How many times?, I wonder.
How many times?, or, When will I ever be healthy enough to handle this?
Because, guys, I don’t do social media well. I just don’t.
I can either be feeling really really great about my life, hop on, and see someone whose good makes my great look inconsequential, or, I can be feeling like a gigantic piece of shit, hop on, and see what appear to be the put-together-lives of no less than ten friends.
A few days ago, my husband and I were chatting about the dilemma facing adults-seeking-real-friendship, and I mentioned we should create a find-a-friend version of Tinder.
“That’s what Facebook is for!” he said.
“No way, honey. Facebook is a modeling platform; not a friend-finding one.”
Please forgive my negativity, or ignore me altogether if this isn’t you, but damn!
My life isn’t hunky-dory glorious-beautiful, and yours sometimes really looks like it is.
The problem isn’t that you’re trying to make your life look better than mine, either.
The issue is that the one picture you or I post sums up only one small moment.
No way can a picture capture a whole day.
And life happens in long, knock-me-out, drag-me-down kinds of days, folks.
Ideas are good.
I’ve always been an idea person myself. They are really helpful, they are.
Fun is good too.
But we are all stuck in our houses right now, some of us more happily than others, but shut-ins we are.
House-bound people, whether doing life alone or in small droves, poop in their toilets at various times throughout the day.
And poop stinks.
Sometimes, the stench fills the entire house. It muddies the toilet water; it clouds the good.
Then, while we are choking on our family's collective stink, we open our beloved social media, and we see a picture, one that looks decidedly un-stinky.
Do they even poop?, we wonder. Ever?
Because I’m straining to see, but it looks to me like no one in that pic is holding their noses…
All silliness and sarcasm aside... Guys.
Some of you are so good at doing the things I suck at.
Like getting out into nature with your kids.
I really want to get out into nature...
Currently, however, I have one child who is terrified of bugs. And, as luck would have it, every time this child gathers her courage, chances out the door, she has a bad experience with a creepy crawly.
Some of you are doing this whole quarantine thing so creatively, with absolutely no tech. I’m amazed by you.
Not me. As a mom with no babysitter, I’ve come to appreciate tech.
It has its place in our house.
Some of you give the best parenting advice and the most stellar homeschool advice. I’ve always known this about you. And I love your wisdom.
Does it always work perfectly for you over there in your house, with your kids, though?
I’m happy for you. Truly.
It’s just that I’ve found sometimes the bestest advice doesn’t work for me over here, in this house.
After a while, I get kinda down and depressed. I shrink to half my size and my voice takes on a childish quality.
And I hate this, because it keeps me from living and loving like I want to.
So lean forward, friends, if you're at all like me; I want to tell you some things that have set me free.
There is never ever enough time in one day to do all the things.
I mean, by the time you’ve successfully mixed the right amount of glue with the exact right amount of contact solution, you’ve also hurriedly and simultaneously wiped zillions of little glue trickles off the floor and harriedly de-glued someone’s suspiciously clumpy hair, and you are completely and totally WIPED out.
Time to go play in your room guys. Enough projects for the day. We’re done.
I'm admitting right now, in front of everyone, I can't do it all. I just don't have that level of energy.
Now, where’s the wine?
Are you honestly telling me your kids don’t fight?
No way could I ever claim this.
No fucking way.
If we're all getting along, compromising, enjoying the day, someone's abrupt burp is sure to get on someone else's nerves and spoil the mood instantly.
The one perk of my kids’ nattering fighting is that it gets ME out of the house and into nature. Just saying.
You can’t expect all your kids to like all the same things.
They are unique little critters.
They like. They hate.
They do. They don’t.
It’s okay to do those separate little things that each kid likes with each kid, separately.
There is this myth of the perfect family that always does everything together, and likes it.
That’s not our family.
We are miles above mythical.
And by the way, while you’re hanging out with one kid at a time, it’s okay to let the other kids tear up the house, or even play a few video games.
Technology is a thing just like anything else.
Overdo it, and yes, everyone may develop a case of grouchiness.
Or, they may not.
Not all kids react to tech the same way.
Some grow up to be professional gamers and YouTube reviewers who lead surprisingly balanced lives.
Some young uns, cough cough, will be inspired to cook or learn history because of their love of the game.
Treat tech like any other hobby. No need to feel guilty about it.
It’s okay to need space.
It’s okay to go on long luxurious walks all by yourself.
You can even tell your spouse you need time alone. And by alone, I mean, "I’m going to close the door and stay in this room for the next few hours," alone.
Just because advice is good doesn’t mean it is good for you.
Your fam is unique, one-of-a-kind.
So are you.
So is your significant other
Yes, we should all be spending time working, playing, socializing, resting, learning, and exercising.
But that can look however it needs to look for you cocooned there within your own four walls.
Maybe it will be a day or two of rest followed by two days of learning followed by a day of exercise.
Maybe socializing-from-quarantine, for you, looks more like Marco Polo than Zoom.
Perhaps you’re in survival mode and it all just looks like survival.
It doesn’t have to be perfect or the same for everyone.
Simply ask yourself...
Are my kids happy? Why and why not?
Am I happy? Why? Why not?
What are my values?
What are my kids’ values?
Do I agree or disagree with them?
Why or why not?
How then shall we live in this one imperfect house so as not to kill one another? Good. Then that is how we shall live.
If you find yourself getting upset when you take social media excursions, like I do, will do, and have done, now’s the time for some introspection.
Why am I upset by this post or that picture?
What unspoken rules am I trying to follow?
Do I agree with those rules? Why or why not?
Do I have a list of good resources to go to to find answers to the questions I have?
Am I judging someone else, either for being too put together or for being too strict or not strict enough?
What does that say about me?
What pain am I trying to heal with judgements’ ineffective balm?
You have permission to ignore all the ideas, mine or anyone else’s.
Go ahead and give yourself permission.
It’s okay to cry a little.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed.
In the voice of Elsa, “Let it go…”.
I value freedom, guys. Can you tell?
These are weird, hard times. And we gotta survive.
Some of us are extremely privileged middle class folk, though we’re not above job loss and pay cuts.
We really ought to stop trying to be so perfect (or at least I do) and start looking at the very real needs around us.
There are those among us facing job loss and financial ruin.
Some are struggling to find new ways to make ends meet.
This means that right now we will not be perfect parents, lovers or friends.
Because, food. #priorities
Some among us are facing a multitude of crises, piled atop each other like shitty scoops of ice cream: illness, death, tornadoes, etc.
I can’t even imagine.
These are the times to let go of all the rules and the learning opportunities and the projects and to-do’s and just live and love the best we can.
Let your kids eat ice cream for breakfast and veg in front of the tv all day if that’s what helps you get through this.
If that does not help you and yours, then stick to a routine.
You do you.
Do what you gotta do.
All right, now, rant over.
Now I need to take a dump.
It’s been a while, I know, since I’ve written a post.
There are many reasons for this, chief among them being that my son had yet another surgery and the Christmas season is busy.
Another reason is that I still feel as though I am trying to really dig in and find my voice for this blog: Who am I, and what am I about? Who am I writing "stuff" for?
And, what’s the point of writing on a blog in 2019 when most everyone feels far too busy to be reading articles?
The voice-for-this-blog dilemma is a microcosm of my current life.
Who am I? What is my purpose in this world? Am I living my best life?
These are questions I have been wrestling too, which have also stalled my writing.
I am one of those people who can envision myself in a variety of careers, wearing a variety of different hats.
In other words, I have a great imagination.
When I was a child, I had endless ideas.
I remember exploring a new career each day (usually one employing creativity), imagining myself becoming “great” in that area. Then, I would either become bored or disillusioned with my lack of natural talent, and move on to exploring a new idea for future-me.
I always dreamed of being great and making an impression on this world.
I also love children.
I love being a mother.
I have loved playing with my babies and watching them morph into tiny human beings.
Lately I feel as though I am straddling an imaginary line between the small beautiful world of my own little family and the great big world of possibility.
Children do not choose to come into this world. They are much smaller than us and ridiculously powerless. They grow and change every single day.
I am not sorry I have focused on my children for these years of their young childhoods. I believe I will never regret this choice.
Now that the little ones are getting bigger and more independent, I have this burning desire to figure out what I want to do with myself, though.
I want to inspire my children by working hard at something.
I want them to see that men and women can wear many different hats throughout their lifetimes.
I want them to see that choosing themselves and choosing their children are not mutually exclusive: different phases of life might require more of a focus on one or the other, but everyone in a family (as in life) is equally valuable.
I know I am rambling here…but can you empathize?
A few months ago, I decided I wanted to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree. Returning to the classroom as a teacher is not something I want to do, though I loved my years of teaching.
After exploring my options, I have tentatively landed on a master’s degree in applied anthropology.
I have always been fascinated by culture, and I also have a heart to help the immigrant and the marginalized, which applied anthropology would give me excellent tools for.
While I am literally clawing at the starting gate, other pressing matters have reared their heads: I don’t want a bunch of debt when I’m finished getting a degree, my family could currently use some extra income, and I have to take the GRE, which I won’t finish on time for next fall.
Following that thread of reasoning has led me to the decision to build a business teaching online and writing curriculum for fellow homeschool parents.
Sometimes I get excited about all of these "things" I want to do.
My husband, thankfully, believes in our equal partnership and will be there for our kids as I become busier.
Other times, doubt makes an appearance, warning and condemning me to failure.
How will I find the time to do all this?
What if I spend lots of precious time trying to build a biz, and then it all falls apart?
What if going to school “takes me away” from my ever-evolving children too much?
What if our family can’t handle all the stress this will bring?
What if my son’s cancer returns or another one of us gets sick or something costly in our house falls apart?
But I know I have to proceed, one step at a time, making the most of every moment as I go along.
What is my point in writing this post?
First, to say to other friends who are looking at big changes in their lives, "I'm right there with you".
But also just to process where I’m at and why, and to say I will absolutely keep blogging...it may be sporadic, but even if no one’s reading, at least I’m getting in some great writing practice.
And eventually, I think I will begin to iron out what my voice in life and on this blog is, as well as my purpose.
To anyone out there reading these posts, thank you for hangin’ in there with me.
If you don’t mind adventure, incongruence and wild random thoughts on life that connect in strange or surprising ways, then definitely stick around, ha!
Finally, Merry Christmas to all.
If you are feeling more heartache than joy this week, I get it. Just know that you are not alone; reach out to others, let them carry hope's torch for now, know you are deeply deeply loved.
I remember as a young mom being flooded with fear when my oldest child yelled, “No, mommy!”, and ran.
I wasn’t going to spank or otherwise punish him, so what was I going to do? And was I making a mistake? Was my son turning into a rebellious child?
Fast forward ten years, and now I don’t flinch when I hear, “No, I won’t!” or “Why?!”.
To be honest, I rarely hear those words.
If I do hear them, though, I know it is time to dig deeper because there is something going on in my child’s life, some unspoken stress or frustration or unmet need.
You see, I have learned through experience that children want to please parents with whom they have a good relationship. Children want to feel at peace in their worlds; they do not want to cause chaos or distress.
I have learned through experience, and also through memory.
I remember being a child.
I remember my point of view.
I remember making wrong choices, and I remember why I made those choices, and it certainly wasn’t because I was evil to the core.
I was simply a child making precocious, not-always-wise decisions. After all, isn’t childhood about experimenting, failing, retrying and learning, over and over and over again?
Parenting author and speaker Barbara Coloroso gives the following guidelines in her excellent book Kids Are Worth It:
“The Golden Rule, as it is called, can serve us well when applied to our relations with our children. If we are not sure whether what we are doing with children is right, we need only put ourselves in their place and ask if we would want it done to us— not was it done to us, but would we want it done to us? If the answer is no, then we have to ask ourselves why we would ever want to do it to our children.”
I wholeheartedly agree. I would not want to be hit, punished or verbally shamed when I make mistakes. So why would I do these things to my children?
And yet, as young parents we are fed so many messages which fill us with fear.
Incidentally, fear isn’t a great baseline from which to parent.
I remember all the confusing, fear-inducing messages I once received.
One was, “always win your battles”.
The idea behind this way of thinking was that children come into this world armed and ready to go to war with their parents; it is therefore the parents’ job to show their children who is boss.
Another was, “teach your children to fear you, because fear is the beginning of wisdom, and fear will lead them to God”.
Again, at the root of this idea was the thought that children were born far from God and desirous of sinning, and it was a parent’s job to send them running toward God.
When I was a teenager, I overheard our next door neighbor brag about spanking his daughter.
He mentioned that even at six months of age, she was rebellious. And so he began to spank her. By the time she was a few years old, he claimed, he had bred an obedient daughter.
Later, when I was a teacher (and before I had kids), I would think to myself, “I’ll never allow my children to be as disrespectful as xyz students. No matter what it takes, I will train them to behave better than that.”
I was assuming that parenting was simple; it was all about control and forcing children to behave.
I once heard child-rearing compared to nurturing a weed-free garden. Children were fertile, producing verdant greenery, but their gardens also invited weeds.
It was therefore a parent’s job to pull weeds, prune plants and drive stakes to bind and straighten the unruly plants. I shudder at the implications of this analogy.
I also inherited a tangible fear of parents who didn’t punish their children.
The implication I received was that parents who didn’t punish really didn’t care about their children.
I often overheard people say they didn’t know how they would control their children if they didn’t spank or punish.
And yet, I could not, just could not, ignore that question: How would I want to be treated?
I could not ignore my heart’s answer either: I would want to be approached with wisdom, insight and opportunities for restoration and repair, not with some wielded implement designed to fill me with pain, shame and fear.
Discipline vs. Punishment
I’ve read many parenting experts who equate spanking with discipline. I heartily disagree.
The way I see it, you can either discipline your child or you can punish your child.
And what is punishment?
Punishment is basically a system of correcting misbehavior which involves making a child pay for their wrongdoing in some way. It may be by spanking or hitting the child, but it could also be shaming a child or portraying a strong disapproval of them until they have sufficiently made up for what they did.
I believe punishment is overall a culturally acceptable way to deal with children.
I have often seen people post on social media: “I was spanked, and it did me good”.
I have seen other people lauded as good parents for publicly shaming their “rebellious” teenagers.
There is another way to teach children, however. It is called discipline.
Discipline has the smaller word “disciple” in it and implies being proactive, relationship-oriented, and restorative rather than reactive and punishment-oriented.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard many folks blame behavior problems in schools on teachers no longer being able to wield the “rod”.
I have heard it said that if more parents were spanking their children, then children “today” would behave better.
This makes me sad.
I want to tell people that treating children with dignity and respect isn’t the source of “behavior problems”.
If children are ignored by their parents, then yes, they may struggle to know how to behave “appropriately” in this world.
If they are raised permissively, then yes, they may “rebel”. It is frustrating for children never to know what the boundaries are, just as it would be frustrating for adults if their GPS systems regularly led them in the wrong direction.
It is possible, though, to raise children without shaming, punishing or inflicting pain on them. Trust me, life will deal enough of this to them. We as parents ought to be the safe haven, the shore for their beaten-down ships.
If Punishment Isn’t The Only Way To Raise Children, Why Is It Preached As "The Best Method" In So Many Circles?
Let’s go back to those confusing messages I received as a young parent.
Woven through all of them were some common themes:
These ideas had to come from somewhere, right?
Philip Greven is a history professor at Rutgers University. He wrote an excellent book entitled Spare the Child in which he examines “The religious roots of punishment and the psychological impact of physical abuse.”
I highly recommend the book, especially if you are a parent wrestling with these issues.
In Spare the Child, Greven outlines both religious and secular rationales for punishment.
I was sickened by some of his words in regard to Christians, though I personally know them to be true, “For centuries, Protestant Christians have been among the most ardent advocates of corporal punishment.”
Why is this?
It makes me angry.
Christians, who claim to be all about love and forgiveness, have for so long advocated for violence against children (and so many others seen as "inferior") as “God’s way.” Many still do.
This is not to say that if you spank or punish your children, I am angry with you.
I have no right to judge you.
But I do ask that you take some time to ponder your own thinking on this matter.
I urge you to explore history and culture and ask yourself if this is the best way to raise a child.
And please do not tell me that spanking your child is any different than hitting your child.
How would you feel if someone bent you over a bed and used a belt, a rod, a stick or even a hand to inflict pain on you?
Since this is a blog about faith questions, I would like to examine the reasons Christians advocate spanking. I will be using many ideas from Greven’s book and some thoughts from my own experience.
Deep-Rooted Cultural and Religious Beliefs Affect Our Parenting Paradigms
Punishing children is nothing new. It has been the chosen method of child-rearing and guidance for centuries: http://www.localhistories.org/corporal.html, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/corporal_punishment.
Since ancient times, corporal punishment was the norm in most cultures; it was in fact considered an equitable method to correct children; it was also a chosen method of correction for criminals and slaves.
Are you as horrified as I am that children in their innocence and incomplete understanding of life would be treated in the same way as hardened criminals (and no, I’m not saying beating criminals is a good idea either)?
There are many reasons Christians site in defense of the corporal punishment of children. Here are a few:
Then there are those themes I mentioned earlier which were woven throughout the cultural parenting messages I received. I’d like to review those briefly:
I posit that this view of children and childhood, combined with the afore-mentioned “Christian” points of view, have led to the belief that not only is corporal punishment mandated by God but it is also the best way to teach children.
The way we think matters.
If we think children are at war with us and born filled with sin, if we are terrified children will “go to hell”, then we can see why parents might take desperate measures.
Not only does the way we think matter, but our way of thinking, or paradigm, comes from somewhere.
Once we trace the roots of our thinking, we can examine it.
We can ask ourselves if there are other ways to think about children.
Next week, I will delve into more of the roots of our cultural thinking about punishment, both Christian and non-Christian.
Meanwhile, I ask you to spend some time imagining your spouse or best friend approaching you with a corrective voice and then inflicting pain on you or publicly shaming you.
What if this favorite trusted person of yours were to proceed to tell you that what she was doing was mandated by God?
What if he told you that what he was doing was because he loves you?
Would it be difficult to look this person in the eye with the same level of trust and devotion you once had? Would you be unsure whether to fight, flee or hide? Which would you pick?
I've been there, and I wouldn't be surprised if you have too.
You know, that chilling place where you're at the end of your rope, your patience thin thin ice.
Have you been there, with children? With your very own little ones?
Every time I arrive at that place, I am overwhelmed with gratitude I don't use any form of punishment with my littles. I shudder at the picture of myself angry and out of control.
In the next few weeks, I am tackling the concept of punishment.
I'm going to chat especially about what we communicate with children when we punish them, how a punishment mentality affects us as adults and how not punishing can change our attitudes and outlooks in many areas of life.
As an intro to the topic, I'm going to share some poems I have written on the subject of how children are treated.
Her name was Mercy
Her name was Mercy and she was in her daddy's arms, golden hair, silk, climbing over his shoulders.
Her name was Mercy and she was sobbing,
Not even two years old.
Her name was Mercy,
And she was lamenting.
She was loudly lamenting the loss of her position in the racecar cart,
Now elder brother's trophy.
Oh, how she loved being the lone motorist!
Her name was Mercy and she was shrill with loss,
She was squawking and trilling the forfeiture
Daddy gripped Mercy, Mercy clung to daddy
He growled in Mercy's ear,
"You're okay now. Quit yer cryin' or I'll give ya something to cry about."
Little monkey, planted her face in Daddy's neck,
Shrieks morphing to sobs,
Sobs to sniffles,
Sniffles to silence.
She's in training,
Yes, she is.
Mercy is conditional,
Love's voice carries fear.
Mercy is learning,
Yes, she is,
What her name really means.
Who weeps for the children who
wept alone in dank closets while
the rest of the house slumbers?
It's easy to assume
A child's cries are
I know it pains,
The witching-hour when,
You were tired,
So you squealed and, and,
The day Doc said,
"This won't hurt,"
And when it did,
Denied it, since,
It didn't hurt him...
The Tuesday when tiny-you
Thought money was magic:
Went shopping, saw
Row upon row
Of rainbowed sugar-candies, then
In desirous-delight and received a, a,
Fan remembrance, momma:
It is empathy's
Friends, do you remember being children?
Do you remember times when the adults around you assigned motives to your behavior that weren't even in the ballpark of True?
How do you wish you had been treated?
More on this topic next week...
Hey, you. I'm glad you dropped by...
I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.