Modeling Acceptance

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I write young adult novels, and in the writing community, there is an ongoing discussion about needing more diversity in the books that are published for children. A lot of these discussions have informed more than just my writing.

Kids are open and accepting in ways we have perhaps learned not to be. I’ve heard people say that kids are born colorblind. That is to say they won’t notice differences. In my experience, this isn’t really true. They notice differences, they just don’t equate one thing as being “normal” and another as being “abnormal.”

And as accepting as kids might naturally be, they are also blunt. They might loudly ask questions that we find embarrassing. It’s because they acknowledge differences. Sometimes very loudly. I was lucky to find advice for these circumstances within children’s literature in the beautiful book Wonder by RJ Palacio. Nothing was more hurtful to the main character, a middle-schooler named Auggie who was born with facial anomalies, than when kids pointed and their parents hurried them away in an attempt to diffuse the situation. As if Auggie didn’t know his face looked different. As if it wasn’t natural for kids to ask questions.

WONDER cover

Reading this book really started me thinking how I would handle this with my kids. I’d probably say it isn’t polite to point, and I might encourage my kids to say “hi” just like I do when my kids are staring at other kids in the coffee shop or grocery store.

We should be open to these discussions, but we needn’t make a bigger deal out of these questions than they need to be. Our kids guide us. They ask the things they wonder about and accept the rest.

I had a well-meaning friend very proudly say that she had explained homosexual couples to her kids, pointing out examples in her own family. And while it’s great that she was saying: “they are just like us and an equally legitimate kind of family” I would argue that having a formal discussion about differences makes it more of an issue than it needs to be.

I handled this difference another way. When my son asks about when his dad and I got married, I tell him it’s because I loved Dad and wanted him in my family and getting married was how we did that. My son asked about if he would get married one day. The most inclusive way I could answer that question was to say that “one day you might meet someone you love and want to be in your family and then, yes, you can marry him or her.” This answer was acceptable to my son.

Another well-meaning discussion I’ve heard is how grateful parents are when their child’s class has a special needs child. And someone pointed out, the kids are not there to be a lesson for your typical kid, they are simply there to learn.

That really got me thinking. Especially because my son is fortunate enough to go to public preschool. He is in a class for deaf/hard of hearing students. As a hearing student, he attends to be a peer model. And, yes, I had thoughts of: how wonderful! He’ll learn that these are kids just like him despite their hearing devices and the fact that they used cued speech. But the truth is, this is such a small part of his schooling experience.

We’ve talked about it, and the discussion goes like this:

Son: Mom, do I have a hearing aid?
Me: Nope.
Son: Why not?
Me: Your ears don’t need any help hearing.
Son: Can I have a cookie?

So I do think our kids can teach us a lot about acceptance. And I think we need to merely model it to our best ability. When our kids notice differences, acknowledge it, discuss it as much as your kid wants. But, likely, they don’t need a whole speech about differences and what they mean, and that even though the other kid is different they still have feelings like we do and how great is it that the world is so diverse and…

This is all just my take on this new wonderful world in which we get to parent. Acceptance and equality is something we all strive for. And surely, there are other approaches to modeling acceptance. I want to hear them! I want my kids to grow up to be accepting, compassionate, and kind people. And the best I can figure, the way to teach them this, is to be that way myself, the best that I can.

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Stop the Unsolicited Tummy Touching (and other pregnancy requests)

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Anxiety and depression aside, it didn’t take long for me to realize I didn’t care much for being pregnant. With the exception of near-uncontrollable catastrophic vegan pregnancy farts that cleared entire floors and feeling the baby treat my uterus like her own private Soul Train line, I found the whole thing unpalatable.

My list of grievances ran the gamut from minor to major. I abhorred the many common, maddeningly nonsensical abbreviated terms used to denote pregnancy: preggers, prego, pregs. I strictly forbade everyone I knew from using those terms around me, both verbally and in writing. I remember a woman at work g-chatting me to ask if I was pregnant. It went precisely like this:

Her: “Hi! Can I ask you a personal question? Are you preggers?”

Me: “I will answer that only if you swear to never use that term around me again.”

For me, one of the greatest ironies about pregnancy was the increasing visibility of something I considered deeply personal and private. I detested the way other people felt inclined to discuss it with me, and was routinely irritated and put-off by people’s comments. Work presented its own unique set of irritations. As both the circumference of my stomach and word spread around the office, people began to treat me differently. Female coworkers I once mistook for intelligent started commenting on my size. Generously, I returned the favor “Oh my God, look how huge you are!” a particularly astute coworker said as she passed me in the hall one day. “Wow, you too!” I replied brightly as her expression fell and soured.

One of my superiors developed the habit of stopping by my desk to quietly ask how I was doing. Humorously, before he knew I was pregnant we would typically share a robust greeting as he bulldozed his way into the office in the mornings. But once he found out I was in the family way, he took to approaching me almost deferentially, tilting his head and using a tone of voice akin to one commonly used in times of tragedy: hushed, sympathetic, almost tentative.

The first time he did it, I was so baffled and vexed I could do nothing but guffaw. “How are….you?” he asked quietly, tilting his head to the side and gesturing gingerly toward my stomach. I stared at him blankly for a second before realizing what he meant. Hoping my face didn’t reveal my realization that he was an even bigger idiot than I thought, I responded equally deliberately. “Fine,” I said slowly. He continued to look at me with concern and something akin to pity as an awkward amount of time passed in silence. “I’m fine. I’m not sick, you know. I’m just pregnant,” I said pointedly. “Oh, I know,” he said, smiling weakly as he backed away. “Just checking on you!”

With one revelation about my womb, I had gone from Brook the Copywriter to Brook the Pregnant Woman. Looking back, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised by that. It stands to reason that this man, like most other people, largely digests mainstream information without interrogating it. In this case, most mainstream information on pregnancy positions it as a delicate, dangerous condition (not unlike an illness) that also dulls the senses of the fetal host.

My first Google search on pregnancy informed me all about “pregnancy brain” or “mommy brain,” which would stunt my intellect, memory, and general acuity. The information was presented to me as if from a kindly old chap–male, of course–who seemed to pat my hand reassuringly while he explained to me that it was normal and natural for me to dumb the fuck out while I gestated. All these super complicated, confusing things were going on inside my body that were part and parcel of the realization of my greatest biological fulfillment and destiny. My brain function–already naturally compromised by virtue of my womanhood–would just be temporarily offset more than usual. I sat in my living room, alone save for my pitbull daughter, sobbing as I realized I would not only get fat, but stupid, too.

As much as I hated all of that, though, what I loathed most of all was the unsolicited tummy touch. In my estimation, few mentally sound, socially well-adjusted people randomly touch other people in such intimate places. It’s a very private area, primarily reserved for lovers, physicians and personal trainers. Yet some otherwise sane people feel compelled to touch pregnant women there.

I came to recognize the gleam in the eye early on–the zeal in the eyes of would-be tummy touchers is unmistakable. At work, these women would spot my stomach and their eyes would light up like a sea of Bics at a Widespread Panic concert. Not unlike zombies, they came at me outstretched hands first. While telling people outright not to touch me worked perfectly well, I figured I might as well have fun with it, so I decided to start treating non-pregnant people the way many of them treated me.

One day, as I stood to leave a  meeting, I noticed a coworker making a beeline for my belly. As she approached me, hands first, I angled my body away from her and proactively placed my hand on her stomach. “Hi! How are you doing?” I asked, rubbing gently. She looked at me blankly, completely lost. “Fine,” she stammered, backing away. “Great!” I beamed. It only took a few more aggressive tummy rubs before people around the office stopped attempting to touch mine altogether. Mission accomplished!

While my actions helped make my pregnancy more tolerable, I also hope I helped blaze a trail–however small–for those pregnant women who came after me. May they have the  freedom, consideration, and comfort all pregnant bodies deserve. At the very least, I hope they can wield their pregnant flatulence like the lethal weapon it is against those who deserve it most.

Image credit: David Leo Veksler

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A Numbers Game

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By Lauren Apfel for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

I have always been a woman of words, so it came as something of a surprise how motherhood has made me fixated on numbers. And not necessarily in a good way. It seems to be a thing these days, a tendency: to tally, to count, to know where your children stand in one numerical line or other. A normal means of marking time and gauging development, for sure. But also, let’s be honest, a confidence booster in the face of the uncertain work of parenting that all is well and, in some instances, that all is better than well.

It started in the hospital, this obsession, when my first child was born. Actually, no, it started before that, with the ticking off of months then weeks then days until he arrived. 8 days late, but he was big and I was proud. An Apgar score of 9 after 1 minute, his hands and feet a dusky blue, but a perfect 10 after 5. 8 pounds 13 ounces, or as the cupped scale in the UK hospital told me: 4 kilograms precisely. I began to breastfeed him, watching the clock as I went, 25 minutes on one side, 10 minutes on the other. I couldn’t see how much was going in, so I counted what was coming out instead. How many pees today, how many poos? Let’s get him back on the scale. 75% for weight, 91% for height, we charted his growth intently that first year, the dots on the page stretching out like a broken constellation.

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I’m Not Supposed to Wear a Bikini But I Wore One Anyway

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I wore a bikini to the beach yesterday. At three months postpartum, my tummy is soft, squishy, and covered with stretch marks (despite an excellent diet and regular exercise, embarked upon because it makes me feel good).

I am a woman who, according to our society, is Not Supposed to Wear a Bikini.

But I wore one anyway, because I love the way it feels and looks. I love the sun on my skin. I think of my stretch marks as radical, powerful decorations. My body has obvious signs of growing and carrying a human in it. Our culture tells us that we are supposed to hate and hide all evidence of pregnancy; that our bodies are somehow “ruined” by having children.

The opposite is true. Our bodies are beautiful just because they are. Not because they are tan and skinny or pale and curvy or tall or short or “perfect.” Not because we have a thigh gap or no thigh gap or strong ab muscles or a soft postpartum pooch.

Despite what we’ve been told, our bodies do not exist merely to be gazed upon.  Our worth is not determined by how closely we resemble an arbitrary archetype of beauty. Our bodies are beautiful just because they are. And– much more important than being beautiful– our bodies are amazing because they work. They function. They grow and birth children. They lactate the most perfect food for our babies. We have arms to carry our kids, lips to kiss their wounds, strong legs to squat and change diapers, core muscles that support us as we wear our children around. Blood, brain, and a heart that keeps it all functioning well.

Take care of it. Honor it. Don’t hate your body because our society has deemed us Not Good Enough. You are good enough. Love yourself!

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Breastfeeding is the Bomb: Here’s Why

I get a kick out of that title, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. This is the name of the book published by La Leche League, and it’s the Bible of Breastfeeding. The Maxim for Mammilla. The Tome for Teats.

What can I say? The title of the book makes me giggle.

Whenever I tell Gwen that the title amuses me, she looks at me as if I’ve just called Canada the 51st state or let out a very large, wet belch.

I just think there’s something funny and awkward about the title. Not about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the bomb. It’s dope.

Breast milk is beyond science. We have yet to fully understand it, and we will certainly never reproduce its equal in a laboratory. It is a mystery, like quantum physics and black holes and the appeal of Bikram yoga. It is God manifest in the material world. I get a bit fired up about breast milk.

Here are some of the wondrous perks of breasts. I mean breast milk.

The first milk that comes out after baby is born is called colostrum. Colostrum contains gentle laxatives that help baby poop out the meconium. It contains probiotics that set up the proper flora in the baby’s gastrointestinal tract and is higher in protein than ordinary milk. Colostrum also contains antibodies to protect the newborn against disease. These antibodies set up the infant early on with a healthy immune system. They contain the combined disease prevention protocol of mama. And when mama gets a fresh cold, she passes her newly-created antibodiesto fight that cold right to her baby. When my wife was nursing, she’d be thrilled to get colds so she could give this gift to our son. She’d be in tears of joy.

Every mammal produces colostrum for their babies. It seems so sacred to me, a special bond between mom and newborn baby. In Southern India they sell a special sweet cheese made from cow colostrum. When I first read this I literally choked back a vomit, and then I realized that it was no different from cheese made from regular cow milk. New things can seem so scary.

Breastfeeding bonds mama and baby. There is no better soother or TLC than a nice, warm nipple. Visualize this. You’ve had a tough day of learning to use your fingers. You’re frustrated after the fifteenth time you dropped the ring that dangles above your head. You’re craving some touch. Well, now, there’s that warm soft fleshy mama who smells so good. The warm nipple that fits just perfectly in your mouth. And the milk, oh, the milk, let me tell you! Delicious. And you always fall asleep after drinking it. Ah, sweet ambrosia.

Breast milk is a panacea. It generates hormones in mama that battle baby blues. A few drops heals pink eye. I’ve seen this firsthand, and it’s amazing. Noah had pink eye. Gwen posted this to Facebook and asked for advice (yes, we get our medical advice from Facebook). A friend told her to express a few drops of breast milk right into Noah’s eye. And that cleared it up. You could see the redness disappearing as in time-lapse photography.

Studies demonstrate that breast-fed children are less likely to develop juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis and heart disease, and mothers who breastfeed are less apt to have osteoporosis later in life, are able to lose weight gained during pregnancy more easily and have a lower risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

I bet when you read that list just now, you were like, “less likely to develop multiple sclerosis, yup, heart disease, (yawn) yup, osteoporosis, yup, lose weight more easily… wait, what? I’m in!” We live in a strange culture.

Breastfeeding generates hormones in mama that battle baby blues and is far cheaper than buying formula. Breast milk also cures chapped nipples and lips and fights baby acne, and the list goes on. I suspect that it could loosen tight lids and finally get my car door to stop squeaking. But Gwen is always so hesitant to try these things.

There are hard times. Pain, clogged ducts, infection. For these, our midwife taught Gwen to use cabbage leaves. And they worked. More than once, Gwen sent me out to the market for a head of cabbage. She’d take a large leaf and cup it over the affected area. Have you ever heard of the doctrine of signatures? It’s the idea that herbs and plants in nature give us clues by looking like what they help. Well, all I can say is that a cabbage leaf looks an awful lot like a breast. It even has veins and a nipple bump.

If supply seems low, get help. Whatever the problem, be it pain, infection, or simply fear, ask for help. Midwives, doulas, breastfeeding support groups and La Leche League educators can help. You are not alone. I promise they have seen the problem before, and I promise they will help. They are true experts in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

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Be Aware Of Your Baby’s Perspective

Parenting advice is everywhere. It’s aimed at us from websites, magazines, and TV. It’s shared with us by parents, friends, and nosy strangers. What’s far more rare? Wisdom.

You when know you find wisdom because it has a way of interconnecting with what you’ve already found to be true. More importantly, it confirms what your parent’s heart whispers to you.

That’s why I feel blessed to have stumbled across Janet Lansbury’s site, Elevating Childcare.  Janet runs Resources For Infant Educarers (RIE) classes for infants and writes sensitive, wonderfully useful posts about parenting the smallest people in our lives. Each time I read what she writes I feel a yes inside me.

The RIE approach to parenting was developed by early childhood educator Magda Gerber. It is based on respect for the child. At its core, RIE parenting has to do with being aware of the baby’s (or small child’s) perspective. Instead of striving to direct our babies, an approach that’s exhausting and often frustrating for parent as well as child, RIE encourages us to understand the world as the baby experiences it. I’ll let Janet explain more clearly as she does in the introduction to her must-have book Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting.

RIE parenting can be summed up as an awareness of our baby’s perspective. We perceive and acknowledge our infants to be unique, separate people. We enhance our awareness by observing them—allowing them the bit of space they need to show us who they are and what they need.

RIE parenting also makes us more self-aware. Through our sensitive observations we learn not to jump to conclusions; for example, that our babies are bored, tired, cold, hungry, or want to hold the toy they seem to notice across the room.

We learn not to assume that the grumbling or fussing means babies need to be propped to sitting, picked up, or rocked or bounced to sleep. We recognize that, like us, babies sometimes have feelings that they want to share and will work through them in their own way with our support.

We learn to differentiate our children’s signals from our own projections. We become more aware of the habits we create (like sitting babies up or jiggling them to sleep), habits that can then become our child’s needs. These are artificially created needs rather than organic ones.

In short, RIE parenting asks us to use our minds as well as our instincts, to look and listen closely and carefully before we respond.

Sensitive observation proves to us that our babies are competent individuals with thoughts, wishes and needs of their own. Once we discover this truth there’s no turning back.

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting is a selection of 30 pivotal articles that originally appeared on Janet’s site. She bases her work on observations of hundreds of infants over 20 years as well as raising her own three children. Each time she shares a new article on her popular Facebook page the comments are wildly enthusiastic, like “finally someone gets to what the baby experiences” and “I had my doubts but this really works!”

Here’s a tiny sample of the book’s articles.

  •  “What Your Baby Can’t Tell You”
  • “Sitting Babies Up: The Downside”
  • “How to Build Your Child’s Focus and Attention Span”
  • “Allowing Your Toddler to Succeed”
  • “7 Myths that Discourage Independent Play”
  • “Best Ways to Encourage Toddlers to Talk”
  • “No Bad Kids–Toddler Discipline Without Shame”
  • “I Think I Know Why You’re Yelling”

This is an important book for all of us parenting young children. Get a copy for yourself and a copy for expectant parents. It’s that good. You can open it anywhere, read a few pages, and come away with a bit of wisdom to make your parenting path more naturally peaceful, compassionate, and respectful.

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6 Healing Steps to Process a Traumatic Birth

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By the time my second son was six months old, I’d penned his birth story and shared it along with gorgeous professional birth pictures. It was an amazing, empowering birth and easy to talk about.

Writing my first son’s birth story was much harder. I dreaded birth-related conversations. If I opened up with anyone, I lived in fear of hearing, “That was your traumatic birth? That was nothing,” or, “If you would’ve just gone along with X like everyone else does, you wouldn’t have been so upset”. Yet keeping my story in wasn’t helping either. As the months ticked by and thoughts about the birth were still keeping me awake in the night, I knew it was time to do something.

One of my doulas recommended Solace for Mothers and I joined the pilot session of a birth trauma support group called Mothers Healing Together (MHT). Through the help of MHT, I was able to do the hard work of healing.

So, what’s the deal with birth trauma anyway? Some people say ‘healthy baby, healthy mama’ is enough when it comes to a birth. For me—logical to others or not—that is not enough. Yes, the “destination” is imperative, but the journey matters, too. It is possible to both celebrate an amazing new life and mourn the journey it took to get there at the same time.

For example, if you completed a marathon, but got injured on the way, no one would say, “All that matters is that you crossed the finish line”. No, people would care about your twisted ankle; they’d want to hear your story, they’d admire your endurance. They would know that the medal is great, but the journey also matters.

Or think about college. Let’s say a professor unjustly accuses you of cheating. You have to fight to defend your character; you have to prove you really know the facts you allege to know; you are judged with a suspicious eye. Eventually, you still walk away with a degree and go on to a great career. Now, is that all that matters about that college experience the diploma you walk away with? Of course not. The story of those years matters. It shapes you. It changes you. The degree is there forever, and is something to celebrate, but the journey to it matters.

With my first son, I walked away as a relatively healthy mama with a healthy baby and a vaginal birth, but for all of those wonderful things to celebrate, the rest of the journey still mattered. I had panic attacks for months after. I would wake in the night with thoughts racing. My obstetrician confirmed I didn’t have post-partum depression, but he didn’t quite know what to do with my anger, pain, and questions.

Thankfully, I kept pushing for answers outside of his office. Over the internet and then through friends, I learned that there is a thing called Post-Partum Traumatic Stress Disorder (PPTSD), and it fit me to a T. For some, professional help is the wisest choice to move forward. For me, a support group was the right fit to propel my healing journey. Through that group, here are six things that I found most helpful:

1. Tell your story

Tell it however you see it right now— to someone safe to you. Write it, paint it, speak it, whatever works.

2. Obtain your medical records

Gather them from your provider as well as from the facility. Hospital records contain notes from nurses and stats, things that may not be in your provider’s records. Now, just because you have these papers doesn’t mean you have to read them. But, it is a step. Consider finding a friend in the medical world to help you process through medical jargon.

3. Embrace that your story will change

As you learn more about yourself, others, medical details, etc. it is normal for your perspective to change. Let go of past perceptions and make room for the wiser outlook you have now. Wiser may not mean less painful, but sometimes it can give the struggle meaning.

4. Say what you need to say

It is never too late to articulate what would help a provider meet other women’s needs better. It is never too late to thank someone who got it right. Do what your instincts tell you: send a letter, log a complaint, make a phone call.

5. Write a birth story for your child at his current age

Putting things in simpler, kid-friendly words and concepts can be freeing.

6. Contact a professional for help if needed

Your time and emotional energy are precious, so screen providers ahead of time by asking if they are familiar with birth trauma.


Article in this complete format was published in The Wise Mom, member magazine for the Holistic Moms Network, Spring 2014 under the title Processing Birth Trauma. Republished with permission. Elements were originally published on MoreGreenforLessGreen.com

Image credit: Mamma Loves

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5 Out-of-the-Box Ways to Make Your Child “LISTEN!!!”

MotheringBigImageOne of the most frequent questions I get is, How do I get my child to listen to me? What lingers in the roots just beneath this question is, How do I get her to respect me? The two are intimately entwined.

As so often happens with Life’s sticky questions, sometimes we can unstick things a bit by turning the question around: Rather than How can I get my child to listen to me?, a frustrated parent can get far more traction by asking, How can I make myself more “listenable”?”

The fact is, you can never “make” your child do or be anything! Oh sure, we’re lulled into the comforting illusion that we can during the very early years, when their sheer existence and protection depends upon us in very basic ways (not to mention we’re way bigger than them!).

But in a fistful of years that streak by in a blur we are face to face with them… and with the sobering reality that they can and will do what they choose regardless of what we “make” them do. For many parents this is like that classic nightmare in which it’s time for the final exam, and you realize you haven’t attended any of the classes!

This is the time to be preparing for the final exam that comes at puberty and adolescence. Here are five ways to ensure your child will listen to you, both now and later:

KidTiredOfListening1. Talk less… and more clearly –  This is especially effective with the young child (under seven). When working with parents I often ask them to cut back on their chatter with their toddler or pre-schooler by at least 50% so they avoid TTD (Talk To Death) syndrome, which is reaching epidemic proportions. Do you remember how the adults were portrayed in the animated versions of Charlie Brown? A noise-skein of Whhhaaaaaaa – whaaaaaaaa – whaaaaaaaaa that had no meaning (neither for Charlie and his pals nor for us the viewer). Point made. This is how most of what we say bounces off our young children: just so much white noise!

Say less and have it mean more. This helps cultivate the essential nourishment of wonder while also avoiding TTD (Talk it To Death) syndrome. Over-explaining and other yammering almost always covers up a lack of truth or conviction in the exchange. We need to always check the reason why we want to say something to a child: Is it based on our wisdom or our anxiety? Does it come from a place of real knowing, or a place of fear? If it comes from a place of real knowing and complete conviction within you that it is correct, the child will usually behave in harmony with it. (A good example is that children almost never fuss over putting on seat belts, largely because within the mind of the parent there is 100% conviction: seat belts are an utter non-negotiable and the child picks up on this conviction.) If it’s coming from worry or insecurity (which includes our need to manipulate them), we best refrain from speaking.

When we offer endless choices to the young child… or engage in extended explanations, justifications or negotiations… or phrase our language in equivocal terms (“Do you want to get your PJs on?”  “It’s time to get ready for bed now, okay?) we undermine our standing with him. Talking to a young child in this way essentially enlists him as a co-decision-maker, with a level of influence and responsibility that makes him extremely anxious — though he doesn’t know why. This anxiety and insecurity (“Mom doesn’t really know what should happen now…”) reorients his biochemistry and neurophysiology toward protection rather than growth. And it’s hard for him to listen when he’s in protection mode.

This is a vicious cycle: the more the child perceives that you are looking to her to participate in important decisions (and to a young child even the basics seem very important), the less trust she’ll have in you, the more insecure she will feel, and the more controlling and bossy (i.e., “difficult”) she will become. And the less she’ll listen.

She wants you to be the calm, loving leader who knows, without consulting her, what’s happening next, what color shirt she should wear, what she’s having on top of her cereal this morning. That lets her relax back into optimal growth mode, because her world is safely in order. And she’s much more apt to listen.

2. Listen — The primary mode of learning for the young child is imitation. First and foremost, be what you want to see in your child. Do you listen? To your child? To a person who tries to engage you while out in the world? This requires actual effort. It requires a mindful slowing down from the techno-speediness of today’s iTwitterFaceLinkInPod culture, in which our “wildly overstimulated brains” have been trained to follow the default impulse, “What’s next?”

If you were the proverbial fly on the wall looking in on how people are living in today’s must-go-faster world, you’d find that many homes of even the youngest children echo with the chill of cool, expedient efficiency. We’ve become a hyper-practical, results-focused culture too often too busy to slow down to child time, which is inherently more molasses-paced. To kneel down to our child’s level to listen to her story, to put our arms around our son and look at that bug he just caught, doesn’t often jibe with our lockstep schedule. But when your child can sense (and they do sense, keenly) that you really are listening, this fosters a deep level of trust in you… and children (and teens) listen to those they trust. (And don’t to those they don’t.)

3. Meditate — This is one of the stealthiest “big-bang” parenting tools around, and way too under-recognized as such! Meditation has turned up in the research as a superstar for increasing wellbeing in many different areas both physical and mental / emotional. To begin a meditation practice, you don’t have to go out and find a master or even a group; simple guidelines are available everywhere (including my book), and even just five minutes a day, done on a reasonably regular basis, reduces stress, invites health, and cultivates the ability to direct your own mental focus — all of which makes for a bankable investment in the success and enjoyment of your parenting and your child’s wellbeing.

And here’s the secret power of meditation for our topic today (How do I get my child to listen?): meditation practice helps you answer Yes to an essential question –  Do I as a parent have mastery over something as fundamental as the movement of my own thoughts? And here’s the deal: your child wordlessly perceives your level of self-possession, and when your answer to that question is Yes, this in turn fosters a respect for you that is deep, implicit, and rarely wavers. Many common discipline issues therefore never even materialize. And, they listen to you!

4. Be surprising — I write a lot about the importance of rhythm in the life of children, and indeed, rhythm is one of the 7 principles at the heart of my book. But one of the greatest gifts of a consciously rhythmic family life is the delightful refreshment of breaking the rhythm, especially for your teens or tweens, who will be especially enchanted when you’re willing to exit the sameness.

“Let’s forget about homework and go to a double-feature!”

“Instead of picking up dinner from the restaurant, let’s spend that money on flowers for all over the house and have PB&J sandwiches for dinner.”

Aim on occasion (once every month or two?) for something impromptu, unexpected, whimsical — and if it’s absurd or outrageous, so much the better! Remember, your inner experience of being a teenager is being awakened by virtue of living with one, so conspire with your inner teen to find ways to delight and surprise your child(ren), and believe me, they’ll keep listening to you. They won’t want to miss anything!

5. Be inspiring — A coaching client of mine was saying her 7-year-old daughter was being disrespectful, and I’m sure I stunned her by asking point blank: Do you behave in a way inspires respect? When she really got honest about it, the answer was “no.” For example, she had a room in her house that she was always saying she was going to de-clutter but never did. That was her a-hah. As she cleaned up that room (and also de-cluttered her parenting style), her daughter’s attitude improved dramatically.

Our children are like another appendage of ours — they will act out whatever material in us that we aren’t owning or being congruent with. Our children are our mirrors.

And this intensifies as they enter adolescence: paradoxical to her seeming disinterest in all things parental, you will be subjected to the most unsparing scrutiny by your teen, your child who no longer looks up to you, literally, but rather, eye to eye with you. She so recently saw you as perfection personified but is now trained on you like a heat-seeking scope, watching for you to contradict your ideals, your word, your integrity… and hoping more than anything that you don’t. One of the supreme tests in parenting adolescents lies in their need for the adults around them to be steady, strong and sure in who they are, what they stand for, and whether their actions line up with their words.

In other words, are you listening to yourself??

 

Images:
epSos.de under Creative Commons license
o5com under Creative Commons license

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Lowering the Bar. At Least for Today.

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There are days I feel totally and completely incompetent.

Take today for instance. My bedroom floor is littered with toys, books, and clothes. There are far too many water glasses on my dresser. My kitchen is messy, a side-effect of my son’s insistence that we make an apple pie. All my daughter’s cloth diapers are dirty, so she’s in a disposable. It’s almost noon and I’m still not dressed. And my son is watching probably his third or fourth TV show of the day. Oh. And I still haven’t done any of the revisions that I promised my novel I’d tackle today.

I haven’t taken my kids to the playground in ages. My dog needs a walk. And these little beings sometimes seem to exist only to torture me with guilt and, well, incompetence.

I am not one of those moms that does it all. I’m more like one of those ones that’s just muddling through. And this is my job. I’m a stay-at-home-mom. Or, actually, I like to think of myself as a work-at-home-mom seeing as how I spend at least a few hours a day writing, reading, revising, networking with other young adult writers etc, but since that hasn’t started paying the bills…

I’m not going to lie. This is a pretty terrible feeling. It feels like juggling. Badly.

But I have a prescription on days like today when I don’t feel like enough.

1. Read a book with my son. Marvel at how many letters he knows.
2. Enjoy nursing my daughter to sleep for her nap.
3. Get a little something done around the house.
4. Read one chapter of a good book.
5. Take the kids outside for half an hour. Bring the dog.
6. Kiss both my kids. Tell them I love them.

Repeat.

My house may never be clean. (At least not every room at the exact same time.) And my kids may watch more TV than I like. We might eat only pretzels for lunch, and I may not be able to convince my son that green veggies are good.

But the yardstick I choose to measure myself with, at least today, is whether or not my kids feel loved, and healthy, and safe. And, yes, they do. So it’s a good day.

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Real Food on the Road: 5 Ideas for Healthy Eats On the Go

real_food_on_the_roadThank you to Loralee Leavitt, author of the new book Road Tripping: A Parent’s Guide to Planning and Surviving the Annual Car Trip, for contributing this guest article.

At home, you work hard to provide your family with tasty, healthy meals. But when you’re traveling, the meals fall apart. Soon you’re ordering fast food and trying to silence that inner scream: “Those chicken nuggets aren’t really chicken!”

Even when you’re traveling, you can help your family eat good healthy food. With some preparation, good car snacks, and acceptable produce, you can feed your kids almost as well on the road as at home.

1. For a long day on the road, stave off food stops by packing portable meals, such as sandwiches or bento boxes. If you make the food your children usually eat, you’ll make it easier for everybody.

2. For trips that last longer than a day, you can bring sandwich fixings like peanut butter, jam, cheese, packaged tuna. If your children prefer perishables such as lunchmeat, consider taking a cooler. You can pack food for several days in a cooler, whether you’re bringing sandwich toppings and condiments, vegetable sticks and hummus, tinfoil dinners for campouts, or casseroles to microwave in hotel rooms. Just make sure that the cooler stays cold, whether you buy new ice every day, or use dry ice and keep the cooler tightly sealed. Rick Walton, co-author of Road Tripping, travels with an electric cooler, which plugs into the car to stay cold.

3. Fruits and vegetables make great car snacks. They’re filling and nutritious, and you can find plenty of varieties that won’t stain your car. Before you leave, cut some apples, wash grapes, or peel carrots, and pack them in a small cooler that’s easy to reach when you’re driving. If you’re running out of time, you can also find ready-to-eat produce choices at the grocery store, such as grapes, sliced fruit, and peeled carrots. One family buys vegetable trays to take on the road.

4. Carefully check labels of processed snacks, even those made from fruits and vegetables. Gummy “fruit” snacks are candy in disguise (they contain as much sugar as gummy worms). Some vegetable snack chips have as much sodium as potato chips. Some prepared fruit snacks, like rolls or bars, contain hardly any of the fruit advertised on the label. Real dried fruit contains most of the vitamins and nutrients of fresh produce, but can get stuck in teeth and contribute to cavities. When you can’t stop to brush teeth, it’s a good idea to finish snacks with fresh fruits or vegetables like apple slices or carrot sticks to help clean teeth.

5. For families with specific dietary needs, a road trip can be especially daunting. If you can’t pack everything that you need, Kendra Peterson, mother to a gluten- and dye-free family who blogs at bitingthehandthatfeedsyou.net, has several ideas for meeting these needs. For instance, you can scout for specialty stores along your route to pick up extras. Use smartphone aps to help you find gluten-free and vegan restaurants and shops, which often have other allergy-friendly fare. You can also order packages ahead of time and send them to your destination so that your food will be ready when you get there.

When you bring your own food, or plan ahead so that you can eat what you want, you’ll be able to stave off children’s complaints of starvation and keep children happy in the car. You’ll be able to enjoy your family time as you travel, especially with good food.

For more ways to enjoy family car trips without going crazy, check out Loralee Leavitt’s new book, Road Tripping: A Parent’s Guide to Planning and Surviving the Annual Car Trip, with tips from dozens of families and 100,000 miles of road trips. Loralee Leavitt is also the author of Candy Experiments and the creator of candyexperiments.com.

Image credit: Wendy

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