Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tough Times - Part 3 Ruthless for Children

Tough Times require that we become tireless advocates for children. We must stand up and demand that children be given the opportunities that will help them to succeed in these times, and any time.

James Squires, PhD., past President of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, offers these words of inspiration...


For those amongst us who sincerely care about children, the time has come to be ruthless.

We must be ruthless against the poverty that causes children to go to bed hungry and awaken to barren cupboards.

We must be ruthless against bureaucracies that cause children to be denied basic medical and dental care.

We must be ruthless against politics that promote unconscionable inequities in educational opportunities for children.

We must be ruthless against the abuse , neglect, and exploitation of children.

We must be ruthless against businesses and consumers who benefit unfairly from the labors of children.

We must be ruthless against media that glorify violence, hatred, and intolerance for children to model.

We must be ruthless against industries which profit from weapons that blindly injure, maim, and kill innocent children.

We must be ruthless against governments and groups that turn their children into warriors.

We must be ruthless against forces that pressure children beyond the breaking point, robbing them of their childhood and extinguishing all hopes and dreams.

We must be ruthless against our own ignorance, arrogance, and indifference.

For if we are not ruthless, we have truly lost our compassion.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tough Times - Part 2 - Presence

When times are tough, we get stressed and distracted. We sometimes go into survival mode and walk around doing the minimum of what's expected and forget to notice the unexpected. One mom recently told me about her very mystical two year old. Sometimes, kids say amazing things that get our attention! Mom was doing her usual busy-ness and had finally stopped and sat down. Numb from all the demands she was feeling, she was kind of staring off into space. Her tiny daughter took her mom's face and looked into her eyes and said, "Mommy, where are you?" That was a wake-up call.

Probably one of the most challenging things for many of us is to stay present... to stay aware and attentive to life and people flowing around us. Presence is also one of the most rewarding things we can do. When we are present, we notice things that otherwise get by us, like the people in our lives who are important to us. Like the beauty that is always there for the seeing.

Times are tough and there are many things we must do to keep afloat. But peace, even for a moment, comes when we notice the wonder in the ordinary of every day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tough Times - Part 1

I love to go shopping at the local "Grocery Outlet" because you never know quite what you will find. In these tough times, I can definitely count on paying less there. Today, right behind me in the check out line was a self-described stay-at-home mom. She said this was her favorite place to shop. They often have organic and specialty foods that she would pay lots more for at the natural foods grocery store. She was out on her own, with her two year old napping at home with dad. She and her mom have fun when they can come together and they both leave with a cart full.

And speaking of dads, there was a young dad shopping with his two year old son in the cart, and grandma (the dad's mom) helping out. Dad was picking all the right foods, with the hope that this picky toddler would eat them. He was pointing to a box and asking his son, "Who's that?" Elmo from Sesame Street was there to promote some fruit snacks. I love that they were making this necessary shopping trip a fun experience for this child.

Times are tough. We are all going to be tightening our budgets to make ends meet. We are going to change some of our usual routines. Especially in tough times, we can still surround ourselves with family and friends and have fun! Even at the grocery store.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Every Child Homeschooled

Every child should be home schooled, no matter what other schools they also attend. Kids who are home schooled have adults in their lives who are totally committed to their education. And education does not just mean book-learning. They are given opportunities to experience many things that will give them a broad understanding of the world they live in.

* Frequent trips to the public library to research many topics
* Regular visits to local museums
* Chances to take things apart and put them back together
* Hikes in the local fields and forest, looking for creatures and plants
* Discussions around the dinner table about current events
* Acceptance of their individual talents and differences
* A variety of opportunities for socially connecting with others
* Experiences that show appreciation for diversity
* Community involvement with social service agencies

Our own children went to public school. Often they had great teachers; sometimes they weren't. But we always did things as a family that reinforced our value of life-long learning. We can't just send our kids to school (whatever the school, public or private) and expect they are going to learn everything they will need to know to succeed in life. And what often sticks are the things children learn at home. What are we teaching them?

Surprised by Love

Oh, I just read a very touching note from a colleague. He and his wife adopted a little boy a year ago. He said, "We never knew we could love someone so much." We are often surprised by how much we love our infants. These little energy balls of possibility are constantly waking us up with their delightful curiosity and wonder.

Then, children grow up and sometimes their behaviors are much less charming. In some of the tougher moments, we can forget how cute they were. Yet, children are amazing. They all deserve our love and commitment. They need our help and support... even beyond the teen years.

This is my wish for the world.... love. And I wish that every child felt this kind of unconditional devotion from parents and family members, even as they grow into more awkward, testy phases. Love is not all we need, but it is SO important. Wishing you all some love on this wonderful December day!

Monday, December 1, 2008


I am usually very patient with small children. They get frustrated when they can't do something. They are bored with what we are doing. They don't have a long attention span. They can't always do what we want them to do. I'm usually able to distract them or find something else that will soothe their frustration.

I'm not so patient with older children, teens. or adults. Somehow I am more likely to think, "They should know better." Hey, I'm also impatient with myself for the same reason. If I get caught up in this, I forget my good intention. The truth is that in the moment, we don't always know better. Judgment and discernment can become clouded by curiosity or interest or impulse.

This last holiday weekend and the time ahead is giving me a reminder to muster all my patience to deal with the impatience and impulsiveness around me and within me. As experience so often teaches, when times seem crazy, my own reactivity does not help. The only person I can really influence is myself. So, in hectic traffic, in lines at the store, when my own family members seem oblivious to all the things that need to be done around here, my patience is the ticket to rising above these things and enjoying the moment.

Breathe, Glo. When I am waiting for an important event or announcement or whatever, this brings me back into line with my patience. I can now notice the generosity and kindness and understanding that is all around.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Enforcing with understanding

She is ten years old and definitely getting to the age where she fights with mom. "You never listen to me. You're always telling me what to do. I hate you!" and she disappeared. Where is she? She has run off. Mom is in a panic and finally finds her a half mile from home, back at school. "Just wait till your dad gets home. He's going to be so angry." Mom had been worried sick! Where was she! So, she wanted to put the fear into their daughter to prevent this from happening again, but now dad has to be the judge and the bad-guy and figure out how to deal with this situation.

There are several "lessons" in this. What do we want this child to learn? Be afraid of mom and dad and what they will do? or Remember to let mom and dad know where you are so they know you are safe? I think it's the second one. Children need to know they can get angry at us and we won't reject them. We just want to make sure they are safe. So when dad gets home, what is he to do? First, he can tell her that he and mom were worried when they didn't know where she was. Sometimes bad things can happen (no need to go into the gory details), and they want to make sure she was safe. Then, acknowledge her feelings, "Mom told me you were mad about having to do your homework right away after school. I know you get frustrated, but just please stay safe!"

When they were fighting, mom could have responded differently instead of invoking the potential wrath of dad, calmly saying something like, "I know you're mad it me. You don't like having to do your homework. But it's important. You can take some time to relax and then we'll talk some more." We can respond to kids in ways that acknowledge their feelings and prevent a situation from blowing up into a fight.

It's frustrating for dad to feel like he has to come home and be the enforcer. When he has a chance to talk with his daughter, he can ask her what she was feeling and thinking. Try to see the situation from her perspective AND let her know that moms and dads get scared and worried. We can also ask her, "How do you think we should deal with this. It was not safe to go off without saying where you are and we don't want this to happen again." Often, children have some workable ideas for consequences. Sometimes their ideas are even more strict than we would impose. Probably her worries about what would happen, before dad came home, and this conversation offer the major learning experiences. A brief consequence might also reinforce the lesson, but she doesn't need to be grounded for a long period.

In most situations, after the talk and the immediate consequence, it is important to do our best to restore good feelings.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Healing the Past

Family - these are the people who are supposed to meet our needs when we are young and love us - no matter what. They care for us when we’re sick and offer help when we need a hand. Not everyone has grown up with this kind of supportive family relationships. Some of us did not get our needs met. We didn’t feel loved or respected. So, because of childhood experiences, one thing some of us know for sure is that family is not the place to ask for help.

Once we enter into adulthood, there are times when our “family of origin” issues surface. We may carry hurt and disappointment from the past into the present. Sometimes a child’s behavior triggers an old memory or a feeling. If we are not careful, our reaction may be unintentionally hurtful.

In order to relate to children in healthy ways, we must make sure that we are doing the recovery work needed to heal the past. We don’t always have the opportunity to do this directly with the people involved. But we can work hard to separate ourselves from those times so that our relationship with children is not affected by our family history.

In addition to doing our own healing work, we can learn how to communicate effectively with children. We can learn about their needs and set reasonable expectations for them. We can also create a network of supportive friends who are there to help. Even when we have not had positive role models during our growing up years, we can do our best to be supportive adults for children today.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

For all the Saints

Yesterday was Nov. 1st, a day that to some is celebrated as All Saints Day. This is a day to remember the saints in our lives, those who are still with us, and those who have gone before. Saints are those wonderful people who have supported us, given us hope, helped us during tough times. They have been role models who loved us unconditionally. In our religious traditions, they are people of faith who have done amazing acts of kindness and compassion. Their strong faiths guided their daily decisions.

So I want to thank some of the saints in my life. I am very grateful for my ancestors, most of whom were long gone before I was born. Many of our ancestors experienced unbelievable hardships and challenges to make it through life. They had none of the comforts and conveniences that we have today. From dawn until sunset, they worked hard to maintain a life, and raise their children. Many of my ancestors were people of faith who believed God would provide for them and reward them with abundance. Their courage and persistence carried them through and cleared a path for me, for us.

I am also very grateful for the saints in my life today. I am blessed with family members and friends who are examples to me today. Even though I am a mid-life woman, I continue to learn, especially from the wisdom shared by others.

We have landed where we are today because of the many who have passed before us. We rest on their shoulders. And our children and grandchildren and the children of the future will be supported on ours. What are we doing to pass on a world of faith, hope, and love to the today's children? What is our legacy? What will we leave for them?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Media and Learning

A woman in one of my classes told a story about the effect of media on her young 4 year old son. He was watching a show on public TV with one of his friends who was a girl. At some point in the show, the main character who was male was playing with a boy and a girl. There was something that the girl character perceived as heavy, so she opted not to do it. And the main character commented that girls couldn't do it, implying they weren't strong enough. The two children who were watching this show got into a discussion. The girl said she thought girls could do whatever they wanted. Then, her son said, "No girls can't do that." Well, my student, the mom of this boy stepped in to reassure both children that whether you are a boy or a girl did not limit by itself the choices made during play time. Her son said, "No, mommy, you are wrong."

So here he is, four years old, and mommy is wrong. And the TV is right. She told her husband she didn't want their son to watch this show any more. They have been very careful about what they let him watch, and now this show was passing on values and attitudes about girls and boys and their abilities and strengths that she thought were biased.

I'm not one who believes we should completely ban media from children. We can't. Some kids will even make choices to spend time with certain children because they have a TV or a certain video game. But, we do need to monitor the TV, movies and video games that kids are watching. When children spend a lot of time with media activities, they may be absorbing beliefs that we don't agree with. I suspect, though I am not sure, that this 4 year old may have had a different reaction if his father had responded with the same kind of statement that his mother offered. He may have already learned that being a girl means you are limited in your abilities.

Children are learning all the time. They are constantly receiving new information and making decisions about what is right. Our open communication with them also helps them learn how to assess the truth. Young children can have very "black and white" - "either/or" thinking. It is our job to stretch their perspectives.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rising above the fear

Everywhere we turn, bad news. Life is tough for most people now days. The shaky economic picture is having an impact on almost everyone. We feel pretty powerless. What are we to do?

The ostrich hides its head in the sand. What good does this do? Denial doesn't get us anywhere but stuck in la-la land. But at the same time, we need to be realistic. There are things we can do to make sure that life keeps chugging along. Taking care of daily business is one of those things. Sometimes we just need to put one foot in front of the other and do the next thing, whatever that is. We still have to go to work. There are all kinds of household responsibilities that keep calling us. We need to take care of ourselves, even though sometimes we feel joined at the hip to the news media. Turn it off and take a walk.

And have some fun. With family members and friends. Children can definitely pick up on our anxieties. They don't understand what's going on. Sadly, they often internalize our fears and wonder what they have done to make us anxious or upset. Yes, they need to know that we may need to change our routines some. They don't need to know all of the financial details. They need reassurance from us that we are taking care of them.

We also need joy in our lives, especially when things seem so gloomy. Noticing the good things is not about being in the dark or hiding from the truth. Joy and pleasures are all around us. This beautiful day. The support of a friend or loved one. The curiosity and questions of a child. Giggles and smiles. Hugs. Simple expressions of gratitude. Noticing the joys in our life help to renew our spirits and give us more energy to cope with life.

We can become very stressed by the fact that times are tough. Or we can rise above our fears by taking care of business each day and remembering the value of family and friends. Love and support help to carry us through difficult times.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Juggling it all

It is hard to juggle more than two balls. I have tried to learn three. I still hope to figure that out. But it takes a different kind of coordination. Life is like this, too. The more things we have going, the harder it can be to really do them successfully. So, I have had several "balls in the air" lately and I haven't written on this web journal.

In addition to having several things going at once which is really just part of life, I have also been doing at least two things that are new, going into unfamiliar territory. Because of this, I have had to shift my priorities and there are some things that just haven't gotten done, or haven't gotten done well. I just can't do it all. I know I am not alone in this dilemma. This happens to other people all the time. And this happens to kids who are learning.

Young children are learning new things every day. Sometimes we get impatient with them because we have told them a hundred times (or so it seems) and they still aren't remembering. When we put ourselves in their shoes, we can realize that we don't always remember either. As long as we are gentle and respectful, occasional reminders are appreciated by kids. We do need to be careful this doesn't feel like nagging, because that will be tuned out in a flash. It also helps to break down tasks into small pieces.

It is not possible to juggle it all. We can learn to set reasonable priorities and find a balance. For all of us, this means including work and play, responsibilities to others and to ourselves. I hope you are able to experience a sense of accomplishment AND also have some fun today. I'm heading out for a walk with a friend. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I am daily reminded of my powerlessness. Living in the whirlwind of world, national, and personal events, I would like to feel like I could control the things that happen to me and around me. I can't. I can influence how I feel about them. I can consider my reaction and response. That's where my power lies.

True confessions - In the moment, amnesia often settle in. I forget previous experiences and don't take even a nano-second to consider my response first before I blunder into the mix. My sons have experienced this first hand. They have always had their own ideas about what they needed in any situation, and rightly so. At the same time as I valued their independence, I was also frustrated when their ideas were counter to what I thought was best for them. And as their mother, I often had the commanding final authority on decisions that I thought would effect their well-being. My heart was in the right place, but during these times, I sometimes squelched their independence, and their need to learn through their own choices. Those times are in the past. And thankfully, they have grown into capable adults, because and in spite of our parenting.

I continue to work on developing personal practices that will help me be more present. I want to worry less about the future and be grateful for the many blessings I have now. I want to slow down and think before I react. I also need to accept my powerlessness over people and situations. I really don't know what's best for everyone else. I can only try to figure out what's right for me. Just taking the time to sit and write out what I am thinking and feeling helps. I gain some perspective. It also helps me during the toughest times to say the "Serenity Prayer":

Grant me the serenity,
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

and to Breathe! Wisdom is more likely to surface and help me act in the present with calm when I have allowed myself the gift of time to consider the alternatives. Yes, I am powerless over others. But this does not mean I must lay back and give in. I must muster my courage to continue to respond thoughtfully with kindness, respect, and understanding.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Super Star

I always enjoy watching the Olympics. In the summer time, my favorite sports to watch are gymnastics, swimming, diving, and track events. I love the spirit of "doing your best" that permeates most of the contests. Just to be good enough to be able to participate in these competitions must be a huge honor. I am amazed at what their bodies can do.

I am also impressed by the number of hours that these men and women have spent practicing their sport and honing their skills. Many of the coaches seem very supportive and proud. A few nights ago I saw a woman compete in the pole vault. When everything was done, she earned a silver medal. We also saw her coach criticizing her after the event. He was nitpicking about the ways that she was not as good, as finely tuned, as the woman who won the gold medal. She had a very dejected look on her face as she turned her back and slumped away from him.

There are different effective styles of coaching, to meet the varied needs of the individual athlete. This example is absolutely the wrong way to coach. I could never have accomplished what she did, over 15 feet (if I am remembering right). People pretty universally respond better to support and acknowledgment of their efforts and strengths. Yes, when they are in training, they need some guidance to help them perfect their skill. But at the end of the competition, everyone benefits from hugs and atta-boys.

We all need encouragement and recognition for the efforts we make. Some children and adults will be good enough to compete for higher awards. Good for you! You did it! You gave it your best!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Patience for learning

It's been quite a while since I last posted. I had a very busy summer and several projects that demanded my attention.

One of those projects has involved learning something new. As of today, I am now teaching an online class. Instead of meeting my students face to face in a classroom for this class, we are "meeting" online through online lectures and a message board. Getting this class all set up has required me to stretch my computer knowledge. The process is very thoroughly spelled out, but there is LOTs to learn, and there are many little things to remember. When the class began today, I thought I had everything set up. It was exciting as students began to check in. Then several of my students sent me notification that at least one part of the class was inaccessible. Oh, my, a glitch. I have read my notes, gone to the help sections. I can't find the source of the problem.

We all realize that everyone makes mistakes. In fact, mistakes are often a necessary part of the learning process. This experience is reminding me how difficult it is sometimes to learn new things. And how hard it is to admit mistakes. Having to give in to my inability to fix this on my own, and email the online learning coordinator, feels a bit like defeat. I know, I'm not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone slips up. I just wish this wasn't happening to me.

Kids often feel the same way. I'm pretty sure my feelings of frustration and incompetence about this current computer challenge originate, at least partly, deep in my past experiences. What messages do we give children about learning? What kind of expectations do we have for the learning process? Learning takes time and patience. Mistakes are valuable tools in the process. And sometimes we really do need to make the same mistakes several times before we finally get it!

I have emailed the head computer guru at the college. I'm pretty sure he will find the problem quickly. Once I push the right button here and there, the problem will be fixed and I will send out apologies to my students. I will feel much better when this is resolved. But I also need to be more accepting when the next glitch surfaces. I need to be patient with myself. We can also model this for children. They need our patience, too. Learning takes time.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Think with your heart

I am back home after a few days in the beautiful high country, with rivers full of water from the snow melt. Some snow still persisted as we increased elevations on the trails. The nights were cold and the days were glorious. I really value time away, time to leave my routines behind and live in the moment. When I got home, I kept myself "on vacation"for several more days, avoiding phones and meetings.

While catching up with my life and working my way through a stack of papers, I came upon some suggestions about how to take good care of ourselves. Many of these are obvious things that we know and still find difficult to actually do:
1. Have more fun.
2. Remember to get some sun (just enough and not too much).
3. Enjoy good, healthy foods.
4. Get plenty of rest.
5. Move your body.
6. Focus renewing energy on your relationships.
7. Think with your heart.

Number seven is the one that gave me pause. Of course, all of the other things are important, but if we don't think with our hearts, we may be missing a critical essence for a full, healthy life. Thinking with the heart is about considering: What do you love? What really brings you joy? What do you care about? Studies have shown that when our positive emotions are "in charge", guiding our daily choices, our immune system is strengthened. We have more energy to sustain us through difficult times. Our outlook continues to focus on the possibilities and we are motivated to get things done. We are willing to try new things. Our attitude is more hopeful.

What a gift this can be for children! When we think with the heart, we are more likely to consider all of a child's needs, not only physical needs, but emotional ones as well. We don't focus only on what they are doing, but how they might be feeling. The goal isn't to get the best grades, but to feel energized by learning, especially learning about those things that excite.... dinosaurs, space travel, computers, friendships, writing stories, whatever. Yes, we want children to be kind, cooperative, and respectful. But sometimes we ignore the inner child as we focus on behavior. Children seem to think with the heart automatically, and yet we do our best to make them unlearn this. Stop! A person's EQ - emotional quotient - is at least as important as their IQ, maybe even more so.

The world would be better served if more of our leaders, if we all would think with our hearts!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Into the wild

I'm leaving tomorrow for 5 days in Tuolumne Meadows in the high country of Yosemite National Park. When I was a kid, our family went camping at least once during most summers. I loved it then, the hiking, and playing in streams, and campfires and the STARS! Oh those stars! I loved sleeping right out under them, so if I woke up in the night, they were right there. When our own kids were little, we did lots of camping, too. Until our youngest started to complain. He was never an outdoors kind of guy. Where did he come from?

Many kids today are raised indoors. T.V. and computers are their friends and the source of information about wildlife. They might even be surprised when they have an outdoor experience of the real thing. Summer is a good time to get out and explore, even if just checking for bugs under a rock at the local park.

I love hiking, watching the birds, seeing deer grazing just feet away from the path, putting my feet into an icy stream, and the Stars! So, I am off to commune with nature.

I hope you have a chance to get away and explore a corner of this beautiful planet.

The way to peace is love

As I "grow up" and learn more about myself and how I relate to family and friends, I continually work on letting go of shame, blame and guilt. These attitudes don't serve me, and they don't get me anywhere but down. The way to peace - whether peace of mind or world peace - is love. So simple, and yet so difficult.

A common theme for me is about remembering what I can influence, what kind of power I have in my world. The only power I truly have is to deal with my own feelings. I do not have any power to control other people or events. The best I can do is work on my own issues and how I respond to the people and events that come my way. When I view my life through the lens of love, I feel much more peace. I feel stronger connections to the people I care about... and to those I don't even know.

When we let love guide us, we are kinder. We are more patient. Children and teens need love and kindness and patience. So do our own parents. A woman shared today about her relationship with her mom. For a long time she focused on the difficult parts of their relationship and felt like "she done me wrong." Even though her mother died several years ago, she is learning to love her now. She believes she has a much better relationship with her mom today because she is letting more love into her life. It is never too late, but oh, it is so much better when we can strengthen our relationships with love and reap the benefits in the here and now.

Love - it's not all we need, but it goes a long way to lead us to a life with more peace.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Summer time and the living is easy"

I always loved summer vacation when my kids were little. I was fortunate. As a teacher, my work schedule also relaxed for these few months, so my sons and I were able to have pretty flexible routines. I am not a hot weather person, so it was mostly about staying cool. Most summer mornings the guys could sleep in and play with their friends in the neighborhood during the day. We also visited local parks and did some swimming a few times a week.

It was pretty dramatic the way the day to day hassles would just about disappear. This was a reminder that the main thing that contributed to our typical challenges was our "too busy" schedule. We didn't need to get out of the house early and "on time." House chores were still there, but there was more time to do them. There was no homework to cloud our evenings. And there was less of a push for a consistent bedtime because the mornings were less demanding.

Summer time was family time for us. I know, not everyone has this luxury. Many parents have to work year round and their children must keep up many of the daily routines. With longer daylight, I hope you are able to have some relaxing evenings.

What helps you live more easily in the summer?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Let's talk

I would love to hear from you. What are your challenges with kids? What are your joys? I am hoping to blog more regularly during the summer. And I would like this to be a dialogue. Kids, life, stresses, community concerns?

Just click on the comments and go through the steps to add yours.

We are all in this together. It definitely takes the whole village to look out for us all.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cranky time

When is the classic worst time of day, the time when we all find ourselves on the verge of melt down? From about 4pm until the kids' bedtime. We are tired after a busy day. Blood sugar is low as we scramble to prepare dinner. Kids want our attention when we have very little energy to give and no creativity. Homework still lies ahead for school agers.

Since this is an every day occurrence, we might as well accept the challenge and move into this time with reasonable expectations.

Kids need to eat more often than we do. They are often more energetic than we are, so they are burning those calories much more quickly. Having a snack before dinner is a good thing to restore energy and lower crankiness. If they aren't able to eat a full dinner, that's okay too. A pleasant evening is our goal, not a food fight.

Television is a distraction, as are computer and video games. If we can set limits with these, a few minutes of Media time can give us a chance to get the rest of the evening on track. A few minutes! Have these off during meals. Talk together. Check in about the day. And keep them off until everyone's homework is done. TV-time is not family time. We can play games together or go for a walk to the park. Throw the ball around outside now that it's light until about 9pm.

Bedtime routines help smooth the evening wind down process. Kids often like being with us and don't want to miss out. If we are rushing kids off to bed so we can relax, we may find ourselves pulled back over and over again with their requests for attention - water, "he's laughing at me!", trips to the bathroom. Instead, do all of these things as part of the routine and talk or read together.

As with so many things, our attitude influences how this challenging time will pass. We can let our grumpiness make for increased frustration for everyone. Or we can make sure we have reasonable expectations and give kids the attention they crave.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Last night I attended the graduation ceremony for a friend who has completed work for her doctor's degree in psychology. Many of the graduates spoke of transformational experiences that brought them here. I was struck by their persistence. They all had to figure out how to go around, or go through, the obstacles that showed up in their paths along the way. And they did. Their determination got them through, but they also couldn't have achieved this accomplishment without the supportive people who helped and stood along side with encouragement and assistance.

These were adults who couldn't have done this alone. This reminds us how crucial it is to a child's development to provide support. Some children are born with more than their share of persistence. They are fighters. When something grabs their attention or they decide upon a course of action, they stick with it. From start to finish, they work their way through. This takes incredible focus and drive.

Others are more externally driven. They need encouragement from us to keep at it. We sometimes wish they were more independent with a stronger self will to move forward. Though we must be careful not to do things for them, our gentle nudges keep them going. Our support can actually help them become more confident and self motivated as they experience successes along the way. Without our support, progress is more challenging, and they may give up.

Living with and working with children provide daily opportunities for offering assistance. Our persistence and determination to be there for them helps them become all they are meant to be.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sleepless nights

I talked briefly with a parent who is feeling overwhelmed by the demands of 24 hours - 7 days a week. Parenting is a huge commitment. I don't believe we ever really understand the impact of this until we are right in the middle of it. When do we sleep when we have a child who is wakeful much of the night.

Sleep needs vary... theirs and ours! Some babies sleep through the night from nearly the beginning. Others seems to sleep rarely. We had one of those. He didn't "sleep through the night"- which really means a 5-6 hour stretch of time - until nearly 2, and even then it was rare. Even when he was an older preschooler, he frequently climbed into our bed in the middle of night. He knew which side of the bed to get into. Can you guess? If he climbed in on my side, he would get a few snuggles then I took him back to his own bed. If he got in next to dad, he may last the rest of the night. I couldn't sleep at all with his wiggles. And he grew out of naps by 2. Occasionally he was so tired by dinner time that he would fall asleep in his food. Then we knew we were in trouble, because after a two hour nap, he would be up from about 8pm until midnight.

Sleep deprivation is crazy making. Without enough sleep, it is impossible to function on "all cylinders." We are grumpy. We can't organize our thoughts. We live as if in a constant fog. We were not meant to raise children in isolation. In tribal communities, there are many hands available to tend to children's needs. Even though most of us do not live in these kinds of social groups, the message is still clear: We need support. We need help. We are not supposed to tough it out and raise kids alone. These times will pass, but in the middle of it, the end is not in sight. To survive these times, in addition to support, it can also help to lower our expectations about what we can realistically do in a day. And rest when the kids do!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Finding enjoyment in the little things

In this very mobile world, when many find themselves separated from loved ones and extended family members by many miles, I was very lucky to grow up in the same community as several of my cousins who were close to my age.  I have very fond memories of the times we spent together, spending the night at each others houses and at larger family events. Though I have lost touch with many of my friends from childhood, I am thankful to still be connected with family.  I know, not everyone can even say this.

My cousin Judy Martin is a quilter and has written many books. You can find her at She also sends out a bi-monthly newsletter to her adoring quilting fans. I love to keep up with her by reading this, even though we only communicate directly several times a year. In this morning's newsletter, she said,

"It’s finding enjoyment in the little things that is the key to happiness. If we wait for extraordinary things to happen, we’ll spend a lot of time in between just going through the motions."

How many little things can we find today that bring us moments of joy and pleasure? Already, I have enjoyed my leisure pace. Our taxes got mailed!! I had a lovely morning walk in cool weather. There was a hot air balloon in the sky. I appreciated a conversation with my son. I hugged my husband and enjoyed his smile.

Yes, there are many little things. And kids are so good at finding these. Let them be your teachers today and show you the path to play.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Backing down

She was feeling the press of her own deadline. She had a class that night and wanted her twelve year old son's homework to be done before she left. So she was on him to do his homework - now! Finally, he yelled, "Leave me alone!!" Rather than come back at him with what she would have said in the past - "Don't you disrespect me!" - she just stopped and waited quietly. In a minute, her son humbly apologized. Then she calmly asked him what his plan was for that night's homework. He became willing to do it.

She was pleased with this breakthrough. In class, we have been talking about the real power of listening and backing down. When we come back with our own insistence, this can be like putting fuel on an already burning fire. The flames shoot up! And the fight continues. Instead, when we are able to take a breath and think before we respond, this gives the child or other person a chance to think, too.

This is simple, but it's not easy. We need to set aside whatever is calling us into the fight just long enough for the dust to settle and clearer heads to step in. The more often we can successfully back down, the easier it becomes next time. And there will likely be a next time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Mother's fierce love

I've been driven into a rest-only state by a weird inner ear virus that has given me vertigo and intense dizziness. I haven't been able to do much, but after the first few days, I have been able to read. For light reading, I enjoy mysteries. And sometimes I also discover meaning and wisdom there.

I just finished Mother Nature by geologist Sarah Andrews. At the end of the well crafted story is an "Author's note" about the power of Mother Nature and Sarah's hope for our eventual understanding and love of the great Mother.

"I find that California's geology follows a negative female archetype in its personality: She is capricious, moody, given to fires and floods and earthquakes, entirely too ready to rid herself of the humans who persist in building along her shores and valleys. She is the very image of the Hindu goddess Kali, as viewed through the lens of Western patriarchal cultures.... I find it interesting that Kali is viewed so differently by cultures older than ours. She is indeed considered ferocious, but not disenfranchised from her anger as are women in our society. Her anger rises naturally as she moves to crush that which threatens her children..."

"I dream a dream for my generation, a mother's dream. I dream that we are learning to raise our sons and daughters with Kali's ferocious love, not stunting their growth with toxins born of our disappointment and impacted anger. Our daughters will grow up strong, directing their passions in mature ways, neither scorned for their anger nor shamed for their desires, ready and able to use these energies to birth an even better world in the generation to follow. And our sons will grow up knowing how to grow, delighted by the strength of their sisters and their wives-to-be, responsible for all their acts and feelings, mature and wise and strong."

"It is a fine dream. In it we find the humility to admit our shortcoming in the way we've been treating our Mother. On waking, we embrace our limits and her vastness, and learn to live in harmony with the natural laws of her love."

Yes, it is a fine dream!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Changing our focus

When we are in the middle of struggles with our children, it is hard to imagine a positive outcome. Yet, no one ever really dug themselves out of hard times by focusing on the problem. We are able to find our way through the muck and sludge by using our positive character traits to lead us to the solution: our willingness, our courage, our determination, our creativity.

"Our son is so stubborn. He resists everything we ask him to do. He only wants to hang out with his friends or be on his computer. His homework is a struggle. And then when he does finally finish, we are all so exhausted we just fall into bed. Then the next day it is the same thing all over again. Why does he fight everything?"

Stubbornness takes two. We are also very persistent in our request. We have our ideas about how things should be done, and when he doesn't cooperate, he seems stubborn. But to him, we are being inflexible and unwilling to see things from his perspective. How can we view this situation differently? We can start by looking for the strengths.

Instead of the negative view reflected in stubbornness, determination is a desirable trait. We just want children to be determined and persistent and motivated by the "right" action. So, can we look at them through a different lens? The same child who seems manipulative has the creativity to work the situation to secure what he needs. The child who is feisty and resistant may also be energetic and able to stand up for what he believes. The child who is busy and into everything may have a strong spirit of adventure, willing to try new things. The child who seems to be ignoring us may be very focused on his own activity.

It takes an entirely different mindset to stop focusing on the negative and start noticing the positive potential. But when we do, often the behaviors change right before our eyes.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Recognizing Special Needs

We all have special needs at least some of the time. Children may have special needs which impact their mobility, their learning, or their social skills. When we are going through a major change, or an illness, or maybe we have a long term challenge, it helps when our needs are recognized and resources are available to help.

Frequently I get asked about a particular child. Someone will describe the child's behavior and ask me what I think might be going on. Since I have been working with children and parents for some time, I often can get a "sense" of the situation. If the behavior feels to me like it is within the range of "normal" for this child's age or experiences, we talk about what might help this child adjust right now. Sometimes after I have heard the description, I have what I call a "red flag" feeling. A little bell is sounding inside, a flag is waving in front of my eyes. My experience tells me that something different may be going on for this child. This child may need some extra assistance.

Without seeing the child personally, I can't tell for sure. But this is a time to encourage the parents or other adults to get some more help. Get some more eyes on this child, observing and listening. There are organizations whose job it is to do assessments of children, and then after this evaluation, to hook them up with services that will help them. Some parents may feel like "he will grow out of this. Why stress him out with strangers looking at him?" Well, the sooner the concern is recognized and addressed, the better this is for the child and family. Then, with more information and ideas, this child can move forward.

So, if you are feeling like something might be going on for a child, if you have questions about this child's development, find a local professional who can help you figure out what strategies would assist this child. Yes, we all have special needs, at least some of the time. And we all need help, at least some of the time. It takes a village, and everyone in it, to raise a child and support a family.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lessons from struggle - Tender moments

We don't expect them. Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed by life that we can barely put one foot in front of the other. Recognizing the treasures within our relationships may seem impossible. Carole's tender sharing about spending precious time during her mother's last days reminds us all.

When I was recently with my mom and dad during the early days of her recovery from a serious fall, there were some tender moments I cherish.
  • Dad stroking mom's head and rubbing her back,
  • The tears of overwhelm, of fear, and of gratitude that we all shed openly,
  • The attentiveness of a grandson,
  • Love and support given freely to mom by family and friends,
  • Dad's new hearing aids,
  • Laughter of mother and daughter with private, inside girl-talk,
  • Reading a book to mom. We couldn't wait for the next chapter (Can't Wait to get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg).
In life, there are many such unexpected gifts - A hug from a teen... understanding silence.... a glance that communicates, "I understand." or "I love you."... the funny or touching things that are heard from the mouths of babes. May we all open ourselves to these treasures and remember them when we need support most.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lessons from struggle - Let Go

I am a control freak. I like being in charge. I want to do it my way. And I am most comfortable when you are doing things my way, too. I am also the first to remind someone else that their way may not be the only way. When I was staying with my mom and dad during the early days of her recovery, mostly I tried to support their lifestyle. I don't have to live there. So, what can I do to help?

Control issues seem to be some of the most persistent of my own struggles. And when things are not going my way, I can get resentful. Now what good does that do? Kids have their own way of doing things. So do our partners. Their way may be slower, more messy, creative, unique. Different. Theirs.

When we were new parents, I was a stay at home mom, so I had more practice putting on diapers. But I also was grateful that my partner was willing to take an active role in parenting when he was not at work. After one daddy-done diaper change, he brought our smiling, wiggly son back to me with a loose, floppy diaper. I had some kind of comment about it not really being right. He said something like, "Would you rather do it?" meaning would I like to be the one to always change the diapers. The answer was a resounding "NO!" So I had to learn to accept his way of doing this or else be full of resentment because he never did. That was not the last time this kind of thing came up. Periodically he would need to remind me to keep my my-way-is-best attitude to myself or be willing to do whatever it was alone

I have lots of patience for certain things. But I can also be pretty stubborn. Letting Go is hard. It takes conscious effort on my part. I need to give myself a talking-to and remind myself that it will be okay. Is this really such a big deal? This example about changing diapers is pretty lighthearted. There are also many times that have more serious consequences, and I still don't have much power over the outcome. I can, however, work on my attitude. I can take a breath. I can remember what I am grateful for. I can accept this and do my best. Maybe this is all we can ever do.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lessons from struggle - Patience and Presence

Oh, what a pace is life! If we get into the race, it can be hard to step away for respite. And what's the rush? We really can't hurry growth or learning. They unfold in their own time and in their own way. Knowing this doesn't make life any easier.

When my kids were little, my mom commented several times that I was patient with them. Yes, I gave them choices. I tried not to rush them along.... most of the time. I certainly wasn't in a hurry for them to grow up. I enjoyed most of the stages of their development. Especially when our two oldest sons were young, they were my primary focus. Then, I started working more hours once our youngest was a preschooler. At the same time, his brothers were adolescents, and life became a little more of a blur. Boy, did we pack a lot into our days, just with their school, my work, homework and home life. Now, when I look back, I sometimes wonder, where did the time go?

My 80 year old mother recently fell and fractured several vertebrae in her neck. You can't rush healing. She is doing remarkably well. But, she has had to learn to be patient with the process. Bones take time to heal. Children take time to grow and learn. And so do we all. I still have much to learn. One daily reminder is that we are not really in control of very much.

What do we miss when we aren't noticing? A new tooth. Another freckle. Lots of new words and phrases. New abilities showing up. Maturity. Wisdom from the mouth of babes. New willingness to help out. Greater understanding. And many joys and pleasures. So, the spiritual practice of patience helps me to be present to the moment and observe how things are unfolding. Growth is supported when we are awake and aware. What would really support my growth and learning right now? How can I support my child's development?

I'm going to go take a walk, and notice some of what is unfolding before my eyes on this beautiful day!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lessons from struggle - Slow down!

We live in a fast-paced society. Hurry up and get there. Do it... finish it, so you can quickly get to the next thing. Hurrying sometimes gets the job done, but it also can lead to stress and accidents. When we are more thoughtful and deliberate about what we are doing, things still get done. And sometimes with more accuracy, thoroughness, and even creativity.

We feel the push to move quickly, and we pull our children right along with us. "Hurry up!" becomes a battle cry when we are frustrated that they do not understand our busy schedules. Then, the stresses of the day are felt by us all. What a horrible way to start the day!

Planning ahead for the day can help us set priorities about what is really most important. We can ask ourselves some questions - What are the most important things I need to accomplish today? What am I going to do today that will be fun, or will bring joy and pleasure? What am I doing today to relax? What am I doing today to enhance mental and physical health?

Children can be our teachers. They often take their time to explore with focus and interest. And we can be good role models for them. Slow down. Live more intentionally. Notice the details. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lessons from struggle - we need each other

Hello all. I'm glad to be back. I had a very busy, and could even say, "Crazy!" last 10 weeks. There have been several major family challenges. Some days I wondered if I had the energy to do one more thing. I have emerged with some lessons learned that I will be sharing in my next few journal entries. I didn't always trust this wisdom in the middle of it all. But I am trying to remember these insights for the next time. And as we all know, there will be a next time.

The first lesson I want to highlight is - When we are in the midst of difficult times, we're not supposed to go through this alone. We can reach out to others. This is one of the hardest things for me to practice. I am the big sister. I was raised with the idea that I'm supposed to be the responsible one. And somehow that translated internally as "I can do this myself"... and even more so, I'm supposed to do this myself. It is not okay to ask for help. Yes, I know, this is unrealistic. We absolutely need others to live and to function from day to day. But it is very difficult for me to ask for help.

With the challenges of the last several months, the most important support I have gotten is knowing that there were people who loved and cared about me and had me and my family in their thoughts and prayers. During this emotionally intense time, I felt held by invisible arms. This created a tangible sense that I was not alone!

I also reached out and asked some people to help in very specific ways. I didn't insist on doing it all. I am grateful for those who willingly helped. One person described the value of helping. She asked, "How do you feel when you have the opportunity to help someone?" Of course, this is a good feeling. I'm glad to be able to help others. She reminded me that when I ask for help, I give other people the opportunity to have those same good feelings. People want to help. They often don't know what would be most useful, so when we ask for specific assistance, they are glad to offer what they can.

We all need help, sometimes. We are not supposed to go through this life alone, in charge of it all. One life lesson is to learn to ask for help.... and the flip side is to offer what we can when asked. We need each other.