Monday, September 30, 2013

Parenting, Bullying, Sex and You

I've been thinking about this post for a while now.  I've gone back and forth about if I should write it or not. What I would say, how I would say it? I have been feeling weighed down by social media lately. That there is no portrayal of the good.  That there is too much emphasis on the bad. People posting horrible news reports, statistics, pictures of strangers who cut them off in traffic, etc. I don't want to start an argument. I don't want to sound naive or like Pollyanna. But I feel like being true to myself would require me to say something.  So here we go...

I know that there is a lot of garbage in the world.  I know that there are a lot of people seeking to harm others.  I know about bullies, pedophiles, kidnappers, pornography, etc., etc., etc. I know that I have to teach my kids to be smart and safe and to stand up for themselves. But I also know that there is a lot of good in the world. I know there are people who help others, who teach others.  People who have suffered abuse and have overcome and healed.  I know that if I want my children to be happy in this life I have to teach them about good, not just how to avoid the bad.

The media-driven world we live in has a tendency to paint the world as a horrible, dark and tough place, void of love or compassion. But, whether you believe in God or not, most people believe in some source of good or light. Hopefully all of us have felt a sense of peace from within (even if it was fleeting), have been helped by someone else, or have had moments of contentment between storms. I know that I can think of hundreds of stories of people helping me unload my shopping cart, or picking up something I dropped, or sending me an anonymous gift card in the mail, or cleaning my house, or making me dinner.  And I know other people have those experiences too but they maybe aren't as entertaining to put on Facebook as "let me tell you about the jerk I met in Target today...". And because today's population spends so time on Facebook it might start to feel like we've experienced more bad than good...simply because we've read about more bad than good.

As more and more articles make their way through my Facebook feed about protecting our children from pedophiles, immodesty, bullies, and pornography, I'm starting to feel like there are too many things to combat, that the world is too far gone, and that my children are never going to be able to turn out happy. I know it's not true based on my experience of good, but based upon the articles I read online I can see how someone might reach the conclusion that the world's headed down the crapper. So the question then has to be asked: how much time are we spending "experiencing" life, and how much of our time are we spending on social media? Are we giving equal value and time to our real life relationships as we are to what we read on Facebook, the news, etc.?

Now those who know me know that I read a lot of articles.  I love to read. I love to discuss. Parenting tips, self help, child birth, economy, health care, you name it.  I have an opinion and I'm willing to talk your ear off about it!  But here's the thing: experience trumps what I've read every time.  Sometimes my experience shows me that what I've read is correct, solidifying my position. But sometimes my experience will vary from what I've read (childbirth). At that point my experience (epidurals are awesome) trumps what I've read (if you have an epidural your baby will never find love and may become a serial killer).  So even though everyone else might be telling you this is the only way to raise your kid, or this is the article that will protect your family, or here's the “answer to life, the universe, and everything” you don't have to accept it as truth.  Because you might have to figure it out for yourself: what worked for them might not work for you, or they might just be a whackadoo. You never can tell. We've got to start learning from our experiences and the experiences of people we trust and stop putting all of our faith in things we read on the internet, even if they are written by people with Ph.D.’s.  My sister has a Ph.D. and she's awesome but sometimes she's just wrong...and I as the older sister must point that out from time to time ;) You're welcome! Anyway, to all of us, keep studying and learning but don't forget to talk with others, learn from them, and learn from our own experiences.

I understand the feeling of wanting to know everything that is out there to harm our children. I don't want my kids to be bullied, or abused, or see graphic images. I also don't want them to always walk around waiting to be attacked.  I think it's a balance.  Are we spending as much time telling our children about the joys of life as we are telling them about the dangers? I worry that in an attempt to better prepare our children for the cold, hard world we are actually turning them into cold and hard souls. That we are so worried about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses that we're actually making it impossible for our kids to see any joy at all. A great quote from L.R. Knost says: “It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” And so with that in are some problems with modern parenting that I've been pondering lately.

When I was a teacher my school had just started their anti-bully campaign.  It was interesting to me that the more the counselor came in to talk about bullies...the more my students seem to think they were being bullied.  Numberless fingers were pointed at one another, "you bully" became the new putdown, and every disagreement was a sign that bullies were taking over the school. So for the 5th graders, the take home message for them was: "Bullies are everywhere.  Anyone who disagrees with you is a bully. You will be bullied".  The other thing was that the leaders never addressed not being a bully yourself.  So my students would all get into arguments and assume that they were the one standing up to a bully.  It never occurred to them that they might be the bully in the argument! Same with the parents.  They'd all get together to talk about the anti-bully campaign but they would talk about the "bully" like there was some oversized orphan who hiked in from the train station just to bully their kids instead of stopping to realize that if there was a bully problem in our class then it meant one of their kids was being a bully. And they also weren't stopping to consider the fact that it wasn't just black and white.  They were thinking that you either are all the way a bully or all the way innocent. Very rarely, in my experience, was there just one giant thug who was a bully all of the time.  It was more a case of everyone taking a turn being a bully about different things.

So I'm not saying that we shouldn't teach our kids about bullying but I am saying that the method we are using doesn't work. Instead of trying to teach them all the horrible things a bully might do, why don’t we teach them what bully would not do. Teach them what a good citizen looks like so that they can see people for what they really are and know what they should be striving for. So that they can think “Is Johnny really a bully, or is he just having a bad day?"  When we only teach them what a bully acts like they tend to think everyone is a bully. Then they grow up to think that everyone is out to get them. I know people like that and their happiness is limited and their progression is stopped because they feel held down by others. They give away their power to others who they believe are doing them harm.  I don't want that for my children.  I want them to look for the good in people too.  So that when they do come across a bully they know how to handle the situation, they know that their reaction is more important than the other person’s action, and that no matter what other people may do to them…they are loved by someone! I want them to know that there are more people willing to build them up than rip them down.

I was also constantly amazed at what my students already knew about and were talking about.  Garbage video games where they were blowing people away.  Pornography they had found on their parents computer.  It was truly scary. I know that we have to talk to our children about these things so that they can hear it from us first and not from their peers.  But there is a lot of specifics about pornography that I don't even know about, let alone want my kids to know about.  And this might sound naive, but I really don't think that just because some kids in the class know all the specific terminology for this garbage that we need to teach all the kids that terminology.  I’ve lived a pretty healthy and happy life not knowing it and I think my kids can too. I know that there are a lot of websites and images out there dedicated to dehumanizing men and women.  There is a lot of cruelty out there. But instead of trying to protect our kids by telling them all the specific horrible ways that sex can be manipulated and ruined, isn't it more effective to teach them about what healthy sex and relationships are like? Then when/if someone wants them to do or watch something that isn't healthy they will know it is wrong.

It just doesn't make sense to me that we would introduce our kids to filthy words and ideas just so that we don't have to worry about other people introducing those words and ideas to our kids. Since we don’t know which one they might be introduced to we are going to fill their head with all of the hundreds of things it might be. So once again, I'm not saying we shouldn't warn them about the evils that are out there, I just think we need to spend equal time talking about the good side of things too.  So that they feel empowered to make correct decisions for themselves and they don't walk away from the conversation thinking sex is a horrible, dirty thing, because it isn't.  Also by talking openly and often about things, and speaking without fear, we can keep lines of communication open between our children and ourselves.  So that when one of their peers teaches them some disgusting word we never thought of they will be comfortable enough to come and ask us what it means instead of being scared that we are going to launch into a whole giant speech about other filthy words that they might also hear. Don't go to dark places in an effort to keep your kids away from them.  Stand clearly in the light and let your children follow you there.

The final parenting issue I want to talk about is trust.  I have read so many parenting articles about teaching our kids not to trust anyone.  It's a concept that I have a hard time with.  Obviously we hear heartbreaking stories of children being abused by the people they should have been able to trust the most.  I know that you can't always tell who might abuse or harm your child.  But the current solution to that problem seems to be, don't trust anyone around your child! Suspect your parents, your husband, you siblings, etc.  It just seems like such a hard way to live your life. I agree we have to be careful who we can trust but at some point, in order to live a healthy life, you are going to have to connect with people enough to trust them. I know this can be hard when we've had our trust broken before, but there are people who are worthy of trust. Let your experience and intuition guide you.  Don't withhold your trust from a deserving relationship just because you read an article online telling you about someone else who should not have been trusted. And furthermore, since we can't predict what a liar looks like, wouldn't it be more effective to teach our kids what a trustworthy person acts like?  Someone who deserves our trust helps us feel calm, won’t hurt us, doesn't ask us to keep secrets, etc.  Then when they come across someone who isn't meeting those criteria they will know to tell us about it. More heartbreaking than the abuse stories are the stories of victims who didn’t think they could tell anyone. Who stayed in their abusive situation because they thought others would judge them, no one could help. Because in a lot of those cases, people would have helped them! Had they been told, had they been trusted.  If the only message they are hearing is don't trust anyone, how will they know they can trust us to help?

I obviously don't want my children to be taken advantage of, but I also don't want them to walk through life thinking they are going to be attacked at every turn.  I just think it's a balance.  For as much as we are warning our kids about "tricky" people who want to hurt them, are we teaching our kids about the trustworthy people who can help them?  There is danger in living in extremes.  We can cripple ourselves just as much by not trusting anyone as we can by being too trusting.  While not trusting anyone might keep our children safe from harm, it may also hold them back from growing, loving, and being built up.

It terrifies me that no matter how much I study, prepare, and pray I can't keep my children 100% safe 100% of the time.  I certainly can’t keep them from feeling heartbreak or knowing sadness.  I know that for every way I can think of to protect my kids there is probably someone out there who could think of 10 ways to hurt them.  I understand these realities but yet I still have hope for my children.  I believe that there are people out there who will love them, defend them, and respect them.  I want them to know that I see good in the world, so that they can see good in the world.  I'd feel horrible that if through my attempts to educate them about the evils of the world I had planted the seeds of anger and fear in their hearts.  I know there are cold hard truths that I'm going to have to explain to my kids.  I know that there are cold hard truths they will learn about through their own experiences too.  It's part of being in this world.  But I also know I've had a lot of joy in my life and that they will too.  I've had family and friends who I could trust.  They've helped me get through situations where I've been mistreated by others whom I could not trust.  They've also been there when I've hurt others through my ignorance or miscommunications.  I've been loved. I've been forgiven.  I’ve been able to forgive.  I'm still learning.  I'm excited for my kids to be able to do all of those things too.

So I'm trying to be more balanced in my parenting.  I want my children to know good from evil.  So that means I have to teach them about both! I want my daughters to know that even though there are people who might abuse them, there are also people who will love them.  Even though there are murderers, liars, deviants, perverts, and bullies there are also heroes, helpers, teachers, counselors and lovers.  For every boy who might degrade women, there is also a boy who is willing to cherish them. Even though our world may be filled with distorted pornographic images of sex, I still believe it is also filled with loving couples with healthy relationships that can withstand the storms of life.  More than what we say, our children will emulate what we do. They will see the world how we see the world. Not how we tell them to see the world. Are we looking for the good? Or are we seeking for the garbage?! Are we teaching them to seek out the virtuous, the lovely, the things of good report, the praiseworthy?

More than just turning my kids away from wrong, I want to turn them toward right.  So they can be with the right people in the right places with the right timing. So that even when I'm not there to protect them they can protect themselves.  They can make better decisions because they understand WHY they are making those decisions. Not because they are scared of the worst, but because they are hopeful for the best.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Avoiding Extremes and Finding Balance

It’s true that I spend most of my quiet time humming songs from Dora and pondering things like why there is grape jelly hanging from the dining room lamp but this past month I’ve had the opportunity to do some real, honest, thinking about life.  And whats more, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss some of these thoughts with other people. We’ve discussed things like fear, failure, joy, etc. But something that keeps coming up for me is the concept of balance.  Keeping balance in my life has always been a struggle for me but now that I’ve got 4 young children and a husband along for the ride it seems much more important that I’m not swaying side to side or riding an emotional rollercoaster.

The world in general appears to be struggling with the principal of balance.  It seems more and more people feel the need to live their life in extremes and make black and white issues out of everything. Everywhere you turn there are people who are angry and frustrated an just so darn sure they have all the right answers to everything. Thanks to inventions like facebook and twitter we get to see the minute to minute mood swings of everyone we've ever met or heard of.  We see the high highs and the low lows and things that were once solved in private are now public knowledge for all to see.  It’s seems that there is competition at both ends too.  Some friends competing to make their little slice of life look the most like heaven while another group argues over whose life is the worst.  So lately I’ve been trying to decide how much of my self worth is intrinsic and how much am I depending on external factors to make me happy.  So this blog post is a collection of random thoughts I’ve been having about how I can be a more balanced person. I think they fit together somewhat but they are mostly random.  It may just be that this is more of a journal entry than anything else but I thought I'd post it in case anyone else ever has some of the same feelings. I’d love to hear people’s comments and ideas of how they balance everything because I could use any help I can get.

#1) Others Success is not my Failure

Is this a hard lesson for anyone else?  I’m a driven person.  I like to succeed. I also tend to be a perfectionist on certain things.  When someone else is successful my first thought is usually “They are so awesome”…but…often my second thought is “I wish I could do that” or “I am horrible at that” or some other negative self-talk.  It’s so great to be surrounded by great examples.  And most of the time we can stop and be grateful that we are surrounded by such awesome and talented people but sometimes we take those examples and just use them to beat the living crud out of ourselves.  And we might justify our behavior by saying that those comparisons are helping us to grow and change.  But there is a lot of danger in doing this. 

First, the higher up on a pedestal we place someone the further they have to fall.  And when we’ve been using that person as our reason for change and growth, what are we going to do when they fall short of our expectations.  Thinking things like “I wish I was more like so-and so” often tends to lead to thoughts of “well if so-and-so can’t do it what hope do I have”. 

The second danger of comparing ourselves to someone else is that we are different people.  What is easy for one is a struggle for the other and vice versa. The important thing to remember is that no one has a life without success and that no one is immune to trials. You are different people, you’ve made different decisions up until now.  You are living with different talents and weaknesses.  Your pasts are different, your present is different, the expectation that you are going to be the same people in the future is ridiculous.  It’s apples and oranges my friends. Or in my case a pear. :/ 

The final danger is that we don’t know the whole story.  Things are never what they appear on the outside.  Often we are comparing our whole internal experience with a small piece of their external being.  For instance, we could see a really cute professional picture of someone else’s kids.  They are all dressed up perfectly and sitting perfectly and we might make the mistake of letting ourselves believe their kids are perfect. But we forget we are just seeing a snapshot of their kids.  When we think of our own family we think about trying to get our kids out the door in the morning, and how our 4 year old keeps hitting people, and how one of our kids is getting teased at school because she has a disability, and our twin 2 year olds can’t hold still for one minute.  (all hypothetical of course) So now we’ve compared our family’s entire existence to a perfectly framed snapshot of someone elses…and from there we leap to conclusions like “she’s a better mother than me” or “her kids are just easier than mine”.  Wouldn’t you be shocked to know that her toddler sang “Old McDonald” at the top of her lungs all the way to the portrait studio, her 6 year old has a grass stain down the entire side of her dress from running around the building and that she ultimately bribed them all with Sam’s club churros to smile in the picture.  Say cheese!

#2) Others Struggles Don’t Lessen My Struggles

Another trap I fall into sometimes is feeling guilty for struggling my way through easy trials when so many people are going through much harder things than I am.  And while it’s good to keep some big picture perspective we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for having a hard time with things.  Yes, some people don’t have a house to live in it at all…that doesn’t mean it’s not stressful when you have a giant leak in your roof.  And some people don’t ever find the right person to marry…but that doesn’t make you worry less about your spouse’s health problems.  I have friends with six kids who still manage to keep perfect houses and run successful businesses and I only have 4 kids and yesterday the biggest problem I could tackle was how to walk a crock-pot full of soup into the teacher’s lounge with all of my kids in tow.  It nearly sent me over the edge.  

#3) My Struggles Don’t lessen Others Struggles

Since when did it become a thing to compete over whose kid throws up the most? Whose husband is gone the most. Whose child has the most disabilities at school.  I call this the “Well, it’s harder for me because…” I think deep down all of us need for others to acknowledge that the trials we are going through are real.  But for some it seems that if they admit that others are struggling too that somehow their struggles are less important. It’s not a competition. Why do we let our self-worth be determined by how many trials we go through or don’t go through.  While this problem has been probably going on since the beginning of time, it’s kind of brought to a head when you add in social media. Have you seen this on Facebook?  Person A posts weekly about how horrible her life is. So Person B comments with “well, you think that’s bad.  Mine is way worse”. Meanwhile they are both so focused on themselves they don’t stop to think about helping one another or even realize person C is at home struggling silently alone.  Just like we shouldn’t spend time comparing people’s successes, we shouldn’t be comparing our struggles either.  Even though our trials may not be the same, everyone’s trials are equally hard for them.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that discussing your problems with other people in the right setting can be a great thing.  It can help you realize you aren’t alone and think of new solutions.  It can help you realize that other people need your help and that you shouldn’t be demanding everyone else help you. That being said, do I think that being a martyr on Facebook is the right setting…no.  

Also, be sensitive to people who are going through trials you’ve already conquered.  I always hate it when people tell me things like “you think having toddlers is hard, wait until you have teens”. It’s probably a true sentiment but it sure isn’t helpful.  And I’m sure they would have hated it just as much if someone had said it to them when they had toddlers.  Sharon Creech has a great part in walk two moons where she talks about when we turn a certain age, we aren't just that age but we are all the ages we've ever been.  So I'm not just 30, but I'm 20 and 10 and 5 as well. Don't forget what it was like to be a new parent, or a stressed out college student, or a lost teen, or a know-it-all kindergartener. Avoid saying things like “you think you’ve got bad, I’ve got…" Again, it’s not a competition. And even if somehow we manage to win the “I’ve got the most problems” award, how is that really going to make us feel in the end? I doubt it’s going to inspire us to solve anything.  Most likely it will become our new biggest problem. Now we’ve got a new status for Facebook.  And repeat…

#4) I’m not the best but I’m probably not the worst either…so that’s something.

Anyone else have a tendency to want to be perfect? We tend to be an “all or nothing” kind of person when it comes to critiquing ourselves.  Either we did something perfectly or it was a failure.  It’s hard to admit our small successes. Like somehow if we admit that we did one thing right we’re betraying the 99 other things we still haven’t done at all.  But I think for many of us we don’t understand the real relationship that failure and success have with one another.  We tend to look at it like it’s two separate roads, one leading to success and one leading to failure.  But truthfully they are both stops along the same path.  Thomas Edison said, “Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”. If you’re not a success right this minute it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure.  Give yourself a little more time, or a nap, or drink a diet Dr. Pepper and then try again.  

#5) There is season…turn turn turn…

Even more frustrating than the talents that I wish I had, are the talents I do have but am not using. Sure I used to win awards and scholarships with my poetry and do open mic nights and perform in plays, but right now I am busy with 4 children and I’ve actually been in the middle of conversations where I’ve had a hard time remembering words like spoon and window and the closest I come to writing is rambling on and on in this blog post.  But just because we aren't using those talents now doesn’t mean that we won’t use those talents again in the future.   And we're probably using a lot of new talents that we don't even realize we have.  Like babysitting kids, or helping others who feel low, or changing diapers, or I don't life to small human beings! But none of those things happen on a stage or get applause and sometimes they get lost in the day to day living and we forget that they are kind of important things to be doing.  Seriously, I change like 20 diapers a day...doesn't that deserve some kind of award, or golf clap, or at least a few finger snaps.

#5) It’s okay to say no to things…(I don't know if that's a statement or a question)

I admit it.  I like to say yes.  I like to help. It makes me feel good when I can use my talents or serve other people.  If I could I would say yes to every good thing someone asked me to do, I would. But I can’t and it’s selfish to say yes to more things than I can reasonably do.  But yet, sure I can be in charge of ordering girl scout cookies for the whole troop!  I know I can’t be all things to all people.  But I’m already going to the PTA meetings anyway, and they really need someone to be the president, so maybe I should just volunteer.  I know that just because I CAN do something doesn’t mean I should do something.  But now they are sending around a sign up sheet for food and I really love to cook so I’ll just sign up to bring 100 homemade cookies instead of bringing the bag of Fritos.  And I know that in theory I don’t owe anyone an explanation about why I can’t do something.  But what will the others think if I don’t volunteer to bedazzle 10 little girls dance costumes for tomorrow’s recital?

Does anyone else have those kind of conversations with themselves? Hands? No? Just me…okay. But deep down I also know that living our life running around in the car isn’t good for my children.  And I know that when I take on too much I have a shorter fuse. And I get grumpy. And I don’t take time for myself. And I get grumpier. And I know that I shouldn’t worry about what other people think of me.  I know that I could make 100 cookies if I wanted too and I could bedazzle all the dance costumes if I had to…but I shouldn’t be saying yes to prove that to other people.  And also, there are plenty of other capable people who can do all of those things too and they need a chance to serve.  Would it make me feel better to say yes to everything…yes! But would it really end up being better for anyone if I spread myself so thin that I can only give 10% to each thing. Not really.
It’s okay to say no.  Sometimes you should just say no. 

So there you go.  Some random thoughts about balancing the way I view my life.  I’m not perfect but after further consideration I guess I’m probably not that horrible either.  I really am blessed to have so many wonderful examples of calm, well rounded, successful people in my life.  And I'm sure someday I will be as good as they are, but for now I will just hope that guilt by association really works, and that I get lumped in with their awesomeness. I’m blessed that I’ve been able to learn from failure and find joy in success.  I’m blessed that I have so many opportunities to be better than I was the day before.  I know that happiness is a choice.  And ultimately it is within our power to choose what the result of our life will be.  If we want to succeed we will succeed and if we think we will fail we will fail.  We shouldn’t be willing to put that power in others hands, allowing our lives to be dictated by social norms and others’ opinions of us. A great quote by Grantland Rice is “Failure isn't so bad if it doesn't attack the heart. Success is all right if it doesn't go to the head.”  We are going to have successes and failures in life.  I guess that for me balance comes when we realize that success can only be found when we overcome failure.  And that living through failure is what makes our successes so sweet.

Have you ever had any of these thoughts? What are some of the things you are doing to find balance in your life? Leave a comment! I'd love to hear from you!

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