I see you, my child, the one I live for each and every day. I see you there, seeing me and yet I get the funny sensation that you aren’t listening. There is a stage of parenthood that I am going though, perhaps we all do and each of us at a different time wonders, is anyone listening to me? There are days when I would swear that momentary deafness has fallen over my family. In those moments I sometimes make a phone call, talk to a neighbor or say a few words out loud, just to make sure I am indeed making sound. Perhaps I can even go as far as to ask the question; if a mother speaks when no-one is listening does she really make a sound?
The thing to remember; that I must remember is that being heard and being listened to are very different things. My daughter doesn’t know that when she is listening to me asking her to “brush her teeth, wash her face and get into bed with books” that I need her to hear “I have had a long day, I am exhausted, my feet hurt, I have to put laundry away, make the bed (because of the bloody nose that woke us up at 5am this morning), do dishes, catch up on work and maybe even get an hour in there for myself before bedtime”. No, all she hears is “brush teeth, wash your face and get into bed with books” to which she might think, “na, I don’t want to do that right now”.
Every mother, father, child, sister, brother; we are all human. We all have breaking points that put us over some invisible edge of which we cannot see (until we are looking at it from the bottom). As a mother, when I am not being listened to I often feel extinguished, because of this: I challenge each and every parent reading this to allow a moment of being done. Of seeing your child as a budding human that is looking for that limit of which s/he does not want to hit again but certainly wants to prove is real. Allow yourself to speak the words you want to be listened to and not just heard and give your children the benefit of the doubt that they will understand, cherish and admire you for being human.
Everyone has their own path in life. Sometimes that path is messy. Sometimes we look at our path and can do nothing but laugh at the absurdity of where we have come from, where we are standing and where we wish to go. So much of a child’s path is carved out by choices that we make as parents. This fact can be both empowering and terrifying. How do we know what path our child belongs to any more than we knew what their name “should be” before they were born? All of these decisions are ones made from love, care, compassion and a desire for our children to be happy. In the end does it really matter if you name your son Joe or Dale? Will his life be drastically different one way or the other? How do we know and how do we ensure that we are finding the “right” path for our child?
In grade school and all the way up through my early professional career I always heard people say “there are no stupid questions”. While I no longer hear this phrase I think it is as important if not more so in parenthood than in an academic and professional atmosphere. When we question our own intent as parents, guardians or role models we are keeping ourselves in check and ensuring that the decisions we make are purposeful. We, as parents, are going to make bad decisions, that is the third guarantee in life, right behind death and taxes. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. It simply does not exist. There are good parents, detail oriented parents, overachieving parents, bad parents, absent parents, abusive parents, absurd parents but no perfect parents. To be perfect is a flaw in itself because if you are perfect in your own eyes that means you are not questioning your actions enough to make mistakes. Without mistakes how will you learn? If you are not learning how can you be perfect? Perfection is not static, it changes with time and therefore you must change with time. Rather than striving to be carving out the perfect path for you or your children I urge you to make compassionate, purposeful decisions about how and why you parent. Always remembering that your child’s path is their own and regardless of the decisions you make they too will end up laughing at the absurdity of moments along their own path. I know that Emerson says “life is a journey, not a destination” but I think focusing on the destination allows you to enjoy the journey knowing that there will be hardships along the way. So rather than trying to carve the perfect path, imagine the best outcomes. Focus on those, be purposeful in the steps you take to ensure that the destination is as close to perfection as it can be for your own imperfect journey.
I posted about a quote the other day which said “it is never too late to have a happy childhood”-L. I have been thinking about this quote ever since I saw it and have been trying to understand both what it really means and how it can affect people in both a positive and negative way.
I believe that most actions are an attempt at kindness and comfort. I also believe that there is some truth to the “eggshell skull rule” that should pertain to emotional harm as well as physical. Sometimes an intention, as good as it is intending to be can offend or insult another.
I had a very hard upbringing. I was stuck in a childhood that was abusive, neglectful, confusing, scary, anxiety inducing, blaming, shaming and victimizing. There was love, I was loved and I was better off than many of the children out there. My point is that when I heard this quote about childhood I first smiled, thinking; “I still have the power to fill the voids I feel and comfort the child within in order to heal”. Over the last few days I have been reflecting on this quote and I keep feeling saddened. Sad for the child I was and for the children out there who feel stuck and scared.
As human beings we tend to repeat the patterns of our past. Not because they are right or wrong but because we are familiar with the roles they train us into and because we are comfortable acting, being and doing what we know.
I was terrified to relieve myself of the victim role. I was scared of who I would hurt. What relationships I would lose and what parts of myself would be revealed. It took me 29 years and becoming a mother to finally look at the victim within me and say goodbye. Parenthood is a big transition. It changes you; it makes you; it defines you and it blinds you to many things. I had someone say to me once that they wanted a daughter in order to heal the child within themselves. I want to make sure that every parent out there; new, old or yet to come removes from themselves needing anything from their child.
One of the hardest things for me as a parent to do is to realize that I have to be happy for what my daughter has that I never did. I do not want my daughter feeling like her experiences as a child are my emotional healing. One of my favorite parenting tag-lines is; being a parent is the loneliest job in the world and yet you are never alone. The emotional, mental and physical battles you will go through while parenting are yours and yours alone. They are to be shared with other loving adults, relationships or partners but not with your children. I am not suggesting you hide emotional insecurities or even emotional instabilities from your children. Rather I am suggesting and encouraging that parents learn from their own childhoods, heal through observation of their children and allow their child to have a childhood of their own.
There is something wonderful about seeing a parent model positive behaviors, passions or interests for their children. My grandfather was a woodworker in his spare time. He had a shop and a plethora of tools. My father and his brothers spent endless amounts of time admiring his work and when they became adults of their own they carried this passion into their own lives. As a mother there is something so wonderful about knowing that my daughter is watching me and giving me the opportunity to pass along my love for certain parts of life onto her. This morning I was listening to my daughter ask my husband to watch movie trailers on the iPad and had both a moment of cringe-worthiness as well as admiration. My husband is an engineer, he works in the Aerospace industry and is a lover of movies. Not just any movies; well crafted, brilliant, artistically beautiful movies. His mother and my daughter’s grandmother has this same passion for what we once called “film” and passed the passion along to my husband who is passing it along to our daughter. Three generations of film enthusiasts in the making. So why did I cringe? The image of technology in our modern day is something to wonder about. Technology is a topic I have written about before and studied while earning my graduate degree. It is a hot topic on the lips of many educated and socially aware members of our society. The question is; how much is too much? What other “hot topics” have carved out the historical significance of new technology in our society throughout history? I found this reference from History Today (Reading is bad for your Health, 1998, Porter)
“Above all, reading, as everyone knows, was murder on the eyes – Milton blamed it for his blindness, and Samuel Pepys too thought he was going the same way. '19 March 1668: So parted and I to bed, my eyes being very bad – and I know not how in the world to abstain from reading', he lamented to his soon-to-be-discontinued diary.”
So what if this trend of “too much” had continued and our love and admiration for books was prevented because of misinformed paranoia? Another article from the New York times ( When Novels were bad for you, 2014, North) outlines the incorrect conclusion that reading was a danger to young women because it would rotten or spoil the minds of impressionable girls.
“Novel reading for women was associated with inflaming of sexual passions; with liberal, radical ideas; with uppityness; with the attempt to overturn the status quo.”
While I am in complete agreement that technology and media in general are over exposing our children and even our adults to things that are unnecessary and potentially mind numbing I have to wonder; is technology a hobby that we should inflict on our children?
Time is always described as a constant and yet it can seem so flexible. There are moments when being a parent feels heavier than any weight in the world. Time will stand still in those hard moments, it will loom over me and seem to never end. In these moments I try to be mindful of the time that moves so quickly. I attempt to meditate on every moment that has brought me more joy than I thought possible. Now that summer is upon us many parents feel the pressure of time. For a child summer means an endless supply of fun, friends and sunshine. For many parents summer can feel like a block of time that is unscheduled, out of routine and unpredictable. Lately I have been trying to focus on what summer felt like for me as a child. Going to bed when it was still light outside, laying on couches, eating frozen snickers bars and playing for hours at the beach. Adulthood can take the wind out of so many of life's sails. I challenge you this summer to remember the wonder and joy of childhood summers. Find ways to enjoy this time with your children, for one day they will be parents of their own and we will be desperately wanting to kiss their sun warmed cheeks and admire the magic that was delivered to us when they were children. I am wishing everyone a wonderful, fun and magical summer.
My daughter came upstairs this morning while she was supposed to be downstairs eating breakfast. In the moment I heard her footsteps on the stairs I also made an assumption that she left her buttered blueberry bagel unmanned downstairs with our one-year old puppy. In that moment I laid out an expectation for what was taking place. I assured myself that the puppy most certainly got ahold of that bagel, ate it happily and that my daughter would be requesting a replacement. Another expectation could have been that my daughter moved the bagel to a higher surface, that the dog did not smell the bagel and that breakfast was safe and waiting downstairs. In the moment I heard my daughter coming up those stairs I had a choice to make. I had to allow my reality to dictate the situation or I had to deny my reality and built up an unrealistic expectation about a four year old child, a one year old dog and a bagel. Often times in life, we set expectations for ourselves and situations in our lives that are unrealistic.
Expectations are funny things, they can build us up or let us down. Over the last two years I have spent every month expecting to see a plus sign on a pregnancy test and every month I feel betrayed, emptied, let down, unforgiving, lost and angry. In the last two months I have adjusted my expectations; I expect to see a negative sign and feel okay when that reality is true. It is not that I have changed my wants or desires but rather is that I have corrected my expectations and am allowing my reality to be what it is. In both situations it is not the reality that is causing me to react but rather my expectation of reality that affects my mood. As parents we expect things from every moment of the day. We expect our children to listen to us, we expect a break or a moment to ourselves. Expecting things builds up a layer of let-down that is sure to fall upon us when we least need it. While it may seem counter intuitive I urge you to expect less. Expect your children to have a hard time listening or sitting still at dinner time. Expect that laundry will pile up just as it does every week. When you expect your own reality, it becomes less intrusive to your day and less unpredictable.
Rotating how I look at expectations has allowed me to laugh at the absurdity of all that we do in a single day. Rather than expecting everything and feeling deflated when things do not rise to my expectations. I expect the expected, allowing me to feel blessed and thankful for all the precious moments that happen throughout my day.
As a parent there are moments of my day when a small inner-voice tells me what I should be doing differently. My inner-voice might demand that I start dinner when all I want to do is sit down and have a cup of tea, with my feet up. That same inner-voice might scold me for serving pizza without a vegetable ("who cares that the crust and sauce are homemade, we need a vegetable!"). Even tonight as I was putting my daughter to sleep with a Spring cold I ran through the "shoulds" which may have prevented her sniffles and sneezes. The shoulds in our life can be an incredible guidance tool but they also can be a barrier to our own happiness.
Each of us carry our own shoulds. They can be important tools used to create guidelines; helping our children understand boundaries, routines and schedules. They can also lead to undeserving anxiety and frustration. One of the biggest struggles I am still learning to overcome is battling the shoulds in my life. Sometimes they are internal, coming from within and a desire to be better. Often times I find that my should's are external voices, clips of other people's opinions about what my life should be. Some come from my friends and family, some from my daughter's teachers or friend's parents and others from complete strangers. From a very young age we are conditioned to hear from others what we should be doing. Or parents tell us we should be doing homework, cleaning our room or brushing our teeth. Our teachers tell us we should be doing homework, focusing on the future and doing extra credit. Our friends tell us what music we should be listening to, what clothes we should be wearing and what image we should portray.
Suddenly there comes a point in life, which for me was parenting, when I realized the exhaustion of the shoulds, of being and doing and giving simply because it was expected of me. There is something about becoming a parent that allowed me to see the larger picture of life, love, self-image and being. My daughter is the first person in this world to not should me. I think that our children are the purest form of who we are. They do not expect anything from us, we deliver to them what we can and they thank us for it by loving us no matter who we are. I try and use this incredible experience of parenting to see myself as my daughter sees me. Not caring if the house is perfectly clean or the laundry is done, not caring if she gets pizza without a vegetable or ice-cream as an afternoon snack. My daughter provides me with healthy shoulds: I should be happy, I should be kind, I should be forgiving and honest, I should laugh for no reason and cry when I am sad, I should eat ice-cream on a hot summer day. These shoulds are the first in my life that really make sense and that allow me to should myself into happiness rather than into a place of anxiety and fear.
Maya Angelou reminds us that being present and shedding the shoulds is best practice when she says: "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." Rather than focusing on what we should be doing, I urge you to shed your shoulds, forgive yourself and allow who you are to be more than okay. Whether you are a woman, a man, a parent, a friend, a daughter, a son, a lover or above all, a human being, you are allowed to stumble, trip, fall and learn from all that life gives you. Shed all your shoulds but one, because you should be yourself.
I have been having a tough time this past year. There have been ups and downs that have drained both my emotional energy and my mental capacity to get through the day. The apex of my year was this past weekend when I found myself crying in a bathroom stall at the Phoenix airport with my four year old on my lap; after snapping at a gate agent for not letting me on an airplane. In life we all have a path and that path can be your best friend or your worst enemy. What prevents me from going mad most days is my purpose in life. The idea that I have a reason to be here, a daughter to exist for, a husband to share a life with and a world around me that needs me. This purpose gives me strength each day to get what I need to get done and to feel as though I am contributing to this world. I believe that having a purpose is what carves out our path.
I began to think about how this concept of a purpose translates to young children and even more in how it translates to early academics. Children deserve the respect of having a purpose from the time they begin to connect with the world, learn, develop and grow into little people.
When choosing a preschool for your child I urge you to question what purpose the school offers your child. Every human; big and small, functions more eloquently when there is a purpose behind them. Think about the individual who is catered to, unable to do a thing on their own, floating through life with no respect for themselves because no one has ever empowered them with a purpose. Think about those individuals who have broken the mold and stood out in history because their purpose drove them to do so; because someone empowered them with a purpose. Our children are craving this purpose. I fundamentally believe that a child craves boundaries, respect and purpose within their life in order to feel good about what they add to this world. Let's give our children the gift of purpose in order to allow them the respect, space and growth to be all that they can be in their life.
The gift of the consequence. As a parent I wear many hats. I am a mother, friend, disciplinary, educator, emotional support, rule breaker, rule follower and boundary setter. My daughter has come to love and hate different hats that I wear and I respect her need for structure by ensuring that each hat I wear is appropriate for the occasion.
When my daughter was first born our pediatrician told me that teaching our daughter to sleep was also giving her "the gift of sleep". It was a way of telling me that I should not feel broken hearted or failed when going through the sleep training process (whatever that may look like) but rather that I should feel good about giving my daughter a gift that she will use for the entirety of her life. The gift of sleep.
When I was a child I was terrified of sleep, it was scary and dark, lonely and unknown. Looking back, I wish someone had given me the gift of sleep so that I had been able to find comfort in the quiet stillness of night. Now that my daughter is a toddler I give her gifts all the time. I give her gum after school and small tokens of my love when something caches my eye. The gifts I gave her as an infant were gifts that helped her become the toddler she is today and will hopefully continue to help her become the adult she will one day be.
I had a meeting with a director of a school here in Boulder, Colorado. The school is beautifully put together, friendly, filled with light, joy and love. She was speaking about her classrooms and without a second thought mentioned the idea of giving children the "gift of the consequence". I continued listening to what she was telling me but found myself hung up on this concept of viewing life's natural consequences as a gift rather than a punishment.
I want to clarify that by consequences I do not mean putting a child on time out, raising your voice or forcing a reaction to their action. Consequence as I use it here is described as the natural result of any action a child displays. When a child takes a material or loved item they have and misuses it, causing it to break, that is the natural consequence. When this toy breaks we as parents do not have to yell, scream or show disapproval. We simply need to look at our child and say calmly; "Wow, that was your favorite toy. You broke it by misusing it. Now we will throw it away and you will no longer have it." As a parent we do not have to parent more but we must parent smarter. The gift of consequence takes the pressure off of the parent to discipline and places it back on the child to behave.
Sometimes these lessons we must teach feel a bit like walking out on a tightrope above two buildings. Sometimes it can be terrifying to trust that letting go of some of the control will actually result in your child having more self control. As a mother and an educator I want to urge you to try. Try to give your children gifts that carve out who they are as human beings. Help them understand that this world reacts in ways that can sting at times. If we try to protect them by controlling the discipline, the consequence or by covering up the outcome (replacing the toy) we are only stiffening their natural ability to be who they are.
The topic of screen time is very hot in today's parent discussions. How much, when, what type etc.? I have been struggling with this in my home and with my four year old. We recently have begun allowing our daughter to watch a show when she gets home from school as a way to wind down at the end of her day. She is in school six hours a day and my husband and I have found that the ability for her to "zone out" for 30 minutes is something that she very much enjoys. I tend to sit with her while she enjoys her show. Mainly I sit with her because of the incredible research that has been done on the difference between screen time alone and screen time with an adult. If you would Ike to read more visit:
Parenting is like the law, ignorance is not an excuse. If you read the research and make decisions that fit your life that is a productive and fantastic way to approach parenting. It is not about following every rule that is thrown at you but rather is about knowing and making a choice. My daughter wakes up almost every morning asking to watch a show or inquiring about when she can watch a show. It is amazing to me that even with a routine (a recent attempt at making the inquiries stop) and limited exposure she is fascinated and almost obsessed with the glowing box. While it may seem easier to fold and allow her questions and demands for more television to work, my husband and I made a choice and are standing our ground. It is amazing how many small wars we fight as parents. Remember that you are a gladiator and can do this. Parent strong, all day, week, month, year....long!