Since the world will never be completely free of jerks, the rest of us need to arm ourselves and our children with tools to mentally combat the abuse as much as possible.
Trying to get a child to eat can be one of the most infuriating, aggravating, exasperating, frustrating and down right exhausting parts of parenting that nothing and no one can prepare you for ahead of time.
It took me 4 days to convince myself I needed to write this article. Why? Because I am human and fear judgment and ridicule. Someone out there may not approve of my decision to send a child to bed without dinner and might see it as a form of child abuse.
Nevertheless, I choose to push my fears aside and write the damn article anyway because I know there are thousands of parents out there struggling to get their child to eat a little bit healthier. It’s my hope that my story gives you courage to set firmer limits around food with your child.
Where I grew up saying you’re “sorry” was often viewed as a sign of weakness or that you were conceding to an argument. When I was younger I thought if I apologized for my actions that others would view me as weak. As I grew and was exposed to other ways of thinking about the phrase “I’m sorry,” I began to realize just how wrong I had been.
It is my hope that I can always be brave for my children. That I am able to find the right tools at the right time and that I can save all the “baby bunnies” they find in the world.
The reality is I won’t be able to save them from all the heartache this world holds. Nevertheless, I will find solace and comfort in knowing that I am modeling behaviors that they will someday emulate.
Knowing what I know about the importance of children getting daily exercise and fresh air (added bonus: I get exercise too), I recently decided we would start walking home from school.
It has been a magical experience and I would like to share with you two discoveries I witnessed once I slowed life down to a walking pace.
There are many splendid and whimsical moments in the show. Hell, I even started crying when Dick Van Dyke broke into song and dance toward the end. However, those moments could not outshine the darkness I found within the subtle and not so subtle storylines, which is what made me want to share my reflections with you my readers.
As an ex-communicated Mormon, religious holidays don’t have the same “punch” they used to when I was younger and deeply involved in the Church.
My partner is Catholic and her experience with organized religion was not quite as deep or intense as mine was and she still finds peace and comfort attending church on the occasional Sunday. Yet, we both love the current Pope Francis and his ethos of accepting all of God’s children.
As such, we celebrate religious holidays. However, I want to ensure what we are celebrating actually has some sort of connection to the meaning behind the season.
The day was sunny yet the Chicago wind still tried it’s best to penetrate through our coats as my daughter and I walked the 3 blocks to collect her brother from school.
This was our usual path to school and we were happily shouting, singing and listening to our echos as we walked underneath one of the cities many train lines.
Over the past few years, these under-passes have become beautiful canvases for local artists to display their skills. They have also become a place for the homeless to seek shelter from the elements.
As we walked toward the end of the underpass we noticed that someone had started building their little home in-between two of the cement pillars next to the street. My daughter ran a few feet ahead of me and before I knew it had struck up a conversation with her “new friend.”
During their conversation my 4 yo daughter covered topics which included “Why do you live outside? Do you have any pets? What’s your favorite food? Would you like to come over and play?”
Each and every response from this new friend was kind, gentle and loving. This woman’s eyes sparkled like black diamonds when she looked deep into my daughter’s and they quickly bonded over their shared love of pasta with red sauce.
As we were leaving, my daughter turns to her new friend and asks if there was anything she needed (my daughter has had heard me say this to other people we’ve met in need of help).
The lady pauses for a few seconds and says “You know, it does get pretty chilly at night sleeping outside. If you happen to have any extra blankets laying around I would be mighty grateful for them.”
My grandmother passed away 5 months ago and we had received some of her nice bed linens which I had put aside for the guest room. When I heard the request I knew immediately just the blanket she needed.
Now, when we pass by this woman’s humble home on our daily walk to school I’m reminded not only of the pure unconditional and non-judgemental love of a child, but I also see a little of my grandma’s love keeping someone else warm at night.
Not everyone is blessed with safety and shelter.
Not every homeless person is an addict or a criminal.
Teach and model humanity for your child and watch the world change from black and white into a rainbow of colors that stem from kindness, thoughtfulness and understanding.
Twas the month of December and parents everywhere,
we’re racing and rushing with apparently little care.
Yet we all know the truth as we all can see,
just how difficult and stressful the holidays can be.
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the “who must I buy for…
…and how can I afford it, but wait, I still need more?”
The holiday season isn’t just about gifting.
It’s about reflection on the year and the year ahead, and new beginnings.
It’s about asking oneself who you can’t live without,
And making sure you give them your “best,” of that I’ve no doubt.
For those that love you most will merely want you;
With plenty of time to be close and to do what “you do.”
So, when you start to feel your blood pressure raise,
Don’t let those neck cramps and anxiety poos ruin your day.
Take a deep breathe, that’s it, nice and slow.
Breathe in and breathe out and let that shit go.
This year will be different and I’ll tell you why.
Because this year, the time will simply fly by.
So “gift” your children the best gift of all.
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash down the hall!”
Go kiss your lovely babes and tuck them into bed.
This year will be less stressful, not full of holiday dread.
If you shift how you view things, you can change your perspective.
And in turn become much-much-much-much more “objective.”
Tell yourself you and everyone else can “live with the mess,”
and finally let go of all of that stress.
Spend time with your kids playing games and reading books,
Rather than sweeping and scrubbing every corner and nook.
Tis’ the season to remember the real reason of the holidays.
Not to navigate all those mall parking lot mazes.
Spend time with your kid(s), really look them in the eye.
Tell them you love them, and be sure to say why.
We all enjoy hearing how our lives matter to others,
From friendships to co-workers, to fathers and mothers.
Your child(ren) won’t forever live just down the hall.
The distance between you will become more than a wall.
Take the time now to hug them close and hold on to them tight.
Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night.
The name is Bond, James Bond.
When you hear/read those words, what image comes to mind; an alpha male or a beta male? My mind goes straight to the epitome of what the ideal man should be according to society.
The perfect, powerful, well-dressed, classy, measured, always more agile and clever than the “lesser/weaker” male. Bond never cries. He’s always in control, always ready to fight or f*%k. His emotions bounce from anger to lust to sex to savagery. This ideal…Bond…is a type of “savior” for mankind, keeping the world (or at least Britain) safe, one fight at a time.
Interestingly, a few months ago I saw Daniel Craig (a.k.a. the current James Bond) being publicly shamed for wearing his newborn baby in a baby carrier when he went out shopping. WTF is that all about people? Really? Really? Really?
No wonder men in our culture are confused as to “how to be a man.” In one breath society says how attractive, heartwarming, and even sexy it is when a man holds and cares for his baby, and in the next breath society states very clearly a “REAL MAN” does not carry his baby around.
In our current society all males are measured against this ideal of the “alpha male.” The problem is, this type of man often exhibits what is currently labeled as “toxic masculinity.” Toxic masculinity is a phrase that is getting tossed around lately so let’s take a moment to try to understand it a bit better.
And when our softer, gentler boys are unable to live up to this ideal, and struggle to emotionally cope with the constant onslaught of bullying from peers/parents/TV/news/society, they are turning more and more to violence to fill the void within.
The world is in dire need of sensitive men but I’m not sure we as a society even know how to facilitate this change.
What if that happened? What would it look like if mothers and fathers started getting mad at anyone who shamed a male for expressing a “feminine/weaker” feeling such as fear, sorrow, or submission; yes, even submission.
I believe that to be a great leader you must, at times, be able to submit to and follow someone else to truly understand the experience of those you lead.
So, how do you raise a kind, gentle, caring man who will be strong enough to cry and kick someone’s ass if needed? And gentle enough to calm his sleeping baby and strong enough to withstand the jokes slung at him from his “mates” at work who make fun of him for being a hands-on parent?
When I take a step back and look at the gestalt, or the macro of society, and then take a look at the micro of each individual human being, I see two things parents can do which could force society to change one little boy at a time. These two concepts parents must know about to help foster this change are the following:
It’s my belief that we, as parents, can change the worldview of an entire generation (both genders) by offering them alternative ways to view the world.
By shifting an individual’s worldview their inner voice inevitably changes; these two “ingredients” are of utmost importance in solving the problem of toxic masculinity within our current society.
Society has to stop reinforcing toxic masculinity and until that happens you must be the filter.
Worldview: What is it and how parents can help shape it.
This unique lens helps you experience/interpret the world and is called your worldview. Every living human being has a worldview. You may not be aware of it, or even know it exists because you can’t see it, but you have it nonetheless.
In 2007, the International Education for Peace Institute printed a handbook on how to accomplish world peace. They suggested that by shifting the world’s worldview from a Survival-Based/Identity-Based one to a Unity-Based Worldview, humans might have a chance at world peace.
I won’t go into all the details of the differences because this post is about toxic masculinity; however, you can get a pretty good idea about worldview by examining the graph below.
An individual’s worldview is like a pair of contact lenses that you are born with. Each one of us is born with clear lenses. Then slowly, little by little your contact lenses start to change prescription depending on what you are exposed to and how you are taught by parents to respond to things in the world.
Each of our lenses obviously impacts how we perceive/interpret/understand and react to each other and the world around us. Our lenses are forming from the first second we enter the world.
Were you born into a warm and safe environment? Or were you born into a war zone with bombs exploding nearby? Everything factors into how we see the world.
This brings me back to the topic of this article which is how we (parents) can change toxic masculinity within society.
How do you change your worldview and teach/offer your child(ren) the ideas of tolerance, understanding, empathy, integrity and hope? How do you change your current worldview to a more Unity-Based Worldview?
Here is my preliminary list:
Steps to take to change your worldview:
Question how you see the world around you and what factors (over the course of your life) were impactful in this formation and why? Write it down if needed…
Seek to understand new ways of thinking/seeing the world, which promote unity, togetherness, and those positive traits you seek in yourself and children. An example would be reading a book called The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. Seeing the world through someone else’s lenses often helps us notice a color we haven’t before.
Share with your children (partner/friends/co-workers etc.) the things you’re learning and how it’s changing you for the better. When we teach others, the information we are sharing builds new neural pathways that strengthen this new worldview/outlook. Sometimes a therapist, life coach, or insightful friend is helpful in this process of discovery.
I am still continually growing and “undoing” my knee-jerk reactions in situations which force me to challenge my worldview.
However, in my early 20s (after a few years of college and being away from home) I realized that this type of “win at all costs” mentality was adding a lot of stress to my life. Plus, as I learned more about psychology and humans I began to realize just how much every interaction we have with others impacts our lives. The way forward for me was a Unity-Based worldview.
Just remember, not everyone in your life is going to embrace this new and enlightened you. Just like in chemistry, if one of the elements in a mixture changes, it affects the entire solution.
Imagine that you just walked into a room and forgot what you walked in there for…now pause. What were the words you spoke to yourself when you realized you had forgotten what you were doing? What was the overall gist of what you said? Were the words judgmental, sarcastically funny, supportive, or mean and spiteful?
Those words which popped immediately into your head, without effort, came from what is called your inner voice.
Maybe a phrase your parents often said to you came to mind. That’s because parents are the most influential person in our early formative years.
This image is more effective in explaining how your words impact your child’s inner voice than anything I can write.
Just as we do now, our parent(s) repeated themselves many times in an effort to teach us, keep us safe, and help us “fit in” a specific culture/social group.
It’s normal for your parents to want you to follow and understand the spoken and unspoken rules of the family.
However, here are some harmful “rules” that support the ideals of toxic masculinity:
Women do the dishes
Men do the yard work
Children’s opinions don’t matter on family decisions
Males don’t wear feminine colors or display feminine/weak emotions
Females aren’t allowed to get angry or show aggression
Of course we all know these ideas are outdated. So upgrade. You’re the parent now. You make the rules of the house. Remember though, it’s not just about changing the rules, you have to change that inner voice, too.
Instead of saying things like:
“Don’t be a girl and cry. Man up!”
“Look at what you did! How could you spill the milk again, you lazy thing.”
“Why can’t you stop running around and act like a lady?”
Whatever your family rules were/are I’m pretty sure some of them involve ideas that support toxic masculinity. Identify them and make a conscious effort to try and change them.
Read books/blogs/articles to become more aware of toxic masculinity so you can begin to point it out to yourself and your children.
It amazes me the toxic thoughts that still pop into my mind even after 16 years of continued study and self-exploration once my eyes were opened to the injustices in the world.
It takes a lot of hard work to rewire your brain but it’s worth it and it’s doable! To start the mental reset for your thoughts you must first:
Acknowledge the toxic “rule” when you have it/realize it.
Think about/research facts that dispute this idea.
Repeat the new information you learned multiple times over multiple days to strengthen the new neural pathway.
It could look something like this:
Your son starts to cry when he doesn’t get his way. Your first thought is “boys don’t cry.” You acknowledge this thought and that it supports toxic ways of relating to boys.
In those few seconds after your son starts to cry and before you say something that supports toxic ideals, you stop and rethink, and instead say: “I know it doesn’t feel good to not get what you want. Everyone cries sometimes and that’s ok. Just don’t sit in the sorrow too long because you may miss out on something else you didn’t realize was an option.”
After your son has gotten himself under control and engaged in a new activity, you find quiet times over the next several days to sit him down and talk about the event. Talk about what upset him and talk about how he successfully resolved the situation. Practice coping skills and reaffirm the notion that ALL emotions are OK and felt by everyone. At some point, feel free to bring up the fact that there will come a time when crying in society might not always be the best or appropriate.
This process won’t be easy, especially if you are new to the idea of toxic masculinity and rather see the “symptoms” as simply describing all the men in your life.
It won’t be easy but it will be worth it, and it is necessary for the futures of our boys and girls.
I say that sentence to my son at least once a day. I am raising a soft, gentle, kind, thoughtful, and intelligent little man.
He is very aware of the world around him and since he is being raised by two females, neither of whom will EVER say to him “man up,” his inner voice will hopefully be full of positive phrases not laden down with the ideas of toxic masculinity.
We talk about what they could have done instead (build those positive pathways) and if appropriate, offer kind words or a helping hand to the recipient of the toxic interaction.
Your child needs you to be their filter in a world that is currently stuck in a “eat or be eaten” mentality.
Change the words of the story
and change the ending.
As my children drift slowly into a deep, gentle sleep to the sound of the weeping willow trees swaying beside their window under the moonlight sky….oh who am I kidding. My kids fall asleep on microfiber polyester sheets under the screaming glare of the city street lights and honking horns listening to nursery rhymes read softly by people with British accents.
Interestingly both my kids have slight accents. Coincidence? Maybe….they also have cousins who are British so…maybe not.
Back on track. Nursery rhymes and how their “hidden messages” seep into the unconscious minds of developing babies and toddling toddlers and paints the original canvas of how the world views the roles of men and women for many children, at least in most Western countries.
NURSERY RHYMES AND SEXIST LANGUAGE WHICH SUPPORT THE OPPRESSION OF WOMEN
Before we get into this I first need to say I am aware that every nursery rhyme has a story behind it’s origins. Knowing the origins to the rhyme can definitely change the meaning of the words. The problem lies in the fact that babies/young children aren’t able to appreciate the history in its relation to current culture norms. They take the words literally.
So how does something sooooo obvious, as the oppression of women around the world, continue for thousands and thousands of years? This period in history, 2019, is supposed to be the most civilized, most forward thinking people of all time and yet women are STILL fighting to be seen as and treated as equal HUMAN BEINGS….not objects.
One way it keeps happening is because both men and women are not making a conscious effort to change the narrative we teach our young children.
For example the idea that women are helpless and unable to cope with everyday life can be seen in the rhyme The Old Woman in a Shoe:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
She had so many children she did not know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
Now that is one mad momma, eh? Most parents know that you want your children to go to bed on a full tummy so they can sleep longer. Also, most moms (and dads) don’t want to put their children to bed angry. The woman in this nursery rhyme is obviously at the end of her rope and we are hearing the story from the male point of view.
What if instead we heard the story from the female point of view?
What a different story that tells than the first version. Both versions could indeed be about the same person, right? Age is “relative” when it comes to parenting and back in the day of these nursery rhymes a woman could have been 28 and considered old.
Think about that one little change in the first line. An image of an old woman vs a young woman can be quite different. Let’s say she was indeed 28 years old. Maybe she did have 6 children with her man and he up and left; men (and women) do it all the time even when they are married.
Now this mother is suddenly and unexpectedly left with many mouths to feed and possibly for one, or two nights is unable to send her children to bed on full tummies or be emotionally available for them when they need her. Because she is coping and trying to figure out what to do moving forward.
Yet instead of focusing on the positive aspects of the mother/woman trying to cope without a support system or the baby’s daddy….the language in this nursery rhythm insinuates the female is “less than” and unable to cope with her “given” role….mother.
Wanna do another one? Ok, here we go:
Peter Peter Pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.
So, this dude “had a wife” which insinuates the woman is the object/owned by the man. He couldn’t “keep her” suggesting the wife maybe wanted a divorce? So instead of talking it out and respecting her, he locks her away in a pumpkin shell (think no windows and no doors) i.e. solitary confinement. After he locks her away he is able to keep her “very well”…my goodness, this is almost a guide on how to abduct and keep someone who wants to leave you.
Let’s do it from the female point of view:
This rhyme tells girls that they need to respect themselves enough to not wait around for someone who treats them like rubbish. It also tells little boys that lying and cheating could result in them being left by their wife.
One final rhyme. An all time favorite of mine which perpetuates the complacency of “silence” as acceptance among males in society when it comes to physically taking advantage of women:
Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry,
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.
(Deep long sigh). Ok, first it’s pretty obvious that Georgie appears to be a creepy dude who can’t converse with the ladies. He sees women as objects and he takes what he wants like a little boy stealing cookies from a cookie jar. The minute his peer group (the boys or authority figure) appear he races away because he knows what he did was wrong.
The problem is that the rhyme stops there. The language tells little boys it’s ok to kiss girls without asking and little girls learn that even when the “boys” (i.e. protection) arrive they won’t chase that jerk nor dry their tears.
The female version which empowers women AND men to act against abusers:
I like the idea of other boys shaming each other when they see/hear them mistreating the females in their life. We all know that “locker room” talk happens and more than not it’s brushed off as “boys being boys.”
What if it wasn’t? What if the most alpha of the men in that locker room said “Hey, you’re talking about a person you know? Not a blowup doll or your truck. Use some respect, ok?” I can only imagine what would happen all over the world.
Sticks-and-stones-may-break-my-bones-but-words-will-never-hurt-me is such a lie. Words can hurt long after a bruise has healed or a scab falls off. The words and images we provide our children (especially the young ones) are constantly building their mental motherboard of what they will deem as “normal.”
The male dominated culture which we live in doesn’t have to be the culture our grandchildren live in if we become more aware of the language we use. I usually listen to music from the “good old days” (1940s), partially because I thought the lyrics would be better for little ears than most songs today.
We live near a street called Hollywood and each time we drove past it I would burst into singing the opening chorus of a song entitled “Hooray for Hollywood.” It wasn’t until I downloaded the song (per kids request to hear the rest of the song) and listened to the lyrics that I realized female objectification is everywhere. Here is my favorite verse (eye roll):
It’s good to know that a girl doesn’t have to be talented, smart, clever, pretty, witty, strong or anything else really to get a part in the movie. She just has to be able to please her boss. Anyone ever heard of a guy name Harvey Weinstein? Hmmmm…..maybe he too listened to this song when he was a boy and took the advice to heart. One will never know.
My son just started kindergarten and as I was leaving the school one day, an administrator and I started chatting. This woman has worked in both private and public schools all over the country for many years. Her most notable observations in children over the course of her career is.
She shared that parents don’t seem to allow their child to experience being disappointed and it’s seriously impacting the child’s ability to reach their fullest academic potential. I told her about my blog and that I would be happy to share my thoughts on the topic…so here we go.
This knowledge usually prompts feelings of sadness. We’ve all felt it and have experienced the emotional and physical wound in our hearts when we don’t get what we want. It totally blows, and most people will do almost anything to avoid “bad” feelings.
Let me set the scene: you are feeling pumped up and listening to party music whilst you deck yourself out in your favorite sports fan gear, and as you walk out the door you hear your phone buzz. Your mate just texted to let you know that they’ve had something unexpected come up and won’t be able to meet you at the game. Ugh…disappointment sets in.
Take two: It’s been an incredibly stressful day and you don’t want to cook dinner for the family and decide to “treat” everyone to a night out. For the most part, getting everyone dressed and out of the house goes relatively smoothly. You pick a local place that is a little farther to drive to but that you know has “something for everyone,” so you cope with the hungry noises coming from the back of the car. Once seated, the waitress comes to tell you the daily specials and you find out that they are “sold out” of the main dish your child(ren) eat. Disappointment sets in, followed by a few other feelings, such as complete and utter rage.
Maybe that’s why we (parents) try so hard to protect our children from feelings we deem as negative or uncomfortable. However, it is really a disservice. Instead of shielding our children from those feelings, provide them with age-appropriate coping skills.
Every parent and child supporter (i.e. relative or family friend) want their child to succeed academically and emotionally (i.e. to be content with life and feel happy more than they feel stressed).
Consequently, it’s important to not only teach your child things like colors, shapes and letters. It’s also vital to teach them how to cope with their feelings and the emotionality that comes with simply being a human being who interacts with others.
Herein lies the problem. Many parents are often unaware, or dont have the language needed to be able to explain to their child (in concrete terms) how to appropriately deal with their feelings. I’m most definitely not blaming anyone. I’m simply saying my experience is that knowing about or being able to teach emotional intelligence to your child(ren) isn’t easy for parents as a general rule of thumb.
The term emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI) means an individual can:
recognize, understand and manage their own emotions and
recognize and understand how their behaviors influence the emotions of others
Remember being a teenager and losing your temper with your parents, which ended in you losing privileges? You lost control of your emotions; which resulted in a punishment from your parents, because they were trying to teach you how to “hold your tongue.” Emotional intelligence also includes learning how to manage both positive and negative emotions, especially when under pressure.
What do you do when you’re under pressure? I am just going to list a few things people tend to do when they are feeling emotional pressure. Maybe you will be able to relate.
Displace your frustrations on to someone or something else. i.e. co-parent pisses you off, you turn around and yell at the dog for doing something like licking his paw, because the sound irritates you. Or you slam the car door really hard and break something in the process.
Start to “tune out” the world around you. Maybe you start sinking deeper and deeper into your thoughts. You know people are talking to you; but you are so overwhelmed emotionally that it’s like they are speaking underwater and you can’t understand what they are saying.
Begin to panic and resort to your “primitive” means of coping, which is fight, flight or freeze. You verbally or physically attack the person you feel threatened by. You walk away from the perceived threat. You stand still like a deer in headlights, not moving.
At some point in our life we have all been emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope in the moment. There have also been moments when we have felt underwater yet managed to keep our nose and lips above water long enough to regain our emotional footing without losing it.
This brings me back to the point of the blog. How do you as a parent allow your child enough time and space to experience the feeling of being disappointed and then help them recover? Additionally, how do you teach them to cope with negative feelings in general?
Acknowledge the feeling
First of all, let me say if you (the parent) struggle to identify and cope with your feelings (positive or negative) it is important you practice what I’m asking you to do with your child on yourself first. Get a “feel” for what your child will be going through and use your experience to enhance/educate your child.
For example: When at a friend’s house for a playdate, your child wants to play with a toy someone else has, but the other child is not done playing with it. Your child will more than likely do one of the following:
Snatch the toy
Regardless of how your child physically responds, we both can be pretty sure they are feeling disappointed that the toy they want to play with is occupied by someone else. It doesn’t really matter which way your child responded, you can still label and validate the feeling and experience for your child by saying something like…
If needed, feel free to share a time when you felt disappointed. Just make sure to keep the moment about them and not your “glory days of disappointment and doom.”
Refocus the attention
I want to make a clear distinction between helping your child recenter themself emotionally, rather than merely distracting them from their emotions.
Recentering involves experiencing the emotion and sitting in the uncomfortableness that comes with disappointment, then moving through that feeling into a more pleasant one, like excitement that comes from seeing another toy they may have missed. Or sit in the sadness with them and, if you see they are emotionally “stuck” at this point, you can give them a nudge toward another activity or thought.
Distracting involves shifting the child’s attention away from the uncomfortable feeling by ignoring it and shoving it deep down…down into the black metal box that sits at the bottom of your soul and keeps all your “bad feelings” locked up tight with iron chains ensuring its closure along with a 15 digit coded padlock AND a key.
Yes, that is a slight over-exaggeration. Yet, you see where I am going with this, right?
The problem is, more and more studies are coming out showing that “bottled up feelings” end up manifesting themselves in physical symptoms (chronic back or neck pain).
I’ve had a client say they felt like they were carrying the emotional weight of their entire family on their back. Guess what, they had severe back problems which limited their employability, leading to more issues. Again, I’m sure you see where I am going.
When they are ready to recenter on another activity or toy, say something along the lines of:
“Even though we can’t play with that toy… we could find a different toy or go for a wander around? What would YOU like to do?”
Empowering through choice
Giving your child a choice in that moment allows them to feel empowered and in control, which immediately shifts their feeling of disappointment. Yes, they may cry and pitch a fit, regardless of how you approach them. But eventually, over time and through practice, when you bring them “choices,” more than likely they will want to choose one that does NOT include a temper tantrum.
Society in general does not support people who throw fits in public. I don’t believe any child wants to have the label “cry baby” at school or a party. It’s my experience that children desire to learn how to control their behavior. They want to learn how to manage their frustrations and disappointments and not to be laughed at or labeled or pushed to a corner of the room to cope alone
Every ying must have its yang and it’s hard as a parent to watch your child struggle with anything, but especially when your child is feeling crappy. We’ve all been there and seeing it in your child triggers our own natural instinct to protect and shield them from danger.
The problem is you won’t always be around to do that. So, instead of shielding them, arm them with tools of protection like:
Providing language to accurately label their feelings
Teaching them ALL feeling are normal and ok to experience
Modeling for them how you cope/deal with disappointment
Celebrating when your child is successful in coping with disappointment
We all have bad days and feel disappointed about things. How we respond to these small, everyday disappointments factor into how the rest of our day goes. Teach your children that everyone feels disappointed at some point, but it’s the working through the feelings and coming out the other side that is what should be focused on.
We are all born with certain traits such as green eyes, mocha-colored skin, raspberry red hair and for some like me, an overbite to boot. Some of these characteristics can be changed or modified using hair dye or colored contact lenses, or even very expensive dental work.
We are also all born with certain talents/gifts/abilities, or whatever you wanna call it. Sometimes these gifts are obvious to the general masses (i.e. musical talent or sporting ability) and sometimes they aren’t (i.e. generous and kind-spirited or a good problem solver).
I bring this up because parents can be very very hard on themselves, and I know I am one of them. It is hard for me to admit I’m not a “perfect” parent and that I can’t be the “one perfect person” in my child’s life. The funny thing is we can’t be that perfect person for anyone really, not a parent, spouse, teacher or partner.
Ok, now let me get to my point. Here it is. If you have something, anything to offer ANY child in the world, please offer it…fill that gap don’t be shy.
My Younger Village-
My mother used to tell everyone she met that I was raised by the village and I would have to agree. Some village members I sought out and others found me.
For example, we didn’t have a lot of sweets growing up and I am not a “sweet-toothed” person in general. Nevertheless, every once in awhile I get a hankering for something sweet. I guess the need to fulfill that desire is strong because…
You don’t think that’s a good example of a village raising a child?, Before you think my parents were negligent, I assure you they weren’t. They knew the people I was going to see so it was all good in the hood, as they say.
Here’s another example: My mom used to drop me off at a church friend’s house when she needed a break from me or had to run some errands. This family had 6 children and the mom who ran the house didn’t play….you know what I’m saying? Not a criticism at all…
When I was at her house running wild and having fun with her kids, I often found myself sitting in the “time out” chair.
Recently, I was reminiscing with my friend from this family and she said she thinks I sat in the time out chair more than any of her siblings. We had a good chuckle about that…guess I needed some serious fencing at times when I was younger.
God, I sound like I am describing a dog. Well, I guess if you think about smaller type breeds, you know the type that when you let them off the leash they go absolutely bananas? That was me a lot of the time…especially in crowds because I’m a natural extrovert and feed off the crowd’s energy.
Quick side note: Recent research states that time-outs don’t actually work like people think they work. This is a debate for another post. What I will say is this:
Instead of unleashing it on your child, you put them in a time-out instead (i.e. a chair, couch, room, whatever, you just get them out of your line of vision).
Those types of time-outs I’m totally down with because it’s
halting the racing mental train your child was riding, and
prevents you from regretting a behavior.
Many people had a hand in raising me, from the strange man at the grocery store who held me so I would calm down, to my 6th grade teacher who took me aside and told me
Or something along those lines. To everyone: thanks.
My Current Village-
I do believe there are angels among us and my neighbor Robin just happens to be one of them. My co-parent and I literally walked into our house with our freshly-squeezed brand new baby boy when we heard a knock at the door. I knew it wasn’t my family because we had asked them to give us 2 weeks alone with the baby before “showing him off” to anyone. Friends and family ended up coming before that 2 week marker, but Robin was the first.
My family is close enough for visits (a 2 hour drive) but not close enough to help with those day-to-day things like popping over for 15-30 minutes so you can go grab the oldest from preschool without having to wake the youngest from a nap.. Robin fills a very huge gap in our family unit and she most definitely deserves this shout out for helping me with my village. I wish every family had a Robin.
My “Paying it Forward” Village
I have made an effort my entire life to put good energy and deeds into the world and it always comes back to me and then some. Even though I am a parent and have young children I still believe I have to keep “paying into the bank” so I don’t incur a negative balance on my positive karma spreadsheet.
When my son was a little over 3 years old he attended a preschool for a few months. During this time I volunteered at the school because….wait for it….. I believe in paying it forward. I had the time and talent to do several things; I ran a music group and the gardening program for the school.
After school one day on the drive home my son asked me “Momma b. Why don’t you pay attention to me at school like you do the other kids?” (or something along those lines). I told him “Darling, I love you to infinity and beyond (yes, I actually say that and no he has NEVER seen Toy Story…he has always loved numbers and will say to me he loves me as much as “1000” and I say I love him to “2001” etc. Then one day I was over the game and taught him the word infinity so I could “win.” He then askes me what was beyond infinity….hence the comment and hence the feeling that I needed to explain.)
Moving right along. I said to him that I loved him very much and that I was talking to his classmates because they don’t get to see me very often.
(By excited I mean animated and engaged with intense and playful eye contact with the child talking to me…most adults/parents don’t do this. Totally fine…don’t feel pressure to act silly. I just know that acting a little silly often makes someone else feel really good inside, or so I’ve been told/seen).
I further explained that other children don’t get to see their parents as often as he does. We discussed single parent homes and dual income homes (both parents work) and compared the hours those children were able to see their parent(s) vs. the time he got with both of his parents.
I have no clue the child’s background with regard to time spent with their parent, I just know my kids get enough and they can share a little of my love and attention when they’re around other children who may need some.
He got it and he actually stopped coming up to see me as often because he was “leaving space” for those who may need it. Kids get it.
Society in general is built on the idea that we work together for a greater good. So let’s do it. Start filling small (sometimes big) gaps in the lives of the children you are around and who you know might benefit from what you have to offer.
Obviously be respectful of the relationship between the child and their parent(s). Ask the parent if there is anything you can do to help out. You can even point out something you think you could offer their child that they may not know about (a secret hidden talent or skill like magic tricks, or a passion for art history).
Even if you have children, see if there is anyway you can help fill any gaps for other children in your life. It most definitely took a village to raise me and I’m grateful to those in my life who did.
For many of us the phase “just wait until your father gets home!” could make our blood run ice cold immediately. Being raised to fear the “father” was a way for the “mother” to try and control a child’s behavior. Fear is a very powerful survival response and researchers have found that fear is established unconsciously in everyone’s brain…specifically in the amygdala. While it (the threat of father) usually helped control a child’s unruly behavior in the moment, what it didn’t do was help build and foster a positive, caring, loving or kind relationship with dad.
Before I get too far off track, let me remind you what this blog is about: how you can help your child and their other parent (i.e. your baby daddy or your baby momma) build a strong relationship even when that person is not physically around.
Also, you should know that I’m not using the terms mother and father. I will use primary parent and co-parent for this blog and all future blogs. Many more dads are taking a larger role in their child’s life which is AWESOME, so terminology should reflect that and most of the time the term mother equates to “primary parent” and father to “co-parent.”
I want you to reflect on your childhood for a moment. Were you a lucky one from a double parent home where neither parent abused you (any type of abuse; take your pick). Or were you a kid from a double-parent home where your parents hated each other and made sure everyone around them knew; or, they hid it…either way, you knew and it negatively impacted your life. Maybe, you were the kid who was teased because your mother refused to share who your father was, even to you.
Get my drift? The majority of people today come from homes that are NOT two-parent-no-abuse homes. Let’s not get bogged down and wallow in this factual statement but rather rejoice in the fact that with knowledge comes change and wecan change our relationship with our children AND their other parent (if relevant) for the better.
It’s merely a matter of attitude and approach, right? Is the glass half full or half empty? Is your co-parent a dumb wit or half lit? And if you think I’m trying to be clever, I am, thank you very much, but I’m also trying to make a point.
Ask yourself (in a moment when you’re not frustrated with your co-parent), is this individual really stupid…like IQ score significantly below the 100 “average” mark. Or are they more ADHD and forgetful and unfocused which appears to those who don’t really know them as “dumb?” Do they drink a lot because they suffer from PTSD symptoms and haven’t been able to either break the habit or find a healthier alternative to cope?
EXAMPLE: Co-parent has dropped off your child and has forgotten to pack you kids pajamas. You respond with:
A “Your dad is so stupid. Can’t he ever remember to pack your pajamas when he drops you off for the weekend?”
B “Your dad can be so forgetful! I get frustrated with him when he forgets to pack your pajamas. It’s not the end of the world, and not your fault, but I’m quite irritated…so give me a second to calm down.”
What you say and how you phrase things to your child about their other parent impacts the “image” of who this person is to them. Most parents aren’t able to spend equal amounts of time together with their child (what couple can?) so it’s important to talk about the absent parent in a respectful way.
By respect I don’t mean make stuff up about them that isn’t true in an effort to paint them in a favorable yet false light. And yes I know, many co-parents are complete assholes and make the primary parent’s life miserable because they won’t take responsibility in helping to raise their child. I get that, and I’ve worked with many primary parents who were in that situation and each case is different , so I can’t give you a “say this” type of answer.
What I can say is that when the primary parent approaches the other co-parent in a calm, respectful manner, even if the other co-parent still acted like a jerk-off, the primary parent reported improved feelings about themself. Feelings of increased self-control, positive self-image and happiness replaced their old feelings of anger, hate, fear and rage. The primary parent felt stronger in themselves for being able to control their emotions and speak to their co-partner in a calm, concise, concrete and focused manner.
What if you and your co-parent are happy and life is as good as a unicorn-pooping-rainbow- skittles-on-your-front-lawn good? Well, you can still help create a stronger bond between your children and lovely co-parent.
For example: my co-parent is amazing and our life is pretty damn close to the “unicorn life” as it can get. Of course we have our disagreements as every healthy couple does. Nevertheless, one area we both agree on are her work hours: we both loathe them. My co-parent works very long days to provide for our family and she is usually gone from 8AM-8PM.
Our children wake around 6/6:30AM every day and are in bed between 6:30 PM and 7:00 PM every night. This means my co-parent only sees our children for 2 hours in the morning during the week. Let me break it down even more.
During a 5 day work week my co-parent sees our children for a total of 10 hours
(2 hours in morning x 5 days)
During the 5 day work week I see our children a total of 65 hours
(13 hours awake x 5 days).
During the 2 day weekend my co-parent spends an average of 26 hours a day with our children.
(13 hours awake x 2 days).
During the 2 day weekend I spend an average of 20-23 hours a day with our children. (13 hours awake x 2 days).
Total hours a week co-parent sees our children is: 36 hours
Total hours a week I see our children is: 85-88 hours
Over the weekend my co-parent spends as much time as she can with our kids which usually means she gets the whole 13 waking hours a day with them. Occasionally she has to work or be out of town on business but for the most part she is home every weekend. During our weekends together I take on a more co-parent role and I often get around 3-6 hours of much needed alone time as my co-partner steers the family ship.
We’ve all repeated ourselves over and over and over again when it comes to what we say to our kids. However, your privilege of power comes into play in how you chose to respond to the situation. Your anger at your co-parent can get easily misplaced and released onto your child. This happens to everyone once in awhile because we’re human.
Don’t take out your frustrations with your co-parent on your kids. For example, your co-parent has just pissed you off and left for work. You are still amped up from the argument and your child does something that reminds you of your co-parent and you lash out at them instead. Maybe you angrily say something to your kid like “Why are you doing that? I’ve told you a million times not to do that! Why can’t you ever listen to me!!!!!!!” Or you maybe you say “Why did you just do that? I’ve told you no! You’re just like your father you never listen!”
Nevertheless, a problem in the family unit arises when this type of response happens more often than not. The frustration doesn’t have to be aimed at the child to still have a negative impact. Maybe you call your bff instead to complain about your co-parent. However, if you do it in front of your child they will still hear the words and it will slowly seep into the foundation of the relationship with their other parent.
“Your mom’s a bitch.”
“I’ve met nicer people in the world than your mother.” (Dripping with sarcasm is fine….we aren’t perfect.)
As I mentioned, my children have two very loving and committed parents. At the moment it’s just a simple fact that my partner and co-parent works a lot of the time. When she’s gone and away from the children I say and do something daily (often it’s more than one thing) to make sure we can continue to incorporate her “essence” and importance in our family system.
When shopping with the kids I often say something to the effect of:
“You know Mumsie loves shopping with you guys much more than I do (true statement: I abhor shopping of all kinds) and if she wasn’t working hard to earn money to support us, she would love to shop with you. If she were here what do you think she would do?”
If we are out for a nature walk or just walking around the block I often will point out things my co-parent likes such as a certain flower or type of car. I then will say something such as:
“Hey guys, look at that beautiful dandelion. Mumsie loves to blow the tops off dandelions when they go to seed like this one. Let’s make a wish for Mumsie and blow the seeds.”
Once in awhile during the work week, my co-parent is able to get out of work in time to be home to read the bedtime books to the children. These nights are magical to the kids because it happens so rarely. Consequently, many days when the kids are missing my co-parent they will ask if she is coming home early…or even pretend they hear her coming up the stairs. The disappointment in their faces is enough to break anyone’s heart when I tell them she isn’t coming home. So I say:
“Mumsie loves you both with all her heart and if she could be home every night to tuck you in she would. What is a book she enjoys reading to you both? Let’s read a book for her.”
Reflect on your own childhood and how you felt when your parents talked about your other parent. Were they respectful and tolerant or did they talk smack and were rude. How did you feel? When they spoke either positively or negatively did you take it personally?
Even if you don’t like your co-parent, the efforts you make to at least try and treat your co-parent with respect and civility won’t go unmissed by your child. If you’re lucky enough to still like who you are parenting your child with, wonderful…continue to build on the positive relationship between your child and co-parent when they are not around by speaking positively about th
Not all bags brought to a relationship are meant to be opened by the couple. Sometimes one person needs to really take a look and sort through some bags alone. During that time the partner supports them by giving space and unconditional love. Blah blah blah.….just make it work! Work enough so that your (i.e. the couple unit) baggage doesn’t unnecessarily negatively impact the family unit.
There will always be give and take when it comes to time and priorities and family. Just remember, it won’t always be this way. Your children will grow up and life will evolve….just try to go with the flow and do the best you can with what you know and never stop learning.
I ain’t gonna lie…every once in a very very very blue moon when the kids do something they KNOW my co-parent dislikes and maybe they break something…instead of losing my cool I will say “…wait until we tell Mumsie what you did.”
I say “we” meaning the child and I will talk through whatever happened and together we will tell my co-parent what went down. Of course, by the time we share the story I’ve usually already told my co-parent and we’ve had a good laugh about it. Regardless, in the moment it saves me from:
Losing my temper and taking an action I may regret.
Have to threaten or think of an (enforceable and suitable) ultimatum if they don’t confess/apologize/etc. Listen parents, don’t ever write a check you can’t cash. I’m sure you know this with the banks…same goes for kids. They need to know the line is firm and solid and supportive. Not punitive and movable and spiteful.
It also provides me and my co-parent time to talk about how we are going to approach a suitable punishment while providing a “cooling off” period if required by either parent.
Being picky about the shows your children watch is important. Knowing the content of the shows is also important. I’m amazed at just how many children’s shows are floating around on the numerous digital highways out there (i.e. hulu, Netflix, cable TV, etc). I’m equally amazed at just how many of them are total rubbish.
Before I go off on a tangent about television and young children (I will do that some other time), let me get back on topic.
As you have probably guessed…I am quite choosy about the shows my kids watch. My better-half is also on the same page and we were both very excited to watch the Sound of Music with the children. They were 3 and 4 years old when we watched it together as a family for the first time, all snuggled together “deep-couch sitting” with our popcorn and blankets.
Until this moment the only movie they had seen with real-life people (not cartoons) was Mary Poppins. My oldest is a boy and he has always been quite inquisitive and is definitely an “old soul.” His biggest take away from Mary Poppins was the fact that women couldn’t vote. We have had many chats about that since then…again for another blog, not today.
His pointed questions as to “Why didn’t men want women to vote?” and “How silly that people thought women weren’t as smart as men,” should have tripped my alarm bells for content with the Sound of Music movie, but it didn’t. I’m sure you’ve guessed what his take-away from this movie was from my title of the blog…incase you haven’t, it’s explaining Nazis to your 4-year old.
One of the personal rules I live by when it comes to questions with anyone is this: if you’ve got the guts to ask the question I will give an honest answer. Just be ready for the truth. Obviously with children tact comes into play. You can’t just lay out all the raw awful details of what the Nazis (human beings) did to the Jews (again…human beings).
What I did give was an accurate, honest, simple answer to his question “Who are the Nazis and why are they chasing Maria and her family?”
That was the broad-reaching answer I gave. Of course we discussed it further in bits and spurts as more questions came up for him. This back and forth banter went on for about 2 ½ months before the daily questions stopped. He still brings up the topic but seems “satisfied” with the answers he was given. His main fear was about Maria, and if she and the children were going to be safe.
Direct, honest, and factual, but I didn’t go into the details. Every child matures differently physically and emotionally. I know my son very well, and his pragmatic little brain was able to hear what I said and process it. I didn’t want to sugarcoat the type of people Nazis are to my caucasian, blonde hair, blue-eyed boy. My response to how they killed so many people is true. What it is not is easy to hear or digest.
Just because something can be digested doesn’t mean it has to taste good. We encourage our children to eat “horrible things” like broccoli because we know it’s good for them and their bodies. I encourage parents to “feed their children broccoli” when it comes to how and what they teach them. Cut it up into bite-sized pieces but don’t sugarcoat how ugly humanity can get.
I often find myself telling my children that all people have good and bad qualities. Even people who call themselves Nazis probably have some good qualities, but it’s hard to see when their bad qualities (like the desire to murder an entire race) overshadow them.
History isn’t pretty and mankind hasn’t always been kind. So don’t do your children a disservice by shielding them from the basic realities of life. Teach them that there will always be people who want to harm other people. However, there has always and WILL always be people who will want to help others. I tell my children everyday to be a helper in a world of need.
LAYING THE SCENE….
When I was young I had a small security blanket which had soft, white satin sewn around the edges which was absolute heaven for me to stroke when I was upset or when I was settling into sleep. I can’t remember the exact age I was when my mom thought it was time for me to “retire” my blanket. What I do remember was that I was staying at my friend’s house for a sleepover and when I came home, my blanket was gone.
From that point on, I started twirling my hair. I now know it was done in an effort to recreate the soft white satin feel I had grown to need/crave as a child to help me self-soothe when I was upset or out of sorts. Not the worst bad habit to have, but not necessarily the best one either.
When my children were just learning how to speak in complete sentences (around 2 and 3 years old), I began hearing them say the word “um” quite often. It mainly happened when they were stalling for time or merely wanted to hold my attention for longer. Regardless, it didn’t take me long to find this new behavior quite annoying. So I said to them:
They both quickly replied
…and they were correct in their assessment.
TALKING ABOUT BAD HABITS WITH YOUR KIDS
Habits are hard to break and they can be good or bad. Leading by example is one of the best ways to teach children. I always find it hard when I hear parents say things like “Do as I say not as I do.” Comments like that are counterintuitive to children and you should ask yourself, If someone said that statement to me, how would I feel?
At the end of the day it was time for me to seriously consider breaking a couple of bad habits WITH the help of my children. So I sat them both down (in a moment when both were mentally able to take in the info….like I didn’t interrupt them from playing a game to discuss this) and said:
That was it. My children became amazingly good at listening for the word “um” and reminded me all the time…like ALL the time; they even interrupted me mid-sentence when I was speaking to someone. Hell, they would interrupt strangers and tell them “It’s not polite to say “um.””
Needless to say, in those moments I would tell them that they only have permission to remind people who “accept/acknowledge” that they would like to stop saying the word “um” and not remind complete strangers.
Parent’s Current behavior: If I had to guess how many times I say the word “um” within the course of a week I would say maybe 1.5 times. (Prior behavior: “um” was uttered at least 20 Xs a day)
Child’s Current behavior: The children stopped saying “um” within the first week. Granted they were only around 2 ½ and 3 ½ so they hadn’t had that long to form the bad habit in the first place.
Parent’s Current behavior: If I had to guess how many times the children remind me to stop twirling my hair a week I would say 5 times. (Prior behavior: I twirled my hair almost incessantly when I wasn’t using my hands for other things).
Child’s Current behavior: The children never really developed the habit of twirling their hair they had just begun to mimic mine…so once they stopped seeing me do it often, their habits quickly stopped.
SUGGESTED STEPS IF YOU WANT TO TRY
You and your child each identify a bad habit you would like to break (start small like stopping yourself from saying the word “like” instead of quitting smoking cold turkey). Maybe it’s the same bad habit, who knows?
Come up with the terms, i.e. How will you remind each other/monitor the behavior? Mine just reminded me/shouted with excitement that they “caught me” me whenever I said it. We did learn about and practice “tone and volume” during this exercise as well.
How will you know you’ve achieved said goal? Must the habit be completely broken or significantly decreased? (i.e. Me twirling my hair. It’s now a private/conscious twirl instead of a “dreamy head in the clouds constantly twirling” twirl.)
What type of support would you like from each other? Verbal- such as saying “Well done, you can do it,” or a more tangible item like a new toy or book?
Now go do it. If you are struggling with it, share that with your child. They need to know, to learn that it’s OK to find life difficult at times. Change is hard even if it is for the better, so lead by example.
This activity is good for everyone in the family. Along with watching someone struggle to change a behavior you get to teach your child how they TOO can stop a bad habit. Don’t go this path alone. Make the pain worth the gain.
THE WRAP UP
My hair twirling habit has a very strong neurologic link to an old blanket that gave me my much needed feeling of security and comfort as a child, and I doubt I will ever completely break this habit. Well, let me rephrase that…I have drastically reduced the amount of hair twirling I do IN FRONT of the children. However, when they are fast asleep in bed I twirl the hell outta my hair.
Let your children help you become a better person. The most difficult part for me was allowing myself to relinquish the role of “supreme-all knowing-better-than-anyone-or-anything-in-the-whole-wide-world” idea of what the word parentmeant. Parents are people too, ya know…we make mistakes and we aren’t perfect. Owning that part of yourself just isn’t easy.
However, when I reframed the old/tired/grungy ideology that parents are or had to be “perfect people” things became clearer to me.
The new reframe/mind shift was this…
My children didn’t see me as being vulnerable or weak when I asked them to help me become a better person. My children saw their parent making a conscious effort to improve themself.
Listen, if you ask your child to help you stop/start doing something you’d better be ready to commit. I am highly competitive and there was no way I was going to “lose” in front of my children, are you kiddin’ me? Hence, I channeled that competitive energy and put a lot of focus and effort into stopping myself from saying the word “um.” To be honest, what really stopped me was the awful screeching sound my little 2 year-old make when she shouted “YOU CAN’T SAY UM!!!”. I still hear her in my head when I’m just about to say the word….