating.

It is also the beginning of the month of my children’s birthdays, which is always a time of reflection of where we’ve been and who I am and who they are since their conception.

I love reminiscing with them about what life was like when they were babies.  How we had no idea what we were doing, how I never changed a diaper before my first child, how I had to read how to give a bath, and how I screwed it up with distinction.  I love talking about being pregnant with them and making their baby food and how I was so much more of a nut than I am now…they, of course, find this hard to believe.  I tell them how I read one book after another trying to understand what I was doing and then found that the books didn’t birth my babies and they didn’t always follow “the plan.”  For a controlling mother who felt lost, this was frustrating.

I remember, vividly, sitting on my couch, reading multiple books, searching for answers, searching for understanding, wanting someone to tell me I would figure it out.  And then it happened, on a day with 2 hours of sleep, debating if I had what it took to make this whole parenting thing work, my cousin gave me the best advice…..”Just when you think you’ve hit your limit, that it can’t get any worse, you won’t make it another minute, everything will start to get better.”  She couldn’t have been more right.  With time, I figured out what parenting meant to me, I was calmer than I ever expected and I loved them more than I could have imagined possible…right up until this very day.

What would I do if I re-read those books now, experience under my belt, survival techniques listed on my resume, faith restored that I am a functioning parent with two functioning children who actually are pretty fine human beings I’m proud to know? Would I laugh at the same parts I found funny, smile at the parts where I thought they might be right, and be amazed at the similarities that all parents have when we are just trying to figure it all out?  Would I read it as the Old Me with the New Me’s eyes and perspective?  Of course.

Experience is our education.  Memories and Intuition are our text books .  And Love is the guarantee that we are doing it all “Right.”

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How Mental Illness and Emotional Disorders Impact Our Children

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How Mental Illness and Emotional Disorders Impact Our Children

I am one of those people who purposefully doesn’t watch the news, follow politics or read the newspaper.  I used to, avidly. It gave me something to think about, worry about, obsess over and be angry at.  The injustice is everywhere, as is crime, deception, and panic.  I have consciously chosen to take no part in it because I find that in no way, does mainstream media enhance my life.

I had been feeling this way prior to obsessively watching the news after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  But once I heard what happened, I could not stop watching, thinking or trying to wrap my mind around it. I wanted answers, so I looked to the news to give them to me.  I believed everything they said, absorbed it all, took in the “facts” to process it and then found myself infuriated when half of what I was told was a “fact” was not even close.  Twenty four hours of someone else’s strong influence on me was powerful.  It shaped my views and opinions and reiterated to me just how powerful the influence of the media really is.  I haven’t watched the news since…right up until the other day.

Restless on the treadmill, I turned on MSNBC and started watching a heated debate on gun control.  Still gun control? Still debating? This hot topic started right after the tragedy as did the changes in our school safety procedures and the widespread panic that accompanies it.  Still, no one is talking about the REAL issue, the underlying issue, the actual cause—a misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of mental illness and emotional disorders.  It is not normal to hurt people, to want to hurt people, to allow yourself to perform harmful acts.  Before the guns, knives, fire, and fists are used, something is out of balance, something that needs to be addressed- desperately.

It bothers me immensely because I see it every day in children, I hear about it, I lived with it, I know the detrimental impact of mismanaged mental illness and emotional disorders. I also know the fear of it, the misunderstanding of its causes and treatments and the intense judgment that writes people off as hopeless because their brain connections aren’t working properly.

You can’t see the lesions, you can’t see the scars, you can’t see the pain, but it is there and it is deep. Clinical Depression, Bi Polar Disorder and Anxiety Disorders run rampant amongst our populations and they are kept under the radar often to protect the judgment from those around them.  Without professional help and intervention, these illnesses and disorders can drastically affect a person’s life in horrible, negative ways, causing them to feel worthless, angry and living in a constant state of fear and distress in varying degrees.  Each person is different and how their illness or disorder manifests itself is different, but the discomfort and angst that accompanies it is the same.

Addictions, Eating Disorders, and Self Injurious Behaviors are also way more common than we would like to acknowledge and neglect of their symptoms can have extreme short term and long term impacts, both physically and emotionally.

So what can we do to help as parents?

Get the Facts–Know and understand the basics of mental illness and emotional disorders.  You don’t need to know how to diagnose a problem (although many try to do so with the limited knowledge they have) but having an understanding can help alleviate any concern of what you think you know and may be afraid of and offer you facts that are real.

Teach–Teach your children what they need to know as developmentally appropriate.  Young children may only need to know that while some people’s brains are good at learning math problems more than others, some people are better at managing their emotions more than others.  Teaching them if a peer cries more often doesn’t mean they are a “cry baby” but rather it helps that child release their sadness and frustration, the same way it does for them. And it may just be that the child who cries more or even yells more may feel those frustrations more easily than the child sitting next to them and they are learning what to do with those feelings.

Older children will benefit from the same lessons, but also will require understanding the facts and a reiteration that a chemical imbalance in the brain, is just that, an imbalance.  With proper treatment and intervention, balance has a great chance of being recovered.

Do Your Part–Stressing the importance of acceptance and openness to their peers differences can not be over emphasized. If they don’t like the way someone is acting or responding, help them identify what it is about their behavior that makes them uncomfortable.  Teach them that the best way to combat behavior you don’t like, is to model behavior that works better.  It will be helpful for them to recognize how much power they have to teach positive behaviors and control their situation rather than judge it and be bothered by it. And they may be teaching their peer a very positive lesson they won’t get elsewhere.

Connect–Know and help your children understand that we are all in this together.  Whatever effort you make to help another, helps you and everyone around you.  It’s just the truth.

Learning the facts and teaching our children how to respond to other children who struggle is one of the very best ways we can help children living with mental illness and emotional disorders. Every human being wants to feel accepted for who they are and when children feel accepted and cared for by those around them, they feel safe, loved and content.  Children who feel safe, loved and content, are far less likely to grow into angry, hurt and aggressive adults.

Just because the media and the politicians have yet to see the power of fixing the real problem, doesn’t mean we can’t influence it in our own ways.  It’s time to see the truth and it’s time to act.  And what better way to protect our children than to teach them how to be kind, loving and accepting human beings?  Oh right…argue over gun control. How could I forget?

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Swearing in Front of Our Kids- Yes, No or Maybe So

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Swearing in Front of Our Kids- Yes, No or Maybe So

As practice, I do not swear in front of my children because I believe that $h!t is wrong. They hear enough potty talk on the bus and on television, that I choose to refrain from adding to it.  Now around my friends, I use enough foul language to make a sailor blush, so it all evens out.

Okay, I don’t really believe swearing in front of your kids is wrong. I just choose not to… most of the time.  I do believe all words serve a purpose and I like to practice thinking before I speak…most of the time. Because on the rare occasion when I do throw in an “inappropriate” word when making a point to them, it packs a power punch like no other.  Their eyes light up in sheer horror that I must REALLY be mad to unleash one of the top no no’s on the naughty list.  And I can feel the power of the word when it comes out of my mouth. Tall, mighty, dominating, do not mess with Mom right now, words.  They are not used by accident. And they are heard.

Like all other words, swears have their place. Sometimes, no other word can get its point across like an F bomb.  I know you know what I mean. Other times, swears make a dull story that much funnier.  How many stand up comedians are rated G?  Anyone you’ve ever heard of? There’s a value there and some people make a living utilizing it.

I work with teenagers, who by the ripe old age of 14 have heard them all.  So when the conversation seems to be stuck and I’m trying to relate, I pull out the big guns.  Okay, they are not that big, maybe a small, ankle pistol.  When I tell you that every time I use a swear in front of a teenager their entire demeanor changes, I am not kidding. They laugh or smile, their shoulders go down and they sit back in their chair a bit.  I have crossed the line and invited myself into their underground world of inappropriate.  And then the real communication begins.

I run an anger management group for teenage boys.  Can you imagine if I didn’t allow swearing or swear with them?  We would sit for 45 minutes each week silent. No joke…raw, angry silence.

My point, there is a place and an appropriateness for even the “inappropriate.”

Not too long ago, my 9 year old daughter was watching a political drama with me that was really interesting and educational in a lot of ways.  I wanted her to watch it so we could talk about it.  However, every other word was a swear.  And every time they swore, which was every 15-20 seconds, I felt a pang of guilt and disgust that she was ingesting all these words and their context.  But when I looked at her, she seemed totally unfazed.  After awhile, I said I thought we needed to turn it off because their choice of words was making me very uncomfortable and I didn’t think she needed to hear them, to which she replied, “It doesn’t bother me, Mommy.  I know those words aren’t okay for me to use and I don’t use them. It’s not a big deal.”

Huh, wasn’t that what I wanted her to learn after all? They are words that have a time and place to be heard, but it doesn’t mean they have to be our words or be used at all? And she is choosing not to use them.  At least in front of me, perhaps she makes a sailor blush when she’s around her friends. I guess it’s not for me to know.

But she made a good point, and one that sticks with me.

As parents, we get so caught up on what we feel is “right” or “wrong” based on our experiences, which form our opinions.  But what’s “right” for me, may not be “right” for you, and it doesn’t deem it “wrong” either. It just Is.

Some parents swear in front of their kids constantly, never giving thought to how their children may respond.  And their children may not respond at all.  While other parents are horrified at the thought of their little ears being contaminated.  What makes one better than the other? I have no idea. Do you?

How lucky we are to be surrounded by so many other opinions and experiences to give us the opportunity to look at something in a way we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. And also the ability to embrace what we learn or discard it.  Education at its finest.

Hell yeah, mother lovers!

Smooth, I know. I’ll let you choose your own word.

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Parenting In the Midst of Personal Chaos

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Parenting In the Midst of Personal Chaos

What I like about writing my blog is the ability to share my perspective, both personal and professional.  The professional piece is what I know to be true and the personal piece is what I think to be true.

Ever notice how easy it is to feel confident when making decisions in your professional life that you know are well founded based on experience or what feels like common sense? Or how easy it is to look at a friend’s situation and see the obvious conflict or problem and solution when they can’t seem to wrap themselves around it?

And yet when it comes to our own lives, our own personal decisions, which impact our children and those we love the most, our emotional investment seems to let the clouds roll in blocking the sun which once illuminated all we thought we knew.

Frustrating isn’t it?

I’m at one of those points in life.  A place of discontent, sadness, anxiety, and confusion.  It sucks.  And yes, I realize it now feels like one of those Facebook posts where someone says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” leaving you hanging, wondering what’s up, and then annoyed that you have to wait to find out what’s wrong, just to satisfy your curiosity. I get it. That drives me nuts. But the why right now isn’t as important as It Just Is.  And I’m betting you can relate.

So here I am in my place of confusion and sadness which has been slowly taking over my life.  The stress is beating on me and I’ve allowed it.  I am now taking the turn towards giving myself permission to just be freaking sad and get on with it.  Hear the hint of frustration there? I have such little patience for misery and yet, I KNOW in order to get past it, I have to FEEL it all so I can move on.  Turns out, its not easy, even when you know how to take care of yourself, take the steps to do so, continually search for the positives and still your heart is saying, “uh, still hurting here.” Yeah, I know, can we just move on already??

In the meantime, I have these beautiful children who need me and watch my every move. They look to me for support and are gauging how to feel by what I show them.  In the beginning, I felt compelled to show them only my strengths, my happy moments, that everything is okay.  But everything is not okay.  At least not right now. And life can be hard…very, very hard.  And that is a truth that they are learning and will continue to learn.  And I want to be the influence that shows them the truth in a way that protects them and exposes them at the same time.

I made a decision to teach them what Living while managing personal pain looks like.  Some days I cry, some days I keep to myself, some days I make their favorite meals, and other days I ask them cook for themselves.  Some days I give them extra hugs and some days I don’t want anyone near me. But every single day, I tell them I love them.  We talk about how our transition feels. We problem solve getting through it.  We identify our emotions and we apologize if we sense we’ve overstepped our limits.  Are we doing it right? Yes, for us, we are. Is it text book? Nope. But it’s still right – for us.

My kids are learning personal boundaries, ways to cope, how to express themselves and what unconditional love looks like.  Through our pain and sadness, it’s a life lesson supported by hope…hope that we will get through it, come out stronger and learn something amazing about ourselves when we reach the other side.

As a professional I know which techniques work and which ones don’t work, but I don’t know which will work for each kid and each family.  It’s all trial and error.  Parenting too, is trial and error and after the various trials and accompanying doubt and guilt have subsided, sometimes Faith that we are doing it well is all we really have.  Today I have Faith that this mother is loving her children the best way she knows how. And that my friends, feels good.

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Q&A My Perspective: The Thumb Sucking Controversy

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Q&A My Perspective: The Thumb Sucking Controversy

QUESTION

I have a wonderful, energetic, fun spirited, social, loving 3 year old daughter. She has been sucking her thumb since infancy. She only does so when she is tired or nervous.  I’ve read various ways to encourage her to refrain from sucking her thumb without any success. Others are quick to share their insight and horror stories (mine didn’t stop till she was 9….my doctor says that he has to stop by 3 otherwise his permanent teeth will be affected…mine stopped when she was made fun of at school) and try not to get discouraged knowing that eventually she will stop however I want to provide support and help for her to stop.

 

MY PERSPECTIVE

I have to admit, I am such a non alarmist when it comes to this stuff.  I actually have a deformed thumb due to chronic thumb sucking as a kid and the only downside it has seemed to give me is the inability to ever have been a hand model…which is a shame because I have really nice hands otherwise.

But really, it always comes down to behavior and why the behavior is occurring.  Right now, her thumb sucking is habitually filling a need.  It sounds like it calms her and it works for her.  Until she feels that this behavior no longer serves its purpose, she will continue to suck her thumb.

So what can you do?  If you are concerned with long term impacts, help her identify when and why she sucks her thumb and come up with some replacement behaviors.  If she instinctually sucks her thumb at night time, maybe offer her a new sippy cup filled with water to replace the thumb to take “relaxing sips” to help with the oral fixation.  Or a different replacement item that she chooses.

If she sucks her thumb in social situations where she is uncomfortable, have some comfort items available to distract her from her normal patterns if you don’t want her sucking her thumb, but explain to her why so she understands.  You are really just replacing one habit for another at this point, until she is old enough to understand how to make the switch on her own, but developmentally, she may not be there, so you will have to help her come up with the alternatives.

In the meantime, it will be helpful to start teaching her self soothing techniques that relax her mind. I am a huge fan of guided meditation CDs for kids that teach them positive affirmations, muscle relaxation and little stories of how to handle challenging emotions.  Plus they always knocked me out when I listened with them…

But in the long run, as you stated, she won’t suck her thumb forever.   Just like they eventually stop peeing their pants and move on from the binky, it happens.  Something will trigger her to change it up and move on.  And if you support her in finding that trigger, go for it, but try not to beat yourself up when you recognize that just like everything else, she’ll change her own behavior when she’s good and ready.

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Q&A My Perspective: Healing the Parent/Child Relationship

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Q&A My Perspective: Healing the Parent/Child Relationship

QUESTION

As I sit here and try to think of the best way to convey my question, my heart is in anguish with tears pouring down my face. About a year and half ago I became addicted to pain medication that I was prescribed for a back injury I sustained in a car accident. It spiraled out of control last February ending with a protective order being filed so I couldn’t contact my 12 year old son’s mother or him and I ended up choosing to go into a 9 month substance abuse program that helped veterans. This was clearly my fault. Up until this point in time his mother and I had never really disagreed on anything and we haven’t been together since he was 2. We had never been to court. We just agreed on visitation and child support. I paid her child support every week and I pretty much got him whenever I wanted. We were VERY close. I coached his little league teams from when he was 4 until he was 9. I was always very active in his life. Well, long story short I graduated the program and got a court order to get some visitation back. I have not been able to have any contact with him for a year now and have not been able to see him at all.  My question is…I have supervised visitations starting next week and while I’m ecstatic that I am finally going to get to see him, I am very nervous and I don’t even know what to say to him. I know the number one thing is being honest. I just want to make sure I do everything right. I know it is going to take a lot of time and a lot of consistency to earn his trust and respect again. I’m just hoping you may have some helpful advice to give me going into this.

 

MY PERSPECTIVE

First of all, you have already done the hard work.  You recognized that you chose a behavior that was not working for you and made the decision to change it.  It doesn’t matter why or how, it only matters that you did.  Blaming yourself for your wrong doings is only helpful to get you to the point where you are now…in the process of recognizing that change needs to take place in order to heal yourself.  Its time to let the blame go.  It no long serves any positive use in your life.  You are where you are by choice and the more you choose forgiveness and acceptance for where you are now, the more you will heal, and the joy and purpose in your life will grow with you.

The changes that you have made and will continue to make will not only be the greatest gift to you, but also to your son.  You are teaching him that even our heroes and the people we look up to make mistakes, that it’s okay to be human.  But more importantly, you are teaching him that when you recognize you choose behaviors that don’t help you, you dig in and find the strength to change those behaviors into ones that DO work…there is no greater lesson than to teach by example.  It is equally important for us to know what doesn’t work as it does to know what does so we know the difference.  By choosing to change you are teaching him a lesson he wouldn’t learn anywhere else. What a true gift for you both!

From what you have described, you have built a foundation of love and respect with your son, followed by a painful period of transition.  What is most important is that you built that foundation together and the love that you have for him and that he has for you still remains strong, it just needs to be revitalized…and it will be.  It has already begun by you reaching out to him.

Of course there are mixed emotions between the two of you and you can speculate how he feels, but the bottom line is that people innately want to love and be loved and you both have that desire.  He wants his father just as much as you want your son.  If you both have the same goal, the obstacles between you will dissipate as your hearts reunite.  Does this mean he won’t be hurt and angry still? Absolutely not.  He needs to work through his own confusion, distrust and insecurity, but the more you prove to both of you that you are in this for the long haul, his feelings will slowly, but steadily change.

You mentioned that being honest is the best thing and that is true. It will be good to speak from the heart as much as you can, but that does not mean you have to use words to do this.  Say what you feel you have to say, but only that.  Your presence, the hug you give him, the look on your face, will be communication enough without the need to fill the space with words.  When you speak from your heart, you will speak your truth and he will know that you mean it, in spite of any lingering discomfort he feels.

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