Parenting

Like a girl

I have raised my children intentionally to see girls and boys as equals- equals in voice, intelligence, and potential.  My husband and I have always been extremely careful about our words and actions regarding differences between boys and girls.  For example, we have always bought gender neutral toys and games for both our boys and our girls. We have encouraged and allowed the children to play with whatever they might find around the house. If the boys carried around my purse, or pushed a baby in the stroller, no big deal. If my daughter played with balls or trucks, no big deal.  Our goal in modeling gender mutuality has been purposeful and calculated.

You can imagine my shock yesterday when I heard my daughter tell me a story about how “when Daddy snuck up and scared Canon, he screamed like a girl.”

I’m sure that she was equally as shocked by my extreme response! “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?”, I interrogated. “I never want to hear something like that come out of your mouth again.” Poor child probably had no idea what she even said!  We talked more about it and I encouraged the children to come up with some other simile for the intensity and pitch of scream she heard. We all giggled as we went through a whole host of options and then came up with, “Canon screamed like a howler monkey!”

What is the big deal? 

It is a big deal to me that we make insulting distinctions for boys and girls. The language we use shapes their image of themselves. Everyday. All the time. Girly girl. Tom-boy. Princess. Like a girl. If we only paid attention to the gravity of our flippant classifications.  Last year I confronted a 9 year old boy when he ridiculed his friend on the playground after being beat in a race by my daughter, “You got beat by a girl!” AH no. Mama don’t play.  Don’t worry, I was kind, but what I really wanted to do was kick him in the shins. The phrases we think are ok in referring to boys are a big deal as well.  Boys will be boys. He’s a mama’s boy. He’s all boy.  Man up. Really people?  These cliches are both dismissive and damaging.

Influence of culture

We don’t even realize the sludge that slowly seeps into our psyche. My daughter could not even remember where she heard the phrase, “like a girl”. She doesn’t know who first told her that she was a “tom-boy”. What does that even mean?  You may think I am overreacting, but I steer my family away from the tween and teen trash that hollywood cranks out.  I can not shield them forever, I understand that. But I can for a while at least, while they are in my care, and while their mind, will, and self-understanding are still in development. With fierce effort, I kick out the walls of the boxes that american culture tries to stuff my kids into.

Under normal circumstances, I would not necessarily commit free advertising for a panty liner company, but #ALWAYS has made a brilliant commercial on the subject of #LIKEAGIRL. Enjoy!

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Unattached to the opinions of others

Last week, a mama left me a voicemail, “Nikki, I need to have a conversation with you and it’s not going to be fun.”

You can imagine my angst in returning that phone call!  My mind was spinning about all the ways I might have offended her, or inappropriate deeds my kids might have done.  Was it a Facebook post that didn’t set well with her?  Is it my choice of reading material? My use of technology? Is she concerned that I practice yoga and have introduced it to my kids, and thus to their friends?

My mind spun for about an hour. Then I came to myself.  Although I know I have blind spots, I am parenting my children in the way I have chosen, and I have nothing to fear from the opinions of others.  This realization and reminder was so comforting to me that I picked up the phone and made the call.  I received her concerns with humility and understanding.

This mama and I talked through everything and it worked out fine.  The issue was regarding security and safety during playtime on my property. Her concern had to do with girls and boys mingling – and she needed to understand my play protocol. THAT WAS IT!!  What an easy conversation it could have been. Instead I allowed her initial voicemail trip me up into insecurity and self-doubt.

It is so freeing when we can be bold and confident in our own skin – and in our own intentions. When we unhinge our identity from external influence, we can soar without hindrance.  When we are true to ourselves, authentically, we can buffer the criticism and even judgement of others. And what’s even better?  When we respond with a clear head and interact with the person humbly, the conversation has nowhere to go but UP!

Ultimately, I am thankful for this experience because it reminds me that being attached to the opinions of others is toxic. There is no room for this in the healthy soul.  Call me and let’s talk more about this.  🙂

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Calm, cool and collected

Do you think some parents have an intrinsic knack from being non-anxious in any situation? I was talking with a fellow mama the other day about children, sibling conflict, defiance and disrespect, and general fussiness. We joked about how easy it is to shout, “Would you stop SHOUTING!?”

How do you keep your cool as a parent?

Even though it may seem like some parents have a higher threshold for madness, I do believe that harmony and temperance can be learned and practiced.  When we are loving unconditionally, we have no reason to blow our top.  Even when I become the target of my child’s aggression, I must respond with compassion. I don’t see that as weak – in fact I see it as supremely strong.

I think there is a level of detachment that has to happen in intense situations with children.  I can not be tied to whether or not my kids like me in any given moment. I can not be worrying about what they might say to me. If I have clearly and consistently laid out boundaries for them, then I can confidently stand by those boundaries and not be swayed by their agitation or imbalance.

Let WAR fall to the FLOOR

Since adolescence is right around the corner for my crew (12 boy, 10 girl, 8 boy), I have experienced a few, ahem, outbursts. The increased changes of mind and body can generate a spike in emotional energy, and suddenly without warning, a battle ensues.

My daughter in particular, the 10 year old, middle child, has recently become a little more prickly.  Because I know that hormones are the culprit,  I can simply respond to her with compassion, even when she behaves in a less than gentle manner.  When it is aimed toward me, I say, “I don’t yell at you, so I would appreciate the same kind of respect.”  She sometimes takes a pause, and reccaliberates,  “Mommy, I am sorry for yelling, what I meant to say was….” And other times, she stomps off.  I can only assume that she is going on a pilgrimage to some safe space to soothe herself.  And that is ok.  Upon her return, she is greeted with a loving welcome.

When the children have an emotional flair up, I don’t take it personally.  And neither should you! When their heart is at war, I hit it head on with PEACE.  I respond non-anxiously and let the WAR fall to the FLOOR. I don’t have to engage in a battle with a child.  I really don’t. When I remain self-defined, their eruption carries no power. Kids need this, do they not?  They need to know that we are strong enough to handle the full gamut of their emotion.

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My mother [God rest her soul, 2002] was a great example of unconditional love.  We always knew where we stood with her. She never took her love away from us regardless of our mood or attitude.  And you know what – – we respected her for it.  She was confident and full of grace.  My mom is the one I channel during difficult emotional moments.  I try to remember my own adolescent turbulence.  I breathe, and muster up the tenderness these little ones need from me, to continue on in their journey.

My hope is, that at some point in their 20’s and 30’s, my children will look back and reflect on our time together. They will unquestionably say that their mom was consistent, tolerant, and gracious. That they were loved regardless of their actions or inner unrest.

C’mon mamas and papas, we can do this. We can get through these turbulent times together! Let’s lock arms and move forward.  But please, I beg you. Don’t lash out at your child, whether they are 4 or 14.  Don’t yell at them just to show them that you can yell louder. Be the adult. Be compassionate. Be aware. Show them that their turbulence is normal and that you understand what they are going through.

At the very least, you will give them less to talk to their therapist about when they get married and have kids of their own!

The force is strong with this one.

68037_10100155434909179_1581607946_n 553929_997490309449_998139091_n My 8 year old son is a deep feeler. He is a passionate, seize-the-day kind of guy, taking in every moment. He has a huge heart full of compassion, empathy, and openness.  Kid never met a stranger.   IMG_5146

Thing is, he feels everything at full throttle.  So if he is happy, it’s 100%.  If he is angry, it is 100%.  If he is disappointed…. you get the picture. One afternoon about a month ago, I picked the kids up from a playdate and the dad commented, “Wow, Cosmo is a trip. He is either at a 10 or a 1!”  I certainly didn’t take this as a compliment, but honestly I was not surprised.   Cos is intuitive, loving, and generous. At the same time, he often carries his emotions on his sleeves.

So how do I help this beautiful one find his center, his calm?  We have been talking lately about peace, self-control and soothing and calming our hearts.  I believe that Cosmo has the ability to do this – to acknowledge his feelings and harness his energy.  He has a capacity for stillness and focus, so meditation and prayer have been a source of comfort. For example, a couple of weeks ago, the 3 children and I sat together in meditation, reciting Isaiah 26:3, “You keep in  perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you.”  At other times, he and I agree that it would be a good idea to go back to his bed and do a “reset”.  I encourage him to find his breath and to use his words. IMG_5200 1912210_10100487418371659_1429371650_n

With these techniques, my hope is to give Cos a toolbox he can draw from in dealing with his big emotions. Each child is unique and I never want to squelch or shame.  My heart is to shepherd and coach them along in becoming who God has made them to be.  

Do you have an extreme child?  If so, what are some of the tools in your parent toolbox?

We are Alexanders, we are learners.

My focus lately has been on family axioms, values and virtues that we overtly speak over our children describing the kind of people we are (ahem, suppose to be.) Call it a motto, maxim, adage, rallying cry….

On my post We are Alexanders, I describe what I mean by this, and list out many of the axioms we say day-in and day-out.

Today I am focusing on “we are learners”. This one is a tremendous parenting value for me. I am a learner, I was raised by learners, and I am married to a learner, so naturally I hope to impart this quality into the hearts of my children.

By learner do I mean over-edumacated academic elite? Heavens no. In fact, I agree with Albert Einstein who said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

This world has so much to teach us.

Culture, nature, myth, math, history, technology, poetry, politics, physics, linguistics, economics…shall I go on? How could we ever imagine that we are done learning as soon as we finish our educational requirements? One thing I admire about my dad, is that at age 66, the man aspires to learn something new everyday. Never assuming he has all the answers, he ask good questions. He reads, he studies, he works hard to keep up with the inexhaustible pace of technology.

There is always something to learn from this bountiful planet. Project-based homeschooling works well for us, because it is designed to help kids pursue the things they are passionate about learning. But weather you homeschool or not: Does your child have a favorite food?  Trace the origin and historical preparation of that food. Discover how that food is prepared today, here in America. (disclaimer – your child may not like what she/he discovers). Did your child get a letter from grandma?  Outline the process of how we send and receive mail. Take the kids to the US Postal office and ask for a tour! Did your kids witness the dogs procreating?!?! Talk to them about the reproductive system of animals and allow them to follow the process out all the way through birth, infancy and independence.  There is so much to learn each day. We need only to open our eyes and pay attention! Life is our Guru. Earth is our hands-on instructor. History is our counselor. Get out there and let your curiosity lead you!

People have so much to teach us.

Do you think you have it all figured out? You don’t.  Your experience or degree make you an expert? Nope. Feel like you really have a handle on things? Guess again. Don’t assume that you know the perception of a Republican or the viewpoint of a Democrat until you share a meal with one.  Don’t expect to tell a teenager what they should do before you embrace them and listen to their heart. Don’t judge a buddhist until you are willing to sit quietly and let them share the experience of their faith journey.

Ok, I am no expert – but here are a few suggestions for us about how to lovingly approach people:

  1. Ask good questions.  Before my husband goes into a group meeting or a one-on-one coffee, I always remind him to ask good questions.  He grins and replies, “I know, I know, don’t talk too much….”  He is joking, but always comes home and reports the success of simply listening and asking good questions.  Not only do we learn so much more about the other person, but we come away nourished because listening is receiving – and our souls love that.
  2. Don’t give advice unless someone specifically asks you for it.  Over and over I hear people discharging dogma like an M2 machine gun (yea, I totally googled that). I want to stand up and shout, “NO ONE ASKED YOU FOR YOUR OPINION!” Although it is difficult to sit and listen and keep your mouth shut and ears open, please, for the love of all things vulnerable and tender – – please wait until you are asked before doling out your answers to life’s questions.
  3. Approach every conversation as an opportunity to learn. Every person you meet has a unique story. Try to engage them in that story. Strive to understand their perspective.  Think of your friends (and even random people you meet on the street) as mentors.  My friend Heather mentors me in self-dicipline. My friend Anna mentors me in a healthy lifestyle in regard to food and movement. My friend Laura mentors me in intentionality with children….and so on.  Every person in our lives has something to offer, something to teach us. So let’s tap into that wisdom.

We are Alexanders, we are learners. It’s an important message to my children to ALWAYS look for learning moments – every outing, every activity, every project, every movie they watch, every book they read. With every person they encounter, with one another, with home schoolers, with public schoolers, with babies, with elders, and with Mr. Henry – the mail carrier.

I must go now, because my friend is teaching me how to make organic apple muffins.

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There is no excuse for abuse

My focus lately has been on family axioms – values and virtues that we overtly speak over our children describing the kind of people we are (ahem, suppose to be.) Call it a motto, maxim, adage, rallying cry….

My sister-in-law introduced me to The Total Transformation program. James and Janet Lehman have a direct, behavioral approach, which has significantly influenced my parenting.

Listening to the audio program, one of the truths that first hit home with me was, “There is no excuse for abuse.”

For example:

“He provoked me.”

“But she called me a name.”

“We were just rough-housing.”

“She’s such an idiot.”

“He started it.”

There are many reasons (read, excuses) children can come up to justify abusive behavior.  And dare I say it, there are many reasons parents can give for allowing abusive behavior.

“They were just rough-housing.”

“I’m just too exhausted to deal with it.”

“She kept provoking him.”

“They are going to have to learn how to deal with bullying at some point.”

“Survival of the fittest.”

He has to learn how to be a man.”

Do you think I am sounding judgmental right now? I’m sorry mom, am I the only one here with the ability to notice when horsing-around morfs into full-contact-sparring morfs into a straight-up-street-fight!?? We spend their whole toddlerhood imploring, “Let’s use our words….” Why can’t that continue into age 8, 10, 12? We still need to fine-tune the skill of word-using well into our teens, twenties and beyond!

Whether it is physical or verbal, there is NO excuse for abuse.

Did you hear about the 9 year old boy who nearly killed himself because he was bullied for liking My Little Pony? Or the girl who was abused for liking StarWars? Or the boy who wouldn’t go back to school because he liked Justin Bieber?

Ok, but back to siblings and friends.

Even the slightest lackadaisical attitude toward our childrens’ aggressive interactions, can send the message that abuse is ok. We give them an inch, they take a mile. We have to be on top of it – – at all times. Otherwise, we allow inappropriate words and actions, which can cause emotional damage.

These little ones are intelligent, they get it. It’s ok to call our children to a higher standard. They actually want that! No matter what they see and hear at school or at church. No matter what they hear at soccer or swim.  Our children will follow our example and will live out the values we set for them. But that’s the catch: WE HAVE TO SET THOSE VALUES!

How do I live this out?

When my kids raise their voice: I stop the conversation and ask for a restart. I coach them through an appropriate way to express their feelings.

When my kids start to get physical: I press pause and examine the situation. In our experience, I have a BIG kid 12 year old who understands that he can use his physical body to intimidate his siblings.  I stop the situation and coach the 12 year old toward articulating his feelings with his words rather than with his body. I acknowledge his size, resourcefulness and passion, but the child gets disciplined for using his big presence for intimidation.  I ask him to imagine a time when his size can be used for good – for rescuing someone perhaps? Or for shielding a person from harm?

And then there are my little two: scrappy, nimble, ninjas. These kids jump and kick and scratch and flip – POW, WALLUP, THWAPP! If I can catch them in action (which is rare because they are so fast), I bring the martial arts to a screeching hault. I remind them that while it is amazing to see their ninja skillz, they must respect each other and remember that sparring can be fun – until someone gets hurt. This is not a SPIKE-TV kickboxing match. No one is getting paid to crush their opponent. Remain present in the situation. Encourage and help one another, don’t just go-in-for-the-kill.  🙂

As parents, we know our kids. We recognize patterns. We know when a situation becomes RED ALERT. We understand the difference between a heated discussion and a full-blown-fight.

Am I suggesting – don’t fight?  NO. Rather, I am suggesting that we stay engaged and involved in the interactions our children are having with their siblings, playmates and friends. We filter words, tone, attitude, and physical presence – to raise children to a higher standard of relating.

NOTE: This article does not deal with sexual abuse.

This article does not deal with spanking/corporal punishment.

It is assumed that parents reading this article are at a balanced level regarding discipline with children.