Category Archives: Parenting

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Guys, I wish I Could be Sorry

This post is specifically for you gentlemen out there.

I wish I could say, “I’m sorry” and let that be it.  I could flippantly blow out a “sorry, not sorry,” but that’d just be cold and not helpful.

I have noticed lately that my teenage daughter and I are having some problems communicating with some key men in our lives – me with a friend, her with her boss.  We aren’t being rude, ugly, or nasty.  We’re being open and honest, maybe a bit confrontational in healthy ways (yes, they exist), and compassionate.  We ask questions in a straight-forward way and tend to lean towards “blunt and tactful.”  Her boss has felt attacked for something that wasn’t his fault and that my daughter acknowledges she doesn’t blame him for.  My friend thought I was starting an argument when that wasn’t my intention and my entire system was actually very zen.

Why were we dealing with communication problems when we were both being very clear, concise, and assertive about what we wanted?  Were we doing or saying something wrong?  I analyzed both sets of communiques and determined that there was nothing we could’ve done differently and apparently, the problem lies with the guys with whom we’re communicating.  I’m not saying or implying that we’re perfect and communication problems are always the fault of the other person, and I suspect that the “problem” with the guys isn’t their fault, either.  They’ve been taught/trained poor communication practices by other women in their lives.

So, for what am I not sorry?  Well, the list is longish.

(1) I’m not sorry for the games other women have played with you.  Using tears, threats, or other means of manipulation to get their way has taught you that all women do those things.  I’m here to tell you, we don’t.  But these tactics go back for millennia!  Literally.  Ever hear of a Philistine woman named Delilah?  She used these same tricks on Samson – and they worked.  If a man as physically and spiritually strong as Samson can be manipulated by womanly wiles, many women figure that their man can be, too, and much more easily.

(2) I’m not sorry for being blunt.  As a newlywed wife, I discovered that some families are happy with “reading between the lines” in communicating with each other.  That seems like a recipe for disaster to me, because they may not always read the right message.  One person I encountered several years ago said I’m the “most blunt-speaking Southerner [she’d] ever met.”  Being less than blunt feels too much like game-playing to me, and I don’t have time to play games or to spend an additional two hours trying to communicate my vague hints and innuendos to you, hoping you’ll somehow understand what I’m trying to get across.

(3) I’m not sorry for “fighting like a man.”  High school is a fascinating microcosm in which to observe how people of different genders interact.  When I was in high school and two guys got into a fight, they’d pummel each other for 5-10 minutes, help each other up, and often go out to lunch together.  Two girls on the other hand…  Woowhee!  You’d be looking at six months of gossip, rumor-spreading, backstabbing, catty remarks, pranks, and attempts to steal both friends and boyfriends.  There’d be no reconciliation, no apologies, no forgiveness.  This behavior would go on until both girls were bored with it.  When I was a teen, my mom and I would get into some pretty impressive, holy-crap-are-these-hormones-flying-high fights.  We’d yell for 5-10 minutes and the fight would end with one of us getting tongue-tied and our both laughing or leaving in tears, and the one who didn’t cry would go to the other, apology on her lips, after taking a minute or two to de-escalate.  My female-to-female fights were over, done, and forgotten in fifteen minutes or less.  All my fights are like this, and I have no problem with apologizing.

(4) I’m not sorry for how other women have treated you.  I’ve heard the stories.  There are – pardon my language – some bat-shit crazy women out there.  There are stalkers and bunny boilers (e.g., Fatal Attraction).  There are women who’d cut you for glancing sideways at another woman, even if that woman weighs 300 pounds and is wearing neon spandex when the woman on your arm is wicked-smart with curves in all the right places.  There are women who can’t let go of a relationship when it’s over and who pull out all the stops when it comes to manipulating you after the fact.  That type of mess leaves a mark and colors how you engage with other women.

(5) I’m not sorry for the behavior of the first woman to teach you how to act with a woman – your mother.  Maybe she tried to make you responsible for her happiness or sadness.  (“Now make Momma happy and be a good boy.”)  Maybe every time you tried to assert yourself, your emotions or your willingness to do something, she accused you of not loving her anymore.  Maybe she told you that no other woman would ever understand/love/appreciate you like your momma, which has left you wondering why none of your adult romantic relationships have felt the same.

(6) I’m not sorry for teaching my daughters how to be open, honest communicators.  I can’t apologize for teaching them the right way to share what they’re thinking without apology.  Why should they apologize for being blunt, for being honest, for stating unequivocally what they want?  You’d never expect a man to apologize for blunt honesty, so why expect it of a woman?  They’re both going into male-dominated fields, so communicating “like men” is necessary for their success.

Fellas, I can’t and won’t apologize for the painful mess other women have put you through, as those aren’t my fault.  Likewise, I can’t and won’t apologize for how my daughter and I speak to you, as long as we’re not being malicious or hurtful.  (If one of us levels some truth at you, though, and you don’t like it, that’s on you.)  We feel for you, though.  We can understand the hurt you’ve experienced and have nothing but compassion for you and what you’ve lived through.  All we ask is that you come to realize that not all women are like that, just as you’re probably not like the worst male we’ve ever encountered.  Take us at face value, because there won’t be much guile for you to wade through.

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How GenX Made Millenials into Snowflakes

We love them, but we look at them with scorn or derision.  We look at them and wonder how they could be so __________ (fill in the blank).  They are Millenials.  They are in high school or college or freshly out of college, poorly equipped to handle the big, bad world and having no clue why.

They’re spoiled.  They’re entitled.  They believe they’re all that and more, even though they feel like they’re nothing so much of the time.  We adults in GenX and GenY look at these kids and call them “wusses” and “snowflakes.”

Last week, we were discussing these kids.  My teen is a Millenial with none of the above characteristics and a great deal of disdain for her fellow Millenials who have them.  Frankly, I’m quite proud of the fact that she doesn’t have these traits, but as the conversation continued, she said, “Mom, it’s your generation’s fault that we’re like this.”

Well, that bombshell put a serious pause in the conversation, and as my mind raced over the past 20 years, I couldn’t help but come to one clear conclusion:  Damn.  She’s right.

My generation came up with “participation awards.”  Then we gripe about how they reward mediocrity.

My generation decided we need to “protect children’s self esteem” by never giving them negative feedback or poor grades.  Now we wonder why they don’t seem nearly as smart as they should.

My generation got rabid about protecting children from everything – germs, hurt feelings, human traffickers, TV violence, feeling bad, physical punishment… You name it.  We invented “time out,” thinking that two-year-olds are capable of sitting in the special “time out chair” in the corner and understanding how what they did was wrong.  (I studied childhood development from every aspect.  Trust me when I say, they are incapable of doing this.)  Now we have a bunch of kids who are too traumatized when an election doesn’t go a certain way that they can’t fulfill their responsibilities to go to their college classes – and the schools allow this!  What a bunch of fragile, whimpy, weak snowflakes!

And who made them this way?  Yes, my fellow GenXers.  We did.  We screwed up big time with this one.  We didn’t create strong kids at all.  We successfully created children who grow up physically but who can’t handle life.  According to an article in the Washington Post, some Millenials take their parents to job interviews.  Are you kidding me???  They are so used to Mommy and Daddy taking care of things for them that they can’t even handle a job interview alone.

That same article cited a 30-year-old woman who struggled through college, because she didn’t know how to manage her time on her own.  She was used to her parents doing it for her, so 2 a.m. often saw her awake and finishing homework.  This same lady was unable to do her own laundry at 30; her parents had never taught her how, and why should they, when they could do it for her?

We laughed at the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Again, to us, it looked like a bunch of Millenials crying about not getting their way.  They’d gone to college on high-interest student loans, majored in weak fields (e.g., Underwater Fire Prevention), and didn’t understand why they couldn’t find a job that didn’t require asking, “Do you want to supersize your order?”  Mommy and Daddy had taught them for 20+ years that they were special and unique, just the most wonderful kids in the world, so surely these young people’s problems weren’t their fault.  No, they figured it must be the fault of those people who had all the money, the Wall Street folks with the corner offices, like that guy who started out in the mail room and worked his butt off for 20 years to have a window at all and another 10 years for the corner.  And that was after busting that same butt to earn his MBA.

We GenXers passed “Zero tolerance” policies against bullying, and bullying has increased, getting nastier, more hateful, and more vile.  From as young as 6 and 7 years old, children are bullied daily in school, even in schools with these zero tolerance policies.  This isn’t simply some big kid stealing lunch money; it’s two or three big kids against one small one.  And what happens?  The psychologically strongest kids fight back, landing them in the principal’s office for violence.  (I know; I had to go meet with the principal when my teen was in first grade.)  What happens to the weak ones, the ones who’ve been pampered, the ones who are just sick of the bull crap?  They google, “How to make a bomb” and plant one in the school cafeteria halfway through lunch.  They get Dad’s automatic and walk the halls at school, shooting everyone they see.  Often, they get killed by police or eat the gun themselves.  The evangelical conservatives call them “evil.”  The far-left ignores them and cries for more gun regulations.  I call them simply screwed up in the head because of systems we have put in place.

In molly-coddling these children from infancy and well into their 20s, finding ways to build their self-esteem and doing all we could to protect them, GenX created worse problems.  One, we have this generation of young people who literally can do nothing for themselves.  Two, we have a generation of young people who can’t cope with reality.  They are unable to cope with disappointments, bad college roommates, terrible bosses, and time management.  If their failures to handle the responsibilities of reality result in negative consequences, their helicopter parents will be right there wanting the professor or boss to make everything all better for little 30-year-old Susie and little 28-year-old Billy.

Bottom line, reality sucks sometimes.  And sometimes, Mommy and Daddy live several states away and can’t drop everything to rescue their grown children who M&D expect to be able to handle life by now.  When reality crashes so violently against one’s expectations of life, anxiety and depression are often the outcomes.  In fact, an article in Forbes states that depression is on the rise in Millenial business leaders, citing poor boundaries over health and an inability to handle difficult situations.  Furthermore, over the past 20 years, reports of anxiety and depression have increased by 16% and suicidal ideation or acts have increased by 44% among Millenials.  Wow!!!  We have created this mental, psychological, and emotional quagmire that teens and 20somethings are finding themselves in.

So how to fix it?  It’s not enough to say, “Suck it up, buttercup” and expect grown and nearly-grown children to be able to do that.  They have no experience at rolling with the punches.

First, we GenXers have to start NOW making our children do things for themselves.  Problem with a teacher?  Try a bit of empathy with accountability.  “I’m sure it felt like Mr. Jones was being unfair with how he graded your test.  If it’s that important to you, make time to speak to him about it.”  Then – and this is the hard AND important part – back off.  You have just transferred power to your child for dealing with this.  Will it be scary?  Of course.  Will it teach them how to deal with conflict later in life?  Absolutely.

“You’re out of clean clothes for school tomorrow?  That’s tough, but if you start now, you can get a load through before tomorrow morning.”  Then encourage them to Google “how to wash clothes.”  I’m pretty sure that having to research the “how” themselves will make it stick better.  (Our children wanted to learn how to wash their own clothes, so we could teach them at young ages.)

Second, we have to stop rewarding mediocrity.  I’m sure the younger parents will be grateful not to have to dust one… more… meaningless… trophy.  Real life means, you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do.  There’s no special treatment for showing up for class, being on time for work, or doing a day’s worth of work in seven hours instead of eight.  Your “reward” is getting paid or learning the material the professor wants you to know.  The “reward” is not being fired or flunked for being a slacker.

There are already systems in place to reward excellence.  In secondary school, it’s called graduation.  In college and graduate school, it’s a degree.  In the working world, the reward is often a merit raise and a promotion.  It is not the dean’s fault nor the boss’s fault if an individual fails to get the reward; it is purely the fault of the person who didn’t meet and exceed the expectations.

Third, we have to help these millennial children reframe their thinking.  If things don’t go their way, they need to stop blaming others – other people, authority figures, society, or government – and discover what they have done to contribute to the problems they’re facing.  If the problems are legitimately placed onto them from outside sources (i.e., the rent increases by $200 a month), then this is a time for these young people to figure out how to change themselves in order to meet the challenges – them, not Mommy and Daddy.  They need to see problems less as obstacles to prevent their progress and more as opportunities to find different solutions.

I’ve seen this in adults who are… Let’s say, a generation ahead of GenX.  These people are an anomaly but have all the characteristics of current Millennials.  Failures at work are the fault of teammates or bosses.  Money problems are the fault of the government – and Momma is quick with the bail-out.  Afraid of conflict, these people go along with what others want them to do, be it friends, colleagues, or bosses.  So long as these people, along with their Millennial cohorts, can maintain the image they have of themselves – you know, that “you’re so awesome!” image Mom and Dad implanted in them from birth – all is well.

Ask yourself this, and try to be as objective as you can:  Is your child someone you’d want to put up with if they weren’t your child?  Would you want to do everything for them that they need done, or would you want to be around someone who is more responsible?  What feedback have you gotten from others?  The grasping of reality will be brutal and harsh, but it’s completely necessary for young people to grow up to be adults society wants to deal with.  We may love our children to bits and think they are all sorts of amazing, but truth is, they’re only ours to deal with for 18 years.  After that, the rest of the world has to deal with them.  It’s our job as parents to raise children that society has to tolerate.  What do they look like?

 

Every Super Hero Has a Weakness

I see you, Mama.  You’re worn down.  Physically exhausted.  Emotionally exhausted.  Spiritually exhausted.  Even when people surround you at home, you feel lonely.  You’re Supermom, no question.  You get up in the morning, make sure everyone has a good breakfast, and get the kids dressed and off to school and day care on time.  You go to work where you spend the better part of 8 or 9 hours on your feet.  At the end of the day, you come home, and your second job begins – cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen, washing the dishes, doing laundry, getting the kids to bed, picking up toys, and putting all the laundry away before collapsing into bed, exhausted to tears.  In the midst of these hours of work, you would occasionally look over at your husband, drink in one hand, remote control in the other, and fight the waves of resentment as he “rests” from his job in front of the TV all evening.

Supermom graphic

SuperMom! Ever notice that no male superhero has as many tasks?

So, what’s the deal?  Why is your man leaving you to do all the housework and childcare when you both work full-time jobs?  And why are you putting up with it?  Here are a couple/few thoughts.

(1) You make it look so effortless.  You’re like a well-oiled machine, organized, able to bring up doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, play dates, sports practices, and parent-teacher conferences with a few taps on your phone.  Bam!

(2) It’s your job as a mom.  After all, your mom did it.  Her mom did it.  Her mom before her did it.  Built into the collective unconscious of women is “The man works all day, so the woman takes care of the house and kids.”  Sadly, this message hasn’t changed with the changing status of women as degree winners and bread earners.  The stereotype of the June Cleaver mom – happily doing housework with dress, heels, pearls, and a smile – still influences us, two generations later.

(3) It’s your job to sacrifice yourself.  This has a LOT of religious undertones to it by religious figures – men, of course – who continue to perpetuate the idea that a woman’s job is in the home taking care of her family.  This gets stretched to include the message that, “If you complain (get tired, feel worn down, etc.), then your faith isn’t strong enough and you’re less of a women/wife/mom/Christian.”

Right here, right now, I’m calling BULLSHIT!!! on every single one of those reasons/excuses, because that’s exactly what they are.

Whether or not he’s your favorite superhero, I think we can easily agree that Superman is a pretty awesome superhero.  He’s got the muscles and the speed and those killer blue eyes.  How easily does he seem to guide a crippled passenger plane to a safe landing!  Then he goes on to foil a bank robbery, fearlessly progressing as bullet after bullet strikes his chest.  (Then the robbers throw their guns at him.  What’s up with that?  Like the bullets won’t kill him, but a 14-ounce pistol will?)  And then his supersonic hearing picks up the faint feminine cries of “Superman!  Save me!” and he flies off to pluck Lois Lane out of mid-air, depositing her safely to the ground and, once more, earning her undying gratitude and devotion.  The citizens of Metropolis look up in admiration and applaud him, so grateful he’s once more saved the day!  Ahhh!  If only we Supermoms got that kind of adulation, at least every once in a while!

But Superman has a weakness that those Metropolitans know nothing about.  Superman knows what it is, of course… And so does Lex Luthor.  Things start going bad in the big city of Metropolis, and Superman is nowhere to be found.  People start wondering, speculating, and worrying.  What will happen to their beloved city if Superman doesn’t appear soon?

In an abandoned warehouse near the docks, Superman is bound against steel beams, weaker than a mere Earthling.  Lex Luthor has left him there, intending to deal with him later.  Nearby, a chunk of emerald green stone glows in the darkness of the warehouse.  A couple of teens ditching school duck into the warehouse, looking for a bit of privacy.  The green glowing rock catches their eyes, and then they see the Man of Steel nearby.  Scared and alarmed, they ask him, “Superman?  What happened?”

With a hoarse voice, he manages to rasp out, “Kryptonite.”  The teens get it.  The girl grabs the stone with a pair of nearby tongs and runs it outside, going to the end of the dock before flinging it with all her might into the ocean.  On her way back to the warehouse, she gasps the story in broken, breathless sentences to a couple of guys fishing.  They follow her into the warehouse, shocked to see their hero so weakened.

One of them asks, “Superman, how can we help you?”  A modicum stronger now, he says, “Sunlight.”  The four work to untie him and they carry his heavy, muscular body outside, laying him down on the weathered wood of the boardwalk.  The midday sun is strong and bright overhead, and it takes almost no time for Superman’s strength to return.

Superman was brought low, and he had to communicate (1) what was making him weak, and (2) how to get his strength back.  Supermom, you do, too.  What is exhausting you?  What is making you feel worn to your soul?  What is making you feel stressed, anxious, lonely, and sad?  What has diminished the light in your eyes?

It’s time to open up some communication.  What is making you feel weak, despite sleeping well, eating right, and having a faithful worship and prayer life?  You have to let your family know these things.  They see the nearly effortless way you handle the home and family and don’t realize you are exhausted.  They don’t know your resentments or your anger.  It’s time to release that, to communicate your feelings in a loving, empowering way.  When my words seem to fall on deaf ears, I turn to writing out those feelings.

It’s also time to speak about what will help you regain your strength.  Do you need space to meditate or practice mindfulness, whatever that looks like?  (There are some faith-based meditations, too.)  Do you need your husband/partner to watch the kids, including getting them fed, bathed, and to bed, so you can take a fitness class or do yoga practice?  SAY that.  Don’t pussy-foot around it and be nice; none of this, “Honey, is it OK if I take this class once a week?  It’s OK if it’s not, and I’ll make dinner and take care of the kids before I leave.”  NO NO NO NO NO!!!  Try this instead:  “Honey, I need to take care of me so I can have the strength to take care of y’all.  There’s this class on Tuesday evenings I want to take.  So I can do this, I’ll need you to cook dinner those nights and be front man on getting the kids bathed and to bed.”  That’s clear, concise, and to the point.

As you start feeling better after a few weeks, make time to thank your partner for supporting you in your continuing efforts.  Also, thank your children for being good for the other parent and making his/her life easier.  Occasionally, make something in the crockpot for dinner so your husband/partner can get a little bit of a break.  Weekly, thank your other half for what they do.  This will encourage them to continue supporting you; gratefulness leads to people wanting to help, and everyone likes feeling appreciated.

It’s time we SuperMoms owned up to our weaknesses and claimed what we need to regain our strength.  I was diligently doing cardio 2-3 days/evenings a week and strength training at least twice a week.  I ate a healthy, balanced diet and got sufficient sleep.  My body was healthy.  I taught Bible daily, prayed at least once a day (not including blessing meals), and still went to church each week.  My spirit was healthy.  Yet, my spirit was also feeling worn down.  My body was feeling worn down.  Why?  Because my mental and emotional health was weak.  I had a big ol’ dose of compassion fatigue on top of anxiety, and those two things were negatively impacting the entire rest of my being.

Now, since my being is tied to others’ beings, my being worn down also adversely affected how well I was doing at the wife thing, mom thing, and friend thing.  Once I realized what was going on, owned it, and asked for help and support from people in my circles (my church circle has been especially supportive!), I am on my way back to complete, wholistic health.

SuperMom, you have got to claim a break for yourself every single day.  All you need are ten minutes a day to be quiet and mindful.  Some days, you need more time, especially if you’re working out.  Your children’s dad needs to realize that there’s more to parenting than his 10-second contribution.  Giving him these moments will help him build bonds with his children that’ll last a lifetime, so you’re doing him a favor, too.

I Went to Mexico Last Week

A simple vacation changed my life.  My mom treated the girls and me to a week-long cruise last week, with ports-of-call in Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay.  Costa Maya and Cozumel are in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas.  A week ago right now, for example, we were just beginning an excursion to Mayan ruins in Cozumel under the expert leadership of our tour guide, Nico.

This was my first trip to Mexico.  This was my first experience being a minority in a predominantly Hispanic place.  Being there, both in Costa Maya with its gorgeous beaches and in Cozumel with its rich history and environmental initiatives, whetted my appetite to learn more about these areas, the people who live there, and their history.

I’m far from a naive traveler.  I know that tourism is the top industry in these areas, and the natives’ solicitous behavior was in the hopes – rightly so – of good tips.  We learned from Nico that the “high season” is November through April, so what income they earn through tours, excursions, and tips must carry them through the six-month “low season” when cruise ships are not as prevalent in their ports.

We had two days in Mexico, one in Costa Maya, the other in Cozumel.  We had planned to swim and snorkel in Costa Maya, but rough seas made it unsafe for my youngster to snorkel.  Still, we enjoyed the beach break and the hospitality of the islanders.  While we were swimming, I overheard a guide with a group of snorkelers ask his group, “And how do we say <indistinguishable> in Mayan?”  To which the group answered, and I thought, “The Mayan language is still spoken?  Cool!”  My mind immediately began humming with questions and trying to determine how to find the answers – not from books, but from people.  Maybe find random Costa Mayans on Facebook?  Yeah, possibly.

Costa Maya

My first view of Mexico in Costa Maya where guests are greeted in a village setting

The next day saw us in Cozumel.  Truthfully, I liked Costa Maya as a place more than Cozumel; the latter was Americanized touristy.  I get that they must present like that in order to keep the Spring Breakers and tourists happy, but I was desiring a more authentic experience.  Both places have awesome stuff to see, however.  In Cozumel, all those questions found their answers, thanks to Nico.  Unfortunately, those answers just spawned more questions.  (Ahh, the joys of being a lifelong learner.)

Ancient Mayan ruins

The ruins of an ancient Mayan temple. The pillars represent the Sun and Moon.

Yes, the Mayan language is still spoken.  Forty percent of Mexicans are direct descendants of the Mayans and are distinguished by their short stature, straight hair, and high cheekbones.  (What about the other 60%?)  After the Spaniards conquered the Mayans, only a few dozen remained to preserve their culture, history, traditions, and customs.  The written Mayan language didn’t last, but all other aspects of the people did.  Mexican religion is a hybrid of Christian Catholicism and Mayan paganism.  I still have questions that I’ll hopefully get to pepper some of the soccer parents with.

Something else happened last week that wormed its way into my mind.  On Disney Cruise Lines, there is a room host for small groupings of staterooms.  These hosts make the beds, tidy the room (Jhe, our host, even folded a couple of my older daughter’s clothes that she was going to take care of after dinner), create the towel animals, replenish bath linens, turn down the beds, and leave chocolates.  Another thing that happens on DCL is, your servers at dinner follow you all week from restaurant to restaurant.  This way, they learn your likes, dislikes, and preferences.  After our first night, our little one never again had tomatoes on her salads, though she did have double cucumbers.

Our servers, Charles and Wayan, were from India and the Philippines, respectively.  Jhe, our host, was from Indonesia.  It struck me that the “brown-skinned” cast members had the least desirable, more grunt-service jobs, whereas the lighter skinned cast members from Australia, Europe, and North America were higher up in the hierarchy – just under the captain, for example, or working directly with the kids in the youth clubs.  They often held supervisory positions as well.  Yet, we seldom saw and interacted with those cast members.  It was Jhe who took care of our stateroom all day, every day, and Charles and Wayan were the ones providing us with exceptionally attentive dinner service.  Being a White American lady, I am aware of the glamour – or lack thereof – of service jobs.  I can also see the color and cringe at what seems to be unfairness.

My youngster only saw “people.”  All of us spoke to the room hosts along our hall on our way to the stairs and elevators.  Whether in her Princess Elena dress or tee and shorts, my eight-year-old dropped a curtsey to Jhe every time she saw him.  She doesn’t know that you only curtsey to nobility; to her, he is a noble person and worthy of her honor and respect.  In the simple act of the curtsey, she elevated him above his position of bed-maker and clothes-folder.  That’s beautiful to me.  How often do we elevate people by our actions each day?  Or would we rather they just keep in “their place” to which the White majority has assigned them?

It takes surprisingly little effort to raise someone up.  Let’s all take a moment to lift up someone in the coming week, regardless of who they are.

It’s Just Too Much!

The emails and announcements are beginning to roll in.  VBS at our church is this particular week in June.  The previous week is VBS at my parents’ church.  My younger has already determined that she wants to attend at my parents’ church, because afterward, Grandma will take her to the park and Grandpa will take her fishing.  There may also be ice cream and shopping in there somewhere.

Yet, our own children’s minister will expect her to be present at VBS at our church, and that VBS will likely be the exact same theme as that at our local church – and my little one LOVES that church’s minister.  What all these VBS directors see:  An opportunity for children to come and learn about Jesus and biblical truths through Bible stories, activities, games, crafts, and songs.

For this momma, though, it gets to be way too much!  Don’t get me wrong:  My daughter loves going to VBS.  She has fun and is such a social bug that being around other kids just compounds the fun for her.  Yet, she’s exhausted every afternoon, and with back-to-back VBSes, halfway through the second week, she’ll be tired and cranky, and her behavior will be tanking abysmally.  She is an extrovert and an empath, so being around people drains her emotionally.  The problem is, she doesn’t yet know this about herself, so she doesn’t realize she needs downtime to give herself a chance to recover.  This, then, becomes a battle as I struggle to convince her to take some alone time in her room.

The fun times are great for her, but she often complains she doesn’t learn much.  A pastor friend of mine once said of my daughter when she was six, “She’s smart.  She gives good answers in Sunday school, and not just catechism answers, either.”  When our Bible discussions deal with why Jesus was angry with the moneychangers at the Temple and how Jesus turns the status quo on its head and then how we, too, can do that, a simple story about Joshua or David isn’t going to excite her a whole lot.  Noah filled an ark with animals, but what about the cursing of Ham?  Balaam got mad at his donkey, but when will the lessons cover how boldly he refused a king’s request that he curse the Israelites and, in fact, blessed them, speaking the words of God?

The pressure will be on, with various people mentioning VBS right in front of my child, leaving me the choice of either saying, “No, you can’t go” or being the “bad guy” who tells her she needs to spend some peaceful time in her room.  When our summer break is only 6-7 weeks long (and that often feels way too short), the rush and hustle of 3 weeks of VBS is anathema to enjoying the cognitive and physical downtime that is a huge part of break.  So, please, give us parents a break.  For parents who work, I often hear how getting kids to a morning VBS and picking them up puts a strain on their work days.  For us parents who work from home, these hours can be either the blessing of a few hours to work with no kids, or they can be time wasted that we need to be working.  They’re mornings of getting everyone up and out the door when the kids would really rather be sleeping in.

So this year, I’m going to do what I feel is best for my child.  By the time VBS rolls around, she’ll be newly baptized.  In our household, talking about Jesus, the Bible, our faith, living the Christian life, etc., aren’t 180-school-day activities.  They’re not something that happens at church on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and five mornings in the summer.  They’re daily things.  They’re examples, questions, discussions, and applications.  These are things they learn as we go about our daily life.  Two non-consecutive Vacation Bible Schools is fine, but I’m not going to force her to endure two straight weeks of hustle.  After all, she doesn’t have but so much time to be a child.  And if I’m insisting she attend all these VBSes because other people want her to, what message is that sending to her?

 

But Boys Will be Boys, Right?

I’m keeping this blog nonpartisan, choosing only to address underlying issues.  Please don’t assume endorsement for any candidate.

The media is all abuzz this week after a video came out from over a decade ago featuring Donald Trump saying some pretty vile, disgusting things about women and how, because of his wealth, he was at full liberty to touch women inappropriately.  He blew it off as “locker room talk.”  As I’ve never been inside a men’s locker room, I can’t say if it is or not, and if I ever were to hear men speaking that way with all that false bravado or sheer cockiness, I would assume their big mouths were overcompensating for a significant lack in penile endowment.

BRMHS boys locker room 1

BRMHS boys locker room 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This type of talk, though, only perpetuates the whole concept of rape culture.  In the aftermath of this video coming to light, women started talking about when they were sexually assaulted by men who thought they could get by with it, usually because of their seniority in some way (age, position, wealth).

I remember being 13 when it happened to me, though mine was by a classmate.  It was the last day of school before Christmas break, and as I walked down the hall to class, a boy – one of the popular, cool kids – came from behind me and groped my breast.  I never told anyone – never have until now – but I remember feeling so ashamed.  And helpless.  This guy thought that, because I had large breasts – larger than any other girl in my class, anyway – that they were available to be grabbed.  He further thought that, being one of the popular boys, he could get by with it.  (Karma, anyone?  She found this guy.)  I didn’t say anything, because who would believe me?  Boys are gonna be boys, right?  No harm done.  Nevermind that I was painfully self-conscious of my breasts already and that a lot of less-developed girls hated me for them.  I never asked for that particular genetic “blessing.”

The proliferation of images of naked women online perpetuates this idea that women’s bodies exist only for men’s pleasure and consumption.  I have a guy friend who shall remain anonymous who enjoys looking at nude pictures of barely legal young ladies online, and he gives positive reinforcement to those who post those images by downloading, sharing and liking them.  Who are those ladies, though?  Desperate college students who needed a few bucks eight years ago and never thought their pictures would be plastered all over the internet?  Someone’s ex-girlfriend who posed for her boyfriend, never knowing that he’d sell her pictures after the breakup?  However those pictures came to be there, the message is the same:  The woman’s body is only for the pleasure of men.  It does not belong to her at all.

Ten years ago, out of boredom and because I like showing off my creative endeavors, I wrote erotica and posted it online (under a pseudonym, of course!).  The feedback I received was very rewarding for the most part, though some of it was less-than-welcome.  I was honestly surprised at how many men thought I’d want to hook up with them for sex, just because I wrote about sex.  They assumed that, since I put a few sexual fantasies out there for public consumption, that I was eager to put my whole self out there for whoever wanted it.  Absolutely not!  (And my husband has always loved reading these stories, so don’t go thinking that I did this behind his back.  We also laugh at the not-so-subtle requests for sexual favors.)

The popular thought in rape culture is that all women are “asking for it.”  We’re “asking for” the leers, the sexual assaults, the gropes, the frotteurism.  It doesn’t matter how a woman dresses or what she does; none of us are “asking for it.”  So some women choose to show their bodies off; it doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to outside of the proper relationships, nor that we want the touches.

Here’s a novel idea:  Parents, choose to teach your sons the true value of women.  Now I get that there are people out there who totally agree with Mr. Trump about women not being worth more than a man’s thrills.  For the majority of people, though, that’s not the case.  Teach sons to grow up respecting women, teach them that women’s bodies belong only to us women, and teach them that women are not objects.  We are people created by God  in the very image of God to be co-equal and complementary to men.  (Sure, I’m not as physically strong as my husband, but he’s not as emotionally strong as I.)  God loves us women exactly as much as God loves men.  Jesus died for women just as he died for men.  Slowly but surely, generation by generation, hopefully we can eradicate the rape culture prevailing in our world and teach men a whole new appreciation for women.

 

The Compassion of a Child

I’m sitting in my home along the SE US coast, waiting for Hurricane Matthew to pay us a visit.  Am I worried?  Not particularly, though I did feel a strong sense that we needed to do more to prepare for this storm than we typically do for others.  We’re prepared to this point, though we’ll have a bit more to do come Thursday and Friday.  Worst case scenario, we pack the kids and the cats into two cars and head west; the cars are fueled sufficiently.

This morning as the girls and I tracked the storm, we saw that some people weren’t so lucky.  As we pulled up the tracking map online, we saw that at that moment, the storm was right over Haiti and eastern Cuba, with a course dead-straight to the Bahamas.  While this is devastating for all these island peoples in the Caribbean, our hearts really went out to the Haitians.  It’s like they can’t catch a break!

So we prayed.  Then H, my seven-year-old who’s diligently saving up for a pink sparkly boat about the size of a massive cruise ship, started outlining her plan for rescuing people in such situations.  This plan involves using her boat to take them to safety on her own private island, complete with three hospitals, just to make sure everyone gets the care they need.  (I guess she’d need more than one island, so she’d have options depending on which direction the storms are going.)

As the pink sparkly boat is still quite a ways off, H spontaneously thought about what she could do now.  Her solution?  She wants to donate some of her shoes and clothes to children in Haiti who’ll lose everything in this storm.  I immediately grabbed my phone and texted the children’s minister at church, asking if there’s any reception for those sorts of donations.  No, but there are organizations, like Hope Changes Everything, who already have boots on the ground and need money to supply the Haitians with exactly what they need, be it clothes, food, or housing.  (That link will take you right to their site, and you can donate there.)

Our minister suggested a yard sale.  Truthfully, I don’t relish the idea of putting together a yard sale, but the weather will be good again, and there are a lot of things we can get rid of for this cause.  While I don’t look forward to the work and administration of doing this, I’m excited, because this is something H can lead off on.

I am understandably so proud of my daughter for having a heart that wants to reach out to people who have been so devastated by this storm.  More, though, is how she’s overcoming her own fears of the storm in thinking about others.  All morning, we talked together about what we need to do to make sure our home and property are ready for the storm.  I presented it as, “We need to be prepared, but we’re gonna be OK.  Worrying won’t change the storm at all.”  Still, though…  She is seven, and she’s not so thrilled with regular ol’ thunderstorms, let alone a hurricane due for a direct hit.  Once she started thinking about how to help others, she forgot to be afraid.

H is such a good teacher, even reminding her pastor momma about some truths that are easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

  • We need a change in perspective sometimes.  Things look challenging for us this coming weekend, but they’re much worse for thousands upon thousands of other people who have no evacuation routes and limited resources.
  • When we’re afraid, it helps to think about others and become unafraid.  I find it also helps remembering who controls the storm.
  • What we have can be used to serve other people.  This girl has plans for her life, plans that involve a good deal of education and helping vulnerable creatures.  Yet, her heart remains for people and desiring to help them.

The Bible tells us so many things about children.  “A little child shall lead them.”  “You must have the faith of a child.”  And the Psalmist writes, “From the lips of infants and children, You have ordained praise.”  We oh, so busy adults need to stop sometimes and listen.  The still small voice of God I’m hearing this week isn’t coming from a gentle breath of wind, but from the lips of a little girl.

Helping Children Soar

Yesterday, we got to church for our weekly groups early enough that my younger daughter had much-loved time to play on the playground.  She wanted me to support her across the monkey bars.  WOW, did that test how well my knee rehab is going!  (Quite strong and stable, given that I was standing and walking backwards on loose beach-type sand holding 45 pounds.)  My daughter loves to swing, and, sure enough, she hopped on the swing, asked me to push her, and informed me, “I want to go high!”

I pulled her back and gave her the initial pushes.  As every parent knows, though, when you’re pushing a child on the swings, there’s not but so high a parent can push their child.  The parent can start them, but then the child has to pump her legs, and truly, her height is completely up to her at this point.  The child pumps and rises, eventually getting to the point where the chains start to go slack and she can see over the bar at the top.  She can lean back in the swing, letting her hair flow back and down in the breeze, or the more adventurous can decide to jump out of the swing at this point (with hopefully no broken bones).  The point is, though, once the child takes responsibility for her own swinging altitude, she can then choose what to do with it.

2016-03-16 17.51.21

On her way to the sky

As I stood with my daughter, watching her swing, I thought about a situation a friend is going through with his daughter.  The daughter’s mom think she’s “keeping her safe” by doing everything for her, way more than a near-teen needs to have done.  As a result, this young lady is lazy and slack about her self-care, especially pertaining to her medical needs.  You see, this mom doesn’t know that it’s time to stop pushing and time to trust her daughter to pump her legs.

Watching a child getting crazy-high on the swings is a bit heart-stopping:  Will she fall?  Will the chain mysteriously snap?  What happens if she loses her grip?  Answer:  She’ll get hurt, but likely survive.  In the meantime, there are squeals and giggles carried on the wind, fading and growing with the Doppler effect as she goes back and forth.  There’s the memories of exhilaration of being a girl on the swing, feeling that “oh my gosh!” as you remember seeing the chains go slack and feeling like you were so high.  And you realize, you just can’t take that away from her, because this child will likely never fall out of a swing, but she’ll experience a million moments of soaring thrills as her legs pump her higher and higher and higher and she leans back to feel the wind in her hair.

Sure, a child is safer being kept close under mother’s protective wing, but she’ll also never learn what she can do on her own.  That child will swing as long as she’s in mom’s reach, but she’ll never soar if mom won’t let go of her.  Sadly, the child will never learn she actually can soar.  As parents, there has to come a time when we let go of our children, trusting them to hang onto the chains, but only as long as they want to.  This is the only way we will empower our children to rise up to be all that they possibly can be.

We So Fly (Lady)!

We live in CHAOS – Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.  Yes, it’s true.  Between teaching and canning and running the biz, cleaning happens randomly (grabbing something of mine as I walk out of a room), and it’s so frustrating getting on the troops to clean up while I’m doing something in the kitchen or my workshop.  Those aren’t my Legos or dolls!  Those aren’t my clothes left in a heap on the living room floor.  That stack of mail doesn’t have my name on it.  Ugh!  Then when company wants to come over, there’s the 5-hour, really stressful blitz to get everything picked up.  With Christmas coming, who wants to deal with that???  I want to decorate on my schedule, not be cleaning instead.

It showed up in a homeschooling group:  The Fly Lady Holiday Control Journal, which promises to help one conquer cleaning, making gifts, baking, hosting, and shopping.  Seems like a pretty audacious claim, doesn’t it?  The Fly Lady premise tackles cleaning in small, 15-minute chunks, claiming you can do anything for fifteen minutes.

The original Fly Lady

The original Fly Lady

As soon as I discovered and printed off this journal (it’s in a handy .pdf), I sat the family down and said, “This is what we’re going to do.”  I don’t want to be stressed this Advent season, and I want to be doing something other than last-minute present making/assembling on Christmas Eve.  The Troops got it.  We’ve done the 15-minute blitzes twice now; the only problem we face is, some of us don’t want to stop once the 15 minutes are up; a still-cluttered space – just this morning, in fact – can make one of us say, “But that area still needs to be cleaned.”  That was my older daughter.  I know the struggle, but I say, “Nope.  We’ll come back to it after moving on.”  At the end of each blitz, I make everyone come into the room.  I ask them to remember what the room looked like before we started, then have them take a good look at what it looks like now.  What do they think of it?  Everyone agrees that there’s a lot of improvement.

We’re a family of four, and the children are both old enough to help clean.  No one wants to be stuck cleaning a room by her- or himself, so if the room is big enough, we all tackle it together.  Think about it:  Fifteen minutes times four people…  That’s like an hour’s worth of cleaning in that one room!  Darn straight, there’s a lot of improvement in a short amount of time!  I was even able to seize a teachable moment by grabbing one of the teaching clocks and explaining this concept to my younger daughter.  It’s like a competition against the clock – how much cleaning can we do before the timer goes off?  That means there is very little second-guessing – things get thrown away, there’s little squabbling over “that’s not mine” (it all gets put away), and there’s a real sense of teamwork.  At the end of it, I get the cleaner home I want, I get the help I need, none of us are spending all day cleaning, leaving us free to enjoy other activities.  That’s a win all the way around!

Making My Children Happy Isn’t My Job

That sounds outrageously harsh, doesn’t it?  But it’s true.

As a mom and home educator, I have certain responsibilities regarding my children.

  1. I am responsible for keeping my children healthy.  We provide nutritious, balanced meals on a daily basis.  We take them to the doctor for check-ups and, if needed, sick child visits.  They have weather-appropriate clothes and shelter.
  2. I am responsible for keeping my children safe.  We teach them how to cross streets safely.  We make sure the youngest especially wears her bike helmet as she’s mastering riding without training wheels.  I teach them stranger danger and self-defense skills.
  3. I am responsible for teaching my children everything.  Sure, I teach reading, writing, math, and so forth, but I also teach them the Bible, how to do what Jesus instructs, how to cook, and all sorts of other good homemaking skills (not just “girly” stuff, either).  The Teacher writes in Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  From the moment our children are born to us, the process of their leaving us begins.  It’s such a depressing thought, but this is necessary for them to become independent future adults.  Everything we teach them is what they will carry into adulthood.  If we teach compassion and generosity, then we will one day have adult children who are compassionate and generous.  Those who spoil children so that they learn they’re the center of the universe have adult children who are petulant, spoiled, and self-centered.
  4. I am responsible for disciplining my children.  Again, the Teacher:  “He who spares the rod hates his child, but the one who loves his children is careful to discipline him,” and “Discipline your children, for in that there is hope.”  This is not a biblical mandate to beat our children for disobedience.  The imagery here is that of a shepherd.  A shepherd uses his staff (“rod”) to guide the sheep and to protect them from predators.  Our task in disciplining our children is to guide them to make right choices and to protect them along the way.  Just as a shepherd would not beat the sheep who strays from the herd, we don’t beat our children for straying from our instruction.
  5. I am responsible for treating my children with compassion as I teach them.  Paul tells the fathers in the church at Ephesus, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  While this verse is directed to fathers in particular, I believe it applies to mothers as well.  Some versions say “do not frustrate your children.”  As we teach our children, whether it’s as parents nurturing spiritual development or home educators teaching the joys of physics, we need to be mindful not to frustrate them to the point where they cannot learn or do not wish to learn.  Some frustration is good; we are often astute enough to see the top levels of our children’s potential, and setting the bar just to that point encourages children to reach for that height.  I often see this with my older daughter.  I’ll give her a math problem that is just a little out of reach for her.  I watch in near agony as she struggles with her angst with it and with me.  She tries a conventional method for solving the problem, and it doesn’t work.  Then she angrily marks through all that work and stubbornly starts over from a new angle.  Frustration turns to determination leads to exaltation as she grasps the problem.  If I spared her that angst in my attempts to keep her happy, then I would have also denied her learning, advanced cognitive growth, and the feeling of achievement.

Beyond and above all this, I am to love them.  I truly believe my children are a blessing from the LORD.  I love them in so many ways, day in and day out.  Snuggles, stories, teaching, quality time together, general silliness…  All these moments add up to a lot of love and a lot of great memories.

While I do love them and make many memories with them, the one thing I will not do is make them happy.  That’s just not in my job description.  My favorite undergrad Psych professor told us repeatedly for 2.5 years, “If your children like you all the time, you’re doing something wrong.”  The point he was making is, “If you discipline your children the way you should, they will hate you sometimes, and that’s OK.”  I’ve taken that to heart in a way that drives my kids crazy.  We’ll set a limit on their behavior, and one will say, “I don’t like you right now,” and their dad and I will high-five each other right in front of them.  (Mean, right?)

This came up today.  I was out to lunch with my best friend, my second Mom, and my friend’s daughter.  The daughter had had an attitude from the moment her Grandma picked her up, before church, during church, and then here we were at lunch, and the attitude was still with her.  I’d had enough.  I’m not used to children having such bad attitudes, especially out in public.  We were getting ready to bless our meal, and she was mouthing off about hating to pray.  I murmured “One moment” to my friends and told the daughter to cut the attitude now.  She did, we blessed, and lunch was great.  Later in the afternoon, my friend said, “She wasn’t happy about that.”  I replied, “Her happiness is not my concern,” not because I don’t love her, but because I do.

My children are happy, because they choose to be happy.  They feel loved, safe, secure, and that helps them feel happy.  They have boundaries on their behavior (which they sometimes push), but when it comes to what they can do, of what they’re capable, of what they are able to achieve, there are no boundaries.  The sky’s the limit for them!  Why?  Because I’ve spent more time giving them love, safety, security, and discipline and not bothered with ensuring their happiness.  Children whose parents don’t discipline them because they don’t want them to be unhappy end up with no sense of boundaries and they’re fairly incapable of creating their own happiness; they’re dependent on others or on having their own way to have their happiness.  Put bluntly, being willing to piss off our children as we create them to be productive, enjoyable future adults will help our children choose to be happy.

So, go out and make your children angry at you with your discipline.  Holy crap, is that hard to do!!!  Seriously, I know.  I’ve cried heartbroken tears over how my daughters have spoken to me in their anger, but I also am aware I made my mom cry with my angry teenage words.  Parenthood isn’t for wimps.  Yank up those big girl panties (or big boy undies, whichever suits you best) and dive into disciplining those young’uns in love.  Set boundaries.  Correct bad behavior.  Get ’em good and mad.  Then hug those kids, even – especially – if they’re big kids, taller than you, and tell them you love them forever.