Archive | Connection & Love

The Best Mother’s Day Gift of All

Dear Devoted You,

Mother’s Day is a sweet time to recognize all the good.
I feel so lucky because I’ll be able to celebrate this year with my own dear mother. She’s a quirky, creative, generous woman and an absolute treasure to me.

At the same time, life is not all happiness and joy right now for me as a mother.

One of my children is suffering. And as you know, when your child isn’t well, it can feel impossible to let that pain go.

So if your heart also aches because of an issue with your child, I want to remind you (and myself): we’re not alone.
My Mother’s Day message this year is simple: Take care of yourself.
Make a mindful choice to do the following:
  1. Exercise
  2. Eat well
  3. Sleep enough
  4. Expand your tunnel vision*
*Devote time and energy to other relationships in your life. When you’re in a crisis with one child you can understandably suffer from tunnel vision. Consciously decide to continue to focus on your other children, spouse, and friends (who are supportive). This is important for your own health and ability to gain perspective AND for maintaining those important connections with people who love you and in the case of your other children, need your continued connection.

It’s easy to forget these basics and fall into destructive patterns when we’re filled with worry.

When you make self-care a central part of your life, you’ll find that the kindness you show yourself infuses your own life, and the life of your family with positivity. It provides a model for your child and makes the path to reach your goals and those of your family so much smoother. (source: 8 Self-Care Tips for Parents Who Have No Time for Self Care.)
If I still haven’t convinced you, please take a look at “Why self-care is an important part of parenting, and how to make time for it.”

You’re important to me and I’ve missed the opportunity to connect.

We’re all in this together and I appreciate the community you provide for me along the journey of motherhood (and boy it’s tough at times!)

I hope you’re well and wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.
Love,

Lisa

 

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The Hug: It’s How You Ask that Makes All the Difference

Hugs-2Shortly after Eric finished up my 7- week parenting series, he sent me this story which beautifully illustrates the power of asking for a hug.

Last week on my way home from work, my wife Stephanie sent me a text that our daughter Grace (5) was being a handful, was in a horrible mood and that she had had it with her.

When I got home, I walked into the house and went straight to Grace and asked her for a hug. At first she turned her back and crossed her arms, and said no.

I then decided to ask her one more time and after a 5-second pause, she turned and gave me a big hug.

Steph said it was like someone flipped a switch on Grace. She went from being in the worst mood to acting as if she was having the best day ever.

It’s amazing to see the kind of impact and dynamics that something as simple as asking for a hug can have on a 5 year old.

Honestly, before taking your class, I probably would have come home and punished Grace for misbehaving and the entire afternoon would have been ruined for the whole family.

Asking for a hug sounds almost too easy, right? Too simple to be true?

However, while it’s simple… there’s a subtle tweak that’s key to the effectiveness of this parenting strategy.

“I could use a hug” vs. “Can I give YOU a hug?”

The first taps into your child’s deep need for significance and belonging. When you ask for a hug from your child, you acknowledge that they make a difference to you and in fact have a positive influence on your life.

In the later, you are reinforcing what your child hears and perhaps feels frequently: That children need help from grownups to feel better.

The parenting tool of asking for a hug (for YOU) is simple, easy, and effective if done from the perspective of genuine connection, genuine desire for your child to assist you! (Plus, who doesn’t love hugs? I love it!)

Try it out.

Ask a friend to be your parent and say these two phrases to you:

Could you give me a hug?

and  

You look like you could use a hug.

Do you notice a difference in how you feel after each?

This week look for an opportunity to ask your child for a hug.

I’d love to hear how it goes in the comments below!

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It’s crazy out there… so what do you want for the holidays? World peace? I’m with you! Here’s how we get it…

If you’re like me, you’re struggling right now to wrap your head around all that’s been going on in the world.

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but from my perspective it seems like disconnection is at the root of so much of the insanity and violence.

I believe that deepening and strengthening our connections — to each other, to the planet, to our families — is our path to healing.

It might seem  simplistic, but I’m convinced that our collective well being and health begins with the health of our families.

And where better to start than with the holidays?

We all crave warm, loving connections with our family and children, this time of year more than ever. Bring on the dark storm so that we can be snug together, play a game, listen to music, and share a meal.

And while there may be heated moments of competition or disagreement, it’s all good because we’re together, making time for each other.

The following gift ideas may help you with this goal.

The list is organized into four categories:

  1. Tools
  2. Practices
  3. Games
  4. Books

DinnerBell

Tools

  1. Dinner Bell. This is so simple yet almost daily I’m reminded of the power of our dinner bell. Whether I make breakfast, a snack, lunch on the weekends, or dinner, I often notice a wee bit of tension building when my child isn’t eagerly awaiting my labor of love. Then I see the bell and it dawns on me: “Just ring the bell.” I can feel my expectations melting away with that simple action. Message delivered. I can breath and move on.
  2. Mobilhome. Our devices get in the way of real connection. The
    Mobilhome is a super cool way to — without making a stink — let your friends and family know that when socializing in your home, you encourage a device free zone. By establishing a place for everyone’s phones, you’re acknowledging the value of spending undistracted time together. The Mobilhome is an original artisan project created by Yvonne O’Hare (we met at a writing workshop). When ordering one, use the code “holiday2015” until December 15 for an extra 10% discount with free shipping. If it’s out of your price range simply find a basket for phones to call home.ConnectionsIMG_2146
  3. Positive Discipline Tool CardsI gift these to parents who
    enroll in my Parenting with Positive Discipline series. They are concise and powerful. Topics include: allowance, letting go, setting limits, kindness and firmness at the same time, silent signal and 47 more! 
    Great for when you need a focused idea on one particular challenge.

Practices

  1. “Passing the Squeeze,” a ritual shared by my friend Catherine, will help you slow down and mindfully connect before meal time. You begin each family lunch or dinner with “passing the squeeze.” Everyone holds hands (people may choose to close their eyes if they wish). The person who cooked starts a hand squeeze in one direction and it gets passed around. When the squeeze gets back to the person who started it, she squeezes hands in both directions and then everyone squeezes hands. For extra credit meditation kudos, the person who cooked rings a meditation chime. Everyone listens for as long as possible before picking up cutlery and chowing down (I’ll let you know how that goes over at our house:).
  2. Family Meetings… Why have family meetings? They
    1. Build closeness by creating a sense of significance and belonging for all.
    2. Give children and their parents a place and time to practice leadership, responsibility, problem solving, empathy and love.
    3. Establish a forum for communication that becomes increasingly significant as children mature.connection

Once you begin to hold family meetings you’ll experience even more tangible and intangible benefits for your family!

Join my list to download: Unlock the Power of Family Meetings: Your Free 7-Step Guide.

Games

  1. Qwirkle. I love this game! Using six unique colors and shapes your mind is challenged to find configurations that conform to the rules (no repeating) and give you the most points. It takes 30 – 60 minutes to play depending on how much conversation and silliness you enjoy. Recommended for ages 6 and up.Connections
  2. Sorry. Be sure to get the original version. What can I say? This is simple and fun. My son warned me against recommending Sorry because he said it gets people too riled up 🙂 That said, it’s most fun when everyone gets invested, regardless if you’re 7 or 70! It’s equal parts skill and luck… maybe more luck. Old school fun!
  3. Hunt the Thimble. My friend Anna loves to play this one on Sunday evenings after their family dinner at her mother in-law’s house. Try it when you’ve got friends over or with the extended family. All ages! Here’re the steps to play:
    1. Find a thimble
    2. Choose someone to be “it”
    3. Tell that person to leave the room
    4. Choose another person to be the hider
    5. Call in the seeker to start looking (it should be hidden within eyesight, not under or in anything)
    6. The whole group can yell out “colder!”…”warmer…” Until the thimble is discovered.
    7. Let the last hider now become the seeker, and so forth until someone rings the dinner bell 😉

Side note to parents of teens… it’s more important than ever to make the time to play games and simply find ways to be together. Don’t rely on your kids to come to you and ask for this time  — if they do, consider yourself lucky! When your teen resists family time, I suggest persistence. Let them know that being with them is important to you. Here are general tips from Aha! Parenting for keeping connected to your teen.

Books  

My grandfather used to read stories aloud and even when I was too young to understand the content, I have warm memories of sitting on the floor next to him as he read while the entire family listened. The tone of his voice and response of those listening was enough for me. Here are some of my favorites to read to my children.

  1. All About Alfie by Shirley Hughes. I received this as a gift when my second son was born (thanks Mark and Kelly). I love these old school stories, set in London, about Alfie and his little sister Annie Rose. For ages 3+.
  2. The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash. So 51hLCXgz4BL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_fun and lyrical! Enjoyable for every age! Here’s a taste:

    Belinda lived in a little white house, with a little black kitten and a little gray mouse, and a little yellow dog and a little red wagon, and a realio, trulio little pet dragon…. Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth, and spikes on top of him and scales underneath, mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose, and realio, trulio daggers on his toes.

  3. Sarah’s Unicorn by Bruce Coville. While this is great for early readers, I read it over and over to my children when they were 4 to 8 years old. We’re talking pages falling out. It was the hands down favorite for my son who struggled most with reading and finding interest in books. It’s out of print but you can find it used.
  4. Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet and the Swan by E.B. White. What I love about E.B. White is his spaciousness – these stories are told at a human pace and scale. And what could be better than a mouse and a pig for main characters. The Trumpet and the Swan was harder for my daughter to relate to… maybe because she’d been immersed in the Harry Potter series and the change of pace was too dramatic? For ages 6+.Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 1.49.30 PM
  5. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. This one is for YOU to bolster your connection with yourself!! I come back to this book again and again as I find its message Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 1.48.14 PMcontinually challenging and interesting. There are 10 guideposts for living our most excellent imperfect life. Take this a step further by gathering your most curious friends, and meet monthly to explore each guidepost.

Cultivate those activities that feed your connection to self and others.

Relax and be present. That’s what your kids want from you more than anything.

To increase the likelihood that you can relax and slow down, focus on Wreath lisa - Version 2activities like these:  

  • Take a bath
  • Exercise, take walks
  • Cook or take out foods that make you feel good
  • Make time to read a good book
  • Go to bed early
  • Do something creative

In general, try to keep it simple, focus on the inside, notice the hilarity
and joy of spending time with kids… generally BE KIND TO YOURSELF. That’s it.

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How to parent in the midst of catastrophic health issues

baby-37519_150This summer’s been a doozy. What once felt like a series of mini health crises has come to feel like the norm with appendicitis, stress fractures, depression, drug addiction, cancer and even death becoming a more common part of life.

Last summer, I started writing a post about how to parent when you feel distracted or distraught by a loved one’s suffering.

It’s a hard topic. So hard, that I never completed the post. I couldn’t bring myself to put a bow on it and send it to you. My thoughts never felt right or complete or enough.

Now, it’s back around as I’m dealing with my own health struggles. This week I had two areas of infiltrating basal cell carcinoma surgically removed from my face. With the surgery behind me and plenty of ice packs, I feel a sense of deep gratitude. My doctor described the tumors as nasty and aggressive and I’m lucky that they could be removed.

So I ask for myself and maybe you too – how do you parent when you’re struggling with your own or a dear one’s illness?

This is what I’ve gleaned talking with some of you and pondering the question these last 12 months:

  • Keep it simple. When your child’s needs feel draining of the little resources you have  serve macaroni and cheese or Cheerios and let them watch TV. It’s okay.
  • Prioritize. Allow what’s most important to rise to the top. Family, food, sleep, and exercise (if possible) make up my essential list.
  • Say no mostly and yes only if that YES will enhance your life. Time and energy are limited. Use yours wisely.
  • Reach out intentionallyAsk for help — as my friend Liz says, “you may need to get over yourself” to do this. Remember that close friends want to lend a hand, particularly when a bigger situation leaves them feeling helpless.

I “got over myself” this past week when my friend Carolyn came bearing flowers the day before my surgery. Having had a similar experience, Carolyn warned me that the hardest part for her had been after the procedure, when she had to remove and replace the bandages. I immediately asked if she would be willing to come over and help me do that. She said yes, and little did I know just how important it was to have her for moral and physical support. With 22 stitches across my hairline — and as the doctor put it, “too many to count” in my nose — I was weak and close to fainting. It took us an hour and a half to remove and replace all of the dressings that first time. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to do this alone.

  • Stick with the facts. Depending on the age of your child, share relevant factual information, but only the surface story. They don’t need to know the details and certainly not your “what if” fears. While your fears may be in the realm of possibility, they’re not the facts.
  • Be childlike. As much as you can, allow your child’s aliveness and awe of life to touch you and lift you into the present.
  • Dare greatly by saying no to guilt. Instead, accept that you may be more foggy and distracted than you’d like to be with your kids. It’s okay. Don’t add parent guilt to the list of your full bucket of worries. In Daring Greatly Brené Brown writes, “To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly” (Page 110).
  • Lower your expectations. Finally, be realistic about how much your kids, depending on age, will be able to empathize with you or the situation. In my experience that’s NOT MUCH. They don’t get it, nor should they.

photo 1A few years ago, my brother’s best friend and brother in-law, Steve, died unexpectedly during a surgery. Because Steve was beloved by his community as a volunteer firefighter during the Easter Long Island pine barren wildfires, acting as Chief of the fire department at the time of his death, founder of the junior volunteer firefighter training program and a village civil servant, the community put on a huge uniformed procession for the funeral. Being family and a close friend, my brother delivered the eulogy. In the midst of the long funeral procession through town, his 8 year-old son Aidan turned to him and asked in a tired voice, “when is this going to be over?” My brother was both heart-broken and relieved by the question. How could Aidan, who’d loved Uncle Steve deeply, be ready to move on? Be so oblivious to the gravity of the situation? Be so cold as to be DONE with Steve? At the same time – in Aidan’s question my brother heard hope and the possibility that life could go on – that tomorrow would eventually arrive and maybe it was sooner than my brother thought possible. In his son’s words were the innocence and gravity of the truth that we do go on, even when we lose the unloseable friend, even when we suffer unimaginable pain.

I’ve decided that it’s okay that I don’t have a bow on this one. Its a question that doesn’t have a neat answer.

Please chime in with your thoughts and questions in the comment section. How do you parent when you feel overwhelmed by your own or a loved ones health challenges or a death?

What advice would you add?

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Mean Voice? What Mean Voice? Are you as Oblivious as I was? How to Ensure Your Parenting Style Doesn’t Negatively Impact Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Recently I received an email (with this photo) from Eric, a dad in my parenting class.

Thank you for taking classes to be nice. I heart YOU

Thank you for taking classes to be nice. I heart YOU

There have been so many changes for the better that have come up over the last 8 weeks since we started taking your class.

The screaming and yelling in our house is now filled with laughter and smiles. Everyday I tell my wife how proud I am of the way she handled a specific situation and I compare it to how we would have handled it before attending your class.

We have a new story every day and find ourselves constantly turning things into games or putting our children in the same boat.

I never realized how firm my discipline style was and the potential negative results that can come of that parenting style.

The fact that my daughter has noticed a difference and that she’s happier to be around me is really a life-changing event for me.

Thank you again!

My heart jumped for joy when I got this for two reasons:

  1. This sort of transformation is WHY I do what I do(!!!);
  2. I know exactly how he feels.

I, too, had been unaware of how my style impacted my son until the day he brought it to my attention.

I thought I’d made a simple request that day, many years ago. My 7-year old, Sunny, came in from playing outside and I told him to go wash his hands.

After I’d said the words and he’d gone into the bathroom, I was aware of a shift in energy — it felt like something dark and heavy was now in the room.

When he came out, I could see hurt in his eyes, tears squeezing out of them as he said, “Why do you have to talk to me in that mean voice?”

My heart hit the floor.  This bright, cooperative, sunny child never complained.

I took a breath. The look on his face along with his words woke me to the harshness of my tone that while unconscious, was undoubtedly powerful. I’d been oblivious.

I can’t quite remember what happened next.

Likely I asked him a question or two, put my arm around him, said I was sorry and proceeded to feel like I was a horrible mother.

The truth is that my tone could have been caused by not knowing what to cook for dinner, exhaustion… an annoyance I felt about who knows what…. What matters is that at the time I was clear it wasn’t about him.

His hurt shone a spotlight on my lack of awareness. Like the brave dad in my class, I never realized how my style negatively impacted my son until that day when he directly told me.

This new awareness was a shock, but one I felt oddly grateful for. The fact that Sunny said to my face that my words hurt him was a mini victory — a sign that maybe I wasn’t such a bad mom after all.

My young son trusted me and and our relationship was strong enough that he could be vulnerable and tell me how he really felt.

Children are sensitive.

Alfred Adler, whose work lays the foundation for Positive Discipline said that children are tremendous perceivers, soaking in energy and feelings around them. He went on to explain that children make meaning of their perceptions and not always in ways that make sense to parents.

For example, children can make very different meaning from the same event (or siblings can perceive the same event in very different ways).

Here are some examples ….

Parent Action → Child perception and meaning making

  • Mommy’s voice is mean → Mommy doesn’t like me/I’m bad
  • Mommy’s voice is mean → This hurts and I’m going to tell her her voice is mean
  • Mom & Dad are fighting → I must have been really bad
  • Mom & Dad are fighting → They had a hard day, I’m going to leave the room
  • Mom & Dad are moving to Maine → I wonder where I will go?
  • We’re all moving to Maine → I’m excited
  • Baby sister cries and gets noticed → I need to cry to get noticed
  • Baby sister cries and gets noticed → I’m going to be a big helper

You may not be able to control how your child perceives reality (especially as it applies to you and your interactions with them), but you CAN influence it by consciously softening your tone, acting with care, and choosing more positive words.

For example, when my son came in that day, I could have said, “Sunny, let’s take a look at those paws of yours… they could use a good scrub before dinner” or even, “Sunny, I’m feeling kinda craby right now cause I’ve had a hard day — I just wanted to let you know.”

A helpful catchphrase to bring kind and firm to life is CONNECT BEFORE CORRECT!

I didn’t connect with him before sending him off and as a result my son woke me up to the power of my tone and energy.

I continue to be imperfect — at times unwittingly putting unwarranted anger on my kids — however, I do this far less than I used to.

The wake up call my son gave me is one of many I’ve received since becoming a parent. They all work together to move me in the direction I want to go as a human being:

  • Being more conscious of my energy and tone;
  • Connecting before I correct (kind and firm);
  • And when all else fails, separating myself from my kids when I know I’m on the edge.

Eric got this same wake up call by attending my Parenting with Positive Discipline series. Once he starting being kind AND firm he realized how his former style was having a negative impact on his relationship with his daughter. He’s been amazed that such simple changes like asking for a hug or making a problem into a game, can be so life altering.

CONSIDER⇔SHARE⇔ACT

In what circumstances have you been surprised by your child’s interpretation of your behavior?

Does being conscious of your impact help you? If so, how?

By sharing your experiences in the comments below, you add to this conversation and support many parents by showing them they’re not alone.

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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How to Cope When Your Kid Feels Miserable

We want our kids to be happy and feel good about themselves — knowing they’re struggling can feel unbearable.

Today’s post is about how to deal with your emotions around your child’s disappointment — a question that Michelle so eloquently asked last time. Here’s my own poignant parenting story….

Years ago when my son, I’ll call him Sunny, was 11 or 12, baseball season had ended and he wanted, with all his heart, to make the all-star team so that he could continue to play. He’d been chosen in years past but knew it was competitive. Being Sunny, he was optimistic and it was clear that playing more baseball was the most important thing in the world to him — hands down. A perfect recipe for parental anxiety.

Each day he’d come home and ask, mom, did the coach call? A look of hopeful anticipation in his eyes.

My heart broke as I had to tell him, 3 or 4 days in a row that no one had called. Silence. Are you sure? Ouch.

Sunny was the kid who went through life, like a duck, letting harsh things that happened to him roll right off. So when he uncharacteristically invested himself in this outcome, it was all the more painful to witness.

At the time I knew that a rescue attempt was ill advised. I felt helpless and didn’t know what to do. While it sounds like a minor letdown now, this disappointment was HUGE in his life, and I was at a loss for how to support him.

Looking back I think his dad or I could have shared our own painful experience if only to join him in that dark space.

I doubt it would have made him feel better but company always helps.

As the parent, I needed to also take a stance that would help me better cope with the urge to jump in and make things better.

As a coach, I often help clients find alternate points of view on an area of their life where they feel stuck.

Below is an example of different perspectives you can step into to shift YOUR experience when your child goes through their inevitable disappointments.

GRITTY VIEW:  The research is clear that children who’re able to persevere through trials and tribulations have an essential characteristic for success – grit.

While they’ll remember epic disappointments, if they’re able to weather them with a sense of grounded security, your kids will more likely learn to forge ahead, a quality that will undoubtedly serve them well in life.

Parental fixing (or on the flip-side, shaming) blocks your child from learning this valuable lesson. Fixing and shaming, while they look different, convey the same message to your kid — I don’t believe in you.

I don’t remember where I heard this but I love its clear wisdom.

POETIC VIEW:  “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”  ―Henry W. Longfellow  

Broadening your perspective through poetry and philosophy can be just the tonic you need to pull you out of the painful, cramped feeling of “not enough” that tends to overwhelm you when your
child feels badly.

Andrew.Khalil.GibranMINDFUL VIEW: Practicing mindfulness strengthens your ability to have boundaries.

The Quick Calm Technique created by Andy Smithson of truparenting.net is a tool that when practiced can move you from heated to less heated 🙂

Here it is in a nutshell:

Click to learn about the entire Quick Calm Toolkit

Click above to learn more about the entire Quick Calm Toolkit

Use this technique to bring yourself down from anger, anxiety, sadness… these steps enable you to respond more proactively — more mindfully — to any situation you find yourself caught up in. You have power over how you feel.

PASSIONATE VIEW:  When you take time to nurture your own passions, you get less tied up in knots about the minutiae of your child’s life. This helps you avoid the unwitting substitution of your child’s experiences for your own.

Here are some examples of activities (outside of work and parenting) that parents have shared with me that bring meaning and passion to their lives:

  • join an adult sports team
  • volunteer in an underserved school
  • write a blog or novel
  • coach a team (outside of your child’s)
  • volunteer at a hospital
  • train for a triathlon

If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then you’ve got to do it for the sake of your kid. Only when you nourish yourself and cultivate your own interests will your child see a way to do this for herself.

MY VIEW: One of the gifts I’ve found through using Positive Discipline is a path to keep things simple.

If I’m bending over backward to make something happen for my kid, I hear that voice inside warning me something’s off or as Michelle put it — “THAT’s INSANITY — DON’T DO IT!”

Still the impulse and overwhelming sadness remains.

Don’t push it away. Rather, let yourself feel sad and have a chance to heal from your own old wound. When you get triggered by your child’s disappointments — take that step back from your kid and look inside — work on your own or with a therapist to experience your not so buried feelings so that you can move on rather than continuing to stuff it down or overreact to events in your child’s life. Be real and feel your feelings.

When you feel stuck in your own or your child’s disappointment, try one of these perspectives or cultivate a view of your own. Standing in a different place could be just the reset you need to reorient yourself and move forward in the direction you want to go.

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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Q & A: Where Do You Draw the Line Between Empathy and Helicopter Parenting?

Empathy v. Enmeshment ImageQ: As the mother of a middle school girl, I struggle to be empathetic without jumping on the roller coaster of her ever-changing moods, emotions and dramas. And, as a woman in her late 40s, my emotions are often a 6 Flags of hormonally-induced thrills, so staying detached feels nearly impossible at times

Recently my seventh grader tried out for the school musical. After a series of micro disappointments this Fall (not making the “A” soccer team, getting put into an advisory group without any good friends, being just slightly outside of the ‘cool’ group, etc.), she was serious about getting a good part for the show. She practiced her song with a singing teacher several times and felt good about it.

Several days went by while she waited for the cast list to be posted. I worked on shifting her language away from ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts in the show, to some limited success. I wanted to support her enthusiasm but it was draining to stay positive given my fear of the potential bad news ahead.  

This daughter can be fairly stoic, but when she saw the cast list, she ran up to her room and sobbed so loudly I was afraid she would choke.

After a few minutes of trying to let her release her disappointment on her own, I went in to check on her. With your thoughts of empathy fresh in my mind, I resisted the temptation to tell her the emotions would pass or it didn’t matter or that the part was probably better than she thought, blah, blah, blah.

Instead, I let her cry, supporting the wildly strong feelings raging through her. Unfortunately, it was just a matter of time before I was crying too, and then we were both sobbing at the injustice of the world (did I mention I am a pre-menopausal woman with raging emotions?)

I managed to get myself together and put her to sleep, but then I could not stop crying. I just felt so sad for her and could not put it away. It took all the strength I had not to email the drama teacher and ask her if there was any way to revisit the cast list. Which is just a simply INSANE thing to even think, let alone seriously consider!  

So here’s my question: how can we support our children with their dreams, projects, efforts and goals (especially our daughters) without getting enmeshed in the outcome? How can we let our older children navigate the disappointments and challenges of life without getting sucked into the emotional turmoil that goes along with the journey? Where do you draw the line between empathy and over involvement/attachment?

A: First, Michelle, congratulations on your success in avoiding many of the common barriers to empathy. What you did was no small feat — staying out of judgement, taking her perspective and touching a place in yourself (maybe a bit too deeply) that understood her feelings.

Simply defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” empathy is nuanced. While you were able share your daughter’s feelings, it proved difficult to pull yourself out.

To answer your question, here are my ideas to strengthen your empathetic response even more while simultaneously moving you out of the helicopter parenting zone altogether.

From Helicopter Parenting to Empathy

  • Validate her feelings. In your story Michelle, you give nice examples of how you did this — letting her cry and stay in her feelings, etc.
  • Resist the urge to fix. You write, I resisted the temptation Shift fromDisappointment =-3to tell her the emotions would pass or it didn’t matter or that the part was probably better than she thought, blah, blah, blah. This is cause for celebration! When you’re done partying let’s look at what you describe your fear of the potential bad news that she didn’t get a “good” part. Your feeling of fear fuels your underlying belief that something needs to be fixed. You can do one of two things here, keep your fear AND bite your tongue, which
    you did, or, with the help of a friend, coach or therapist, internally shift your perspective from disappointment = bad to disappointment = opportunity for growth. (I’ll go into this more in my next post). What I’m suggesting is more than a surface shift — that’s why it requires support.
  • Share your own story of disappointment. By sharing a simple one sentence story of a time you didn’t make the team or you weren’t invited to the party, you let your daughter know that she’s not alone and most importantly, that she belongs. (A sense of belonging in family is profoundly impactful to a child’s sense of well-being.) For example, I remember when I longed to be chosen to play the role of Mary in the church nativity, yet I wasn’t picked and I felt terribly sad. One sentence that’s it. I can hear parents ask “Isn’t there more to say than that?!” No — children are self focused, your goal here is to simply let them know you’ve been there — voila.
  • Be present. It’s not what you say that will make a difference, but simply your presence, your ability to be with your child. Ground yourself in what’s most important to you, tuck your phone and other distractions away and like the Beatles so beautifully sang, let it be.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness strengthens our ability to have boundaries which according to Brené Brown’s research is key to empathy. If we get stuck in the other’s emotion, we don’t actually support that person – boundaries are key to empathy.

One of the many gifts in your story is how fully engaged you are in your daughter’s life.

Thank you Michelle for sharing your story and question, deepening our understanding of empathy. I appreciate and honor your willingness to be vulnerable — it can feel scary to divulge our struggles when we’re “supposed to be” the all-knowing parent!

Are you wanting someone to walk you through a parenting challenge like the one that Michelle shared? If so, visit my schedule to find a time for us to meet via phone or Skype.

I know that parenting is important to you — it’s worth taking time for yourself, so that you can be the parent you want to be, even in your most challenging circumstances.

Take a moment to share in the comment section below how you relate to Michelle’s story and what you want to remember from today’s post.

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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Mom survives serious teen slob years and lives to tell the tale!

Amy Walker's messy teenDoes your pushing, coaxing and forcing your teen to clean up after herself fall on deaf ears?

When my son leaves a slue messes in his wake it can be downright maddening!

When you spill milk, wipe up after yourself, who do you thinks going to do it? What’s the dirty laundry doing on the floor? It’s no wonder you can’t find any clean socks, your dirty ones are scattered throughout the house!

Unfortunately these “helpful reminders” do little to change his behavior.

My nagging is driven by two fears…

  1. the fear that this kid will grow into an unemployed, slovenly 40 year old,
  2. the fear that I’m raising an entitled kid who thinks, “why should I look for my socks when magically another pair will appear in my drawer?

In today’s story, Tammy, school principal, parenting educator, and parent, shares what she learned as a result of her battles with her perennially messy daughter.

MessyTeenRoomTammy’s story:

My daughter Natasha has no issue with living in a messy room.

However, I do, so we made an agreement, years ago, that Sunday would be her cleanup day.

I found myself getting upset and refusing to enter her untidy room to say goodnight or even hangout with her.

She’d say, Mom, I’m internally organized so it doesn’t bother me to be a mess externally.

I told her it bothers me, and the rest of the family, so we need a plan to address the group’s desire for organization.

For the past four years, I’d go into Natasha’s room on Sunday mornings and ask her, what’s your plan for cleaning your room today?

Her response was usually, I’ll get to it eventually, or I’m on it. But there’d be no signs of movement.

On a good day I’d say something like, would you like me to help you get started? or I have faith in you to get it done.

She’d respond, I like doing it myself, or thanks for believing in me Mom. Five hours later she’d still be cleaning her room – looking pretty miserable.

On these so called “good” days while I wasn’t effective at motivating her, I wasn’t pushing her away.

On other days – let’s call them the bad days – I’d go into my mommy tirade and say things like, “how can you live in this pigsty?” “It’s disgusting in here.”

Here’s why her messy room was painful for our entire family.

My negative energy put the entire family on edge -they’d slink away into their own worlds for fear of crossing paths with my anger.

The unspoken truth was that my tornado of frustration and anger was far worse then her the physical mess.

One day it struck me that I was the one who needed to change.  I couldn’t MAKE her do anything so I backed off as best I could.

Then it happened – one Sunday morning was different. She woke up, had breakfast, cleaned and organized her room in an hour and had the rest of the day to read, play, do homework, paint pumpkins, go with me to the market, etc. I hadn’t said a word to her because by the time I peeked into her room, she was already in motion.

It dawned on me that this is how growth happens – for me it was a slow process – for her it seemed to be overnight!

First what changed was me and what followed was a chance for Natasha to grow, at her own pace. I would like to think that our positive communication, over the years, those good days, helped to motivate her to finally clean her room on her own but I’ll never know for sure.

Whatever clicked for Natasha wasn’t as important as what clicked for me: I can’t “make her” do anything, but I can certainly encourage her and maintain a respectful way of communicating while she learns. It’s the process in which she learned how to care for her own things that mattered not the urgency for her to learn on my time line.

Back on that day when I saw her room was clean, I was shocked to say the least but tried to play it cool. I looked at her with a knowing, loving smile and said, “I notice you got your room clean today…how’s it feel?”

She looked so proud of herself and said simply, “If feels great!”

When you find yourself freaking out that your teen is a slob and will likely be one when they’re 64, remember Tammy’s story. Although Tammy reacted with anger, like many of us do, she was able, through self-awareness, to step back.

To me, it’s a testament to having faith in our kids.

There’s no magic fairy dust to MAKE them adopt your priorities. Your most powerful tool is CONNECTION.

Recommendations to foster and maintain your connection with your teen:

  1. Treat her with respect and when you don’t feel respected – as calmly as you can let her know you will speak with her at another time when she can be respectful – leave the room to give yourself breathing room.
  2. Apologize when you’re off your game, modeling that even you make mistakes so she can more readily admit and take responsibility for her mistakes.
  3. Take opportunities to connect – even when it feels inconvenient.
  4. Use light humor to keep power struggles at bay.

Recommendations to survive teen slob years:

  1. Create boundaries so that the mess is confined to your teens room.
  2. Allow nature to take it’s course – don’t rescue her when items are lost, dirty, etc.
  3. Take time to train your teen to do her own laundry – this way her entire clothing cycle is her responsibility and even better, you can have empathy when her favorite shirt is dirty.
  4. Remember that your child has different priorities than you do and that that is a good thing!

When you do your best to model what you value; respect, connection, and in this case, tidiness and communication – you’ll more likely see these qualities bloom, in their own way and time, in your developing teen.

What power struggle are you currently having? Share in the comment section below what you learned here that will support you.

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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Stop pretending to listen to your kids… they know you’re not.

I have a confession.

When my daughter asks me if I like Elsa or Anna better, my eyes glaze over. (In case you don’t live in my universe, they’re characters from Disney’s latest blockbuster, Frozen.)

Seriously, I don’t care, much less have an opinion.

I must’ve nodded off at a pivotal moment of character development. I wasn’t paying attention.

Yes, I admit it. Tuning into to my child’s frequency is sometimes a real challenge.

Apparently, I’m not the only one.

IMG_0309A mom in my last parenting series described a similar scene: Denise and her 5 year-old daughter, Tanya, were in the car. Tanya loves to weave a tale – especially when she’s got a captive audience! So, she started in on one of her detailed stories and after a minute, Denise tuned out and started with an auto pilot response of a ha, a ha, aha, in an unconscious attempt to convey listening to Tanya.

Tanya stopped, mid sentence.

You’re using your pretend voice mommy.

It’s humbling how kids NAIL IT. Count on your kid to expose, with raw precision, whatever it is you feel you’re “hiding”.

Have you been caught using your “pretend voice?”

Has your child let you know, in so many words, when you’re out to lunch?

Note: as they grow and become accustomed to your shenanigans, they’ll stop talking if they don’t feel listened to.

Denise told Tanya she was sorry and that indeed she wasn’t listening – [validating Tanya’s feelings] please start again at the beginning because I want to really pay attention to what you’re saying.

Here’re 3 tips for listening… even when the topic may not enthrall you.

  1. Contain the conversation so you have a fighting chance to earnestly listen.

Your kids will get the message you’re listening when you put distractions away. Phone in a drawer, laptop out of sight and T.V. off (so passé).

Make eye contact. Remember the term undivided attention? That’s what we’re after here. And yes, it’s no wonder we struggle with the ADHD epidemic when there’s a host of devices beeping to grab your attention.

  1. Clear the clutter from your mind. Sure, sounds good but what does mind clutter look like and how do you clear it?

I’m referring to those great ideas that pop up when someone’s telling you a story and you’re just waiting for a space to open so you can share your brilliant thought.

We’ve all been there.

Set your brilliant ideas (aka clutter) aside and imagine your mind is a clear blue sky, or whatever vast image inspires you. Mindfulness anyone?

  1. Curiosity creates a bridge. Although I might not be interested in Elsa and Anna, when I muster the curiosity about her question and it’s answer, I’m building a bridge between us. Of course it’s not about the characters but the qualities that she most admires and why.

Another option for Denise would have been to acknowledge that the container wasn’t ideal …“Honey Pie, you’re right, I wasn’t paying close attention. I’m sorry. Could you save that story for me when we get home because it’s hard for me to concentrate on two things at once and I’m focused on safe driving right now.”

When we truly L*I*S*T*E*N we get the juicy goods. We learn so much about what makes our children tick.

Sure, there’s plenty of tedious stuff too, but the juicy stuff is there. Just waiting for you to hear it :).

And in case you’re curious, my daughter likes Elsa better because she’s “not clumsy” and she’s got magic freezing powers! I hear that….

When do you find it difficult to listen to your child? Do you notice other times when it’s easy? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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Kids and Chores: Why Giving Up (and Giving In) Hurts Everyone

Let’s face it. Most kids today  s–l—i—-d—–e  when it comes to contributing.

You go through the motions of assigning chores, but most of us find that it’s just easier to do them ourselves. Especially if the alternative is to beg, cajole and demand that they take out the recycling, take out the recyclingtake out the recycling!

Who can blame you? Why bother? It’s painful all the way around.

Here’s what I learned during supper with my Granny. From my vantage point, she’s not your average centenarian.

Sure, it’s the middle of summer and she’s wearing her blue wool sweater. But she’s got ALL her wits. — Only her hearing and sight are diminished.

granny photo with Sonja

Granny reading with my daughter

At 103, she’s a beauty with a blunt white bob, light blue eyes and a genuine interest in others that permeates every conversation.

She loves to ask about details. And she’s interested in mine.

On this occasion I made a conscious effort to ask her the questions… at least one.

Dinner with Granny

Due to her hearing loss, a snippet of our conversation (in a dining room full of people) went like this…

GRANNY, I’M STILL TEACHING PARENTING CLASSES.

Won-der-ful! (her pronunciation deliberate and bright)

I’M CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A MOM. AFTER 78 YEARS OF PARENTING, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON? 

I really don’t recall (she waves her hand and shakes her head as if that’s too far back to remember)… but mother and father (she’s referring to her parents) did a marvelous job.

WHAT DID THEY DO THAT WAS SO MARVELOUS? 

(She pauses for a few moments to consider before answering) I was allowed to help with a lot of things. We didn’t have any help so we were the help.

She grew up in a modest, hard working immigrant family in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Her mother from Denmark, her father from Norway and she the youngest, by far, of 3 and the only girl to boot. She said her brothers always teased her saying she was favored.

So when she says she was allowed to help, she means it – she felt special sitting beside her mother making and mending clothes, weaving rugs, cooking meals, planting vegetables in the garden, etc.

Granny is a practical woman. Learning useful skills that enabled her to contribute to the wellbeing of her family was deeply satisfying.

Our conversation went on, she acknowledged how proud I must be of my growing children – my voice echoing throughout the dining room.

It’s that simple.

I’m struck by the power of a sense of usefulness to withstand the test of time. With love and caring as a cornerstone, Granny’s sense of being a useful member of the family is paramount in her childhood memories.

I know I struggle to get my kids involved in day to day housework. You and I both know, it’s so much easier to just do it ourselves!

Over dinner last summer Granny reminded me of just how worthwhile that effort is.

My story

Yesterday I had laundry that needed to be unloaded, carried, sorted and put away. Seven year-old S. was in a bit of a snit after-school and I knew asking her to help with this relatively light task could easily back fire and become an unpleasant battle.

Here’s what happened:

Me: I’m going to get the laundry – you can come give me a hand or meet me to fold it in my room.

She didn’t say anything but scurried along beside me (things are looking good!)

I took towels out of the drier.

Me: How many can you carry?

She got silly.

S: Mommy, put them all on my head, I CAN DO IT!

I played along for a bit and then just grabbed a few towels so that she could see as she walked, covered in towels, to our room.

In my bedroom she watched as I began folding clothes and towels and stacking them on my bed.

Me: How about you take alike things and put them away in your drawers – like this stack of pants?

S: Okay. (Miraculously she purposefully takes a few trips, arms fully loaded, and then decides it would be interesting to switch with me and be the folder)

We went on like this until the task was complete – all clothes and towels folded and put away. This is a minor miracle – usually things get put away over the course of a day or two – often clothes take the most direct route – basket to body).

Here are four fundamentals to keep in mind to increase your odds of success when encouraging kids to pitch in:

  1. Do house work WITH your kids – side by side if they are 7 and under. When they’re young they still love doing most every task with you so use that to your advantage while you still can!
  2. Shift your focus from getting the job done perfectly to seeing it as an opportunity to be together teaching your child life lessons/skills.
  3. Take time for training. With younger kids this means methodically doing a task together, with older children it means using a specific list of ”to do’s”, rather than a vague “clean up the playroom.”
  4. Hold the jobs lightly. While follow through is extremely important, you’ll win more cooperation by saying “I notice the dog looks hungry,” rather than demanding, “Rachel, feed the dog right now!”

Let’s brainstorm specific jobs kids can help with around the house. I hope this list encourages you in this challenging and wildly worthwhile parenting responsibility.

Here’s a list by age:

My daughter cleaning up a spill

My daughter cleaning up a spill

2 to 3

  • put toys away
  • feed pets
  • wipe up spills
  • put dirty clothes in hamper

4 to 6
the list from above plus

  • unload clean flatware from dishwasher
  • weed
  • water plants
  • set house alarm
  • bring in mail 
  • help prepare meals
  • scramble eggs

    My niece preparing apples for crisp

    My niece preparing apples for crisp

7 to 10

the lists from about plus

  • vacuum
  • help make and pack lunch
  • help do laundry
  • help load/unload dishwasher
  • help grocery shop
  • help make dinner (apple pie)
  • take pet for walk
  • make toast

10 to 13

the lists from above plus

  • fold and put away laundry
  • wash car
  • wash windows
  • babysit younger siblings
  • take out garbage & recycling
  • garden tasks
  • run walkable/bikeable errands

14 and up

I’m helping Granny make her famous apple pie crust!

the list from above plus

  • grocery shopping
  • cooking full meals for family
  • extended sibling sitting
  • transporting siblings and running errands in car

Being allowed to contribute has an impact that lasts a life-time.

I’ve only scratched the surface with these ideas. Please share yours in the comment section below and help grow these lists…and in doing so – help us all have more satisfied families!

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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