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!

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.

We get in a rush, we get in a wreck.

I have been focusing lately 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….

Today, I am expounding on one my my favs, the simple yet sensible “We get in a rush, we get in a wreck”.  A phrase aptly spoken to myself yesterday as I was dashing out the door and speeding down the street to get to a wedding on time. Breathe Nikki. We get in a rush, we get in a wreck. And by the way, your kids need a mom, so buckle up and bring your A game.

This axiom first came out of my mouth a while back, when 6 kids were in my playroom, fussing over who would get what lego piece. I declared, “Whoa, slow down kids! We get in a rush, we get in a wreck!” Seconds later, one of the children unintentionally flung my iPhone off the table, shattering the glass into 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces.

I love this axiom because of it’s clarity and veracity. Not mind-blowing, life-changing, earth-shattering.  But a valuable reminder to slow down and breathe. To remain sharp and alert, and be present in the moment.

A related note about HASTE. I have been pondering haste lately because many of my friends are leading frenzied lives, rushing from this appointment to that, practices, meets, recitals, rehearsals, games, tutoring, church, playdates, and terra-robo-astro-geo-paleo-lego-theo-neo-nova club.  Some of these mamas are frazzled and perpetually exhausted – missing appointments, double-booking, and complaining about being SO BUSY.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had many a season of overcommitment and boundary vertigo. But these past three years in Tuscaloosa, I have pulled back – banned chaos – shunned overcommitment – practiced NO – and sloooowwwwed down.

My message is this. On a micro level, take a look at each moment, each activity, as you move through your day. Notice the patterns that cause you or your children to spin into carelessness because of haste. On a macro level, examine your calendar, your lifestyle, and your commitments. Become aware of areas that need attention and balance.

Grounded in the midst of chaos.

Grounded in the midst of chaos.

Change it.

I have been focusing a lot lately on our 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….

Yesterday I had the opportunity to use my new favorite: Change it.

We had a German family over to play for the afternoon, a family I have been wanting to connect with for a while.  All the children were having a grand time outside for a couple of hours. But as soon as we came inside for cake and milk, my younger two children began to bicker and fuss at each other for every little thing. “You know how to work it out”, I reminded. Their clashing continued. Finally after about 6 minutes, I pulled each of them aside for these two simple words. CHANGE IT.

Why does “change it” work?

1. This quick two-word command is powerful. The word change is powerful. It is like a pinch in the arm or a glass of water in the face.  It snaps them out of their funk, and offers a real solution.

2. It reminds them that they are in control of their own actions and emotions.  Sometimes children get stuck in a feedback loop of powerlessness. “Change it” puts the responsibility back in their hands and kicks blame to the curb.

3. The third reason this works, is because we talk about it ahead of time.  I help the children prepare for an event, and plan their intended actions accordingly. I am a huge fan of James Lehman and The Total Transformation program.  One thing he talks about  is a concept called cuing.

CUEING:  It can be valuable if the parent and child have a cue -or signal they can give in times of high stress or intense frustration that signifies one party needs to take a break.  A cue can also be used as a signal to stop some troubling behavior from escalating.

I have a cue meeting with my kids before nearly every social activity. Cue meeting in the car before going into the grocery. Cue meeting before heading to the swimming pool,  the movie, a dinner out, a birthday party – whatever social situation we may be in.  It’s not a lecture. Cue meeting simply sets up the event and prepares the children for the choices they will make.  “Change it” has become a staple for us in the cue meeting.  The message is clear. If I say, “change it”, that means that something that you are doing is causing friction and negativity.  Do not try to explain, do not try to defend. Just change it. Then we can talk about who did what, and “this about her” and “he started it” blah blah blah… later.  Because I spoke to my children ahead of time, they were able to make an adjustment upon hearing the cue, “change it”.

Dawn and IPROPS to my friend Dawn who introduced me to this tasty little morsel.  When we visited last summer, Dawn shared a couple of her family axioms with me. Change it is one of them. 

Sometimes we need a reset

What are your family axioms?

Passionate about speaking values into the hearts and minds of our children, my husband and I have begun to compile a list of our family axioms. These virtues, overtly communicated from day to day, week to week, help our children notice and acknowledge when they need an assist. We picture these axioms as mini towers of refuge. A solid – in their otherwise chaotic world.

One axiom we use regularly is this: Sometimes we need a reset.

What is a reset?  When the children start to get fussy, angry, aggressive or out of control, a reset helps them take a breath, calm their bodies, and center themselves.

Three reasons a reset is better than a time-out.

1.  A reset is not punitive. For a few years, when my children were acting out, I put them in time-out. This never really felt right to me because sending them away resembled a punishment of shame.  God never sends me away when I am out of balance, or out of his will, but rather embraces me with understanding, and grace.  While I admire and respect the Supernanny – – the naughty-chair seems to stir up chaos, rather than facilitate calm. In my next evolution, I sat them right beside me for their time-out, which was more compassionate.  But it still did not quite accomplish the self-soothing advancement I hoped for.  That’s when I came up with “the reset”. Their bed is a safe space, a place of comfort and support (blankies and snuggle friends). I can walk them to their bed and say, “Sometimes we need a reset”. This helps them see that they are ok and this is normal – we all need a reset now and then. I never want them to hear, “you’re bad”, or “shame on you”. Reset focuses the attention on their action rather than their character.

2. It allows a gentle removal from the situation. Most of the time, our upsets spin out of sibling arguments. At age 8, 10, and 12, many children are still not entirely skilled at using their words and thoughtfully working out their disagreements. A reset lifts them up and out of unproductive bickering and allows a change of scenery, fostering fresh perspective.

3. It is self-regulated. Reset helps them to take a break, and regain composure. I walk them to their bed, acknowledge their feelings, and remind them to breathe and rest. They are given the freedom to rejoin the family whenever they are ready.  This could be 4 minutes or an hour. They can nap or read or talk to their stuffed animals – whatever they want to do to. The goal is to coach them in understanding themselves (triggers, patterns, emotions).

One morning last week, I was in the kitchen making coffee. My 12 year old stumbled in, and began complaining about how his neck hurt and how he didn’t sleep well…etc.  I hugged him and was about to suggest that perhaps he wasn’t finished sleeping. Before I could say anything, he looked at me and admitted, “You know mom, I think I need a reset.”