Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 266: Inspiration and Direction

I was inspired by this today. I'm inspired every day. Usually by lots of things. And whether it's because I'm easily inspired or because I'm constantly seeking out inspiration I haven't decided yet. Either way, I felt nudged in a specific direction not only on my parenting journey, but for upcoming posts.

This is what really stood out:
"CONNECTION. EXAMPLE. TEACHING. RESPECT. EMPATHY. LOVE. These are your best parenting tools."

Indeed. Well, as I hug it out, I'm practicing love. And this led me to think about specific ways I can move toward the others. So I thought I'd post a series on these tools; what they mean to me, how I can practice them, and what that looks and feels like in the everyday.

I'm hoping to be very specific, very practical, and very intentional with this exercise. Because hopefully that will translate into not only helping myself break through old habits and defaults, but possibly being able to offer something useful for those of you joining me in the quest to find a new and better way to relate to our children.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Day 260: Hug It Out

First, I've got to say that with the new look and feel of the blog, it's a place I actually enjoy coming to. It kinda lifts me up. Whoa. I hope you feel the same way! Anyway, moving on to more important things...

Instead of moving away from the negative, I'm focusing on moving toward the positive. But what exactly does that look like? Because we can talk philosophy and theory all day (trust me, it's my specialty), but if it's not showing itself in application, it's completely useless.

I have to admit, I hadn't realized how few positive alternatives I had really identified for myself until I started really consciously looking at them. No wonder it's been so hard to kick old habits!

It's the reason so many parents resort to coercive, authoritarian, even abusive discipline: If I don't yell, spank, shame, threaten, reward...what do I do?

When you can't answer that question you're forced to choose between domination and subservience. You can be the authoritarian parent focused on harnessing control or the permissive parent who relinquishes all control, nothing in between.

But that's all a lie.

There's another option that doesn't require me or my child to feel controlled or powerless, one that protects my sense of self, my power and his, and allows us both to feel respected and satisfied.

I hate to oversimplify it, because again, in practice it's anything but simple. But it really all comes down to this: Love.

That's it. Love.

You're thinking, Yeah, well, we all love our children. And you're right. But we don't always love them well.

Too many times I've had to remind Jackson that my love for him abides even through my anger, impatience, rudeness and lack of presence. And I'm also quick to assure him that it abides through his tough times too.

But what if I didn't have to remind him. What if I showed him? Every time. No matter how I feel. No matter how he acts. What if I loved him well every time?

When he feels loved above all else, I see cooperation ooze out of him like he can't contain it. When he's loved well, he's more excited about compromises than about getting what only he wants. When we're connected, his greatest joy is my greatest joy and vice verse.

When he is loved well, he loves well. 

So that has been my mission. To love him well. And in practice for me, that means hugging it out.

When I'm so busy he starts to feel like an inconvenience, I hug it out. When I feel like manipulating and coercing to get him to fall in line, I hug it out. Every time I want to scream and yell, I hug it out.

At first it felt really strange, almost inauthentic. But once I gave myself over to it - deciding with my whole heart that what I want is to love, not control - I found that it literally melted all those feelings away along with the anger and impatience.

And he melted into me.
It's so simple and so beautiful. And slowly we're rediscovering the connection we've been missing lately and working our way toward the relationship both of us want to have.

We're still far from the goal and I'm, as always, far from perfection. But we're moving forward.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Day 245: Still Here

If I believed in labeling, I'd call myself a bad blogger, neglectful even. But fortunately this project is as much about accepting my own limitations and setting realistic expectations as it is anything else. So to answer your question, yes, I'm still here.

A peaceful home for us right now requires me to focus my energy elsewhere, despite the fact that this is still where my passion lies. But I'm happy to report that I'm staying present with the spirit of the project, thinking almost daily, "I wish I had time to write about that!" Someday when time allows, I'm excited to catch the blog up with all the great things I'm discovering as I walk through life alongside my boys.

If you're wondering about the dramatically different look of the blog, the reasoning was simple. This project is supposed to be about optimism, lifting myself and others up, seeing the bright side of life even through the dark days. And, well, the drab background was downright depressing! In searching for a new look I noticed that the things I was naturally drawn to were generally subdued, simple, not very lively. So in the spirit of stretching and growing, I chose something a little out of character. A little energetic. Sparkly even. I hope you like it. I have to say it's growing on me...maybe I have more sparkle in me than I thought!

My next post will be back on topic, so don't run away thinking you'll be forced to discuss my taste in blog backgrounds forever. I've been waiting for weeks to share the simple, powerful act of forward motion that has been revitalizing my relationship with Jackson, so hopefully time will allow sooner than later!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 212: Forward Motion

In processing my own behavioral patterns I've acknowledged culture, childhood, and worldview. All factors, and significant ones. But lately I've been looking more practically than philosophically at this issue.

For all my good intentions and attempts to respond thoughtfully, it seems the reactions just spill out before I get the chance to think and make a conscious choice about how I'm communicating, verbally and non-verbally.

And this is why. My neurons are firing down well-worn pathways and I can't stop them.

Of course bad habits are broken all the time, and though my neurological physiology plays a role, I'm not its victim. Those neural patterns don't define me. They don't have to anyway.

The problem is that in trying to move away from coercive communication and discipline strategies - the ones ingrained in me through culture, childhood experiences, and an absorbed worldview - I've forgotten to move toward something else.

I can't just shut down neural pathways. Attempting to move backward is as effective as remaining static. I have to re-route them in a positive direction.

I can't focus on restraining coercive communication, I must focus on injecting love and acceptance into my communication.

Avoiding or attacking the negative, only brings more negative energy to my life and my relationships. But welcoming and actively pursuing a positive alternative creates change in a positive way - through forward motion.

As I work toward peaceful and loving words, they will eventually crowd out their judgmental and confrontational counterparts.

So my goal for the upcoming week (and beyond, of course) is to move toward, not away. To let go of the things I want to extinguish and center my attention on what I want to establish. Because the only way I want to move is forward.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Day 208: Refreshed

Ahhhhhh. I feel much better!

Looking at the full July calendar, acknowledging the stress I was feeling, and honoring the commitments I made in an attempt to remedy those things, I decided to take a spontaneous break from blogging last month.

I didn't write, didn't look at it, didn't think about it...just enjoyed sunny days at the park, spent lots of time with family, got caught up on a few major projects, and tried to get a little more organized to reduce the chances of getting behind and overwhelmed again. Only time will tell...

But now that I can look at my to-do list without panicking, I'm excited to get back to writing. And maybe with a little less stress and a little more "free" time, the lessons will sink in a little easier.

And speaking of lessons...

In doing a little more soul-searching on the whys surrounding my backslide into behavior modification and punitive discipline, I came to some difficult conclusions.

Despite how cognitively sure I am that non-punitive discipline "works" is "right" and in all ways superior to the mainstream parenting model, I haven't given myself over to it. I believe it in my head, but not my heart.

My heart is still telling me that I only have power if I have control, that there's always a winner and a loser when we come together with differing desires, that a "good" child always falls in line. I know beyond all doubt that these things are false. And while I've accepted the idea of non-punitive parenting, I haven't committed myself to the reality of it. The reality of surrender and trust.

Relating to my kids in a non-punitive, mutually respectful way is beyond counter-cultural; it's a philosophy that is vehemently opposed by everything I see, hear, read, watch and experience. So not only am I turning from the authoritarian ideals I grew up accepting as right and normal, but I'm trying to do so in the midst of a culture that outspokenly rejects my newly chosen values.

Some days the fight against the current, both internal and external, seems useless. Other days I worry that by the time I finally do get it, it will be too late.

But when I think of how God shattered my inaccurate punitive view of him as he met me continually with grace and forgiveness, I'm reminded that a change of heart is possible for me and that the resulting change in our relationship will ameliorate the pain we experienced along the way.

As I seek a deeper relationship with God, the grace that's missing from my parenting will appear, and the non-punitive approach God takes with me will influence the way I feel about discipline. Until one day I wake up and find that it's so much a part of me it comes naturally to respond with love and acceptance.

But until then, I'm confident I'll have lots to work through and plenty to write about! So back on the wagon we go...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 178: Story Time

Who doesn't love a good story. It's why we go the movies and watch our favorite shows, and it keeps the pages of a good book turning even when our eyelids are heavy.

We're drawn to tales of adventure, romance, fantasy and even danger because they take us to a place where we can live vicariously through the characters. We can feel and do without limitation. We can try on roles and relationships we'd never experience in real life. And all without any of the risk that comes along with actually feeling and doing.

But what happens when we are the characters?

It's sobering to think that I'm the primary author of my boys' beginnings. Because the tale I want them to tell when they look back and the way they're stories are playing out in the present are sometimes two very different things.

Of course there are the good days which could be recounted nostalgically: My mom was so loving and patient. She really cared about how I felt and what I needed, and she was always connected, never too busy. She let me explore and discover, and she encouraged my curiosity and creativity even when it wasn't convenient for her. Our relationship was more important to her than anything else.

And then there are the bad days: My mom was angry a lot. She was impatient with me when I was still learning, and sometimes she would yell even though I didn't know what I had done wrong. She was more concerned about me making a mess or breaking something than about the fun I would have or the amazing things I would learn taking risks and thinking outside the box. I felt like I couldn't do anything quite right.

Being an imperfect person, and an intense one at that, I don't see the former in our future. And I pray that the bad days are few enough that they won't be the only ones that color the boys' impressions of childhood.

But where in the middle we fall is still unknown. Because the rest of their stories are unwritten.

Every day, every interaction, every moment is a chance for me to show them that loving and patient mother...or not. And all those experiences, good and bad, are compiling on the pages of their lives, no matter how badly I want my apologies, tears, hugs, and kisses to erase some of them. And they too, will be unable to change these chapters.

As I write on my own blank pages now, I'm very aware of the effect my beginning still has on me. The positive things written for me as a child far outweigh the negative, but still I find myself longing to go back and dab a little whiteout on the smudges. Just enough so that the struggles I have now are a little less and so the hold those experiences have on me loosens enough for me to escape their repetition.

But as much as it pains the editor in me to admit it, all the chapters written up until this very moment are already printed. For them and for me. The only power I have to change them now is to alter how I let them influence me today. And on the bad days, it's some comfort to know that my boys will have the same opportunity.

As they slowly take over the authoring of their own stories, they'll get to choose to let the negative shape them or guide them toward better things. My only hope is that the positive words I write on their opening pages will make it far easier for them to do just that.

Life is no fairytale, but a happy ending is possible for every one of us if we choose to write it that way. So as I do my best to pen happiness and love into their lives, I'll also remember that they're watching what I do with less-than-perfect. Am I showing them that I can write happiness and love into my own life?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 176: You Know Better!

I commented to a friend the other day that I felt I was a really great mom 0-2, and not as much so far 2-3. Which got me to thinking about why that is.

With Max I'm more patient, more flexible, more compassionate and understanding. And I used to be with Jackson too. But now I too often find myself thinking You know better! which is what leads to impatience, rigidity, and indifference. But does he? And does it matter?

As he has become more capable, my expectations have risen higher, and with them my intolerance for the times when he inevitably falls short.

I know development isn't linear. I know that the fact that he did something yesterday does not mean he's capable of the same today. But still I struggle to adjust my expectations.

And that adjustment is really what it comes down to. Sometimes he really doesn't know better. Sometimes he does, but has the impulse control of a child. Sometimes he does and he's making a last ditch effort to get my attention after his loving and respectful attempts landed on deaf ears and blind eyes. Sometimes it's just the only way he knows how to show me how he feels and what he needs.

But whatever the case, my expectation should be that he is always behaving in a way that is "right." Because "right" when you're two means being connected to your needs and feelings and doing your best to make them known, especially when you need help with them.

He's communicating important things with me through these behaviors that push my buttons, and I only need to change the way I'm interpreting them for it to become positive for both of us.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 171: It's Just...

As pretty much everything else has been this summer, our playgroup was rained out this week. But one brave soul volunteered to host, so we all took advantage of the opportunity to get our own kids out of the houses they've been strangely cooped up in for most of the month of June...and May...and, well it hasn't been a very park-friendly season so far.

We walked in to find a beautifully arranged table of art supplies, and before long we were all watching paintbrush double dipping and playdough colors being smashed together into one big marbled mass. I think a few of us started to hyperventilate. Then we launched into our own stories of OCD meets child rearing.

And the common thread in those stories was It's just... I wish I didn't need the reminders so often, but I'm certainly glad they keep coming. This one was one of my favorites.

It's just flour

So often the behaviors I try foolishly to change in Jackson are just the product of a two-year-old being two - curious, creative, and rambunctious. And always - always - the thing I'm upset about is just not as important as nurturing him and our relationship.

The mess he drags all over the house - up, down, left, right, this corner, that nook, anywhere you can imagine and then ten more places you can't - is more likely a great opportunity for me to learn to let go and focus on more important things than it is an opportunity to teach him responsibility.

Do the upstairs toys really need to stay upstairs and downstairs toys downstairs? Do they really need to be sorted? Aren't they his things and shouldn't he be able to play with them and put them away how he likes?

Maybe putting the singing hamster and the pretend razor in the same bin makes sense to him because the guy might need a shave in the middle of the night. And maybe overturning the ball pit to make a cozy place to lay with his animals isn't as much messy as it is creative.

Of course it's not that order and responsibility shouldn't be learned. But ranting like a crazy person about the mess while demanding that he pick it up and put it away my way might not be the most effective way to teach those things, certainly not to inspire them. I wonder how I would feel if he went off about the horrific stack of crap perpetually on my "desk" (aka the dining room table) and ordered me to rearrange everything, or worse yet, clean it up so there was no stack of crap.
It's just dirt

When it comes down to it, no matter what the situation is and no matter how huge it feels at the time, I can always say It's just...

It's just a shirt (which we probably paid a quarter for at a garage sale). It's just a camera (maybe using a disposable camera would be nostalgic, remember waiting to get them developed?). It's just an appointment (that I probably would've found a way to be late to if he hadn't). It's just a nap (which he will not die without, nor will his brother).

But I'll never find myself thinking, it's just our's just his's just his's just his confidence. No, those things have to be more important. And if I'm focused on his behavior, I'm showing him they're not.

I have to change my frame of mind. I shouldn't be asking myself how I'm going to motivate him to do what I want or worse, make him do what I want. In every situation I should only ask: How can I love him in this moment? Because balls neatly inside the ball pit or strewn all over the room, what matters is that he feels loved and cherished. It's just that simple. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 168: I Don't Wanna!

I feel like throwing a good old fashioned tantrum.

I've spent the past few days not posting, but actively working through the issue of letting go of some of the things that are filling up my life. I've complied lists galore, diagrams, and even pie charts (that's right, I said pie charts) in an attempt to analyze which trumps the other and relegate a few to the gotta-go pile.

But each and every one of the things I'm involved in is important to me! In their own way, as much as they drain my time and energy, they fulfill, equip and energize me.

I feel torn. Is it better to impact a few people in a big way or lots of people in a small way? Do I prioritize the things through which I feel I have the greatest positive impact or the ones that are most personally fulfilling. Does personally fulfilling mean it feeds me individually or our family as a whole? And what part of me or our family needs to be fed? Do I go with the numbers and get rid of the things that require the most from me or the ones for which the effort-payoff ratio is smallest?

So many questions with so many possible answers, none right or wrong. Not a comfortable way to make a decision for this black-and-white mom. The bottom line is that I do the things I do because they're positive and productive and I'm passionate about all of them.

Of course the things I really wish I could ditch are the non-negotiables that don't stir my heart with excitement, but which are vital to our family and business. And through all the pie charting I've been trying to see those things in a more positive light - being thankful that I'm needed, a part of the "team" and able to contribute, and viewing that service to my family as meaningful instead of a drag, no matter how much I hate paperwork and the like.

My pie chart would definitely be the inverse. No, scratch that. It would all be eaten and there would be a picture of another pie labeled "next."

Once the tantrum subsided, I got all the details sorted out and dove beneath the surface to get a little more honest with myself. And there were a few front-runners for the cut. There were also some painfully obvious imbalances in terms of energy in vs energy out and the target of that spent energy.

Ironically, "set priorities" has literally been written on my to-do list for at least two months now without having been addressed - a sign that perhaps priorities aren't in line, you think?

So in establishing priorities, these are the conclusions I came to:
  • Spending my time and energy on positive and productive things, does not necessarily equal a positive and productive use of my time and energy if priorities are not set and honored. In other words, a good thing in general can be a bad thing for me or our family if it takes precedence over something more important.
  • I'm investing a lot of energy in relationships - a valuable and positive thing, no question. But I'm spreading that energy among too many people and leaving gaping holes where there should be more invested, namely within my extended family. The list of women I genuinely want to spend time with is so long it actually causes stress based on the number of phone calls and emails I "need" to make and play dates I "need" to schedule. I simply have to allow those relationships either weather the long periods between talks and time spent together or fall to the wayside if they're not hearty enough to do so. A tough task when one of my great passions is community building!
  • I'm not engaging in enough self-care to sustain the load I've taken on. The piling stress leads to poor nutritional choices, either from a lack of time to nourish myself with a good meal and sit down while I eat or because a brownie masquerades as a reward before causing a crash and burn reaction, to say nothing of the guilt and self-loathing. (Seriously though, if you haven't tried the peanut butter brownies at the Good Earth Co-Op, you haven't lived.) When I'm over-scheduled I don't have time to run, an essential for my physical and emotional well-being. And I don't have the "luxury" of listening to my body when it's telling me to take a short nap while the kids sleep or just take thirty minutes to rest and read one of the five thousand books on my as-if-I'll-ever-have-time wish list. These are simple things that have to fit in if I'm going to be effective.
  • Real life has to come first. My research and facebook addiction is easy to justify, not only because it's a form of activism which has led me to the opportunity to help quite a few women and their families, but also because our family has gained so much from what I've learned through all that reading, often after seeing something posted on a friend's page. But some things, like nurturing those real-life friendships and a little self-care, are more important than piling up more knowledge, no matter how useful. 
  • Spirituality, which could easily also fall under relationships, self-care, and real life, has to top the list. It is the glue that holds all the rest together and gives it all meaning. I'm not modeling the kind of relationship with and reliance on God that I want my kids to see, and they're not experiencing his love as they should because it's not able to flow through me when I give that relationship little time or attention. The kind of energy and strength I'll gain from prioritizing this aspect of life will fuel me to do more and be better in every other way. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

And the practical application goes like this:
  • I will post for myself a visible list of priorities and make to-do lists and schedule activities accordingly.
  • I will leave at least two of five weekday mornings open so we have more freedom and less stress.
  • I will take an evening run by myself at least once per week and use one of those free mornings and one weekend day to run with the kids.
  • I will invest first in my family relationships and closest friendships and only spread my energy further if there is enough to do so. I must trust that there's enough of me to nurture the relationships that are meant to be sustained.
  • I will sit down to eat lunch with the boys and make a plan for dinner each morning so we can also eat as a family in the evening. Less chaos at meal times will be good for all of us.
  • I will take a hiatus from facebook reading and posting. When we settle into a less hectic routine, I'll allow myself to return to it only if other priorities are tended to first, and only at a specified time of day and for a reasonable amount of time which will depend on how much "extra" is available at that point. For now I will log on once during nap time to admin the Holistic Parenting group I created and check my inbox. No homepage. I repeat, NO homepage!
  • I will continue to respond to and prioritize calls, emails, and messages from women seeking support or information as these fall under the "real-life" relationship guideline when directed specifically to me. However, I will not address general online posts with the same questions unless the need is urgent or the response so simple it's faster to post it than think about it again.
  • I will delegate more responsibility to my Holistic Moms Network co-leaders and if something can't be taken on by one of them, I will allow myself to let it go.
  • I will use my now screen-free time to focus on finishing La Leche League training. A real-life passion that has taken a back seat to other less-important reading.
  • I will read a Bible verse each morning with Jackson during breakfast, a great way to also make sure we're sitting down to that meal together. Here's hoping I can answer the slew of questions that will come my way about each one!
  • We will jump back in to our church and seek relationships there, not just attendance.
  • I will ask for the specific help I need. I am blessed with a husband that is endlessly supportive, parents who bend over backward to help out, and in-laws who would do anything they could for us and I simply need to be organized enough to identify where and how they can relieve some pressure. This will not only help me (and as a byproduct, the kids who have to put up with me all day), but it will make our family function more as a team and deepen relationships as we rely on each other.
I think the goals are realistic and achievable. It's really all riding on staying focused. I'm easily distracted by so many things I want to accomplish and ways I want to contribute, but if I honor that list of priorities, I'll have no choice but to stay on track.

And when the pressure starts to lift, joy is abundant, and love flows more freely, I hope the rewards will be enough to make maintaining balance come a little more naturally.

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Day 164: Time, Connection, and Stuff

    There's something wrong with the way we're living when everyone you meet agrees that there aren't enough hours in the day, when stress is considered normal and no one gets enough rest and relaxation to recharge and face another day or week.

    And the logic follows then, that there's something wrong with the way I'm living. Because when I peel back all the layers covering my struggle to see beyond behavior to the heart, it all comes down to time, connection and stuff.

    Not long ago when I had one child, no job, fewer relationships and no volunteer responsibilities, I had time to engage in the kind of connection and communication my relationship with Jackson needed. I was able to take our days at a slower pace and actually sit and eat lunch with him instead of frantically trying to do dishes and sweep floors or get Max to sleep while he eats alone. I was able to get some much needed relaxation and me-time just by going to the park and watching him play in the splash pad while I read a book in the sun. I was able to read to him and play during the day instead of being glued to a computer screen trying desperately to catch up on a workload that just keeps growing.

    It's easy to blame myself for being impatient when he needs to take his time (Ahhhh! We're late again!?) or to feel guilty about not engaging him the way I used to or as often. But the reality is that I haven't changed, our life has. I'm still the same person with the same capacity for love and patience, I've just slowly become overloaded by more and more stuff. Stuff that is eating up the time and energy I need to connect and be present with him.

    Of course Maxwell was the first and biggest change (and I think we'll keep him :D), but very quickly after him came one responsibility after another and eventually my relationship with Jackson got crowded out. He got less and less of my time and attention and it's now culminating in issues of jealousy with Max and desperate attempts to reconnect with me through negative behavior. (And here come the tears)

    I can't believe it took me so long to finally see what was lying underneath it all. The change was so gradual - adding one thing, then another - that I couldn't see how far we had strayed from what used to be normal for our relationship.

    But now it's clear that the behaviors I've been fighting against and trying to control (in him and myself!) have been pleas for me to come back to him, let go of the stuff and give him the connection he needs and the time he deserves.

    I was forgetting how intuitive and in tune with my energy he is. He's so painfully aware that when I'm with him, I've got a million other things running through my head - I'm not really there like I used to be. I may have convinced myself that I was giving him what he needed, but he knew better.

    I'm so proud and so thankful that the connection we built early on left him unsatisfied with my leftovers. Only his refusal to accept the scraps of my time and energy would ever be enough to pull me back to center and right our relationship.

    So on to the work. Learning new tools is helpful and I always want to pursue growth. But trying to manage the feelings of frustration, impatience, and anger that swell up when I'm stressed and overwhelmed is like putting a bandaid over a gaping wound. Something bigger needs to change. The stress itself has to go, and that means addressing the stuff.

    Because I am enough. I have enough patience, enough love, enough energy, enough of everything, even time, for the things that are truly important. Finding myself in this constant state of frenzy - rushing everywhere, always behind, too stressed to connect - isn't because I'm not enough, it's because the "stuff" is too much.

    And as I end on that thought and soak in its truth, I'm struck with the reality of having to move on to making decisions about what can stay and what needs to go. No easy task and a good topic for tomorrow.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Day 160: Mirror, Mirror

    I always see Jackson's behavior as a mirror, but sometimes I misinterpret the reflection.

    When he chooses to do the opposite of what I've asked, resists cooperation, and has a "bad" attitude, I've been allowing that negative, inaccurate script to trick me into thinking it's a reflection of my weakness, a lack of power and authority. So is it any wonder I've been reacting by trying to assert myself through changing his behavior?

    In reality, the reflection I'm seeing is of my own behavior and attitude.

    He has always freely offered respect and cooperation when he's treated with the same. He's always open and emotionally healthy when he experiences connection and acceptance.

    Of course this doesn't translate into being permanently cheerful, but it does dictate how often, to what degree, and for how long he feels sad, frustrated and the like. When those feelings do arise, he communicates so openly and honestly when he feels safe and respected that, as he's heard, understood and valued, they generally float out as quickly as they came in.

    When, on the other hand, he feels rejected, judged, disrespected or controlled, we find ourselves standing in a stagnant pool of those feelings - the ones that are there to guide us away from where we are and back to where we're meant to be.

    When I feel disrespected, the question I should be asking myself isn't: How do I make him respect me?

    It should be: How have I been disrespecting him? And how do I change that right now by showing him respect in this situation?
    Even Bob the Robot gets love and respect

    Kids truly do need love most when they deserve it least, and that means respect, acceptance, and connection in the face of real or perceived (as is often the case) disrespect.

    As I challenge the authoritarian script, I'm going to start taking a more honest look in the mirror of his behavior so I can see myself for what I am in that moment and choose a different path - one that leads to listening and connecting.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Day 158: Trigger Happy

    With every problem in life one can choose to manage symptoms or address the cause. And physical or emotional, I prefer to do the latter.

    My current struggle to look past the surface of Jackson's behavior could probably be managed if I learned and practiced a few tools, and certainly that will have its place as I work through this. But I don't want to be satisfied with that; I don't want to keep pruning weeds and leaving the roots to continue growing.

    So what is the cause?

    It's the script I carry from childhood. Quite frankly his behavior is a trigger for the authoritarian values I absorbed as a child, but have consciously chosen to reject as an adult. And so the knee-jerk reaction when these abandoned, yet not escaped beliefs are triggered is to focus on behavior modification through punitive discipline.

    When he doesn't do as told, when told, he's "defiant." When he makes a choice that isn't in line with my desires, he's "disrespectful." When he doesn't fall in line, I'm not "in control." When he uses stall tactics he's "manipulative." When I "allow" him the simple freedoms he deserves he's "walking all over me" and I'm "permissive." Because as a parent my role is to be powerful, respected (read: obeyed), and in control.

    In only a few weeks of really butting heads with this issue, I've seen a sad decline in my relationship with him. He's not as open with me, he's not desiring cooperation and respect as he used to because so little is coming his way. He's feeling the adversarial context I've been setting us in, and he's reacting.

    It's devastating to watch these things happen and to feel so incapable of changing the pattern we're in. But I am capable of change and we are going to find our way back to center and back to the harmony we have experienced before. If I choose connection over correction, responsiveness over reactivity, and cooperation over control.

    Outing those beliefs and that running script is step one, so when I feel the anger rising and the need for control rearing its ugly head I'm going to look to the source - and remind myself that it's never my children and always within me.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Day 154: Something New

    I'm thinking about doing things a little differently.

    The benefits of this journey in parenting and blogging have been many, but sometimes a certain issue or concept slips right through my fingers. I recognize it, write about it, then move on to another post on another topic and leave it behind me, not fully grasped and far from adequately implemented.

    The things that are hardest to soak in and live out are crying out for more than a post's attention, and so I want to give them that.

    I'm going to pick a single concept and stick with it until I've beaten it to death...uhhhhh...until I feel ready to move on. Given my last post on being a dweller, I'll try to make sure I'm not feeding that monster, but I do want to give myself time to get it - I mean really get it. Because if I'm not doing that, then what am I here for?

    And what better place to start than with the thing I'm 'getting' the least right now!

    I'm finding myself feeling result-oriented rather than relationship-oriented, which means I'm slipping into punitive discipline. This comes from an external focus - reacting to behaviors instead of seeking my childrens' hearts through their words (or babbles as the case may be) and deeds and meeting them there without judgment.

    So until a greater need arises, I'll be tackling this issue and sharing whatever comes along the way. With any luck that'll be insights and epiphanies, but more likely it'll be some roadblocks, some scary self-realizations, and a few small victories that remind me that it's worth all the energy and time it requires.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Day 150: To Dwell or Not to Dwell

    Oh self-discovery, how I loathe all the work you make me do. But oh how I appreciate what you bring when I find the strength to change and grow as I learn. *sigh*

    I'm finding out that I'm a dweller. When something catches my attention, positive or negative (let's be honest, more often negative than positive), it tends to stay there. Sometimes for too long.

    Since letting go doesn't come naturally to me, it generally only happens when undertaken with conscious effort. And while I work on living more openly and letting feelings, thoughts, and experiences freely come in and flow out as they are meant to, I'm noticing the powerful, albeit unintentional effect my dwelling has on Jackson.

    He loves to talk about his feelings, and whether that feeds my tendency to dwell or whether my dwelling brought about this trait in him, it's where he's at. And I'm noticing that he sometimes has a hard time moving on too. But why wouldn't he? He hasn't seen it modeled in me and I really haven't tried to teach it to him either.

    So in thinking about this, I've found that I don't know where the healthy line is drawn. When do his feelings really need to be processed and talked through, and when can I encourage him to let go and move on?

    I don't want him to ever feel as though I've blown off an experience he considered significant, but I also don't want him to go through life having to see every experience as a monumental event to be dwelled on and every emotion as something to work through. Trying to follow his cues at this point leads to lots of dwelling since he's so intensely thoughtful and sensitive, which leads me to believe that gentle encouragement from me is warranted.

    I'm hoping this is something that time, thought (dwelling?), and a little helpful advice will bring to a more conclusive end, so I'll pose the question: How do you handle this with your kids?

    Tuesday, May 31, 2011

    Day 147: Sweet Silence

    I could really use a little more peace and quiet around here, but the reality of sacrificing the giggles, squeals, songs, intricate narratives and babbles to get there makes it sound that much less appealing...then I remember the screaming, banging and whining and we're back where we started. Bring on the peace and quiet!

    Today I'm focusing on peace of a different kind and quiet from a different source. When I step back and take a look at our life, it's a little more sweet silence from me that we all need.

    I grew up in an analytical home and I'm so thankful for all the gifts that gave me. It's a major part of who I am now as a woman, but I'd like it to be a little less a part of who I am as a mom. As much as I think and reason my way through this journey, I want to be able to feel my way just as well, and living always in my cognitive brain keeps me from doing that.

    Because for me, thinking means talking and feeling translates into doing.

    Reasoning and verbal instruction has its place in parenting, especially with a boy like Jackson who wants to know everything about everything. So I'll keep talking about bones and flowers, and answering the many questions that come from him.

    But when it comes to teaching the things that matter, modeling is where it's really at. I can use all the words I know to try to teach him about respect, responsibility, kindness and the like, but if I don't show him he'll never learn. And in the end, the words just get in the way.

    Lately I'm talking too much and doing too little.

    So the new goal is to shut up and show as much as I can. Because that kind of quiet is what's going to bring true, lasting peace to our home.

    Saturday, May 28, 2011

    Day 144: Presence

    I talk a lot about mental and emotional presence, but I've been noticing lately that my physical presence has been sorely lacking with Jackson.

    Not needing any help with the Easter loot
    I'm home with the boys all day every day and can literally count on one hand the number of times I've been away in as many months. So it feels like I couldn't possibly be any more physically present, but the truth is sometimes I'm here without really "being here."

    When my attention is pulled in too many directions at once, I forget that physical presence at this stage of development literally means standing next to him, holding his hand, helping him.

    On a busy morning when we're trying to get to an appointment on time (riiiiiight), it's far too tempting to make a request while I tend to other things.

    Please go potty while I clean up breakfast.
    Could you please pick out a few toys to bring with us while I pack a snack?
    Put on your shoes while I get Max dressed, please!

    Whether or not it feels like it to me, these are complex tasks for him.

    Let's break it down: 
    Man of many hats
    Go up to a room filled with toys (let me get this straight, I'm *not* supposed to be playing in the play room?), choose a few (what size? how many? which ones? they're *all* my favorite!), place them in a bag (but this is my super awesome hat which cannot be filled with anything other than my head!), walk past your bedroom (but I'm not fully dressed until I'm wearing a second shirt and socks on my hands!) and go to the front door (but I want to eat the snacks nowwww!).

    On top of that, I'm sending him conflicting messages. I ask him to complete a task, but I don't consistently follow through. Sometimes getting distracted is okay, other times I mean business and it's not. How is he supposed to know that "choose some toys" has a time limit when one day he's in the playroom for fifteen minutes "choosing toys" while I get ready (and am secretly thankful for his distraction) and the next day he's hearing me holler "come down" within three minutes?

    What could be more important? <3
    If I'm too busy to help him with things, I'm *too* busy and need to reassess our day. If something isn't important enough for me to stop what I'm doing to help him, it's not important enough for me to request of him.

    This is a great example of unrealistic expectations, and I'm going to use this week to focus on making requests within his capabilities and consistently offering my physical presence and help when he needs it.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Day 141: The Difference a Day Makes

    Edit: Since we all have different definitions of various undesirable parenting behaviors, I thought I should add a disclaimer. I never use abusive language toward my children; they are never belittled, called names, or otherwise verbally abused in the overt sense of the word. And certainly I never cross physical boundaries with them. What I consider intimidation and domination looks more like "normal" parenting in actuality. Raising my voice, shooting angry looks, using a hurtful tone, and throwing out threats of lost privileges are all forms of intimidation and domination which are ultimately used to coerce children into desired behaviors through fear. These are the things I'm referring to in this post.

     I wrote yesterday, but didn't post. Partly because it was more a therapeutic rant than a composed post, but also because it felt a little too raw at the time to put out there to the world (aka my tens of readers *snort*).

    But having stepped back from the ledge I now think there is value in 'going there' - by which I mean not only writing authentically in hindsight, but letting authentic, real-time venting make an appearance as well.

    So here's yesterday's post: 

    Day 140: Overwhelmed

    It seems like this feeling comes in tidal waves. It swells and washes over me, then fades until it's like it was never there.

    The problem is that the days when I'm under, I'm really under. I can't breathe. I can't think. I can't move. And I certainly can't see the inevitable regression of chaos and inadequacy or the promised reappearance of order and capability.

    Today is that day. With new rooms, neither of my boys are sleeping.

    Max has been up since 6:30am and only napped one hour. He is now clinging to me as if I may forever abandon him at any moment simply because I tried to put him down in a new place. Never mind the fact that he's in the same bed with the same blanket, pillow and fan, or that I picked him up the moment he fussed, or that I finally put a mattress on the floor and nursed him to sleep there; I don't get any credit for that apparently.

    Jack didn't nap at all. Can you say crazy? We've been in one long power struggle today, probably because I'm so tired from two weeks of waking all night with Max (when exactly is this fun little phase going to end?). Oh, and for some reason today seems like the appropriate time for an explosion in his desire for autonomy. Translation: Whatever I want him to do is now what he patently refuses to do because he didn't choose it himself.

    All I want is for something to go my way. Can't something just be easy today?! Does everything have to be a struggle? And why, when all I feel like doing is crying because everything is so far from where I want it to be, is it easier to yell and punish my kids for the way I feel?

    The fear of being unable to cope with less than ideal circumstances comes from being unable to cope with less than ideal circumstance. Days like today are the ones that make me frantic to control all things external in an attempt to avoid ever having to endure something like this again.

    Yikes! Yep, that was the end. No positive conclusion, no pretty little bow to wrap it all up in. Yesterday. just. sucked. and I was wallowing in self-pity.

    Thankfully my real-life knight in shining armor came home after a long day at work and jumped right in, doing dishes, playing with the kids, doing bedtime, and otherwise rescuing me and the boys from each other.

    But with the perspective of a new day and a fresh sense of capability (I knew it would come, even if I couldn't feel it) I now have the benefit of analyzing my frazzled self from yesterday.

    Here's the cold hard truth: It's my fear of weakness and the choice to feed into that fear rather than facing it that drives me to where I was yesterday.

    When I start to feel as if life is just too much and nothing is as it should be - when the house is a mess (again...still), the HMN events need to go up (two weeks ago), the bills need to be paid (with what?), the article needs to be written (swallow your pride and appreciate the paycheck), and the kids need attention (are they still here?) - I feel inadequate. For me this translates into weakness, because if I were just more efficient, more organized, more focused or just all around better, I would be strong enough to carry it all on any given day. Riiiiiiiight.

    My default reaction to weakness is to grasp at power any way I can get my hands on it. Unfortunately for the small walking and talking being in our household, this sometimes means asserting myself in the forms of intimidation and attempted domination. Tactics he is now (thankfully) confident enough to resist - hence the day-long power struggle.

    Although I can't consciously identify it at the time, what I'm actually doing is trying to feel powerful and in control by taking power and control from someone else. How disgusting! And I don't say that in the self-deprecating, I'm-so-awful kind of way. I really just mean that this is objectively a disgusting way to treat another human being.

    But the real problem isn't weakness or inadequacy. It's my refusal to let go, to accept my limitations, my circumstances and the lack of control I have over them. It's these things that leave me 'unable' to cope, not a lack of strength to power through and make it work.

    Overwhelmed is much less likely when I'm living and parenting consciously. It even feels manageable when I'm focused on relationships over tasks, communication over accomplishment.

    Instead of needing things to go my way, I see the value in reaching and expanding my limits and using the accompanying feelings as a guide in resetting priorities and reassessing responsibilities. When I release myself from the fear of weakness I feel what's real in that moment - be it sad, unhappy, unsatisfied, inadequate - instead of masking those 'inferior' emotions with 'powerful' anger. When I let go of expectations and address the reality of what is, I'm able to creatively meet challenges and I'm rewarded by feeling capable and powerful in a healthy way. And most of all, when everything goes 'wrong' I can still take pride and joy in connecting with my kids in the midst of all the chaos.

    That is not where I was yesterday. It is thankfully where I am today.

    The house is still a mess, HMN business still needs to be attended to, phone calls still need to be made, paperwork still has to be filed, and supper isn't going to make itself. But we're happy today. We're enjoying each other, laughing, getting through the hiccups quickly and cooperatively, and having a darn good day despite it all.

    Thankfully days like yesterday make me appreciate days like today much more, so they do serve a purpose after all!

    Saturday, May 21, 2011

    Day 137: Adaptability

    We're about to undertake a few big changes here, and I can feel the heart palpitations coming on already.

    Our bedroom is too crowded to be liveable with the pack 'n play in it anymore. And because it's adjacent to the living room, we walk around on eggshells when Max is napping during the day. My shushing and scolding is causing so much tension between Jackson and I that I'm ruining the only solo time we have together by forcing us into power struggles about where he can play, with what and how loudly. The whisper shouting has got to end!

    So tomorrow Jackson is moving to a new big-boy bedroom upstairs *tear* so that Max's bed can be moved to the "nursery." He's also finally asking to sleep in a big-boy bed, so once he's used to the new sounds and feel of his upstairs bedroom, it will be time for that transition too. I don't know if it's for him or me, but I think one major shift at a time seems more manageable.

    This also means that Max will have his own room *gasp* which he will be napping in and hopefully starting the night in before coming to bed with us where he usually sleeps. In addition to the noise issues, we're thinking this will ease the eventual transition away from bed-sharing as he gets older. Jackson was in his own room at only two months, but it still seems so strange to move Maxwell so far away at nine months. He's spent every night of his life snuggled up next to me, and even the first steps toward the beginning of the end of that are a little tough. 

    I'm reminding myself that they are ready for these changes and that they are adaptable, that kids are so adaptable if we let them be. But there's still a twinge of anxiety. Because as a general rule, I don't like change (read: I fear change). Knowing what to expect provides a sense of security, even if what I can expect is something I don't like! And stepping outside of that predictability - even with the prospect of major improvements - requires faith and trust in myself, in them, and in the God who works all things together for good.

    I don't want to find security in circumstances anymore. It leads to fear and makes me a neurotic control freak! I want my security to be unchangeable. I want to be confident that we will all be okay even if things aren't perfect or predictable, and to embrace the unconditionality of life that I so often reject. We are all capable of adapting to this and to much bigger things, and I want to give the boys an opportunity to practice being flexible and welcoming change.

    Which leads me to the obvious question: What's the worst that can happen? Because a few sleepless nights and a few days of nap struggles are so insignificant, especially when weighed against all the positive things that will come from these changes. And I also have to remind myself that trying something new doesn't mean we're committed. We do what works for our family, and if we make changes that don't work we can always go back to what did.

    Inviting these changes with enthusiasm is a step, small though it may be, toward faith and trust. I will anticipate great things and accept growing pains that may come with confidence that we'll all learn something valuable as we're drawn out of our comfort zones. And most importantly, I'll allow the boys to decide for themselves how they feel about it all instead of projecting my fears or expectations onto them.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Day 134: No Fun Zone

    Growing up we had a license plate that read NFZ. The family joke was that it stood for No Fun Zone. Well, I guess it was a joke. When the ratio of truth to exaggeration is teetering in the wrong direction, it can be hard to tell.

    You might be thinking: Oh, how sad that her parents didn't let her have any fun, that they were boring sticks in the mud who crushed her spirit in their fun-free minivan.

    Au contraire! It was I (and my brother, but that's another story) who was the wet blanket ready to dampen the mood at any sign of enjoyment...unless of course it had to do with food, because then I was all in. Ah, I can almost see my pouty pre-teen face now.

    I was a fun-loving girl and all - not giddy and frivolous, but definitely fun-loving - yet when it came to family affairs it was my subconscious mission to suck the fun out of life like the Grinch stealing Christmas. Unless it was something that I expected to be a good time, I sure as heck wasn't going to let it be. And the criteria for enjoyable events were as follows: Something I found interesting, something I was good at, something that had no chance of making me look foolish, something that was worth my time (according to me of course), something that didn't interfere with anything else I'd rather be doing (which, according to teenage me, would be anything not with my family), something that benefited me in some way (hence the reason eating out was a gimme), and something that didn't involve being seen with my family by my peers.

    And God forbid I actually try to enjoy something that didn't fit the impossible criteria! No, no, no, I had to make sure that those things turned out just as miserably as I thought they would. Making the best of things would be like admitting I was wrong and that all my complaining, sighing, pouting, slouching, eyebrow furrowing and arm crossing was in vain. We couldn't have that after I went to all that trouble. Besides, being miserable, if accompanied by being right and proving a point, was more fun than having fun.

    So my poor parents were trapped in the No Fun Zone with me for a large part of my life under their roof. (Sorry guys!)

    Now I'm the one orchestrating family outings and herding everyone to the car with promises of a good time, and I'll cross my fingers that the energy I'm putting in to foster a healthy relationship with my kids will save me from dark, anti-everything teenage years. For now they're both all smiles and giggles, and Max in particular is impossibly happy even under tough circumstances.

    Though I'd love to say I left it behind with my teenage years, it's clear that the killjoy part of me has yet to be purged since I still see it rearing its ugly head when things aren't going according to my master plan. I'm afraid it's going to infect the naturally amiable nature of my kids, or at the very least, continue to suck the fun out of life with my own family.

    When I want to take a run to the park but the kids decide to nap on alternating schedules, it's in my nature to feel frustrated and get short with them. Let's call it what it is: adult pouting. I can run an inner monologue that says I never get to do the one thing I love, that everything I do is centered around them and nothing I like to do for myself fits in anymore and that we'll have no fun just sitting around the house OR I can throw my hands up and say "oh well, we'll try again tomorrow" and enjoy the rare solo time with each of them, maybe even have some fun. *taps finger on chin* which of those sounds better? (And as a reminder to myself, I am not a prisoner to naps! I can choose to strap them in an go anyway if it's that important to me. Choices, choices, choices! There are no victims in this family.)

    Assembling all the pieces of the puzzle, this is what I see:
    I have several responsibilities that require me to "get things done" while I'm parenting --> Getting things done while parenting is actually impossible (little known fact, but this is true!) --> This predicament leaves me feeling constantly behind and under pressure --> Feeling under pressure feeds my killjoy side and suffocates my fun-loving side --> Fun asphyxiation is a contagious disease that my children acquire from me - when I have no fun with them, they have no fun with me --> Feeling the tension and the lacking joy I should naturally have in mothering them, they begin to need me more, asking for the love I'm not giving them, and I am even less able to accomplish non-parenting tasks --> Crying, yelling, door slamming, toy throwing, Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Is it bedtime yet? Who's idea was it to have kids anyway!?

    I want to be a fun mom! I can be a fun mom; it's all up to me. My house doesn't have to be the No Fun Zone, it can be the Neighborhood of Jokes and Merriment (I guess our family license plate is not as well-suited for acronyms). So when I start to feel pressure, in addition to addressing the fear that underlies my stress, I'm going to find ways to make us laugh. Because what's the point if we're not having fun?

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Day 132: Confessions

    They say confession is good for the soul, and I'm counting on it! 

    In the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of yelling (I said put that away NOW!), threatening (If you don't put your pajamas on right now, we're not reading!), shaming (I can't believe you woke Max up!), blaming (Why am I yelling? Because you're making me angry!), and intimidation (a nice combo of all of the above that I call the 'House Blend').

    I've felt like a failure and a monster. I've felt unworthy of my children and unforgivable. But despite all of this, they somehow continue to adore and accept me. And as I'm reminded that God does the same, I'm motivated to pull myself back up, make changes and keep moving forward. Because to waste all that love and forgiveness by refusing to accept it would be criminal. And to continue on with the labels I give myself in the name of justice and what I deserve would only bring us more of the same.

    When I step away from treating myself to an equal dose of the House Blend, I can finally see where it's all coming from. I could easily blame it on stress as so many of us do, but that would only be scratching the surface. At the root of it all is control, and what's driving that need for control is fear.

    As a general rule, we're all stressed out and it's taking a toll on our health, our relationships and our quality of life. But I think stress is a really crafty word we all use to cover up the reality that fear is everywhere in our culture and pervading our lives.

    When I'm angry (stressed) because I can't get Jackson out the door on time, the truth is that I'm afraid: that we won't get to an appointment on time, that we won't get all our errands done before lunchtime, that we'll be late in getting home and the boys won't get to their naps soon enough, that what I don't get done today will pile up on me tomorrow - that I won't be able to cope with less than ideal circumstances.

    When I'm frustrated because he's being loud a normal two year old while Max is asleep, the truth is that I'm afraid: that Max won't go back to sleep, that he'll be fussy if he doesn't sleep long enough and I won't be able to get anything done, that it'll throw off his next nap and then bedtime, that his waking will interfere with whatever task I had slotted for me and Jackson during his nap - that I won't be able to cope with less than ideal circumstances.

    And sometimes it's not even about them! Sometimes I'm just stressed about all the things I have to get done in addition to my job as their mother, and I let that fear - of being inadequate or incapable of doing it all - infect my interactions with them too.

    It's okay to try to get us moving on time by preparing earlier (not by barking orders at a tiny person with underdeveloped impulse control) and it's okay to try to keep our home quiet for Max's nap by heading outside or reading to Jackson (not by shushing and shaming). Being proactive in order to make things easier would be a great idea!

    But things have been spiraling downward because I'm consistently giving myself over to fear, and because I'm more invested in avoiding unfavorable circumstances than I am in enjoying my children and treating them with the respect and dignity they deserve. I'm making the happiness of our home conditional, and it doesn't have to be that way.

    I'm going to make a conscious effort to break the cycle by calling a spade a spade. When I feel stressed, I'm going to ask myself, "What am I afraid of?" and "Will it be okay?" Because when I identify the likely inconsequential fear (a delayed nap, really?), nine times out of ten the answer to the latter will be yes. And the rare time that it is a legitimate fear, I'll be able to consider how to cope with "worst case scenario" without dishing out the House Blend.

    I am capable of coping with less than ideal circumstances and even experiencing joy through them, so why keep robbing myself of that?

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    Day 129: Refocusing

    Since allowing myself the flexibility to post only when time allows I've noticed the following:
    1) Time does not allow very often
    2) There's always something else I could be doing that seems more important and usually trumps processing and posting
    3) Posts became more theory than reality based - a sign of disconnection?
    And most importantly...
    4) Things have been heading in the wrong direction since I've scaled back

    So what's a busy writing mom to do?

    When I started this project, I didn't have time for it. But I committed to it.
    And it worked.

    As I've been experiencing more resistance, annoyance, and stress in the last few weeks, and my kids have thus been experiencing more rushing, yelling, and disrespect, a very clear picture of priorities was painted for me.

    I'm amazed at the change we experienced when I was writing and really focusing my energy and time on my REAL job, the only one that truly matters in the grand scheme. I don't think I really knew how far we had come until I 'woke up' the other day and realized how far back we had slid!

    As I thought about how Jackson and I had been butting heads, how I'd felt constantly impatient and on edge, how all of life felt like a struggle (the words I said to myself were literally, "Can't anything just be easy?!"), it hit me that in those months of intense focus that feeling was the exception, not the norm. And as I looked back over my posts, the evidence was there to corroborate that. What started as a string of posts about chaos and struggles slowly morphed into more posts about hopes and joys.

    So once again, I'm saying: The cycle ends here!

    My life is so full right now - with so many amazing people and responsibilities (privileges!) I could never imagine giving up - so I want to be careful not to over-commit. I also don't want to give myself room to blow off this project that is so vital to my growth as a mother and in turn to the health of our family. And that leaves me somewhere in the middle trying not to feed my all-or-nothing self, but instead nourishing my moderate self (I think she exists...).

    I want to commit to posting a minimum of three times per week. I'm challenging myself to prioritize this project over the other things that have crowded it out, which I hope will translate to more than three posts each week, but I'm setting that boundary as a safety net to keep me moving forward.

    And I'll be looking to all of you to keep me accountable!

    The primary reason for making this a public blog rather than a private journal was to offer other struggling moms (which is all of us, by the way) a place to feel accepted and like they're not alone; to rip off the "perfect mom" band-aid to reveal the "real mom" underneath, wounds and all.

    But secondary to that, I also knew that I needed accountability to motivate me to move forward when it seemed like too much work. So thanks to the tens of people reading for giving me that gift! ;-) I'll picture you're disapproving and judgmental glares next time I consider blowing off a post.

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Day 125: Dear Mom

    I'd rather be sleeping than writing right now, but Max has other ideas. After giving me a fitting 5:30am wake up call for Mother's Day, he has now informed me that I'm mistaken about bed time. This despite the fact that he slept beautifully until the very minute I was ready to also get some rest. So let me first say this, Mom. Thanks for all the sleepless nights you endured for me, and for being much more patient with me, I'm sure, than I feel with him right now!

    There wouldn't be time or space to relay all the ways you've shaped me as a woman and mother, but I'll share a few that are most important to me.

    You embody "mom" like no other woman I've ever met. And I mean that in all the good ways and none of the bad ones. (How you've managed to avoid mom jeans for so many years is beyond me!) The home-cooked meals, the words of wisdom and encouragement, the well of patience that never seems to run dry, the empathy that only a mother could're a real-life June Cleaver.

    I grew up watching you serve our family, church, friends, and pretty much anyone you met without a word of complaint and without looking for an ounce of recognition. Your motives were always pure, never tainted with a desire for approval or applause. You genuinely want the best for everyone around you, and you're willing to sacrifice your own time and resources to help them get there - what a rare quality. This taught me the value of selflessness and the joy that can come out of giving and being a part of someone else's joy. I never could have known that choosing another over myself could be so self-satisfying had I not seen it in you, and if I learn to put it into practice half as often as you, I'll consider it a victory.

    You are bar none the most trustworthy person on the planet. I've always been able to share things with you, confident that it would be locked away in your vault forever. This is one of your qualities that defines our relationship, because the security of knowing my privacy is valued and protected, that I will never be betrayed, has allowed me to be open with you. You are my safe place, my confidant, and my best friend, because I never have to think twice about what I say or how. You're always quick to praise my loyalty, and I want you to know that it was born out of what I experienced with you.

    It always amazes me when you get life stories in the grocery line. You emanate warmth and kindness, so I guess it shouldn't be surprising that people are drawn to that and want to open up. You're as approachable to a stranger as you are to a friend, and I like to think I've been working my way in that direction as I watch you. You always have time for people who need you, and you taught me to value people and relationships above all else.

    You did so much for us - working from home so you could be with us and even homeschooling us - and yet you never lost yourself. You gave us everything we needed and reserved enough to give to your marriage, your studio, music, gardening, workouts, and whatever else you've found energizing or been passionate about over the years. I'm so thankful for the incredible love you had for us, and even more thankful that you didn't let it consume you. You showed me that being a mother doesn't mean giving your life up, but adding to it and modifying it. Because of you my definitions of woman and mother are multidimensional and fluid - there is no box for me to get stuck in. This opened my life to possibilities, and it's the reason I was able to pursue an education and a family, passions and children.

    It was your commitment to my education that brought me to where I am. No school, public or private, could have given me what you did at home, and I reap the benefits every single day. Because of you the natural curiosity and desire to learn that I, like all children, was born with were protected and nurtured. You taught me to think critically, ask questions, self-teach, reach beyond what I "should" know, and follow my abilities and passions. I'm proud to say that these are now many of my defining characteristics, and I hope you're proud they came from you.

    You have been my life's greatest cheerleader. You told me over and over that I was capable of anything I put my mind to, and the confidence I've grown into started with that seed planted by you. You always encouraged me and supported me; my world is limitless and I owe it to you.

    Our relationship has bounced back from things that it shouldn't have been able to survive, and all because of your infinite capacity to forgive and love unconditionally. There were times I knew I disappointed you, embarrassed you, even grieved you, but I never once questioned whether your love would be waiting for me on the other side. You were my first experience of Jesus' perfect love and His forgiveness that has washed my slate clean, and you are the reason I want so badly for my own children to feel Him through me. When I knew I was unworthy, when I knew I deserved judgment you showered me with nothing but compassion. Experiencing your forgiveness is what made His grace real to me, and there aren't words to express my gratitude for that. Every time I fall flat on my face, I'm able to pick myself up and move forward because of what you taught me with your forgiveness and the continual flow of God's grace. My relationship with my own children is dependent on this, and I have you to thank for it.

    I'm convinced that were it not for your trust in God, you would not have survived my young adulthood. Now having my own children and experiencing that intense drive to make their worlds safe and happy, I can finally imagine what it was like to sit back and watch me make so many mistakes, some with lifelong consequences. I can finally understand how desperately you must have wanted to protect me from those things and how you must have wanted to take the wheel and tap the brakes. For all the heartache, yours and mine, that came with some of my choices, I'm so thankful that you allowed me space to make mistakes and grow on my own. It's only because of the freedom you gave me and because you patiently waited through the worry, disappointment and sadness I'm sure you carried that I can point to so many defining moments of my life. I only hope I have the courage give that same gift to my children.

    And finally, Mom, your humility is my inspiration - for this blog and for my life. You are always willing to lower yourself to raise someone else up. You're never too good for anyone or anything. You accept criticism with an open heart. You are a living breathing illustration of how beautiful humility really is. And, like all the other qualities I just listed, I will consider myself successful if I can embrace and embody it through my journey half as well as you have.

    So happy belated Mother's Day! (Max did finally decide it was bedtime half way through posting last night) No one deserves a day reserved in her honor more than you.

    And like I told Dad: If you ever think I'm getting down on you through this process or if you carry any personal regrets, remember you're the one who helped me become who I am - a person willing and determined to embrace humility, chase growth and never let good enough satisfy. Know that I don't harbor any of those same regrets and that I'm thankful for all of the experiences that shaped me. And every time you're proud of me, take credit. My achievements are as much yours as they are mine.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Day 123: Dear Dad

    Most of conscious parenting boils down to self-awareness - because ultimately it's about us and our reactions to our children, not about them and their behavior. And the process of becoming self-aware requires you to take a good, hard look at the way you were parented - because, for better or worse, we are who we are in large part because of our family environment and the choices our parents made for us in our formative years.

    Sometimes this is expressed in our own parenting through imitation, other times the opposite, but we're always reacting to our baseline, the "normal" we grew up with.

    Since so much of this is just ingrained in us, we tend not to have to think about it unless we want to change it. Enter this blog, an effort to overcome some of the less than perfect defaults that were set for me (and which, of course I had a hand in setting as well).

    But what I've failed to mention as I write my way through this journey is that for every negative default, I can point to as many positive traits. And for every experience I'd like to change, I cherish at least a hundred others.

    Processing the negative is essential to growth, but so is acknowledging and reinforcing the positive! So in an effort to balance out my pessimistic tendency, I'm going to focus on that in two posts that I'll write as public letters to my parents. I'll start with Dad today and hopefully find time to get to a post for Mom on Mother's Day tomorrow!

    I've met only one man in my life whose integrity can even come close to matching yours, I married him. It was your unwavering character and your commitment to honesty and faithfulness that colored my definitions of 'husband' and 'father.' Because of you, I knew that such a man existed, and this kept me from settling for less than what I deserved in a partner. Every joy I experience in my marriage is a reminder of how I am forever grateful to you for that.

    It was that same integrity along with your guidance and trust that kept me from straying too far from self-respect in the years when it's so easy to do so. You showed me, through your relationship with me and your intense passion for your marriage, that I deserved to be loved, sought after, and cherished; and though my life has certainly not been free of heartache, it saved me from so much pain. 

    Knowing that I had your approval and love kept me from searching for those things in the wrong places. Your confidence, in yourself and in me, along with your unconditional acceptance gave me permission to be different and made it easy to reject conformity. Obviously this has come in handy!

    Your protection showed me how much I was valued and helped me value and protect myself as I moved out from under your loving care. You taught me to assert myself and stand up for those who couldn't do the same - a principle that now guides so much of what I do and who I am.

    Your great commitment to God and truth left a lasting impression on me. It was your refusal to accept spiritual mediocrity and hypocrisy that brought me through the disappointing and damaging church experiences of my childhood still somehow able to find authentic faith on the other side.

    Your relentless pursuit of knowledge has influenced the course of my life so significantly. This is such an integral part of my person that I can't imagine who I would be without it.

    And I hope you don't mind if I out you as a softy, but your kind heart and compassion are a reminder that strength doesn't have to be cold and hard. 

    Of course I've only barely scratched the surface, and while these are the things that stand out, there are too many more for me to name.

    So if you ever think I'm getting down on you through this process or if you carry any personal regrets, remember you're the one who helped me become who I am - a person willing and determined to embrace humility, chase growth and never let good enough satisfy. Know that I don't harbor any of those same regrets and that I'm thankful for all of the experiences that shaped me. And every time you're proud of me, take credit. My achievements are as much yours as they are mine.

    Friday, April 29, 2011

    Day 115: Parched

    When I step back and take a look at my life, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude and humbled by all I have that I've done nothing to deserve. In my real-life Prince Charming and two boys who could not be any more beautiful inside or out I find daily evidence of God's infinite grace and mercy, proof that on my own I could never be worthy of the blessings that flow freely from His hands.

    And when those realizations come, they carry with them a reminder of how spiritually dry my life is right now.

    Once upon a time we were part of a church community - one that was authentic, inspiring, and challenging. But the busier life got, the more commitment faded. Eventually Jackson became too talkative for the service and unable to be separated from me in the toddler room, and the final nail was in the coffin. It has now been about a year and a half since we've been back. And if feels like it.

    Not that a weekly church service is a spiritual prerequisite, but without it, I've found it far too easy to let my other relationships and responsibilities crowd out my most important relationship - the one that, if at the center, elevates all the rest with it.

    I feel more ready and open for connection with God than I've ever been thanks to all the other growth I've been undertaking. I think this is because spirituality permeates all aspects of life, and because the expansion of my worldview has stretched me in ways that allow me to see God in places I never knew He was before.

    I'm sure some read posts on energy, unconditionality, the mind-body connection or intuition and think "New Age" (ahhhh, run for the hills, Christians!). But I see God's incredible physical and spiritual human design in these things. He made us energetically interactive beings, our intuition is a guiding gift from Him, it was He who interconnected our physical and emotional states, and the unconditionality of life only exists because of His sacrifice that allows us to experience freedom. What a shame to miss out on these dimensions of life that He intended for us to experience, utilize, and enjoy! If you gave someone a Swiss Army knife for Christmas, wouldn't you want them to use more than just the tiny, nearly-useless scissors?

    So now that my eyes have been opened to the can opener, the screwdriver, the blades, and even the nail file, I find myself wandering alone in a spiritual desert. Those who share my foundational spiritual beliefs reject much of my philosophy and theology (which, by the way, are essential to my foundational spiritual beliefs!). And vice versa, those who share my philosophical beliefs often differ significantly in the spiritual realm. And in particular, a similar view of respectful, loving discipline is hard to find among Christian parents. (A post on that later!)
    But I'm committed to finding my way back to center, back to the love that is the root and reason for it all. And to do that, I'll need to live in community with like-minded people. I'm a part of this amazing holistic parenting community that has been so instrumental in my mothering journey, and I need to dive back into a church community to foster the same growth in my spiritual life.

    My hope is that the community we left behind is one that will embrace us again, new ideas and all. But whether we find our home in the familiar or new, I'm feeling ready and drawn to search. And this is reassurance that now is the right time. Not last year, not last month, but now. Acceptance and forward motion: two more blessings I couldn't live without!