Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

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13 Reasons Controversy

It’s been a while since I’ve come across something in the homeschool world that makes me sit up and take notice, but this is one of those things that compelled me to write about it. There’s a new series on Netflix that you may have seen. It’s called 13 Reasons Why, and it’s based on a YA novel of the same name by Jay Asher. It’s about a high school girl who commits suicide, but leaves behind a series of audiotapes intended to be passed around to the people she holds responsible for her death.

**general spoiler warning** If you haven’t read the book or watched the series and don’t want details, you should probably stop reading this post until after you’re read/watched it. 

Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

Apparently, there are a lot of feelings about this series; A LOT of feelings. From the outset, I’ll say unequivocally that material that sparks discussion about mental health, depression, bullying and other issues that teens (and young adults) face has a place in the public eye, period. Even more-so if it engages teens, who tend to be most at-risk for suicide. Whether you agree, disagree, like it, hate it – whatever: discussion about topics that we, as a culture, tend to file under ‘taboo conversational topics: Do Not Engage!’ is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. And it’s about damn time.

Full disclosure, I’ve watched the series; I have not read the book. My children (13.5 and 15 at the time of this writing) have neither read the book or watched the series*, but both said that they ‘might’. I’ve told them that it’s fine if they do; to let me know if/when they do so we can talk about it. I also gave them a synopsis of what it’s about, gave a warning about graphic rape scenes and drug/alcohol use, and mentioned that there are things that Hannah (the main character) says, thinks and does as a result of disenfranchisement/bullying/potentially undiagnosed and untreated depression that aren’t ‘reality’; and that we need to talk about it during and after they watch it. We don’t generally censor what our kids watch; I’d rather know what they’re watching so we can decide if we need to intervene or talk about it than have them sneak around watching things behind our back. We’ve set standards for them that have gotten more permissive as they’ve gotten older; I don’t think we let them consume anything that isn’t age-appropriate. You may disagree, which is why if my kids come to your house, they’d have to follow your rules (or the lead set by your kids, which may be very different from your ‘rules’… but I digress). And before you lose your mind over that, we a) have developed trust with our kids based on communication and experience and will continue to base our decisions and permissions on that trust; and b) can still monitor when we feel the need to, because parental controls and history/system checks on media are a thing that exists and we reserve the right to record and check as needed. Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

In any case, my point is that we talk about mental health issues fairly often in our house. I was diagnosed with clinical depression (major depressive disorder) in 2006, and with severe generalized anxiety disorder in 2011. I take medications, supplements, use tools like apps, meditation practice, journaling and a focus on self-care as part of my management plan. They’ve seen me manage my own mental health issues and heard me talking about it with others a lot. Along with some of the other moms in our homeschool group, I went to a teen mental health first aid course and got certified as a ‘teen mental heath first aid practitioner’, and our teens are participating in a semester-long mental health course through our homeschool co-op, using curricula and resources from TeenMentalHealth.org and other similar sources. I say all of that to tell you this very scary fact: seeing and knowing and doing all that doesn’t make my kids suicide-proof. That’s hard to read; it’s hard to admit. But it’s the truth. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

The reason I started writing this post is because, like many homeschooling parents, I’m in quite a few internet support groups that focus on homeschooling. It’s generally helpful, and sometimes I learn new things there, or find tidbits of new information that I want to use in our school career. other times, I come across things like this:

 

Okay, fine. You don’t want to watch it, then fine. But let me tell you this: if your kids want to watch it, and their peers are watching it, then even if you think it’s ‘poison’, then you should damn well be watching it, too. If for no other reason than because you should be informed of what’s going on in and around your child’s world. Changes are, if your kids’ peers are recommending it, then your child is going to figure out how to watch it, with or without your approval.

And hear this: if your opinion is so strongly negatively stated, do you think that your kid is going to come to you to talk about what they saw if they watched it without your permission (or in spite of being explicitly told not to watch it)? Nope. So your precious snowflake is going to be left alone to figure it out, or have only the influence of his or her peers to guide how they process the show. Not only that, but as a parent, you’ll miss out on being able to clarify the points that need to be made throughout the series about how Hannah could have made different choices, or how her friends could have, or what your child’s options are in different scenarios.

And then there’s this, which makes my eyes want to roll right out of my head.

ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ KIDDING ME?? Also, it’s extremely bad form to tell a parent who literally has experience with this situation that it’s not reality when it is very much their reality. I can’t even imagine how awful it would be to have your child survive a suicide attempt. I can imagine it would be harrowing, and that you’d be on red-alert all the time. To have your child attempt it again? I can’t even imagine that kind of pain and stress and anger and hopelessness.

To their credit, the moderators of that group very quickly deleted that comment thread. The post itself is still up, with decent discussion both for and against allowing/encouraging/discouraging (and some outright forbidding) students to watch, and decent discussion about whether the series addresses teen suicide and bullying appropriately or not. The discussion was relatively civil and productive, with good points on all sides.

From the message thread, the article lists these reasons why ‘not’ to watch (edited for clarity):

  1. This show was overly graphic. …  These rapes are gritty, horrifying and not something your children need to actually witness just in case they need to deal with something like this. They did a good job of showing Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) and how she felt during the rape, but watching her body writhe with each “thrust” was completely unnecessary and not something we needed to watch in order to understand the gravity of the situation.

  2. The suicide toward the end of the series might as well have been a handy dandy how-to graphic for how to kill yourself.

  3. The other big problem I had with the suicide was the build up, the entire series lead up to Hannah killing herself. Which isn’t different than in the books, but for some reason, they made it feel like a big reveal, an event that you were waiting on. Something exciting. Suicide should never EVER be exciting. And I was disappointed that they depicted it as such.

  4. They glamorized Hannah, the girl who killed herself. They made her out to be this big amazing person that everyone remembered and was heartbroken about after she left. ….  the series made this about her, like she left some sort of legacy only a dead girl could leave behind. Why would you want kids to think their lives will only have meaning after they die?

So, obvious warnings are obvious; Netflix rates the show as TV-MA, and included content warnings on the episodes that have the most graphic content. The author of that post’s child is in 6th grade… so, not 17… but she may be mature enough to handle watching the series with her mother nearby; that’s a decision that each parent needs to make. I don’t necessarily disagree with the author’s assertions in the context of her particular child. But to give all parents a ruler by which to measure their own children is ridiculous.

But to take this one point at a time… first, I don’t think it was overly graphic for the audience intended. As mentioned previously, the rating is TV-MA. It’s more subject matter than content that garners the warning. There’s no nudity; they do a damn fine job of conveying the horror of one girl (Jessica) being raped while under the influence of alcohol, and of (Hannah) witnessing it but being unable to say or do anything to prevent it due to her own trauma without being, in my opinion, overly graphic. They didn’t rush through it; they didn’t gloss over it; they didn’t give you an out as a witness to what was happening, either visually or audibly. You, as the viewer, endured it with them. Not only that, but you were flashed back to it at different points – just moments or glimpses – but the trauma is revisited over and over again, unpredictably…. just like in real life. That, to me, is one of the biggest arguments FOR watching it – exactly because of how well-done this particular aspect of it was. Not only that, but in the production commentary (the last episode of the series), they specifically talk about how Hannah never said the words ‘no’, or ‘stop’ or anything, really, when she was raped. It was clear that she did not want to have sex, but she never said no. That makes a conversation about ‘victim blaming’ necessary. Talking about it is one thing. Seeing how it happens is another. Was it rape if she didn’t say no? After seeing it, it’s painfully obvious that she was, in fact, raped. In some religions, because she didn’t scream, or say no, she is considered guilty of fornication. That scene puts an entirely different face on that circumstance, and is fucking *necessary* if you’re a young woman growing up in a religion that teaches that.

Secondly, you don’t need to give kids a ‘how to’ guide to commit suicide. If it’s on their minds, then they’ve already thought of it or imagined it or planned how they’d do it. I was about 12 the first time I ever thought about killing myself, and by 14 I had a concrete plan. I was raised in a pretty strict household as far as what we were allowed to watch – nothing rated R, no horror movies, nothing overly sexual or violent. I never needed anyone else to tell me what to do. I never got as far as an actual attempt, but  I didn’t need to be ‘influenced’ by outside sources. All those thoughts and ideas came from right inside my own head. Showing it isn’t going to ‘give them ideas’ or convince them to ‘give it a try’. That’s a huge myth, and yet it persists because people – parents – don’t ever want to face the reality that kids have very real pressures in their life and may lack the tools to deal effectively with them. A further truth is that some teens have mental health issues that are undiagnosed.

Today’s kids, younger and younger every year, are under an enormous amount of pressure. Their brains do not work the same way that adult brains do; they process information and experiences differently than we do, and they lack both life experience and time to understand that what they feel today isn’t going to last forever. As an adult with depression, I can tell you that in the depths of a depressive episode, even with life experience and the clear understanding that those dark feelings don’t last forever, sometimes forget it. That’s why depression is an illness – because it messes with your brain. Not talking about suicide because you ‘don’t want to put ideas in their head’ is stupid and reckless. By the time I was 18, one classmate and 1 friend had committed suicide, with several others hospitalized after suicide attempts…. and this was back in the 90’s.  Now, there are things like cutting and other forms of self-harm. It’s a real thing. Real kids do it. Your kids might do it. My kid might do it. We might not necessarily know about it. Again – there’s that scary place to think about – that our child might be in pain and in harm’s way. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away; it makes it more dangerous.

Here’s something it’s important to understand about suicide: people don’t do it because they’re healthy and thinking clearly. People who commit suicide see death as the only way out. Out of suffering, of being a disappointment or a burden on others (friends and family), out of the confinement of struggling every day just to live. I also think it’s important to understand that unless you also struggle with depression or anxiety or another mental illness, you can’t know what it’s like to reach that point; to get to the point that thinking or feeling like ending your life is the only way to be free. This is probably one of the best images I’ve ever seen that illustrates that feeling – everything is so awful that death looks peaceful in comparison. But, because of the stigma that depression and mental illness carries, it’s incredibly hard to talk about. That’s okay; talk about that, too. Tell your kids that you’re scared for them. They need to know that.

The third point is an idiotic one, imo. You begin the series knowing that the girl killed herself; but one can hardly tell the story without flashbacks. As the viewer, you get multiple insights to the story – Hannah’s perception as she tells it on the tapes; the recollections of her friends and classmates; and a ‘narrator’ view, which features Hannah in a somewhat less than ‘perfect’ view. I disagree that Hanna’s suicide was built up to in order to sensationalize it; I think the flashbacks gave a fairly well-laid out progression of the deterioration of Hannah’s mental state and circumstances that led to her making the decision to kill herself. Starting off with the suicide scene, or downplaying it wouldn’t make sense. I think showing it the way that they did was appropriate; it was graphic and horrific and terrifying and lonely and sad – everything that suicide is. This feeds into the next point – they didn’t glamorize her; quite the opposite. I saw a bunch of people who gave lip service to mourning a girl they barely paid attention to when she was alive. That’s not glamorization; that’s tragedy. Her life didn’t have meaning after she died; her life ended. That’s what death means – you’re dead. No more life to live; no more chapters to your story.

Here’s what I saw, first and foremost: I saw a lot of kids with a LOT of problems, and mostly absent or distracted parents. I saw a lack of communication; a lack of courage (courage to speak up when you see something that you know is wrong, to defend someone else, to start a conversation, to say the thing you want to say, to have a voice at all); a lack of trust and confidence in the adults in the kids’ lives. I saw obvious warning signs (drinking, drug use, heavily tattooed under-aged teens – you don’t get those from hanging out with fine upstanding citizens… because it’s illegal) that no adult acted on. There are SO MANY things to talk with your kids about… for me to talk with my kids about.

I think Hannah is responsible for her own death. She kept things to herself when she could have talked – at any point – to the people around her. If not peers, then adults. She felt like she didn’t have options, and that’s where the adults in her life failed her. But it wasn’t a one-time thing; it was systematic. It was something that went on and on for a long period of time. Her parents were distracted by real problems, but they were distracted nonetheless. Her friends also had real problems, but each person in Hannah’s life that she sent the tapes to also had options. Not necessarily a responsibility towards Hannah, but options for how they handled their own situations that led them to whatever thing they said or did that Hannah ended up blaming them for. Hannah did a terrible thing… several, actually. Playing the ‘blame game’ helps no one; absolves no one; is fair to no one. Suicide is a tragedy, but ultimately, the person who ended their own life is the one responsible for that decision. There’s a discussion on ‘suicide revenge’ that should probably happen as well. This isn’t a new concept; Marilyn Manson’s Coma Black has the line ‘I kill myself to make everybody pay‘. Hannah left tapes to explain/punish those she held responsible, and ultimately let herself off the hook for her decision in both deed and via the tapes. That was a shitty thing to do.

As a parent: TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Tell them that you have issues; that you don’t understand them or their culture, but that you are trying. Let them teach you. Don’t play the disinterested parent-role; don’t let them think that you have all your shit worked out. If you haven’t learned shit-management techniques in your 30+ years on the planet, then you probably didn’t pass any down to your kids, so they’re likely in need of those tools anyway. Let them know that life doesn’t just magically work itself out when you turn 20 or 30 or 40. It’s still a struggle, BUT you learn coping mechanisms on the way that can make it easier. Be an example – take charge of your own issues. If your issues are affecting you kids, then for fuck’s sake, get help, and include them in the process. The other half of this is LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS. Trust them when they tell you that their life is horrible (instead of giving in to the righteous anger that we love to fall back on and list all their privileges and blessings so they’ll see how entitled they’re acting and shape up). Getting angry at them for being ‘ungrateful’ instead of listening to what they’re telling you can lead to a teenager who doesn’t feel like you’re a source of support. Trust that they’re using the best vocabulary that they can, and help them find better words to express what they’re feeling. Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers without giving in to the temptation to be all judgmental or looking for ways to punish them to opening up to you. You can’t have open, honest communication with a teenager and then censor how they talk, or try to shape their expression into your worldview. Listen to see where they are at and meet them there. Then cover new ground together. It’s okay to be lost, or not know what to say. Tell them that; they need to know that we don’t have everything all figured out either, and that it’s okay to learn new things (like how to handle intrusive or overwhelming negative thoughts). It’s also okay to seek outside, professional help. In fact, that’s something your kids should already have – access to suicide hotlines and a network of adults that they can trust to talk to.

In closing, I think people tend to forget that TV and book characters aren’t ‘real’ people; they’re amalgams of multiple people, or archetypes that real people don’t fit into exactly. Real people are so multi-faceted and multi-layered that no book or TV character could ever get it just right. No real person is as one-dimensional as a character; and no situations are quite as simply laid out as real life scenarios are. This book and series, and others like it, create discussion opportunities for parents to guide their teens., and I believe that’s what the series is intended to do. Whether you allow your child to watch it or not, there are some real-world things that today’s kids face. There are real-world situations brought up in that series that I believe it is entirely worthwhile to talk about with your kids. Whether you choose to use the series as a conversation starter, or some other method is up to you – but have the conversations with your kids. Please.

Warmly,
~h

* When I started this post, they had not. After I asked, I guess that brought it to their attention, and LBB (15) decided to watch it. At the time of this post being published, he’s about halfway through the series, and we’ve had multiple discussions about it – big ones, little ones, talks at the dinner table, talks in the car… sometimes just a comment here or there, sometimes more drawn out.

 

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How To Be KIND to Yourself When You Clearly Fail At Life

kind header

One of the things I have heard over and over again as a mom is ‘be kind to yourself’. For a while, I truly hated hearing it, because no matter how hard I tried, there were literally  hundred times a day that I thought I have somehow failed at life. I say ‘were’ like something has changed – and something has, but it’s definitely not that part; I still fail at pretty much all the things on a daily basis, and self-care has been my focus over the past few weeks (months? years??) because I am honestly that bad at it. Let’s not even talk about how many times every day I fail at being an adult… a mom… a wife… a daughter… and what does that even mean, ‘be kind to yourself‘? I mean, honestly. I live inside my head; I know what goes on in here and it’s often not deserving of kindness. I think uncharitable thoughts, I yell at my kids, I lose my temper far too often, I have no patience, I suck at keeping in touch with friends, I don’t call my parents as often as I should, I suck at housekeeping and hate cooking… the list of my faults is long and, because I am a writer at heart, very, very detailed.

It’s only been in recent years that I have even begun to start understanding and working through my issues to even understand the concept of ‘being kind’ to myself, much less apply it. I’ve written before about homeschooling with depression and anxiety, but as I said in that post, I’m still broken and struggling, every day, and it’s really damn hard. Despite all of my best-laid plans, self-care is one of the things I have a hard time managing, and even though I know how important it is to my overall health and mood, I still have to fight (with myself) to make me do the things I need to do. When I can’t even remember to eat regularly, or drink water when I am thirsty, it’s really hard to be ‘kind’ to the person who is actively doing the opposite of taking care of me. But I’m working on it, and here are some things I’ve learned:

1. Recognize that you’re doing your best in this moment.

Here’s a visualization exercise for you: Think about the most recent thing you did that you gave yourself a tongue-lashing for. Now take a look inside and find your inner child – that cute, mischievous 5-year-old you that still likes to pop bubble wrap and is still tempted to write on bathroom walls in public. Pretend like she did the thing that you did. Now talk to her like you talk to yourself. Now pretend that she is your sweet baby child, and someone else is talking to her like that. Did Mama Bear come out to kick ass and take names? If so, then you probably need to work on your inner voice.

Here’s the deal – just like we try to remember when dealing with our kids, we’re doing the best we can with the tools we have available to us in this moment. As you learn new and better tools, your inner critic is easier to hush up. I won’t say ‘silence’, because my inner critic will not be silenced even when all is well (which is why I ply her with wine and decent chocolate on occasion), but as you change the atmosphere inside your head, there’s less for your inner critic to latch on to. The learning of new tools isn’t a fast process, so don’t expect all of your changes to take place at one time. Simply recognizing that there are tools out there, even if you don’t yet know what they are, is a huge step in the right direction… which brings me to my next point:

2. You’re an ever-evolving work of art.

You know what? It’s okay not to have your shit together. We’re all learning new skills and tools all the time, and it’s okay to not know them all, or not know how to implement them, or not be sure that they’re the right tools for you. Even if you decide to implement some new things, it’s okay to struggle with getting it going well. Every day is a new day. You have the opportunity to begin again every. single. day. There isn’t a guarantee that every new thing you learn will be implemented forevermore and always. What’s the saying? ‘When you stop learning, you stop living‘. Being ‘in progress’ means that you’re not a static being. Some days will be better than others. Some days will be absolutely dreadful, but others will be phenomenal. Most of them will be somewhere between ‘really good’ and ‘not so great’, but there is opportunity and change in each of them. Some days, you’re going to cope better with the highs or lows than others, and that’s okay, too. It’s not ‘all or nothing’; like a great work of art, it’s a process – the (better, happier, more capable, adultier, better adjusted, successful) person you’re becoming is a work-in-progress. The important thing is that you keep making progress. It can be one step forward, two steps back… but even the Texas Two Step is going to take you all around the dance floor sooner or later. The direction you thought you were going may not be the direction you truly need to move in. As you learn more and make changes, your path will become clearer. It’s okay to resist that process, too! Eventually, you’ll get where you’re supposed to end up.

 3. No one else has their shit together either; some of them just fake it better.

 Don’t believe me? Text your BFF right now and ask her to show you Mt. Laundry, or her kitchen sink full of dishes, or whatever her secret housekeeping shame is. Or maybe it’s not housekeeping that is her (or your) downfall, maybe it’s something else… whatever it is, we all have one (or more) areas of our lives that just don’t ever manage to flow correctly. But, there’s probably an area in your life where you do feel competent and successful and put together, and you can bet that someone out there has seen you do The Thing and assumed from your obvious competence at The Thing that the rest of your life was similarly in order. My ‘thing’ is making it look good on paper. In practice, it’s a hot mess, but damn if I can’t make it spiffy in written format! It’s my gift.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’, or something like that… whatever the actual quote, comparing yourself to someone else is never going to end well (unless you’re the obvious winner, in which case, <highfive>). But you know who I’m talking about; the person(s) that you always compare yourself to where you’re not the winner. It’s easy to make comparisons when you only have the visual and not a front row seat to the three-ring circus inside her head. Everybody is struggling; it’s not just you. Even the most zen mama you know has issues (and if she’s that zen, she’d probably be genuinely open to talking with you about hers and yours if you asked her). The point here is don’t let unfair comparisons be another bat that you use to beat yourself up. Use your inner voice for good, not evil… which feeds directly into the next point:

4. Start small… today; Right Now. 

Say something nice to yourself. I mean it – do it even if you think it’s hokey or whatever. If the only thing you hear in your head is negative commentary, then you’re never going to get out of the place you’re in right now. Being KIND to yourself means changing your thought patterns. The change starts with you, with your inner commentary. If you need tools, make affirmation cards – they don’t have to be fancy, they just have to say things that you need to hear. I made my deck in index cards with markers and glitter glue. I looked online and found things I liked and copied them, then printed them out and pasted them on my cards. Simple and effective.

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If affirmation cards are too ‘woo-woo’ for you, then enlist help to focus on the positive things you bring to the table. Make a pact with your best friend where you can only say positive things about each other to each other for the next week, or start a Secret Sisters gift circle in your group of friends that celebrates each others talents and mad skillz. Chances are, she needs it, too.

Whatever your preferred method of getting some positive thoughts knocking around inside your noggin, do it, and make it a daily priority. Self-care is so, so important to your general well-being. Carve out space for you to tend to YOU, and make that time sacrosanct. Be a little bit selfish; you’re worth it. Small steps add up to bigger ones. Taking even 5 minutes to meditate or commune with Nature or whatever your Thing is and making it part of your daily routine – even to the point of helping your children and family to understand that this is ‘Mommy Time’ and to respect it lays the groundwork for you to take bigger self-care steps in the future.

So tell me, what does ‘being kind to yourself’ look like for you?

Warmly,
~h


Attachment Parenting Tweens and Teens

ap tweens and teensPlease tell me that I am not the only one who has a child (two of them) who can go from perfectly happy and satisfied in every way, to profoundly miserable in 60 seconds flat! Since the boys have gotten older, we’ve been dealing a lot with the confusion of rapid mood swings while simultaneously trying to ‘use my tools’ to pinpoint the catalyst and resolve the issue – which is nearly impossible when you’re blindsided with it out of the blue.

When they were little, it was easier, I think.  I was used to thinking ahead – planning for meals, knowing that teething and asymptomatic/un-diagnosed illnesses might be suspect. As they get older, I think I’ve been taking it for granted that they can communicate well, and figuring that since they have a pretty wide range of vocabulary at their disposal, they will be able to articulate what they need.

Oh, silly Mommy.

I can’t verbalize my feelings half the time, and I have a hard time expressing what I need from someone. I guess I thought that this was a nature vs. nurture thing and was putting a lot of stock in ‘nurture’ and not enough understanding of ‘nature’. There are times when we’re in the middle of one of those ‘moments’ and I can’t help but laugh in sympathy – it’s like talking to myself. In any case, for a while there, we got into really good patterns of communication. Things were going to be smooth sailing from here on out, right?

But then come the hormones… and they throw everything out of whack. In a way, it’s like they’re pre-verbal again; they don’t have the vocabulary to articulate what they’re feeling, or the experience to recognize why they’re feeling like they are. And, of course, no one understands. I get frustrated with that claim, but honestly, even though I have been through it and have an inkling of the feelings of disconnection that those pre-teen years can bring, my own angsty teenage years are so long ago now that I don’t really remember how it felt to be right in the middle of it (except for the huge book of horrible, horrible poetry. I do have that embarrassing reminder).

So how to you cope with those moments where you’re running through your mental list of ‘fix-its’ and nothing is working?

Maybe it’s time to update your list. I’ve found that the best way to do that is to go back to basics. There are plenty of articles out there that cover the basics, both the tenets of attachment parenting, and reminders to do a mental run-down of what factors could be influencing a child’s behavior, such as hunger, over-tiredness, personal attention, physical activity, better nutrition – are they just plain bored? – that sort of thing. You’ve also got your unseen factors – pain, stress, on-coming illness – things that maybe even the child is unaware of.

But most AP articles have the same problem – they’re directed towards parents with babies and toddlers. As my kids have gotten older, it’s been increasingly hard to find AP style parenting advice for dealing with older kids. You might think that’s because by the time our kids get older, we’re got this whole parenting thing figured out – let me assure you that is absolutely not true… or maybe I just missed the handouts that day. In either case, here’s what I’ve learned, handing my own tweens & teens: all of those factors, from food to rest and possibility of illness and stress still matter. But it doesn’t end there, because tweens and teens are dealing with the hormones of puberty, and trying to figure out who they are, the world and how they fit into it.

So the question becomes, ‘how does AP translate to tweens and teens’? I found it helpful to re-frame the basic tenets of attachment parenting to fit our changing needs.

peaceful parenting

  1. Prepare: When my kids were little, I would see these moms at playdates with the kinds of relationships I wanted with my kids. I talked with them, got book recommendations and asked questions. It’s no different now that my kids are older. I have ‘mommy mentors’ that I can talk with and bounce ideas off of, and get recommendations from that make this whole thing seem less daunting.
  2. Feed with Love and Respect: this is a basic tenet of AP, but I feel like it’s an important one. In January, we seriously cut out/down on processed foods and cut out almost all sugar. It’s been a really good thing for my family, and I am slowly seeing results, healthwise, in all of us. It’s about helping them see and feel the connection between what they put into their bodies and how they feel. Feeding with love and respect extends also to teaching the children to plan meals, go shopping and cooking. It’s not just about health, but simply sitting at the dinner table every night to re-convene as a family is a ritual that’s important to us.
  3. Respond with Sensitivity/Communicate Love: this is another one that I feel like translated very well to the older child. Just as it was hard when they were pre-verbal, if they can’t articulate their feelings or needs now, it’s my job to help them find the words or other means of communication to get their point across.  We use ‘love notes’ journals – a notebook that’s passed back and forth between me and each kiddo that we’ve been using for a long time. It’s a memento, and also an excellent communication tool when talking is just too much. Communication also means talking with them… family is a two-way street, so getting their input is important. I don’t have it all figured out, and they’re intelligent! They’ve often come up with ideas or alternatives that end up working very well.
  4. Positive Discipline: One of my favorite recent articles is from MindBodyGreen, called ‘How I Raised Teenagers Who Tell Me Everything Even When it’s Hard‘. One of the points that she makes that really stood out to me is that discipline at this age isn’t about control or even re-direction – it’s about communication. At this point, I feel like we’ve laid a good foundation; now it’s mostly refining and helping to build critical thinking skills. It’s easy to get frustrated or angry when they make (seemingly stupid) mistakes, but I know first-hand the damage that anger can do to trust; I don’t want that with my kids. My goal is to keep the lines of communication open; that can’t happen if their first thought is how they’ll be punished. She sums it up with 5 steps:

    Allow your children to have separate thoughts and values.

    Be curious.

    Get a life of your own.

    Deal with your own history and trauma.

    Learn to listen actively.

  5. Ensure Safe Space/Consistent and Loving Care: this kind of goes along with the above point, but also stands on its own. I have always felt that ‘home’ should be the touchstone for exploration. No mater where they go in the world, ‘home’ will always be here, me and their dad o matter where we live, ready to welcome them. That extends to helping them gain their independence, and also as a matter of having their own space and privacy within our home. Our home is/We are a safe space where they’re trusted, they’re believed, they’re heard.
  6. Use Nurturing Touch: I am not a ‘touchy feely’ person; when my kids were little and especially when they were breastfeeding, being ‘touched out’ was a constant complaint of mine. And yet I have a child whose primary Love Language is touch. I also found it to be an odd thing when my children no longer ‘feel’ like kids to me – they’re bigger than Loverly Husband at this point – the size of grown men! So making sure that there are plenty of hugs and ‘nurturing touch’ is an important element to their development. Finding the right balance here has proven more difficult than I had anticipated, making communication a big thing in this aspect as well – making my needs known, and listening to theirs is key in finding the right way to meet those needs.
  7. Balance/Focus on Simple Pleasures: I thrive on being ‘busy’. I love the constant buzz of activity. But I also need plenty of down time. So do my kids – maybe even more-so, since they’re still finding their place in the world. Taking time to spend one-on-one time with each of my boys individually has become a high priority in the last few years. Soon enough, they’ll be off to college or perusing their own dreams and plans, and I’ll miss having them underfoot.

So there you have it…. my updated take on AP as your babies get older. It’s not perfect; it will be interesting to see what changes are necessary in the coming years. If there’s one thing parenting isn’t, it’s ‘stagnant’!
What would you add?

Warmly,
~h


Summertime: Week 8

Our summer is winding down… this was our last week of having ‘extras’ – Red Butler and Huckleberry Pie will be heading back to California next week. We’re thinking in terms of ‘back to school’ already; I ordered new books for the kids and have been cleaning on organizing the school room to get ready for when we start again.

This week has been a lot of fun though. My boys were both grounded last week, so they didn’t get to do much. By Friday, I needed some time out of the house, so PBJMom and I signed the four boys up for a class at the Big Thicket last Friday. It was a drop-off class; one of the few that we’ve attended. While the kids were in class, PBJMom and I went thrift-store shopping (ALONE… WITH NO KIDS… did I mention that part??) – it was fabulous! The class was only a few hours, so we were home in time for lunch.

The weekend went by quickly. We hosted a swim party for our dojo and had a bunch of kids in the pool – more, I think than that pool has seen in a decade or more!

My kids have been obsessed with Minecraft lately. This week, I finally gave it a shot… oh, hello new addiction. It’s seriously so much fun. It something we can all four play together, and on ‘peaceful’ mode, there are no creepers or zombies or other enemies, so it’s all about digging and building. We’ve sparked several conversations about building in real life vs. video games (support structures, etc…) – PeaGreen loves building things, so it’s fun to see what he comes up with to build.

On Tuesday, we had a Monster Sleepover at PBJMom’s house- six boys, three moms. We had such a great time! And the kids did, too. We did end up having a big sit-down pow-wow with them and talk about give and take, communication and conflict resolution. We did some role-playing and talked for quite a while with them. It was awesome having two other adults to help calm the crowd. I can’t even express how awesome it is to agree with your friends on disciplinary methods. We gave the kids four strategies to try – changing your tone, getting a friend to help mediate, walking away and telling an adult. We stressed the importance of friends taking up for friends and brothers, and  ‘friend on friend’ bullying (or rough housing that goes too far). I think they ‘got it’. I hope they did… in any case, we didn’t have a lot of arguing after that point, so something must have sunk in!

After lunch on Wednesday, we made Unicorn Poop cookies  – they’re so good! PeaGreen said that they taste like Froot Loops, and I think he’s right. We made ours with lemon flavoring instead of vanilla, and we didn’t use the stars or the round things – just the glitter glaze and rainbow sugar – they looked pretty good!

 

(I don’t know why these pictures won’t go to the middle… after an hour of jacking with the formatting, they are determined to align left and so they shall remain in defiance of HTML commands. Bastards.)

Wednesday night, Red Butler and Huckleberry Pie came over for their last sleepover at our house. It was kinda sad! But they all woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (having gone to bed relatively early after staying up until 2AM for the Monster Sleepover the night before) and played some Minecraft before we went to the library to turn in all their Summer Reading Club stuff – yay!! We’re finally done with that!

The kids all got certificates and some prizes – free bowling, free burgers and a couple of other things, and they get to go to the finale celebration at a local mini-golf and arcade place, which should be a lot of fun.

Friday was all about hanging out at home and resting up. More Minecrafting, if I remember correctly, lol. I did manage to start clearing out last school years’ paperwork though. That’s always a job!

Coming up soon – the ‘Not Back to School Blog Hop’ posts; we start school on August 6th!

Warmly,

~h


Requesting that Which Enriches Life – NVC Week 6

Six chapters in – hooray!

If you’re following along or just joining us, we’re working through Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, and  Lucy Leu’s companion Workbook . We’re doing this as part of our homeschool curriculum and we welcome your thoughts and companionship on our journey.

We’ve been taking it slow; well technically, I’ve just been lax about posting out updates. We’re doing week 7 and have been for a couple of weeks – I’m just now getting around to posting about week 6. In any case, I haven’t forgotten about this project and am quite pleased with myself for following through with it (even if it is taking longer than originally planned).

In any case, week 6 is all about asking for what you need. In NVC, that means identifying what it is that you feel first and then being able to ask for it. As we’re going along, I am noticing a tendency among certain members fo our family to sound rather condescending when making requests. It’s very hard to have a sarcastic personality *and* sound sincere a lot of the time. This has always been a problem between Loverly Husband and myself; compliments that are utterly sincere sometimes have to have a ‘note of sincerity’ attached to them in order to be taken seriously. Adding NVC to this mix has been… interesting.

I’m also a pretty demanding person in general – as a friend, as a wife, as a mother – I expect certain things from my friends and family and I expect that those expectations will be met. I’m working on it and again, trying to work on not being a demanding shrew AND factoring in NVC without feeling like I am lowering my standards is difficult.

I will say that being in the same place with my kids as far as being new to and learning this method of communication; being able to say to them, “I am trying to use NVC and am having a hard time with expressing myself’ is a tremendous help. It’s almost like being able to call a time-out in the middle of a conversation. It helps them realize that I’m not perfect, that I am struggling just as much as they sometimes are. Saying something like that automatically puts us on the same, inexperienced  team and reminds us all, in that moment, that we’re working towards the same goal. If we take nothing else away from this experiment, that one thing is worth its weight in gold.

That said, this week’s lesson and focus on asking for what you need has been interesting and somewhat easier than the previous couple of weeks. Asking for something first requires that you know what it is that you need to begin with. These concepts are building on one another and being more familiar with one concept makes the next one easier. Being able to identify what you’re feeling (week 4) and then taking responsibility for them (week 5) and now asking for something to meet the need all works hand-in-hand.

If you’re following along, some of the discussion questions from Chapter 6 are:

What constitutes ‘request’ in NVC? How can we test whether it is a request or a demand?

How do expressing requests via vague/abstract language vs. expressing feelings gain different results?

Why do we sometimes hear a demand when someone makes a request?

What is reflecting? How does reflecting help?

Practice:
How can we strengthen our consciousness of what we want back when we talk to others?

If you’re reading along with us, I’d love to hear from you!

Have a great weekend!

Warmly,

~h

(Disclaimer: This is not a certified or ‘official’ NVC anything. This is my personal journey through Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, and Lucy Leu’s NVC Companion Workbook. I am NOT an expert, nor am I particularly skilled in this process. Please use/follow/apply with those things in mind. When in doubt, please disregard my commentary and refer to the book or workbook. I make no money off of this exercise, nor is any copyright infringement meant by posting a sampling of the questions from the workbook. For best results, I  strongly recommend that you purchase the book and workbook for yourself and go through them in their entirety at your leisure.)


Taking Responsibility for Our Feelings – NVC Week 5

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve updated this section, but we’re still plugging along. I have said it before, and it still holds true; learning this stuff (though totally worth it) is hard if it hasn’t been your normal pattern of communication. I do have one slight mama-brag for today though; today wasn’t one of our greatest, but we made it through and are enjoying a relatively peaceful evening.

At one point, PeaGreen was struggling to find the right way to phrase something and finally said that he was trying to say it in NVC and couldn’t – so I at least know that they’re thinking about it even when we’re not sitting there with the book open! That makes me happy, and it’s this kind of slow, but steady progress that keeps me thinking that this is working; that studying and practicing NVC is worth spending our time on.

If you’re following along or just joining us, we’re working through Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, and  Lucy Leu’s companion Workbook . We’re doing this as part of our homeschool curriculum and we welcome your thoughts and companionship on our journey.

I’ll be honest; I am not happy with this weeks’ lesson. I say ‘week’; I mean ‘few weeks’ – a month, nearly. We’ve taken a while to go through this chapter. That’s a lot of self-awareness to handle at one time – a lot of thinking and really connecting with the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of your emotions and responses. When that’s not your normal thought-process, it’s really difficult and time-consuming. One can assume that this gets easier with time and practice, but WOW to the first few months of really understanding and attempting to put into practice this type of self-aware communication.

To their credit, the kids seem to catch on faster than I do. Our phrase of the week is, “I feel…. because I need….” That sounds simple, right? But it’s not. Being able to out your own needs into works – even identifying them sometimes is challenging. We’re moving on to the next chapter, but I can confidently and unabashedly say that we have not mastered this concept. I do think that this is part of the process, and that with practice will come mastery (or at least competency). We’ve been stuck on a concept before, so I am sure this will work into the framework of the whole as we go along (and of course, we’re a long way from speaking Giraffe fluently).

Like I said above, I am seeing progress, but it is slow going. Right when I start thinking that this is not working, a situation will arise or a child will say something where I can clearly see the wheels of NVC turning. Oh, they still bicker, and I still get irritated and frustrated with them; that’s normal, I think. But overall, I think that communication is improving. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

I did appreciate the section on page 54 of the book where the lists the needs we all share; autonomy, integrity, celebration, interdependence,  spiritual communion, physical nurturance & play. Having the list is helpful when I don’t know exactly which need of mine is not being met; having an example of the language to use is immensely helpful to me.

The summary states:

What others say and do may be the stimulus, but never the cause of, our feelings. When someone communicates negatively, we have four options as to how we receive the message: (1) blame ourselves, (2) blame others, (2) sense our own feelings and needs, (4) sense the feelings and needs hidden in the other person’s negative message.

I’m still not exactly clear on what, or if there even is, a ‘right’ option would be. It seems that differing responses would be appropriate in different situations, and/or a combination of responses. In any case, we’re working on it.

If you’re following along, some of the discussion questions from Chapter 5 in the workbook are:

What ’causes’ a particular feeling in us?

What are four options for hearing a difficult message?

How might we speak in ways that acknowledge responsibility for our feelings?

Guilt-tripping – discuss.

How do we often communicate instead of asking for what want? Response?

Explain the difference between ‘taking responsibility’ for someone else’s feelings and ‘caring compassionately’ about them.

We’ve already begun chapter 6, so keep an eye out for that in the next week or so. Hope your week is off to a good start!

Warmly,

~h

(Disclaimer: This is not a certified or ‘official’ NVC anything. This is my personal journey through Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, and Lucy Leu’s NVC Companion Workbook. I am NOT an expert, nor am I particularly skilled in this process. Please use/follow/apply with those things in mind. When in doubt, please disregard my commentary and refer to the book or workbook. I make no money off of this exercise, nor is any copyright infringement meant by posting a sampling of the questions from the workbook. For best results, I  strongly recommend that you purchase the book and workbook for yourself and go through them in their entirety at your leisure.)


Identifying and Expressing Feelings – NVC Week 4

If you’re following along or just joining us, we’re working through Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, and  Lucy Leu’s companion Workbook . We’re doing this as part of our homeschool curriculum and we welcome your thoughts and companionship on our journey.

It surprises me sometimes how the things that pop on Facebook are relevant to what’s going on in my life. I mean, not really, because it used to happen all the time when I was religious-y, and I would attribute it to a ‘blessing’ or divine direction or whatever. These days, I’m more inclined to believe that this happens because our brains are hard-wired to find patterns in our lives, and when we have something on our minds unconsciously (and especially when it’s consciously part of our thinking), we’re more apt to notice these little ‘coincidences’, but that doesn’t lessen my amazement and delighted surprise when they occur.

In any case, this week’s NVC chapter is on identifying and expressing emotions, and on my wall this morning was an article posted by Spin-Doctor Parenting, You Don’t Really Feel That Way, Part I. It was talking about how we parents often, without realizing it, teach our children to distrust their feelings or relegate them to the backseat. And then we wonder why we have such a hard time communicating how we feel about something…

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I like communication help sites that offer a script. I generally get the concept, but lack the vocabulary, or recall to make up my own words in tense situations. Having a script helps get the words I want to use at the ready – at least until I’ve internalized it enough to have the language I want to use at the ready. Books like ‘How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and How to Listen so Kids Will Talk‘ by Faber & Mazlish is great – there’s even a school version. With tools like these on hand, it’s easy to keep your cool all the time and remember to ‘use your words’, right? RIGHT?!? 

No, of course not. But it does help. Immensely, especially when your own connection to your feelings is masked by years of being told that the only appropriate outward display of emotion is calm – or at least a reasonable facsimile of calm (which has the unintended side effect of molding a really good actor).

It’s not just being in touch with negative emotions that is important. Masking or limiting emotional intelligence also has a negative effect on being able to process positive emotions as well. I find it both interesting and odd that I am less embarrassed by allowing negative emotions to show, and more embarrassed by allowing positive emotions to show. Last night I had dinner and discussion with some very good friends and some new people in my life. I was in a very, very good mood and a little dizzy with it. I chattered quite a bit and may have laughed too loud once or twice. I am unused to letting my emotions have any kind of starring role in my actions, and so anytime I get carried away, I end up extremely embarrassed by something I said or did. Keep in mind that intellectually, I know that I didn’t say or do anything untoward or inappropriate in any way. I was just happy and excited and a little nervous. But I lack the emotional management tools to properly assess those feelings and assign them to their proper place. I felt ‘out of control’ and that’s unpleasant for me. Nonetheless, this is progress for me – even being able to identify and express what’s ‘really’ going on in my own head.

A sampling of Chapter 4’s  review/discussion questions:

According to Rosenberg, why do people in certain professions have more trouble than the rest of us in identifying  and expressing feelings?

What problems might a woman encounter in ‘expressing her feelings’ by saying to her husband, “I feel like I’m living with a wall’?

What are the advantages of expressing our feelings?

What is the advantage over identifying specific emotions rather than general ones (I feel good/bad.)

And a few of the workbook’s exercises:

How do you know what you are feeling at any given moment? Where do you go to look?

Under the subheading ‘Feelings vs. Non-Feelings”, there are examples of words that tend to describe:

  • what we think we are (I feel inadequate)
  • how we think others are evaluating us (I feel unimportant)
  • how we think others are behaving towards or around us (I feel misunderstood/I feel ignored)
What other words would fall into this category?
How do you feel in the presence of someone who does not express their feelings?
Start your own personal inventory of feelings (exercise).

Now that we’ve been working on this for a month, I am really starting to see small changes in all of us that I think will accumulate as we continue. It’s definitely easier for my kids to grasp some of these concepts than it is for me; we read over and discuss the review questions at the end of each chapter the day we read over the chapter, and then again at the end of the week and try to think of specific instances where we each put the chapter’s topic into practice – in this case, where we expressed an evaluation with ‘I feel’ rather than a true emotion, and where we have used words to describe actual emotions. They’re usually in agreement with the author more often than I am, and/or are faster to respond – I still have to think about it much of the time. The changes are getting easier, more visible in daily interactions – small and just hints of them much of the time but they’re there.

Warmly,

~h

(Disclaimer: This is not a certified or ‘official’ NVC anything. This is my personal journey through Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, and Lucy Leu’s NVC Companion Workbook. I am NOT an expert, nor am I particularly skilled in this process. Please use/follow/apply with those things in mind. When in doubt, please disregard my commentary and refer to the book or workbook. I make no money off of this exercise, nor is any copyright infringement meant by posting a sampling of the questions from the workbook. For best results, I  strongly recommend that you purchase the book and workbook for yourself and go through them in their entirety at your leisure.)