Pass the praise

Pass the praise

This weekend I had the opportunity for an all-girls overnight. A couple of moms and I took our daughters to the Niall Horan concert. It was refreshing. My daughter was in heaven with all the make-up and hair curling. She was excited to be around all that feminine energy. I was, too.

We had a marvelous time. It was enchanting to witness moms dancing and singing with their daughters. The smiling, the laughing. Empowering to feel the connection with others. And to top it all off, it was a magnificent night. Dazzling.

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What complicated things for me was the amount of judgment that I took in. I heard and saw women (both young and old) one-upping, dissing anything from clothes to dance moves, and condemning the behavior of others.

This is so normal. And it is so wretched.

In my heart, I believe one of the biggest things keeping women down is each other. We are truly capable of amazing, brilliant accomplishments. Yet, we stomp on each other until our fire goes out; until the spark that makes us unique is covered up and hidden so that it can’t be chastised by others.

In a group of women, I am quiet. I am so reserved and hidden. There are a few groups where I feel like I can entirely be me. And often even then I wonder what is said about me between them when I am not present. And this has everything to do with past experience. Ugh.

More than twenty years ago, I decided that I wanted to change the behavior I witnessed between women; the critical judgment of appearance as we look one another up and down when we first set eyes on one another. Not necessary. The ease of passing a snarky comment about how another girl is dressed or behaving. Instead of prepping for disdain when I looked at or spoke to a woman, I always wanted to have a compliment ready. I wanted to build my sisters up because I felt so beaten down. I was exhausted, and I wasn’t even 20 yet.

I still have a friend that teases me about how we met. I saw her leaving class; we had History 17A&B together in college. She was magnetic even then. People were drawn to her. She was always in a group in and out of class. But even the best of us have bad days. We were leaving class one afternoon, and she looked so sad. She was alone, and her movements seemed heavy and deliberate. Every fiber of my being wanted to cheer her up. The compliment I had ready spilled from my mouth. “I really love your hair!” I said as I jogged to catch her. I don’t even remember her exact words, but I remember the smile. I remember the change in her step after I said it. She always tells people I was hitting on her; that’s her story of how we met.

But, why can’t we offer praise instead of judgment? Why does judgment so easily trickle off our tongues? Why does criticism slide so effortlessly from our lips?

Compassion

When I was little my mom used to play this game with us. We would be sitting on the beach and be bored or eating in a restaurant and get restless, and she would pick people out and ask us to tell her their story. What made them happy? What made them sad? What were they doing there? Why? How did they get there? What was their family like? Where did they live? She would ask us how we got to a specific conclusion and would even offer alternatives if we had missed something or not taken some other reason into consideration.

There are so many times in my interaction with people I try to figure out their story. This game my mom had us play became something that helped me to work and always find a way to better understand what people might be feeling or needing from experience.

When I see a mom with a child who is misbehaving; I don’t pass judgment on her parenting – I offer her praise for how well she is coping at that moment; because – and this is IMPORTANT (yes, I am using preachy capital letters at you) what happened around that moment – I don’t know; and you don’t either. But I can imagine. I am a mom of four and have carried screaming children out of stores, I was also a kid, and there are several stories of my epic fits. I empathize with that poor mom the way I would with my own mother. The way I would want someone to sympathize with me. We don’t know the backdrop of what caused a particular moment to become a reality; we only have that one snippet. One small piece of someone else’s life and it isn’t ours to judge.

Granted, I am not saying that we give everyone a pass. What I am saying is trying to understand before you pass judgment on another human should be a more common practice. Or maybe just merely understand. And then perhaps just as simple, offer compassion instead.

And more importantly; we can’t help someone we are rooting against. If we are rooting against them, we want them to fail. If we are rooting against them, then we are placing that negative energy on another and giving more negative energy life. We can only help; when we are rooting for; when we are the cheerleaders of others. So we have to offer compassion in the place of our judgment to help others heal and find another way. And maybe we should put the “us and them” language aside, too. Perhaps if we are rooting for one another, we are rooting for everyone all at once. And maybe that makes this world more livable, too.

Believe me, I am not void of passing judgment. And boy oh boy can I hold a grudge. But I remind myself that I need to release myself from the guilt of passing judgment and that I can do better next time. So, I get ready to have a compliment on hand and give that instead of judgment. I work hard not to partake in the negative talk that happens around me. That doesn’t mean I haven’t caught myself doing it, but I work to remove myself from these situations.

How you may ask? I work tirelessly to lift up others instead.

Seriously, you will find me in the grocery store, at Target, at an event, giving compliments to complete strangers. And I mean every word. It is essential to speak the truth in your compliments, too. You have to believe it. People see through bullshit compliments pretty easily. Just saying.

It is essential to speak the truth in your compliments, too. You have to believe it. People see through bullshit compliments pretty easily.

It is so worth the work! To see a smile and a difference in the step of another human because you helped to remind them of their strengths, is beyond powerful. It is like witnessing love in motion. It is spell-binding. Try it. I know it will make you both feel better. And then if you have a daughter or son, teach them this little trick, too. What a world we could live in if we all exchanged praise instead of judgment. We are going to slip up, we are human, we are built to make mistakes, but if we speak with compassion more often than judgment we are better off all the way around.

Peace and love,

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Parenting: My truth

Parenting: My truth

** Special note: I write this with the intent and experience of my parenting journey. In no way is it meant to be hurtful to those families who have had severe and devastating struggles. Those of my friends that have endured this, my heart goes out to you all. Each and everyone. I know the names of all of your babies. I say them every day. I know how your heart hurts and that life will never be the same. This essay is genuinely written from only my perspective. It is just a simplified version of what I am going through with no intent to demean or diminish other people’s experiences.**

People mean well when they tell their harrowing labor stories, or crazy parenting moments, or offer their warnings about parenting teenagers, or offer advice and layout the total cost of raising a child. I remember all the breastfeeding, diaper changing, labor giving, toddler disciplining, Happiest Baby on the Block sharing, and all it did was exhaust me. Mostly made me feel pretty inadequate as a parent. So I stopped paying attention to what other people were doing, followed my gut instincts and did the best I could. That is what I am still doing. Now, people keep telling me parenting teens is the hardest. They mean well, I get it. But, just like the advice in the earlier years, I don’t think I am going to buy into it.

Before I had children, everyone would tell me you don’t know what you are getting into; your life is going to be so different. You are never ready for what is going to happen. When I held my son in my arms for the first time, my whole body shifted into mom mode. I had waited my entire life for that moment. Everything before was just practicing for that moment. Was I scared? Of course. I mean, duh. Brian and I got home looked at each other and looked at the helpless little human in my arms and knew we were going to have to wing it. We knew it was going to be harder than anything we had ever done before and we knew there wasn’t a rule book or guide that was tailored to us.

Regardless of whatever outside advice or stories I heard from other novice or experienced mothers, from day one with my babies, somewhere in me, I knew I could do it, and I knew I would know best, no matter what. Of course, it was scary, and I worry through every single step.

I remember being terrified they would stop breathing when I wasn’t looking or that they were going to have some severe food allergy, or illness, or God forbid, based on every book known to man, they would be less than in every way because they were formula fed. I worried about their psyche since I rocked them to sleep every single night and did not believe in letting them cry it out. Come on; there is enough crying in life already. But most of all, I loved being a mom to my babies. They way they smelled after a bath, the rocking to sleep, watching milestones be reached, hearing them laugh for the first time. Not sleeping was rough, but it was also so sacred and special to have those moments in the silence with them.

When they survived infancy, walking became the next terrifying event. There are stairs everywhere people. Everything seemed to have sharp corners, and my goodness floor tile is so freaking hard. Each place became an obstacle course of sharp edges, hard surfaces, and steep falls. But it was also miraculous to watch them take those first steps; to see the wonder on their faces as they were able to start exploring the world at their own pace.

After we survived walking – and running; I won’t even go there – with just a few bumps and bruises it was play-dates at the park. I know, I know those sound fun, but when the kids were little toddlers, my heart was in constant panic mode. Some moron believed it was a good idea that at the tippy, tippy top of the play structure next to the very best tube slide there needed to be an opening with a 20-foot drop. I mean who in HOLY HELL designs these things?! Regardless of the pitfalls and obstacle courses of doom; parenting a toddler was way more than amazing. The talking, the stories, the imaginative play, the silly and hilarious things that would come out of their mouths. Watching each one develop their personality, sense of style and interpret the world around them.

Then it’s preschool and the agony of leaving your child and then watching like a stalker behind two-way glass wondering why the hell they have to go to preschool anyway. I mean really. And it was hard to send them off to preschool because I enjoyed being around them; I hated missing anything about their life.

After that is kindergarten. There are no two-way windows there. You are left to leave and wonder what the heck is going on in there. Thank goodness you can volunteer. But still, you are left wondering: Is the playground safe? How good are the background checks? What kind of kids are in there? So many emotions. How can we possibly survive all the feelings – friendships happening or not, learning and the rate at which it is happening; learning disabilities, differences, and how are we going to survive 6 hours without our baby? Because I loved being with them. Teaching them numbers, the alphabet, counting, reading books and exploring the world with them.

But while you are worrying about all of that they somehow make their entire way through infancy, toddler-hood, pre-school, and elementary school.  Then middle school happens. You have to watch as your child walks off into that new territory all by themselves because “No one else’s mom is walking them on campus!” And at this place, there are kids holding hands, kissing, youtube-ing, social media-ing, conducting unsupervised google searches – and if you are monitoring all of this as best you can as a parent and limiting it you also are now so uncool and the worst parent that ever lived! Or at least your kid thinks so. Plus, when you monitor the damn text messages you always find something you wish you hadn’t. It is not a win-win, ever.

I am sure this continues through high school and adulthood. We will never stop worrying. Believe me; we just went to the first high school rally preparing for next year, and the fears keep growing. Tumbling into my mind before I can stop them. Plus my dear husband thinks it’s reassuring for me to know that we won’t always like how our kids behave. It never makes me feel better hearing that.

From the beginning, I think we are learning to let go. Learning how to navigate a world where we want our children to grow and thrive, but still be shielded just enough to have a happy childhood.

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So far parenting a teen has been just as rewarding and wonderous as parenting an infant or a toddler. Sure, I don’t get cuddles and conversations may veer into topics including sex, drugs, and violence in our world, but watching my children grow into courteous, educated, friendly, intelligent, curious youth with great ideas about how to contribute to their communities is beyond anything I ever imagined. We discuss novels, politics, rules, family dynamics, and I get a front row seat to watch them fly. Giving them room to grow is hard; I may have had some helicopter tendencies with my first one, but I think we all do. Having three more kids easily cured that. Each step they took away from me, to explore the world was preparing me to help give them that room to grow and thrive. It is terrifying at times, but our relationships are healthy and meaningful. I trust them. They have given me every reason to.

I know parenting is really about growing children into amazing adults – at least that is our goal. We are truly learning to let go from day one. But just because we are teaching them to fly doesn’t mean that one stage is harder than the next or that they grow entirely away from us; it is just the way things are. Being a mom is still my most treasured gift regardless of the stage. That is my story, and I am sticking to it.

 

Mama Bear

Mama Bear

Despite my hopeful nature, fear must have taken root in my heart somewhere in the beginning of motherhood or maybe that is just what happens to moms; we steal our hearts and strengthen them because we know the world can hurt those most precious to us without any warning. Going worst case scenario becomes an easy leap to take. Our toughened, ready for the worst hearts keep us on edge and ready to protect our sacred children; our most blessed gift at any cost.

My kids; all kids; face so many pressures. Childhood is no longer the breeze of playing kick the can in the street until dark.

I know our family has more to be grateful for than not. Unfortunately, no one is unscathed in this life. Suffering is heavy and universal.

Maybe it is the time of year; or maybe it is the shift from two jobs to one, but my awareness of my children seems to be in laser focus.

I have been watching my littles closely lately. Their struggles and hurts rippling through my own heart. One in particular is on my mind a great deal. He has Tourette’s; I have written about it before. I don’t feel right telling his side of the story or giving too much information here. However, I think voicing my side might heal me a bit; help me a bit.

As I watch him shake and hear his vocal tic I want to help. The recent increase in frequency isn’t slowing down. I haven’t seen him like this in years. It hurts my heart and I try to have open conversation, but anything I bring up lately just makes it worse. I don’t know how to help him without drawing attention to the tics. I am trying to ignore it; yet for some reason it is proving difficult. I wonder if it is bothering him at school. I know it is in his file and he doesn’t want me stepping in at school yet. It just hurts my heart to see his body jolt and jerk against his wishes.

I am grateful for his positive attitude, caring friends and his health. It doesn’t erase the hurt I feel though. I still worry that it bothers him; I still want to give him resources and options and that seems to be the last thing he wants. And I know that is his right and so I must wait on the sidelines as he makes the plays until he asks for my assistance.

I know it is just best to be a safe place to land and for weeks I have not spoken a word about it to him or anyone else. He will come to me if he needs me. The door is open and he knows it. So instead, I will have faith he is really unbothered and comfortable. To know he is confident and at ease is what is most important after all.

With four they each have their struggles. As I tucked in one of my youngest, he started to cry. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that kids make fun of him. Ah, the tale as old as time. And as I calmed him this Mama knew it would not be the last time we faced this challenge. Such is the way of the world. Hopefully, I help build his confidence enough the taunts from others fall at his feet instead of pierce his heart, for that is all we can do. I have to be the soft place to land, the cheerleader on the sideline.

Mistakes come on my end, too. Sometimes they call you in for a hurt or a scrape and in an effort to make them tough, you nurture too little. The balance between that becomes difficult as they get older. Kissing a bumped knee was easy, now too much or too little attention is harder to navigate with my pre-teen.

Mothering is not for the faint of heart. But as I tell my kids, I am doing the best I can and the therapy you may eventually need from my mistakes is on me.

From one mama bear to the next, do the best you can, hold on tight, keep those cheers from the sidelines coming and strengthen your patience because the older they get the harder this parenting gig becomes, richer and more rewarding for sure, but a whole slew of variables make it more nerve racking and moving from front and center in their lives to the side is tougher than you expect.