Dec 122012
 

Baby, You Rock My World!

Oh, I know what your thinking. But no, I mean it literally. Children ROCK our world. They take what we think is true and right and normal and they squish it up in their chubby little fists and throw it into the toy box to be lost among a myriad of other forgotten treasures. Nothing looks the same, nothing feels the same, nothing is the same. And there is no way to explain it. The only way to get it, is to live it. And even then, sometimes it isn’t clear.

I remember distinctly having the belief that children would be a wonderful addition to my life. I talk to people every day that echo this same sentiment. It was clear to me that the world my husband and I had designed and planned would continue on, simply with the addition of a small person sitting in the back seat. Our plus-one. Our course was charted. Our understanding of the world was clear. Our plans were laid. Our baby-to-be would easily and naturally fit into our scheme, and we would continue on. As you were, soldier.

Yeah. Right.

And along comes baby. Sweet and innocent and amazing. And a vicious destroyer of previous lives.

And we emerge from a sleep-deprived baby fog to find a world that bears little resemblance to the way we thought things would be.

Friends change. Priorities change. Finances change. Energies change. Jobs change. We are suddenly regretfully aware that the words “Yo gabba gabba” have a meaning. We are suddenly regretfully unaware that weeks have gone by and we haven’t returned a phone call to a once-close friend.

Time and time again I hear parents ask the same questions: Who am I? Where did I go? I used to have thoughts, opinions. I used to know things and think about politics and like music. I used to love to travel and I had such dreams and plans. And now?

Well, this baby, who is the love of my life, rocked my world.

And maybe, a part of me is a little bit bitter about that. Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone.

I was recently reading a post by Authentic Parenting that talks about a paradox between parenting strategies that seem to hurry kids towards autonomy versus parenting strategies that seem to keep kids dependent. It rang true. In our culture we want kids to potty train early, but make pull ups for kids well into elementary school. We want kids to wean early, but encourage pacifiers. We want them to speak up for themselves (in theory), but not question their elders. We want them to eat solids early, but still have them using a sippy cup in their preschool years. The list goes on and on.

At first glance, it does seem paradoxical. But then I realized, all these things are the same. They are, in essence, attempts to have the child fit into our adult world with as little impact on us as possible. When we want our newborns to sleep through the night, it is not because this has any developmental relevance for them, but rather because we are tired and are used to sleeping through the night. When we want our children to potty train early and wear pull ups longer, it is because it makes it easier for us.

And what’s wrong with that? We have needs too right? What happened to the idea that my baby would fit into my world? What parenting strategies can I employ that will help them fit into my world? I want to sleep through the night. I want to travel and go to restaurants and relax at the end of the day with a glass of wine and a bubble bath. Show me the book that tells me how to do that and that is the parenting strategy that must work.

And maybe, that is what is inherently wrong with all those parenting strategies. Those strategies are aimed to meet parent needs rather than kid needs.  Maybe, rather than trying to figure out how to make our plus one play by our rules, we need to figure out new rules that work for everyone. Parent needs, kid needs, family needs. There is no such thing as “us plus a baby”. There is only a new us.

Our kids enter our world and change it. Completely rock it to the core.

And we hang on for dear life to the idea that we can get our old selves back. If only our kid would (fill in the blank)…. We hang on to the idea that it is possible to have a quiet, well behaved, go to sleep early and wake up late, potty train by themselves, happy to stay with a babysitter, self soothing, I-don’t-really-need-you-because-that-parenting-strategy-nipped-my-developmental-needs-in-the-bud kind of kid, because that is the kind of kid that would allow my world to turn the way I thought it would.

Only it never works that way. Because their needs are constant and changing and ever evolving, and we are their parents. And our needs are constant and changing and evolving. And that is that. It’s not that there is something wrong with them. There was something wrong with the idea that they would be our plus-one to the party.

 

Nope. They are the party.

 

And the party is pretty amazing. As long as we can stop fighting it.

 

 Posted by at 6:55 am
Dec 072012
 

***********************Guest Post by Emily Plank of Abundant Life Children*******************

Last week, my children and I were out at a coffee shop.  My daughter caught the eyes of another patron, and asked me, Mom, is that a girl?  I answered that yes, I thought it was a girl.  Under her breath, my daughter uttered, She has a vagina.  She sits down to pee.

I smiled, knowing that my daughter is sorting out the categories as they pertain to male and female bodies.  This learning is crucial as children find a voice to advocate for their own physical needs.

Raising children who are strong self-advocates is one way we help protect them from abuse.  While there is no way to guarantee our children’s safety, prevention goes far beyond protecting our children from others we suspect to be dangerous.

  • Empowering our children with the knowledge that their bodies deserve respect gives them the courage to demand respect when situations cross a comfortable line.
  • Empowering our children with agency over their body helps them develop an internal sense for who can assume control over their bodies. (Hint: without permission – no one!)
  • Empowering children to speak up for themselves in public situations grows their courage to stand up for their needs.

 

1. Body Knowledge = Body Respect.  When we know about our bodies, we learn to respect our bodies.  We teach this concept as we interact with children’s bodies from birth in several ways.

 Terminology.  “Genital slang” serves to deflect our own discomfort and ignorance about physical bodies, but using colloquialisms communicates shame and disrespect.  Children wonder, why do my genitals need special, silly words? We clam up at the sound of terms that children need to own their physical bodies, but we would do our children a great service to just get over it.

If it helps, practice saying the words over and over.  The more practice you get, the less awkward it feels!  Everyone now: penis, vulva, scrotum, and vagina.

Function.  For preschoolers, body functions comprise the sum total of their humorous arsenal.  Nothing gets the giggles going like mention of pee, poop, boogers, or (dare I say it?) gas.

Laughing about a body function should be reserved for children.  No doubt, gas is hilarious, but when we laugh at children for the natural processes of their bodies, we can plant seeds of self-questioning and fear.  Laughing at our own farts every now and then can model a light-hearted approach towards our bodies or it can undermine appreciation for the complexity of our bodies – it really depends on the age of the children and the circumstances.

While joking can be hazardous, squashing the spontaneous laughter of a group of children over jokes involving body functions does nothing except create a taboo subject that increases in allure.  I tend to abide by the rule that jokes are fine as long as they aren’t done at another child’s expense.

Likewise, the way we respond to body functions can communicate honor and respect or shame.  Infants’ diapers might be described as “full” rather than “messy” or “strong-smelling” rather than “stinky.”  Toilet accidents are simply accidents, handled without shaming and as privately as possible.  Language is important, and what we say to children communicates that their body processes are normal, healthy, and worth respecting.

2. A Sense of Agency: Children Control their Bodies “I am in charge of my body. No one can do anything to my body without asking.”  This message is one of the most critical messages for children to internalize during their early years, yet so much of what we do can interrupt this idea. 

We model appropriate physical contact with children when we ask for permission before getting into their space.

From infancy, when we need to pick them up to change their diaper, we ask. I see you need a new diaper.  Can I pick you up?  (wait for a response)  Okay. I’m going to pick you up now. 

 As toddlers, when we need to wipe a runny nose, we askI see boogers.  Would you like help wiping your nose, or would you like to do it yourself?

When a child is hurt, and we think they might like a hug, we askYou fell and bumped your knee.  Would a hug be helpful? 

 When our preschool students arrive in the morning, before shaking hands, hi-fiving, or hugging, we ask.  It’s so nice to see you this morning. I have a good morning hug I’d like to give you.  Would you like to have it?

3. “I can ask for my own ketchup.”  Having a voice to speak for themselves is a crucial part of self advocacy. My mom raised my brothers and I to be self-advocates from an early age.  One of the ways she did it was through direct teaching in public situations.  She tells of times when we needed something small at a restaurant (ketchup, napkins, a drink refill), and she gave us the language and the courage to ask for it ourselves.  Or times when we needed to know the location of a book at the library, and she gave us the language to ask the librarian.  And still times when we needed to borrow a cup of sugar, and she sent us next door, armed with a measuring cup and the right vocabulary to be successful.

Children need lots of practice talking to strangers.  The reality is that strangers are statistically not the problem when it comes to childhood abuse.    Success in social interactions comes from a set of specific tools: speaking loudly, making eye contact, and asking for attention before speaking, and children only acquire those tools through practice.  Finding small ways to give children the power to talk to adults and get what they need equips them with lifelong skills for self-advocacy.

Consider a child who feels threatened.  That child needs to seek an adult ally and get help. Through practice in low-stakes situations, our children will have the tools to manage when the stakes get higher.

At the end of the day, the only person responsible for abusing a child is the abuser. And it would be great, if we lived in a world where all people, of all shapes and sizes, respected each other’s bodies and boundaries. But in the meantime, we can give our children as much power and protection against abuse as we possibly can. To this end, our strongest ally in the quest to protect children from abuse is empowerment, because the skills children learn through these types of interactions apply widely, and are applicable when our kids are out of our immediate view.  Fostering skills of self-advocacy in children extends from small daily choices we make as educators and parents, and carries the potential to create true transformation for our children. And just as importantly, when we empower children to protect, honor and respect their own bodies, we are creating a generation of future adults who are more likely to protect, honor and respect the bodies of others. And that’s when the world really does become a safer place.

 

Emily Plank is a play-enthusiast, expert block-tower-builder, skilled problem-solver, and accomplished storyteller. She loves putting early childhood education research to the test with her crew at Abundant Life Child Development Home and offers her current real-life experience and anecdotes in her writings. Emily serves as a mentor to other child development home providers in her county and spends evenings and weekends training other early childhood educators across the United States through her own original workshops and trainings. An avid writer, Emily blogs for the families of children in her care and the early childhood community at large at abundantlifechildren.com. She lives in Iowa with her husband and three very spirited young children. 

 

 

 

Thank you so much to Emily for adding her voice to our collection of posts about prevention abuse!  Want to contribute? Please contact us! We would love to add your story.

 Posted by at 10:01 am
Dec 042012
 

It’s one of those moments: The energy is high. The emotion is flowing. The scales are tipping. The fists are clenching. The conflict is rising. The mood is escalating.

It’s one of those days: We make it though one crisis only to turn around and face another. And another. You know this kind of day. I know them, too. We have all had them. We will have them again.

Even as I write about it, I can feel it welling up inside of me. A feeling of being out of control. Of being one step behind the next outburst, sibling conflict, injury, tantrum. Of just knowing everything is about to fall to pieces. A sense of urgency, a sense of doom, an exhaustion that knows no rest. I can feel my chest tightening, my breath quickening, the frustration building in my thoughts, the tension spreading through my body.

And we want to yell out (and maybe we do yell), “Why are you doing this to me?” “Why can’t you just listen?” “I can’t take this anymore!” “I need peace!” “I need a break.” “Stop it!!!”

Oh yes, the old adage: he who yells loudest… Only, it never works. Not really, not in the long run. Sure, we may temporarily stun them into silence, but the heart of the energy still beats hard and heavy in the environment; and, make no mistake, it will find its way out into the open again.

In order to really help our children be able to find calm, we need to embrace one fact.

No matter what, our children will learn what we do, not do what we say.

We only need to watch our children when they don’t know we are listening to know this is true. How many of us have seen our children play “phone” and copy our words and mannerisms to a tee? How many of us have been shocked by our children’s perfect use of our favorite saying? If we are open, and we watch carefully, we can see ourselves in everything they do. They are learning from us every moment of every day. And, if there is a time when they are not really taking things in, it is probably only those times when we are telling them what to do!

When the emotion runs high and the chaos runs deep, we cannot plead or logic or yell our way to quiet and calm. Rather, we must do it.

Be the calm you want to feel.

Sit down and breathe.

When the world is in chaos, move to the center of the storm, sit down and breathe. I am not talking about taking a “parenting time out” (although I am a full advocate of these as well). I am talking about moving close to the action and DOING the calm you want your children to experience.

 

 

Here is a scenario (and, one that occurs in our home frequently):

The boys are in conflict. This toy, that toy, rules are debated, voices rise, space is violated. I can feel the pulse quicken. Rather than intervene with words, I simply move as close to the epicenter of their conflict as I can, sit down, close my eyes and breathe. Loudly. Long, deep, slow breaths. I connect with my own body and feel it relax. I take my time before opening my eyes. Making sure to give myself time to really slow my breathing and clear my mind.

It’s contagious. The boys notice. Even if they stay engaged in their struggle, I notice that my breathing triggers their breathing to slow. One of them takes a deep breath. The other stops and copies us.

I continue to breathe and stay quiet, but open my arms. A silent invitation for them to join me. I keep breathing.

Almost always, one or both will join me. Sit close, breathe and calm. I can feel all of us melt a little into the moment. The energy dissipates. The urgency falls away.  The storm has passed. The toys lay on the ground between us, untouched.

When everyone is breathing and still, I open my eyes. I say simply, “I wonder what you guys are going to do now.” An invitation to talk about it or move on or make a plan, whatever they need. Usually at this point, they are now able to work it out on their own.

Everything feels different. For me and for them.

I didn’t tell them to calm down.

I didn’t tell them to solve their problem.

I didn’t even tell them why breathing worked.

I didn’t need to tell them anything.

They learned it, and so did I. Of course we need to practice again and again and again. But when the practice feels so good, that may not be such a bad thing.

 Posted by at 3:02 pm
Nov 272012
 

Sexual abuse prevention is an issue close to my heart and something I have worked with for many years in various capacities. I have written about protecting our children from sexual abuse numerous times, and while these posts are not usually popular,  several things occurred over the past few weeks that told me it was time to write again anyway. First, local news coverage in Portland, Oregon, has focused on the location of a sex offender treatment program (see coverage here). Families and businesses in the vicinity are alarmed that offenders are being treated in their neighborhood—close to a preschool, a Boys and Girls Club and their homes. This reaction is not uncommon and is, in fact, easily understood. The treatment center is currently searching for a new location. Second, in another part of the country, Janet Lansbury, who many know and trust as an early childhood expert, reposted a blog about her experience of finding out that someone she knew and trusted turned out to be a child molester (see the post here). While she originally wrote the blog post several years ago, the post is just as relevant today.

While these two scenarios are quite different, at the heart of both of them is a false sense of security. We avoid dealing with the real issues of child abuse by telling ourselves three lies:

 

1)      Sexual abusers are usually strangers.

 

2)      I can tell a sex abuser when I see one.

 

3)      My child would definitely tell me if anything was wrong.

 

 

In reality, none of these statements are absolutely true. Here are some true facts:

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ 2010 report on Child Maltreatment,  81% of children who are abused (all types of abuse including sexual abuse) are victimized by a parent, 6.1% by another relative, 4.4% by an unmarried partner, 5.7% by another caretaker (including a child care worker, foster parent, legal guardian, babysitter, etc). Only 2.8% are abused by someone unknown to the child.

Conservative estimates suggest that approximately 20% of women and 10% of men experienced sexual abuse as children. Some statistics suggest the rates are higher. Look around your preschool or playgroup or neighborhood. One in four or five girls will be victimized. That is a hard fact to swallow. There are no demographics that are left unaffected. Now look closer: Most sexual abuse is committed by men (90%) and by persons known to the child (70–90%), with family members constituting the large majority of offenders. A child is much more likely to be abused by someone they know and trust than a stranger. (See more stats here)

Here is another important fact. Only a small percentage of convicted sex offenders go on to be arrested for new sexual crimes (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2003). Most people who are sexually abused are abused by someone who has never been caught. These offenders are not registered sex offenders and they will not show up on background searches. Who are they? They are our friends, neighbors, family members. They are people we know from school or church or work. Our kids trust them, we trust them. They do not have a label or a sign or clearly identifiable traits that scream, “Warning, I am a sex offender.”

So what does this all mean?

  • We must let go of the “Stranger Danger” security blanket. Yes, a very small percentage of children are abused by offenders who target children who don’t know them. And yes, these scenarios that make the evening news are terrifying. But, focusing on this allows us to turn a blind eye to the more likely threat to our children. It is harder, scarier and more difficult to talk with our children about sexual abuse that may come from someone they trust. It’s tricky and messy and confusing. We don’t want to think about it ourselves. We know we have to say something to our kids, so we keep it safe and distant: We talk about stranger danger. But, the truth is that this just isn’t enough.

 

  • We have to let go of the myth that children will tell us, clearly and promptly, if something is happening. We would like to think that if we have one discussion with our children about “good touch” and “bad touch,” they will know the difference and be able to tell us when someone crosses their boundaries. But, it’s not always easy for kids to tell. Children who experience abuse often have been “groomed.” Groomed  to be afraid of getting in trouble or getting someone they love and trust in trouble. Groomed  to feel it is their fault. Often the line between good touch and bad touch is very blurry. Often they do say something and we don’t listen, we dismiss or minimize or don’t want to believe it ourselves. Telling is tricky. Responding is tricky. There are layers and layers of issues wrapped up in this process. It isn’t easy or clean cut in any way.

 

  • We have to accept the fact that sexual abuse is everyone’s problem. It isn’t something that happens to “those victims” by “those bad guys.” It is something that is deeply entrenched in our culture. It happens to “our children” by “people we know.” I guarantee that each and every one of us personally knows someone who has sexually assaulted someone. We may not know it, but we do. It’s just a fact.

So, what do we need to do differently? Here are three specific actions we can take:

  • We need to be building families in which dialogue about feelings, thoughts and experiences is not only acceptable, but is the norm. We need our children to know that they can tell us they don’t like or feel good about someone, even if they can’t articulate why. And they need to know that we will respect, honor and protect them. I have written about this in depth in other posts, but in a nutshell, it starts from day one. Never tell a child to hug or kiss or tolerate any kind of touch from anyone if they don’t want it. They have to know that if they don’t want to kiss grandma, they don’t have to, and we will respect that and help them maintain their boundaries. Read more here.

 

  • We need to be helping kids listen to their own instincts and feel comfortable to tell us about them. Oftentimes, sexual abuse starts with touching that isn’t considered “bad touch.” Shoulder rubs, tickling, hugging or snuggling. Games with older children, cousins, neighbors, friends which may start benign and lead in to more abusive behaviors. Boundaries are slowly eroded, so that by the time “bad touch” happens, children often feel like it is “too late” to tell. We can help children develop their ability to listen to their instincts by respecting their boundaries and helping them articulate these boundaries on an ongoing basis. A child doesn’t have to have a reason to not want to be touched. A child doesn’t have to have a reason to not want to play with a certain peer. We can support their boundaries and give them the message that their inner voice is valid. When we validate and support this (every day) we give them the message that they can say when something doesn’t feel right. Helping a child recognize and honor their instincts about a situation will help them stop abuse before it happens to them. It empowers them, and not only with regard to sexual abuse, but with peer pressure as well! Read more here.

 

  • We have to give children a vocabulary to express themselves. Start with the words we use for genitals. Use the correct names. Vagina. Penis. Vulva. Scrotum. Anus. Oh yes, you can. These are body parts to be respected just like all other body parts. Use their correct names. In the same way, give them a vocabulary to express emotions. And not just the big emotions, the subtle ones too. Nervous, uncomfortable, anxious, confused, worried. Often children’s experiences in the early stages of sexual abuse may be more subtle. If their experience doesn’t fit easily into any category, or they don’t have the more subtle words to describe it, they don’t say anything. And, we have to give them the language to be able to change their mind. The other week I noticed two children wrestling. One started crying when it got too rough, and the parent responded saying, “Well, you wanted to wrestle, so I guess you asked for it.” The problem with this message is that it denies the child’s inner limit. “This was fun, and now it isn’t.” We can support their inner instinct that things have shifted. The relationship is no longer fun, the game is no longer working. They can call it off anytime they want. (Read more here)

 

In order to better support our children, we as parents need to open our own dialogue about sexual abuse. We need to be willing to look at our own issues, fears, expectations, beliefs, myths and triggers. We as a society need to talk more openly. We need more posts like Janet Lansbury’s. We need more voices talking about a new way to change the way we help children 1) know and stand up for their own bodies and boundaries and 2) grow into adults who respect the bodies and boundaries of others.

To this aim, Core Parenting will be devoting special space on this blog to collecting voices, stories, articles and posts from others that work towards a goal of raising sexually healthy children. Want to contribute? Contact us!!

 Posted by at 10:50 am
Nov 212012
 

Last night I was asked to talk about avoiding stress at the holidays. (See it here.) It is easy to list off the things that we can do to try to ward off the stressful part of this season: Exercise, take time for yourself, don’t over schedule, know when to say no, ask for help, plan ahead…. But, as I think through this list of to-dos it feels somehow hollow. Rather, I keep returning to the idea that holidays can become less stressful when we really allow them to be what they are truly meant to be. Somehow, for many of us, the heart of the holidays has gotten lost.

Dr. Laura Markham wrote a lovely post about letting go of expectations at the holidays, and I truly believe this is the key. We have unrealistic ideas about what holidays should look like and those ideas get bigger and bigger. In our minds we envision picture-perfect meals and movie-like settings, and as the expectations pile up, so does the cost and the stuff and the stress and the disappointment.

Rather, what if we took a hard look at what the holidays really mean to us, to our families and to our children. What if we went to the very core of the issue and redefined how we move through the holiday season? Is it about religion? Is it about family togetherness? Is it about tradition?

Many of us allow our holidays to be defined by “stuff.” Presents and table settings and the perfect turkey and the perfect party. All of which can be quite overwhelming. But in reality, when we look back on what was memorable about past holidays, it wasn’t about the stuffing or the way the table was set or the number of presents under the tree. What we remember is the funny thing that Grandma did, or when the kids fell asleep under the Christmas tree, or the burned sugar cookies or the pie made with salt rather than sugar (nod to my mom). Some of these things can feel like disasters at the time, but in reality, it is these moments that we should be relishing in. Laughing together and enjoying the moment and savoring every interaction. Not just the perfect turkey.

So this year, let’s move a little deeper into our holidays, beyond the stuff. Here are three things we can do differently this year to get back to the heart of the holidays:

Define what “necessity” really means:

  • Do we need three side dishes or ten presents or a new set of dishes that match the table cloth? What can we let go of so that there is space in our hearts and energy to focus on the parts of the holiday that we really want to cherish?
  • What does giving mean? What does getting mean? Are we simply filling holiday wish lists or making gift giving a process of connecting with each other? What messages are we teaching our children with our gift-giving process?

Find joy in the little moments:

  • Rather than feeling overwhelmed by stacks of dishes, think of these moments as a time to connect. A grandson washing dishes with a grandfather, telling stories about when dad was a little kid can add a bit of magic to an otherwise mundane  and stressful task.
  • Find ways for everyone to be involved in the process. A family that cooks together not only finds connection with each other in the process, but finds more joy in the finished product.

Laugh it off:

  • Letting go of the expectation of perfection can relieve an incredible amount of pressure and stress. Realize that things won’t be perfect and that it is probably these lovely imperfections that you will smile about for years to come.
  • When something goes wrong, smile and embrace the moment. This is a memory in the making!

Holidays can be stressful, but they can also be filled with amazing connections, deepening relationships and lifelong memories. And if we aren’t too caught up with our high expectations, we may just be surprised about how easily these things fall into place.

From our Core Parenting Family to yours,

Happy Holidays!

 Posted by at 5:08 pm
Nov 122012
 

Sometimes an essay or poem or story speaks to your heart in such a way that your spine tingles and tears well up and you can’t help but smile or laugh or cry. Sometimes you stumble across something written that is so true that it speaks to the very essence of your life as you know it and you want to read it again and again, the words proof that your experience is real. And sometimes, you find something that is just so poetically beautiful it must be shared.

Stealing Time, a literary magazine for parents, is all of those things.

When my first issue of Stealing Time arrived in my mailbox I held it in my hands. The glossy cover beckoned me to find a quiet corner, a cup of tea, a cozy blanket. I had no idea what kind of stories would emerge, but I had the sense that they would speak to me. And speak to me they did.

I opened it up and the pages exhaled the nourishing parental connection I was longing for. I knew immediately that I would not be able to stop reading until I had inhaled every page. And that is exactly what happened.

“In the beginning is the mother.” (Into it All by Sarah Gilbert)

I felt a connection with parents everywhere.

“Like many parents in this age of indulgence, I continue to fret over my kids excessively. And they continue to reward this excess by reflecting a good many of my worst traits.” (In my Image by Steve Almond)

I laughed at the truth of my own parenting shortcomings.

“There is magic juice in breakfast. It’s grape. If you drink it you aren’t dead anymore.” (Calling in Dead by Vaughn Teegarden)

I relished in the sweet simplicity children bring to our world.

“I held him for hours, savoring his breath, in love with his sweet sleeping sounds, his suckling mouth.” (Cutting the Cord by Melinda Conway)

I melted into those indescribable moments that define parenting.

And when I was done, I wanted to read it again and again. If you don’t yet have a subscription to Stealing Time, you should. Click over and get one now. In this day and age, when we inundate ourselves with parenting books and advice and expert opinions, when we focus more on what we are doing wrong as parents than on what we are doing right, when we compare and contrast and pit ourselves against an unreachable standard of parenting that always seems to be moving outside our reach, Stealing Time magazine is one place we can go to simply share the journey. The good, the bad, the funny, the messy, the joy, the pain, the truth of parenting.

Thank you to Sarah Gilbert and all the others at Stealing Time for this gift. I can’t wait for the next issue.

 Posted by at 8:09 am
Nov 052012
 

A child zooms around the house, arms outstretched and head held high. “Mama, I can fly!” he yells with glee. “Be careful, you can’t really fly and I’m worried you will get hurt.” His smile fades. It’s true. He can’t fly.

Or….

A child zooms around the playground, arms outstretched and head held high. “Mama, I can fly!” he yells with glee. “I believe you can fly! You’re having so much fun!” He laughs and zooms a little louder, a little prouder, a little higher.  He finds glory in his imagination, feels the surge of joy in his heart and the wind rushing though his hair.  “Tell me more about it!” the mother asks and the boy has the opportunity to weave a story and share a moment with his mother. He takes it further, turns into a bird that flies higher than a mountain top.

I believe you can fly.

Be careful. Don’t climb too high. Don’t jump off of that. Don’t get to close. Don’t move too fast. Don’t go so slow. Don’t put that in your mouth. Don’t pick that up. Don’t put that down. Don’t swing on that. Don’t go too deep. Don’t slide down that. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Be Careful. You can’t really fly.

Yes, parents have a duty to provide a basic level of safety for our children. We keep them away from high ledges, broken glass and poisonous plants. We keep healthy food available and limit screen time and eliminate toxic substances from the air they breathe.

But parents also have a duty to believe our children can fly. It is our obligation to nurture not only their bodies, but their minds as well. To let their imaginations thrive, their dreams expand and their thoughts carry them to heights unseen.  And to do that, we must sacrifice. We must hold back a little bit of anxiety as we let them climb a little higher. We must quiet our own issues and insecurities as we let them run a little faster, dig a little deeper and jump a little further than our comfort level allows.

I believe you can fly. It’s not only good parenting, it’s maybe the most valuable gift we can give our children. When we believe they can fly we are telling them that we love their adventure. That we enjoy their dream. That we want to relish in their joy. We are telling them that we trust their bodies and their courage and that we will be here to share it with them every step of the way. And we are telling them that we are willing to look past our own short sighted view of the world long enough to allow them to have their own experience of things.

A three-year-old pretending to read yells out, “Mama! I’m reading.” A fifth grader struggling with school declares they want to go to Harvard. A young girl professes she is going to play professional football. A four-year-old boy states he wants to be a princess when he grows up. A toddler tells her mom she wants to marry her.

It would be easy to dash their dreams, tell them the truth. You’re not really reading. Harvard is hard to get in to.  The Dallas Cowboys don’t have girls on the team. Boys can’t be princesses. Moms can’t marry their daughter.  It’s true. They can’t. But why? Instead, let their dreams soar, their imaginations flourish and their inner sense of self develop. Ask, “Really? Tell me more!”

Photo Credit to Tumbleweed Infant and Preschool House

Tell me more, a simple phrase that opens doors for kids to tell us what they are thinking.  A story unfolds, a goal develops, and a connection flourishes.  When we ask for more, we may get it. An understanding of where they are at. What they are thinking. The inner dialogue they are building becomes apparent as they voice their ideas and plans to us. A simple statement, a silly childish idea, when shared and supported becomes real, tangible, something to be relished and cherished and built upon. When their ideas and imagination are given space in the “real world,” they become more self-confident, more secure, more ready to take on the world.

Tell me more. You may be amazed at what is going on inside their minds and hearts. Something you may have never known if you just told them the truth.

Yes, I believe you can fly. Tell me more about it! 

 Posted by at 12:45 pm
Oct 302012
 

Dear moms and dads and caregivers out there:

I have said this before, but I am feeling the need to say it again — This is a love letter to you.

Time and time again while talking to parents, I hear about the intense guilt and fear that we feel in our parenting. We worry that we are doing something wrong, that we don’t love our kids enough, or in the right way, or in the same way that our friends love their kids. We worry that we did the wrong thing or said the wrong thing or that we have somehow missed the boat with our children.

We worry that our kids are eating too much or not eating enough. We worry that our kids aren’t getting enough sleep or reading enough books or learning the right things. We worry that our instincts are wrong or that we chose the wrong parenting book to follow or that we are pushing too hard or not pushing hard enough.

Every day I talk to parents who are doing their best and striving to do better. Parents who are reading and thinking and changing and growing along with their children. Parents who are contemplating their own practices and interactions with their children and challenging themselves to go deeper into this world of parenting than ever before.

And I think it is amazing.

And I think you are amazing.

And I think we are all human. Destined to be less than perfect much of the time. It is easy to find countless things to worry about and regret and struggle over. It is easy to find things that don’t make sense or that we did differently from others. It is easy to get lost in those things and lose sight of what is in our hearts. And when we do that, it is almost impossible to trust ourselves, our instincts and our own inner wisdom about what is right for our families. And that is when we get lost, feel alone and judged and scared and overwhelmed. It’s easy to go there.

But instead, let’s be gentle with ourselves and realize some simple truths:

1)      There is no perfect parent. Parenting is not about perfection. It is about supporting another human along this path called life, with all its twists and turns and bumps. There is no perfect path, only amazing journeys. When we stop judging ourselves on how imperfect we are according to others, we can start truly being present in the path we are on.

2)      We will mess up. If there is a parent out there that hasn’t lost their cool, said something they regret, done something they wished they hadn’t, I would like to meet them. Most of us will have moments, days, weeks that don’t look like we want them to look. The question is not whether or not that will happen, but what we do about it. How do we pull ourselves back together? How do we process it with our children? How do we get help when we need it?

3)      It is never too late to change course. So often I hear parents say, “It’s too late, I did X when I should have done Y and now my child will never….” It’s never too late; that’s the beauty of being mindful and aware of our parenting. If we are aware, we can be flexible. If we are gentle with ourselves, we can understand that something isn’t working and try something new. If we are open, we can become aware of changes in our children, ourselves and our environment that call for a change of course. That’s life. It doesn’t mean we did something wrong.

Parenting is a journey. The path is rocky. We will probably trip and fall sometimes, and it’s never too late to change direction. When we realize that we are walking this path with our children, rather than for them, the journey becomes so much more enjoyable. When we spend our time looking back at all the things we stumbled on, we miss the connection to our child in the moment, we miss the scenery we are currently passing by and, maybe most importantly, we miss the road signs that are up ahead. Our child, our families, our hearts may be trying to tell us something and we just can’t hear it because we are too busy feeling like bad parents.

So, this is my love letter to all of you, all the moms and dads and caregivers who are thinking about parenting so deeply. Instead of focusing on guilt, let’s focus on what we are doing right. If we are leading with our hearts and doing what we feel is best for our child, we can and should trust our own path. If we are listening to our families and exploring our own patterns and becoming aware of our own mistakes, then we are leaps and bounds ahead of the game. If we are guiding our children with love and respect, they will feel it. Even if we mess up. Which we will. And if we treat our children like people in their own right, they will live up to the task. Even if they mess up. Which they will. And together, our messiness becomes life. A life worth living.

Love, Darci

 Posted by at 7:47 am
Oct 222012
 

It’s no secret that I am a runner and that I run with my kids. Sometimes with both of them in a double jogging stroller. This weekend I headed out for a run with my boys and, as usual, I started out without really knowing where we would go. After a mile or two my oldest son said, “Mama, why do we always have to go the same way?” I thought about it. I didn’t realize that I always go the same way when I have them with me, but it was true. Every single time I run with the double stroller, I go the same way. It’s a challenging, but not super difficult, four-mile loop that has nice scenery, a moderately hard hill and some downhill fun, which turns almost dangerous when 100 pounds of stroller and kids builds momentum and pulls me faster than I can comfortably run. I complain about it every time. And yet, here we were, running it again. I told my son that I didn’t know why, but that it just felt good and it seemed like a good way to go. And then I pondered. And pondered. And pondered some more. My pondering brought to mind some similar scenarios.

Recreating the wheel

  • At the park I watched as a two-year-old child struggled to make her way up the climbing structure. The first time, it took her several minutes. She struggled and whined, and I was pleased to see that her father supported her but didn’t help her up. She made it to the top, turned around and yelled, “I did it!” Then she slid down the slide and ran straight for the bottom of the structure again. Again, she made her way up, still slow but with notably less whining and grunting, got to the top yelled “I did it!” again, slid down and ran back to the beginning. She went up no less than 10 times. Every time faster, more sure of herself. And every time feeling accomplishment at the end.
  • A parent of an eight-year-old girl worries in my office about her daughter, “I see her struggle over and over again with this one friend of hers. I really think she just needs to get a different group of friends. I tell her that, but she won’t listen to me. She just keeps having the same fight with this girl, every night.” Over and over again.
  • A one-year-old boy chooses a book for story-time. A caterpillar is hungry, eats so much food, gets fat and turns into a beautiful butterfly. “Read it again, Mama!” The tired mother thinks she would rather read just about anything other than this same book. Instead, she turns to the beginning and reads… “In the light of the moon…” Pretty soon, the boy is saying the words with her. “Read it again!”
  • A parent tells me that she is worried about her adult son. “It’s like he has to recreate the wheel. Why can’t he just listen to us? Why does he have to make every mistake that his father made?”
  • A five-year-old begins to recognize words. “Look!!!! There is the word STOP!” she yells out at every corner on the long drive home. Her excitement is clear; she is sure that she is the first person to ever make this discovery and she has to share the news! It’s monumental.
  • A preschool boy turns a stick into a weapon. A rock becomes a car. A ball with a board on top becomes a mode of transportation. Invention. Discovery. He is, in all actuality, reinventing the wheel. And oh, it feels so good. “Look! I made a work truck!”
  • My two-year-old stands on a chair to reach a high object, the chair falls and he crashes to the ground. He cries out, yells at the chair and, still crying, stands the chair up and tries again. The chair falls again. I am tempted to get it for him, or tell him he can’t have it. Instead I tolerate my fear and sit close. He cries louder, pushes me aside and stands the chair up. Still crying, he climbs up, this time with the chair against the wall and his hand on the wall to hold himself steady, he wobbles as he reaches up and grasps the object. Tears still on his face, his smile lights up and he holds it out to me. I take a deep breath and congratulate him on accomplishing his task. I walk out of the room and later see him doing the same thing in another location. He figured it out and is trying out his new skill. Over and over again.

Reinventing the wheel. It is, in my opinion, the very essence of life. Figuring something out for oneself. Experiencing the joy of discovery, the challenge of improvement, the satisfaction of mastery. This is what life is all about. Sure, someone can physically lift us to the top of the play structure, or tell us how to negotiate friendships or buy us a toy that has pre-fabricated components, but the reality is that those things will not be our experiences. They will be someone else’s experiences, someone else’s discovery. They will be slightly foreign and, in the end, we will set them aside or ignore them and find our own way to learn our own lesson.

Reinventing the wheelWe recreate the wheel because we want to feel the pain, we need to whine and be uncomfortable. We want the challenge of the jungle gym, the difficulty of relationships, the complication of figuring out how to transport heavy objects. We want the pain because without it we cannot feel the joy and pride and accomplishment on the other side. We will not get to stand at the top with our hands reaching high and scream at the top of our lungs, “Look at me!!! I did it!!!” And we don’t just want to do it once, we want to master it.

I realized that even now, as an adult, I run the same loop because I know I can do it, but I haven’t mastered it. I have reached a level of comfort with my loop that allows me to think about things like form, or speed or upping the ante by pushing two kids and a stroller up the hill. I know how my body feels at different places along the loop, I know where the sidewalk is cracked and where I have to step to the right or turn to the left. My knowledge of how my body feels gives me comfort, while I can still push myself to make it harder, more challenging. And it feels good. I can compare my current performance with my past and I know I am getting better. Without anyone telling me. I am learning about my body,  my limits, what I am capable of and what I can still work on. So over and over again, I recreate the wheel and run the same loop. Someday, I will master it. Then it will be time to find a harder hill.

It’s just like the little girl on the playground structure. Next time you’re at the park, pick a kid and watch them. Chances are, they will be doing the same thing. Finding something that challenges them, and then doing it over and over again. Each time, getting more and more secure. When I watched the little girl, I noticed that she was extremely mindful about her body. She was paying attention to where she put her hands and her feet. She made small adjustments each time until it felt right. She was learning about herself. Learning about her world. Without anyone telling her.

Sometimes it’s amazing to watch someone reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it’s painful. The eight-year-old girl figuring out her friendships is hard to watch. It nearly killed me to watch my son fall a second time from his chair. We want to shield them from the pain. We want them to learn from what we already know, take our wheels and make their lives easier. But whether it’s a jungle gym, a favorite book, a friendship or a running loop, we are destined to recreate it. Each of us. In our own time, in our own way, we need to shape our own wheels. Hopefully there is someone there cheering us on. Ready with tissue or band aids or blow horns or confetti. Recreating the wheel is hard work. And it’s what life is all about. Let’s get to it. And let’s get out of our kids’ way. Their wheels are waiting!

 

*Amazing photo credit to Tumbleweed Infant House.

 Posted by at 12:49 am
Oct 112012
 

We talk so much about how to help a child through their emotions. We want them to have awareness, understanding, and language to process emotions. We want them to feel, express, process and recover from emotions in ways that are healthy and productive. But what about when parents have emotions? And  more specifically, what about when parents have emotions that interfere with our ability to be calm and present and balanced and thoughtful parents? What about our emotions?

Over the past weekend I was blessed with many opportunities to feel lots of uncomfortable emotions, practice mindfulness, use self calming techniques, and notice when I was reacting to situations rather than interacting with my children. The weekend, in all its kindness, offered me a never ending flow of moments in which I could practice re-centering after I found myself off balance and lost. The weekend was ripe with data collection and information and opportunity for growth.

I should, theoretically, be grateful.

In theory.

In reality, I was frustrated, exhausted, weary, angry and confused.

Prior to the start of the weekend I had set an intention to bring my awareness to a deeper level of parenting. I wanted to challenge myself to be more introspective, to become involved in some of the subtle ways that I may be giving unintended messages to my children. If thinking about your thoughts is referred to as meta-cognition, I wanted to intentionally practice meta-parenting. I was excited and invigorated and had grand expectations of revelations and really deepening my parenting practice and connection with my children.

But that didn’t happen.

Not by a long shot. At least not in the way I had envisioned.

Instead, all weekend I struggled to hold on to the bare essentials of what I value in parenting. I held on to calm with clenched fists and bit back harsh words and heard my voice get louder and saw my actions get sharper and moved through the hours of the days counting the minutes until nap time, and then bed time so that I could breathe again. Rather than looking at how I could become a great parent, I was challenged at every juncture of the day to just be good enough. And it was tough.

So what happened? It wasn’t that my children were exceptionally challenging or difficulty this weekend. They were, as they always are, kids. Kids with needs. And it wasn’t that I was exceptionally bad at parenting this weekend. I was, as I always am, a parent. A parent with needs.  And a parent who for maybe for no reason at all, was having a bad day. The kind of day that, if I was single, I most certainly would have filled with shopping or crying or watching chick-flick movies or eating chocolate chip cookies. Which of course, is just not possible when you’re a mom.

And for some reason, those needs all collided this weekend. And the more they collided that more I judged myself. And the more I judged myself, the more I felt like I just needed a break. And the more I felt like I needed a break, the more I felt overwhelmed by my kids needs. And the more I felt overwhelmed by their needs, the more difficult it became to meet their needs. And the more I missed the boat in meeting their needs the more needy they became. And so on and so on. Sometimes we parents can do it all and feel great we can pull the so-called load with a smile, and sometimes the load just feels too heavy and the road looks too long.

I pulled out every trick of the trade. I tried connecting with my kids fully. I quieted down our space. I changed our agenda to eliminate the “back-ground noise” (no, we really did not need to run those errands today). My husband and I divided up the kids for quality alone time. I took some time to self-care. You name it, we did it. And still, after a few moments with the kids, the feelings welled up in me again and again. Their needs smashed into my needs and my hopes of “meta-parenting” and I would again feel frustrated and the cycle would repeat itself.

By the end of the night I just wanted to crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head.

In formal meditation practice we can often find ourselves surprised by the feelings that come up. We can often struggle to force our thoughts a certain direction or try to create an experience that we think we are suppose to have. And in doing so we miss the point.

It seems to me that parenting is the same thing. And that day, I missed the point.  I set an intention, which turned into an expectation to take a deeper look at the messages I may inadvertently give my children. And then, wonder of all wonders, I spent the whole day actually doing many of the things that I most fear doing. And rather than noticing and being gentle with myself, I fought against the process, blamed my children for being needy and got into a cycle that repeated itself over and over again.

The fact is that parents, all parents, are human. Some days, we are just going to be off. Some days, things just won’t feel right. Some days, we just won’t be the parents we aspire to be.  And somehow we have to be gentle enough with ourselves to not get locked into a pattern. When we feel like bad parents, we are more likely to act accordingly. Likewise, when we are gentle and forgiving and nurturing to ourselves we are more likely to be able to do this with our children.

Having bad days is part of life. Having our kids see us having a bad day is inevitable. Sometimes we are having a bad day because of life circumstances, sometimes, we just feel out of sorts for no particular reason. It is important for us as parents to own that rather than reacting to our children in a way that places blame on them. Whether we are having a good day or a bad day, our kids are just kids. Kids with needs.

And when bad days happen, rather than trying to hide it from our kids, what would happen if we engaged with them in an authentic way? What if we tried doing these things instead?

  • Communicate how we are feeling with our children. “I’m having a sad kind of day. I don’t really know why.” Or “Today, I feel really frustrated.”  – We so often encourage our children to identify, label and understand their own emotions, but for some reason, we can feel reluctant to share our own emotions (unless they are happy, proud, joyous, relaxed.) But not talking about our emotions may make it more likely that kids will assume our negative energy is about them! When we are short tempered, and reacting to them, and not talking about our feelings, it only makes sense that kids would believe that they are the cause. This is not the message we want kids to internalize.
  • Allow your kids to be part of the discussion. “I was thinking of trying to take a bath by myself for a few minutes and see if that helps me calm down. Do you have any other ideas? What works for you?” – We often encourage sibling to help each other problem solve emotionally complicated situations. Doing so can give siblings or friends a chance to connect to each other, feel good about helping each other and also teach them about emotional processing. Why not do it when it is the parent who is feeling something? This can give the child the message that mama may be feeling grumpy, and it’s not about them and they can support mama in finding something that works! What a great feeling for everyone.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you said or did something wrong. “I know I yelled earlier. That wasn’t fair and I don’t want to communicate like that. Is there anything I can do for you now?” If we want kids to really understand what it means to apologize and check in and connect with someone they hurt, (rather than just saying “sorry”) then what a better opportunity for modeling this than when we lose our parenting  cool.
  • Don’t be afraid to change the routine.  Being aware that we are struggling through a moment is a great first step. We also have to be willing to make a plan that is more likely to work for everyone. Let’s face it. Taking one or more children to run errands can be a daunting task and often takes all our resources. Realizing that you just aren’t up for it at the moment can divert a disaster. When we are having a down day, some things just have to slide. Knowing what can give can make a huge difference.  Eventually, we have to go to the grocery store. But does it have to be this moment?

Remember that if we can be gentle with ourselves, breathe deep and accept emotion as it comes, no emotional experience will last forever. Waves of emotions come in and go out. Our own emotional awareness and our ability to be gentle and accepting of ourselves and our own emotions will set the stage for how we will teach our children to handle their own emotions. We are all in this together, kids and parents alike. Emotions are just part of the journey, even the uncomfortable ones.

 Posted by at 1:00 pm