Cutting back and letting go

Ever heard of disappointing others to be true to yourself?

We are an unschooling family, but we are in so many activities—too many, as I recently discovered. We are in two co-op groups (I have to teach in both), Girl Scouts, 4H Club, three homeschool groups (which overlap with co-ops), a book club—plus my daughter’s music and gymnastics classes! It’s dizzying when you add in work schedules, too. I’m back to working full time hours with more clients than ever, which I deeply appreciate—but with that comes an opportunity cost. Some things have to get cut.

For the first month of full-time work, that cut thing was my sleep. And I’m already reaping what I’ve sewn—grogginess, crabbiness, even hallucinations; a bit of weight gain, backaches and headaches and exhaustion. I finally relented when two different friends who don’t even know each other, one a homeschooler and one not, told me I just had to scale back. They were right.

So this week, one friend took over our 4H Club for me, we dropped one co-op, and I stopped moderating one of the homeschool groups I moderate (out of two). I did this after my body threw me into crisis, from sickness to madness, a bit of a breakdown and a punched wall. I’m so happy that I did this now, after only two months of more than full-time hours again, before it got worse.

Unfortunately, I disappointed a few friends in the co-op, and I was pretty cranky and terse with many people in the process. My friends, bless them, lovingly forgave me and saw my anger for what it really was—fatigue, maybe mixed with some desperation and fear of disappointing them. But that saying about disappointing others to be true to yourself is really something worth adhering. As my health fails, I know I am the only person who can take care of myself and I just have to do that—and I know that the suffering of my family needs to be ameliorated before anything else, too.

We need our quiet time together back, our time to read together, play simple games together, and just spend at least one cozy night at home together each week. I thank my friends for allowing me to do this, even if I have disappointed them, because if I didn’t and continued this chaotic life, I would probably get harmed in the process, or look back on years of regret.

Parents As People

I don’t think our children really see us this way.

The thing is, it’s not their job, either. We make a big deal about how kids should respect their parents and behave and all of this baloney, but the fact is kids don’t ask to be born. They don’t owe us anything. If they choose to have kids, they owe them, sure, but us? Nada. I’m in George Carlin’s camp and agree that respect needs to be earned and should be based on parents’ performance.

All of this said, I still think it’s kind of funny when our kids don’t see us as people. They see us as—well, I’m not quite sure what they think we are. But when my daughter dumps her jacket on me at the park to go run off with her friends, or climbs on me to get a better view of something, or thrusts her half-eaten Reece’s peanut butter cup in my hand in the darkness of the movie theater (something that made me laugh so hard I actually couldn’t speak or breathe—I still giggle thinking about it, and how I tried to give it to her father, who thought it was poop), I can’t very well be a person, can I? A coat rack, a step stool, or a table, maybe, but not a person.

It’s just a funny observation among so many I am enjoying during this whole parenting adventure. My role continues to shift in her life—I can remember when she asked me to marry her when she was three!—and I look forward to its constant growth throughout both our lives.

Positive reinforcement for kids

Dangling carrots causes more harm than help.

How do you perform at work, at college, or anywhere else when you have someone looming over you declaring “Good job!” every time you scratch a pencil, burp or sneeze? You probably don’t have anyone doing this, but the average kid seems to. I feel worse for kids who get zero attention from their parents, of course, but this whole “Good job!” crap has to stop.

For one thing, our kids know it when we are telling them BS. They might scribble and see what we say just for the hell of it—I know my daughter has!—and when they get upset declaring a masterpiece a train wreck, we step in and say, “No, it’s beautiful!” They. Know. Better. Art is in the eye of the beholder, sure, but it’s their work; let them determine its value.

I want my daughter to have an internal compass that guides her actions, something she can be accountable for by herself. I don’t want her peeking over her shoulder for validation every step of the way to hear “Good job!” for every move she makes—like I desperately wanted as a child.

I don’t only want her to develop a sense of right and wrong that she uses as her guide rather than my voice; I also don’t want her growing up feeling as if she has to please me. I want her to please herself. That said, I still have trouble breaking the automatic habit, and continue to work on it every day.

For more information about the harms of excessive praise and alternative language to use, check out Good Job! And Other Things You Shouldn’t Say or Do.

Age-appropriate films for kids

How do you decide?

My conservative, Catholic cousin-in-law was once shocked when I admitted to watching R-rated movies as a teen. “Didn’t you?” I countered. He told me no, that his mother wouldn’t let him and he didn’t watch a single one until he was 18. That sounded sort of pitiful to me, but I guess I sound pitiful to other people—I’ve never smoked pot, for example, and I didn’t drink or do drugs in high school. I suppose I should have asked him if he did any of those things.

Then, the other night at a mask-making class, the teacher asked kids to identify a favorite movie that might inspire a mask. While looking at the masks, my seven-year-old was obviously reminded of the movie Labyrinth, which we love. The teacher remarked, “Labyrinth! Wow. Any other movies?” He then decided to use a girl’s example of Beauty and the Beast—a movie in which people die, by the way, while no one dies in Labyrinth; and instead of a girl tolerating emotional abuse, it involves one courageously saving her little brother—for the mask-making. A librarian remarked later, “Labyrinth’s a little old for her, isn’t it?”

Seriously? I know dozens of parents who let their kids see movies like Avengers, which is filled with death. I even know a mom whose toddler watches Lord of the Rings movies, which is just incredible to me—my daughter will not be watching those movies for at least another year or two. How is okay that all of these kids can watch shooting and death and violence, yet it’s wrong for my kid to watch puppets dance with David Bowie?

Tonight I let her watch The Neverending Story, my favorite movie when I was her age. Nevertheless, I kept my fingers on the remote, ready to stop it if she got scared at all. But she really enjoyed the movie—especially the bat and the luck dragon, just as I had expected—and I felt like my judgment was spot-on. It’s not always, but it usually is—and that’s what I trust when it comes to my daughter.

What about you? What do you do to decide whether or not something is appropriate for your children? Do you use ratings, or do you have another system in place? Do you watch movies before sharing them with your children, or trust other parents’ reviews? Share your thoughts below.

Sometimes, a little push is all it takes

My job isn’t to force; it’s simply to introduce.

Yesterday was the beginning of this semester’s bi-weekly co-op in one of our local homeschool groups. It was our first time being in the co-op, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew, however, that my little social butterfly would have a ball if she just let herself.

Lately my daughter has been a bit more shy than usual. I think it’s her age; I was so much shier than she was at six and compared with me, she’s still her usual outgoing self. At any rate, she’s reluctant to try a few new activities lately. The soccer she was interested in last spring no longer holds any interest for her. Now, it’s all about skating, which is fine; as long as she’s got a physical outlet, I am happy.

The classes she is enrolled in for the co-op are music (with a parent’s inclusion) and drama (parent-free). Our co-op is free, as long as you participate and hold a class yourself, which is just awesome—and even though it’s in the city, a little bit of a drive for us, it’s mostly a straight shot up the highway, which works for us. It didn’t even take a quarter tank of gas.

At any rate, my daughter was anxious about these two classes, and I think that’s natural. At the last minute, she said she didn’t even want to do them! I told her that she knows our policy; if we sign up for something she’s interested in, we have to at least give it a try—but if she hates it, we’ll quit.

We’ve done it before with dance class and other activities.

It only took one day at the co-op, however, for her nervousness to subside. She was bouncing of the walls with joy, proclaiming her love for both classes after we attended them. She even made a new friend who is in both of the classes. I was so happy for her—and so proud of her! It would have taken me weeks to find my niche like she did in one day. Watching her blossom is the greatest honor I have ever had in my life, period.

This group fits us so much more than anything else I’ve ever been in; the diversity there is just beautiful. Of course, as shy as I am, I still have a way to go before I am comfortable and brave enough to meet many moms; I did introduce myself to four moms yesterday, which may be a record for me! Baby steps. In the meantime, my little wood sprite has me beat, as usual!

Dealing with deployment

When one parent is deployed, children of military families often face emotional challenges. The parent remaining at home can take steps to minimize those challenges and make a deployment as positive as possible. A deployment will never be fun, but you also do not have to be miserable for its duration.During a deployment, establish a routine. Having one parent gone is an interruption of a child’s life and creating a routine can counteract that. Staying busy will also help children focus less on the deployment. This is the time to take special classes, visit local attractions and enjoy time with family.

Include the deployed parent in the new routines and activities as much as possible. Keep a journal of things to tell the parent and include them in weekly letters or phone calls. Have the deployed parent record bedtime stories before leaving and include them as part of a bedtime routine. Take pictures of the parent, a doll with the parent’s face or a special object representing the parent along on special outings and include it in pictures or activities.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the deployment too. Have a countdown jar full of pieces of candy or marbles to represent the number of days the parent will deployed and remove one from the jar each day. Talk with children about their emotions and allow them to ask whatever questions they have. Giving children the attention and support they need will help make the deployment easier to handle.

Staying professional while working at home

When you’re a work-at-home, stay-at-home parent, being professional can be one of your biggest challenges. While you may try to do most of your work during naptime or after the kids go to bed, you still must deal with people in the regular business world on regular business times. This means that inevitably you will have to make that important phone call with a two-year-old screaming “I want to talk!” in the background.

You may slip and tell a client, “I had the report ready on time, but was sidetracked by a poo explosion” or slip into baby talk in an e-mail.  While some people will understand, not all will be as forgiving. For the sake of your career, it’s important to take additional measures to ensure professionalism.Dedicate a kid-free space in your home. This is the place you keep your business-related documents to keep them free from smudges and spills. It’s a place you can make phone calls in quiet and concentrate as you send e-mails. A corner in an extra-large bathroom or a hall closet may be all the extra space you have, but it will be enough to keep an air of professionalism.

Set a schedule and stick to it.  It may be hard to get your kids to nap or go to bed at a certain time of day and stick to it, but that time could be crucial to your business. When your children outgrow the nap phase, keep that time as quiet time and have them watch a movie or play quietly in their rooms. Let your clients know that these are the best times to call you and stick to those times for conducting business whenever possible.

Carrying Babies

Back Pain Etc

The most difficult thing about carrying and holding babies is that your back starts to ache. After it starts to ache, it starts to hurt, and after it starts to hurt it becomes crazily, unbelievably painful and leaves you a crippled remnant of your former self.


It doesn't make much of a difference whether you carry the baby around in your arms or in an authentic Nez Perce baby board like the one in this picture. You might carry the baby in a cute little sling or in a rugged-looking baby backpack. It won't make any difference either way, except possibly to concentrate the pain in new and innovative configurations. For instance, if you carry the baby by hand you usually have to have all the weight over to one side, with your shoulders raised. This produces a very distinct pain-pattern from the burning neck trauma caused by a baby backpack.

I'm holding a baby as I type this, but my back is okay, because I happen to be sitting down on a couch at the moment. But now the second most difficult thing about carrying and holding babies has decided to manifest. What is that, you ask? It's the heat. It's maybe seventy degrees outside, but with a human furnace attached to my body, it's more like ninety-five in my immediate vicinity. My forehead is slick with sweat and my head is itching. My throat is dry and it has started to hurt, and I just keep getting hotter and hotter. Oh yeah, and my left pinkie has suddenly fallen asleep.


Babies. You gotta love 'em.



Baby Shows, Mama Dada Shows...

And Man Shows

My older daughter considers everything on television and Netflix to be divided into two categories: “baby shows” and “mama dada shows.” Baby shows are watched during the daytime, and mama dada shows are watched at night. Baby shows are shows like Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, Max and Ruby, Octonauts and so forth and so on. Mama dada shows are shows like The X-Files, Cheers, The Simpsons and so forth.

Little does she know, there is a secret third category. She's aware of the existence of shows like The X-Files, which she calls “Mulder.” But she doesn't pay a lot of attention to them, because they're over her head. While mama and dada are watching Mulder, she colors or plays with her dolls. The secret third category of shows comes into play only when she falls asleep. This is the category of shows that are completely inappropriate to watch while she's awake, even if she's not paying any attention.


What's in the secret category? The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy, The Sopranos, The Tudors- anything with lots of sex and/or violence. The mere existence of such shows is not yet suspected by our little girl. However, she has recently added another category, which would technically be the fourth category although she thinks it's the third. This is the category of the “man show,” which she associates exclusively with her grandfather. What is a “man show”? It's stuff like Hardball, where a bunch of cranky middle-aged men sit around a table and bicker about politics. That stuff is probably even more inappropriate than Sons of Anarchy, but she has no interest in even being in the same room when a man show is on.



Attachment Theory

Early Childhood Psychology

“Attachment theory” explains how children develop the ability to have stable, loving and successful relationships as they grow. It all begins with an attachment figure, the person the baby spends the most time with. This is the person the baby expects to see when she has a need, the person she's expecting to come and help her when she cries. Historically in our society this has been the mother, but now it can just as easily be the father and in many cases someone else.

When the baby cries, she pays close attention to whether her needs usually get met or not. If they do, she not only learns to love the person who meets those needs, she also learns that people will love her and help her in general and that the world is more or less safe for her.


If her needs are consistently not met, she learns the opposite- that no one will help, that the world is not safe, and that she's on her own. Attachment is extremely important in the long-term mental and emotional well-being of the child. A child who does not succeed in forming a strong attachment at this crucial age may never be capable of truly loving or being loved by another human being.


Attachment is also important for the child's ability to explore and take risks, as young children without strong attachments tend to be timid and clingy while children with strong attachments are often willing to go out an explore the larger world, confident that they are basically safe. Attachment is one of the most important factors in parenting a young child.