The Fear of Abandonment's Annual Visit

Even though my daughter doesn’t want to have a birthday tantrum every year, she does because she feels a profound loss.

Bits of wrapping paper confettied the living room floor. The computer-generated, hand colored “Happy Birthday” banner hung crooked above the door. Chocolate cake crumbs scattered across the table looked like ants at a nightclub, clustered and crusty. The festive state of the house was a façade over the face of the battle brewing, and the elephant in the room was getting ready to lead the brigade.
Every year, like clockwork, on or around my older daughter’s birthday a proverbial elephant parks its big ol’ gray butt in the middle of our living room. Every year we hope it won’t show up, but it always does. Every year we hope it will be smaller than last year, but it never is. Every year the elephant in the room fouls the air we breathe, replacing the sweet aroma of frosting with the stench of my daughter’s fears. Her fear of abandonment. Her fear of rejection. Her fear of not being loved.
Like any other Wednesday evening, I stated our family rule, ‘No Facebook until your homework is done,’ in my older daughter’s general direction. But this was not any other Wednesday evening. This was the Wednesday evening that followed her birthday. Her seventeenth birthday and my words were a declaration of war. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it at first. All I saw was her usual glazed-over internet eyes coupled with an almost imperceptible Facebook-fodder-smirk which I took to mean:
a) she didn’t hear me.
b) she heard me and will close out of Facebook any minute now.
c) she heard me and is choosing to ignore me.  
Each was a possibility depending on the day, and most days the situation could be resolved without the need for animal control to wrangle the elephant about to be unleashed, but not this time.
I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I chose to believe her non-action reaction meant she heard me and would close out of Facebook any minute now.
So I waited… and waited..and waited some more. After about twenty (more than generous) minutes, I reiterated my request with a little more conviction. As I said, “Close out of Facebook and finish your homework,” I also maneuvered the computer mouse to the X in the upper right hand corner and clicked.
BOOM Facebook was gone.
BOOM My daughter’s glazed look disappeared.
BOOM My daughter’s smirk dissolved.
Uh-oh. I braced myself.
“You. Don’t. Love. Me! You’ve never loved me because I’m not your real daughter!” she trumpeted, every word punctuated with her spitting on me.
The elephant was awake. The elephant was poised. The elephant was ready to charge. The elephant was my child.     
As her saliva misted my stunned features I realized her annual birthday tantrum had begun. The elephant dung had been flung.
You see, my daughter joined our family by adoption. Even though she has been in our arms, our home, and our hearts since she was 36 hours old, she still has deep-seated fears: Fear of abandonment. Fear of rejection. Fear of not being loved. Her adoptive status is the elephant in the room and it rears its ugly head every year on or around her birthday.
Why her birthday? you may wonder. Her birthday is an annual reminder of the fact that her birthparents are not parenting her. To her, this means she was abandoned. Her birthday is an annual reminder of the fact that she was adopted. To her, this means her birth parents rejected her. Her birthday is an annual reminder of the fact that she feels an intense loss. To her, this means she was not loved.
My daughter’s first experience on planet Earth was loss. Yes, her birthmother made a loving and responsible adult plan for her child, but on a cellular and unconscious level, my daughter feels a profound loss, seventeen years later.
Even though my husband and I had nothing to do with this plan other than to say, “Yes, we’ll come to the hospital and love this baby,” my daughter feels a profound loss. Even though my daughter doesn’t want to have a birthday tantrum every year, she does because she feels a profound loss.  
This birthday was the first time my daughter was close to the same age her birth mother was when she gave birth – a fact that was not lost on her. This birthday was technically her last as a “child” in legal terms.  Many changes were coming and she knew it. This birthday my daughter took her annual tantrum to the next level. All her grief, panic, and trepidation fed the elephant until it knew no bounds. Fortunately, I took my elephant-taming-Zen to the next level, as well.
I stood stock still in front of her as she screamed, “I HATE YOU!” with every fiber of her being. She was not going to bait me into abandoning her. I endured as she F*bombed me repeatedly and continued to spit on me. The sting of her saliva punctuated by the cold air conditioned air. She was not going to torment me into rejecting her.  
I held my ground as she physically pushed and shoved me. She was not going to anger me into telling her I didn’t love her. Through it all, I didn’t abandon her or reject her or tell her I didn’t love her. On the contrary. I simply repeated, “You are loved. You are wanted. We will never go away from you.” Over. And over. And over.
Eventually she calmed down. The screaming quieted, the cussing stopped, the spit dried up, and the pushing and shoving turned to hugging. The charging elephant morphed back into my sweet, scared, sorry daughter. Intellectually, she understands the concept of her adoption, but emotionally, not so much.
More than likely the elephant will crash her next birthday (and the one after that, and the one after that, and so on) by parking its big ol’ uninvited gray butt in the middle of our lives again. But when it does, I’ll be there, by my daughter’s side, until she has nothing to fear.
 

What You Need to Know After a Sensory Processing Disorder Diagnosis

Welcome to the world of a sensory child.

When you finally receive a diagnosis that your child has a Sensory Processing Disorder, it can seem like a sprint at the end of a marathon. Most parents will tell you that it takes years of questioning doctors and receiving suggestions that didn’t work before you start to get answers.
Once you have that final result it can feel like life becomes a sprint to make up for lost time. My husband and I have discovered a few truths about SPD. Six of them to be exact. Welcome to the world of a sensory child.

Truth # 1

Kids with sensory processing disorder can be very verbal. My daughter scored 40 points above the average child in her age bracket on the verbal tests but is just learning how to communicate things like hunger and bathroom needs. She needs prompting to make eye contact and say hello to peers and adults.
She talks constantly – every waking moment of her day – at home but is just beginning to speak in school and new situations. She is much more comfortable when her brother is with her. So having a huge vocabulary or being able to talk the ear off of someone when she is in a comfortable situation is one of her strengths that we are utilizing on this sensory processing journey.

Truth # 2

Many kids with sensory processing disorder are very anxious beings. My daughter does not like to try anything new until she watches someone she trusts do it first. She does not dive head long into a ball pit or run up to new children to play with them. She stands quietly and observes. If I try to push her, she will freak out.
If she does it on her own terms, she will quietly tiptoe into a new situation. There are many things she is anxious about including getting her hands dirty, going to the bathroom, new clothes, capris, 3/4 length sleeves and foods that are squishy. The list goes on and on.

Truth # 3

Kids with sensory processing disorder can be very quiet. When she was diagnosed, we were told SPD kids fall usually into two categories – fight or flight. My daughter is a flight risk. So when faced with a sensory problem, she is much more apt to melt into the background and disappear than she is to pitch a fit, especially in public, especially when she does not have someone with her who she feels completely comfortable with. She saves her meltdowns for home. If you drove past our house some mornings when it is time to get her dressed (see anxiety over wearing capris), you might get a different view of our world. 

Truth #4

Sensory Processing Disorder can make some children extremely compassionate and caring people. It also makes some kids completely unaware of other people’s needs because the internal distraction is just too much. There is just not one version of a child with sensory needs. Even within the same family, the sensory needs might be different. Just as it is with non-SPD kids, every child with SPD is different. 

Truth # 5

It takes children with Sensory Processing Disorder longer to bounce back from being sick. If you think about your own personal experience with illness, you will find that it takes a few days to get back on your feet after a stomach bug. Now, imagine your whole body is a raw nerve and any slight change is upsetting. Throw a stomach bug on top of that and you can picture the damage it does. It can take sensory children weeks to recover from a stomach bug and finally begin to return to what is normal for them. Post sickness aftershock is worse than the original bug.

Truth #6

This is the most important one. Sensory Processing Disorder is something my daughter will have her whole life. Her internal wiring will not magically realign itself to be like a child without this disability. The work we are doing now will help her to feel better in her own body and help her manage herself in a loud and unpredictable world.
As she grows, her needs will change and we will need to make adjustments. We will teach her new coping skills and give her the support she needs to thrive. At some point, most people will forget that this is something she even has. That is our goal. In all honesty, she will always be a person with this disorder and it will shape who she is in amazing and challenging ways.
 

Is it Worse to Be a Not-So-Handyman or a Guilt-Ridden Dad?

Have you seen the size of my tool belt?

“Because then I would feel like an asshole!”

Let’s rewind…

My wife and I were having a discussion recently about whether or not we should anchor our daughter’s dresser to the wall. This discussion came up after a facebook warning video showing a dresser falling on two young boys was shared on my wife’s news feed.

It was a scary enough video for us to re-evaluate how safe and toddler-proof our new house was for our 16-month-old daughter. Having seen her survive enough bumps to the head and having probably too much confidence in her self-preservation and intelligence, I brushed it off as not being necessary.

She’s a smart kid, she would know better than to climb up something that big… I thought, about the same child who had learned to climb an iron spiral staircase by herself before the age of one.

As this conversation progressed, however, it became clear there were other reasons why I was avoiding following through on anchoring her dresser. I admitted to my wife that not only did I not think it was that important, but that I actually didn’t know how to do it. As simple as it sounded to learn, I didn’t feel up to figuring it out.

“Why didn’t you just say that? I’m sure we could pay a handyman to do it.” — my wife.
“Because then I would feel like an asshole…” is what immediately came out of my mouth.

What I meant was that I would feel like a bad dad. In either scenario, I either don’t care enough to learn how to anchor a large piece of furniture to protect my daughter’s safety, or I have to pay some other more handy person to take care of a seemingly simple task.

This bad dad (or sometimes bad husband) guilt has held me back from starting, or finishing, a lot of home improvement projects. I’ve had mixed success fixing everything from light bulb fixtures to leaky faucets to installing backsplashes.

I have had considerably more success when working with my wife on projects like installing new floors or building dreaded Ikea furniture. In both cases, though, my anxiety built and built as it felt like the project wasn’t coming out well or the problem wasn’t fixed at all (looking at you blinking closet light bulb.)

Now every new problem or project that is brought up, even something so simple as anchoring furniture to the wall, I basically just avoid to prevent the anxiety and guilt from setting in.

This is not healthy! – This is me putting on my therapist hat…

Guilt is not a particularly helpful emotion, especially when it is not confronted in a productive way. What I mean is that when you go through life avoiding people, opportunities, or projects because you don’t want to feel the anticipatory anxiety (before) or the possible guilt (after) said interaction with that person, opportunity, or project, you miss out on a lot. Or worse, I put my daughter in danger because I don’t want to admit to these uncomfortable feelings about a (probably simple) project.

So what to do with this unhelpful guilt then?

Guilt can be helpful when it is confronted productively. In my case, that might look like acknowledging how I feel about the project to my wife so we can constructively identify a solution to the problem, instead of avoiding it altogether.

If I still feel guilty, I can apologize to her for putting this and so many other past projects off, and express my willingness to try again in the future. Or, I can just accept that I am not a handyman, and pay someone to do these types of tasks for us. After all, when the project is done by an expert, it saves me the anxiety of wanting it to be perfect and the time I would have to spend learning what to do and how to do it.

This has been a learning process for me. I am comfortable with emotions, but not so with a hammer in my hand. That’s okay! The sooner I accept it, the sooner I can focus on the things I’m actually good at and enjoy, like teaching my daughter how to climb, err, I mean read!

The Highs and Lows of Working at Home

It’s all fun and games until your “co-worker” maniacally smashes crackers into the carpet.

Sometimes, working from home feels like the best of both worlds. There’s an opportunity to think about something other than my children all day, every day. I can avoid the steep costs of daycare, and, of course, make some money.
Other days, it seems like the worst of both. I have to squeeze in my working hours on top of taking care of my children full-time. In the middle of the winter, I can go days without leaving the house. I don’t have co-workers to stop by for a quick chat, and so I end up talking my husband’s ear off the second he comes home.
I work from home, freelance writing and working on small projects for my former employer, for about five to ten hours a week. As soon as I had told my former boss that I would be happy to help them out, my oldest son promptly stopped napping. That change pushed my work hours into the evenings, during those precious “they are finally asleep and I all I want is to sink into a long, hot bath” hours.  
I’ve tried other schedules, but to no avail. Occasionally I’ll set up activities from listicles with titles like “27 Screen-free Activities for Toddlers,” hoping to check a few tasks off my to-do list before my sons get wise to the fact that I am not giving them my undivided attention. Those activities last exactly as long as it takes for me to boot up my computer.
In fact, just a few moments ago, I tried to let my son play quietly beside me while I took a work call. Within thirty seconds, he had unscrewed a tub of Vapo-rub and jammed it into my nose. Luckily, my boss is also a mom and didn’t mind the interruption, but now every breath feels like I’m standing in Siberia.
The siren call of working from home has bewitched mothers for decades, promising women the ability to have it all. You can have a career, earn an income, all without having to sacrifice a precious second of your kid’s childhood. The sidebars on every website I visit scream offers: $21 an hour to type! $35 to transcribe! $18 to answer the telephone! All promising I can remain in the comfort of my own home.
And my home is comfortable. There is no fighting over the office thermostat. No one giving me the side eye if I’m wearing the same yoga pants for the last three days. No need to eat my lunch from the office vending machine.
But my co-workers are a different story.
They are cute, sweet, and darling, but they are also busy, loud, and constantly underfoot. They cannot resist the temptation of attacking a keyboard that I am using, climbing onto my lap when I have a phone call, or asking me a litany of questions whenever I sit down at my desk.
“What are you doing?”
“Why are you working?”
“Why do you have to work?”
“When will you be done working?”
“Can I play with the computer?”
“Why can’t I play with the computer?”
“Please, can I play with the computer?”
“But I said please!”
Let’s just say I’ve decided to only work when the kids are awake if my husband is home, or if I’m under a deadline.
There’s plenty of stay-at-home moms with a side hustle. According to a survey from Redbook, 62% of stay-at-home moms say that they contribute financially to their household. About one-third of the women surveyed said they work regularly.
A good portion of this work exists outside of the traditional economy. Stay-at-home moms help pad their family’s finances watching a friend’s kid a few days a week, making jewelry for an Etsy store, or buying and selling goods on E-bay. Of course, there are also the modern Avon ladies, selling everything from high-end, non-toxic makeup to flashy leggings.
What many of these women have realized, is that when your home is your office, you get to have a foot in both the working and the home world. I know that hammering out a few articles a week on my keyboard in the evenings isn’t the same as holding down a full-time gig.
My financial contributions to the family budget may be fairly modest, but without a massive daycare check to write each month, I can bring home comparable pay in far fewer hours. Mostly, however, I enjoy thinking about something other than enriching pre-literacy activities and vegetable recipes my kids might actually eat.
But I miss the office.
My husband thinks I’m crazy when I say that, because a good chunk of the forty plus hours he is in the office he wishes he could be at home with us, wearing sweatpants. If I had to do it all day, every day, I’m sure my tune would change. Nevertheless, I find myself missing putting on real clothes and talking to real adults.
For now, working at home a few hours a week has helped create a better balance for me as a mom. My evenings might involve less Netflix binging than I would like, but sacrificing a bit of free time for pursuing something I love to do is worth not knowing what happened in the last season of House of Cards.
If you’re a mom, you’re working. No matter if you are in the office, taking care of children, or at a computer – we are continually pursuing a better life for our children and our family. So whether your officemates are your colleagues, or are knee high and begging you for crackers, here’s to finding a balance that works for you.

Mending a Teen's Bad Relationship With Literacy

There’s no saying, “It’s too late.”

With each new crop of college freshmen I teach, I have a finite amount of time to understand them, engage them, and place them on a trajectory for future learning. It’s a near-Herculean task some semesters, especially in classes where I have an especially vocal group who are dead-set on proving to me that they don’t want to be in an English course.
I read them like a parent (for I am one). I see their apathy, manifested in expressions or ill-preparation. I sense their frustrations, especially when grades are involved. Their outright contempt for the subject matter is not something they are shy about sharing.   
They tell me “I don’t read,” and “I don’t write,” with the ease with which someone might say, “I’m going to the gym,” or “We’re out of milk.” It’s not a badge of shame. For some, it’s become routine.
As their professor, I have a duty to go deeper. I can’t hear these statements and ignore them, and debating them is not fruitful. Instead, I try to understand them so that I can help students move past them.
When I ask these students about their disdain for reading and writing, many reply that it has always been there. A negative relationship with literacy is like a long-held habit that they can’t imagine breaking.
Some students are quite open in discussing. When I press, many give me a definitive reason why literacy is not exciting. They are fresh off their teenage years, and for some, engagement with reading material at home and encouragement of writing outside of their classroom environment has never been the norm. Students’ talking points about the lack of a bookish environment vary.
“I didn’t grow up with books in my house.”
“I never went to a public library.”
“Teachers had us practice for standardized tests, so we could never write what we wanted to write.”
These were not my experiences. On the contrary, books were my first friends. The public library was my favorite summertime hangout, and when teachers didn’t let me write what I wanted, I would do so at home.
I understand I cannot change students’ pasts. Instead, through their education as adults, I try to show them how much value there is in literacy. Reading and writing are fundamentals, but I also have to convince students that these two things are skills. “No one is born a good reader or a good writer,” I tell them. I liken these skill sets to others, like learning to ride a bike. Just like that process involves practice, practice, practice, so too do the skills we learn in class.
I ask for their biggest buy-in: the personal desire to improve.
Just as a child who wants to ride a bike can learn, an individual who wants to be a better reader or writer can improve. If there is a willingness to be taught, something positive can unfold. However, little progress can take place with someone who is close-minded against learning a certain skill.
I know this is a tall order to ask of my students. Some are willing. Some are not. It’s the second group for whom I worry.
When students enter my class, their childhoods are behind them. Their teen years, however, are fresh in memory and experience. If I can tap into particular instances of positivity with reading and writing, then I have a chance – in the very short time students are in my class – to plant a new seed of literacy.
Parents can and should plant that seed, and it doesn’t take much to do so.
Offering an angst-ridden teen a journal can have much more than just literacy benefits. For mental and emotional health, the act of writing can be therapeutic. Likewise, taking teens to a library can empower them to take charge of their interests. Can they find a certain genre, learn about a new author, or explore a subject? This can change them in ways more vast than they thought possible. A good, old-fashioned book – atop a coffee table, on a bedroom shelf, or near a favorite comfy chair – can make it easy for teens to choose reading at home instead of other, more mindless activities.
Providing teens the environment whereby they can make literacy a choice is a gift parents can give to them, and what a gift it is!
This gift extends far, far beyond their teen years. I would love a classroom of readers. I would love to teach students who find writing a true invention activity, a process of visualization, creation, and sharing that taps into the very essence of what it means to think. To reason, to rationalize, to synthesize – these are valuable skills. I want to help students develop them.
Teaching and parenting are not easy tasks, but if teachers and parents can work in cooperation to encourage the building of fundamental language skills and the establishment of a foundation for literacy, the groundwork is laid for the future. Educators care about the future. Parents do too. We share that, and we can build on that.
There’s no saying, “It’s too late,” or “That won’t work with my teen.” Offer. Show them. Encourage. Surprise them with the knowledge that their favorite film is actually based on a book. That way, when I explain archetypes in a college class, they will be receptive. If they understand that published books involve research and sometimes include a bibliography, learning to write in collegiate format by following Modern Language Association guidelines won’t be so foreign.  
Parents should also avoid the pitfall of using books and writing as punishment. Novel reading should not be a chore. Recording ideas or revisiting events through writing should not be a task that’s leveled as a penalty. Those approaches are disservices to the groundwork that should continue through the teen years in regard to literacy.
In my class, writing is not punitive. Reading is not penance. And parents can do their teens a service by reinforcing writing and reading positively at home.
When an atmosphere of encouragement is created around reading and writing, literacy can flourish. In a world where much is beyond a teen or college student’s control, command of language through reading and writing are important skills that can keep them grounded and help them build confidence for their future.

Teaching Our Kids to Be Losers

Losing is the first step in teaching our kids to succeed.

The email landed in my inbox on an otherwise calm day, but as I scanned the list trying to find my daughter’s name, I realized the tranquility was about to end.  
“Wren, we need to talk.”
I explained to her that the speaking part she auditioned for in the musical had gone to someone else, but she was given a non-speaking part and would still be part of the choir.
“Wait, did they not know I wanted a speaking part? I mean, do I need to tell them at the next practice that’s what I was trying out for so they will understand?” Wren asked, and I wondered if there had ever been a time in my life when I possessed enough confidence to see rejection as someone else’s obvious mistake.
“That’s not actually what happened,” I said and proceeded to explain the finer points of being a gracious loser and looking at the audition as one for her experience bank.  
“You tried and didn’t get it, but that doesn’t mean the experience was a waste,” I encouraged.  As tears rolled down her cheeks, I started wondering about the benefits of the experience bank since my heart ached for my oldest child.  
However, research has my back. Yes, Wren lost, but that is now being seen as the first step in teaching our kids to succeed.

How Participation Trophies and Praise Teach Our Kids to Stop Trying

In the age of participation trophies and praise just for showing up, our children are unfamiliar with the sting of loss and the lessons that can come from it, such as perseverance and self-confidence. As nice as it is to get a trophy no matter what, researchers believe this trend is depriving our kids of life-skills.
Po Bronson and Ashely Merryman, co-authors of the book Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, found that kids who are always praised and given trophies tend to achieve less because they enjoy the praise so much they fear failure. Fearing failure means they don’t persevere when they come across a difficult task. They would rather receive praise for doing less than failing and losing the praise.
How we respond to our children losing also has a huge effect on how they view it. Psychologists have found that parents who are able to address their child’s failure as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes have kids who are more willing to keep trying, even when a task is difficult. Parents who instead tell their kids to stick with what they know when they fail in a new area are more likely to have kids who think all skills are innate and can’t be changed by hard work.  
Basically, these children come to believe intelligence is set and when they lose, they are not intelligent. These kids are likely to shy away from anything they don’t know they are already good at, because who wants to feel stupid?

The Pressure to Win

It’s not that we shouldn’t encourage our kids’ desire to win. Healthy competition is not bad, but winning should not be the final indicator of whether an experience was worthwhile or not.  
Psychology Today found that while the majority of people polled believe trophies should only be given to children who actually win, there is still room to praise effort and improvement. It doesn’t have to come in trophy form, and there’s no reason to avoid the obvious subject of loss as if it’s too shameful to discuss.  
However, sincerely praising a child’s effort and rewarding them for how much they’ve improved and tried is much different than giving a child praise for just showing up. When parents know and express the difference, they can help their kids value the effort that went into trying as much as the accolades that come with winning.

How Parents Are Programmed Affects Their Response

As parents, our innate desire is to see our children happy, and it’s never a parent’s desire to watch their kid fail, even if the child can learn something from the experience. Plus, parents who have memories of feeling like a failure will fight hard to make sure their child doesn’t carry the same scars.  
Brené Brown, author of “Rising Strong“, also points out that many of us see our child’s successes and failures as a reflection of us. As parents, it’s great to have the child who is winning because we feel we own part of that success just by being their parent.  
Our goal then, according to Brown and other researchers, needs to be to deal with our own feelings so we can better guide our kids to a more accurate understanding of how to fail and keep trying. Brown emphasizes teaching kids to be the author of their story instead of only casting themselves as the losers or winners. This helps reframe experiences, good and bad, as a part of the narrative of life, and that gives kids both a sense of control and a more comprehensive understanding of how our response to a win or a loss is often more important than the competition itself.

Beyond the Participation Trophy

Failure is an everyday practice not reserved only for auditions and sports competitions. Our kids are given opportunities on school assignments or other endeavors to use their skills, and they are also given the chance to find out their project might not be the best, no matter how hard they tried.
Jessica Lahey, author of “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed”, believes it’s just as important for parents not to meddle in a child’s assignments to ensure they score the highest grade or receive the most praise. Encouraging a child to work hard and put in their best effort is enough. Parents stepping in to make the project or assignment just a bit better so their child won’t face the uncomfortable feeling of not being the best is not teaching them a helpful lesson.
The child who works hard and still doesn’t win will likely do better with the outcome than the child who works hard then has their parent step in to make modifications to their work. Our actions, not just our words, teach our kids what we think about effort versus winning, and always being the safety net to shield our child from failure says we don’t value the experience as much as we do the outcome, nor do we consider their hard work good enough.

***

With the research on my side, I continued to talk to Wren about trying hard at new endeavors she wanted to master as opposed to sticking only with the safe skills she already knew she could perform. She received praise for her effort, for giving the audition her best shot and trying something new.  
Focusing on the hard work instead of the outcome had a desirable effect. She marched back in when solo singing tryouts occurred two weeks later, unafraid of failing. She was offered her first choice solo song and has since signed up to compete in a bookmark contest and a Grand Prix race where she builds her own car, despite not knowing the first thing about building a tiny, mobile car. She will likely lose the last two endeavors, and that’s just fine.
It’s nice to see kids win some, but it’s even better to see them become accomplished losers.

The Gentle Heartbreak of Parenting

Parenthood brings on a certain sense of existential dread that’s both cumbersome and powerful.

“What happens when your heart breaks?” my five-year-old asked while we were driving home late one night.
“Well, usually when people say that, they just mean someone is really sad about something,” I replied in an attempt to divert a conversation I didn’t really want to have.
“But what if it really breaks? Like stops working?”
I hesitated for a few moments, then opted for truth. “If you’re heart stops, then you die,” I said.
“But that doesn’t happen, right? No people on earth die?”
“Actually, yes. People do die sometimes.”
I was feeling increasingly uncertain of whether this was the proper path to take, but I had painted myself into a corner.
“Will I die?”
Even before this seemingly random conversation, an amorphous heaviness had been lingering over me for days if not weeks or months. In the constant motion and swirling chaos that is life with three young children, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. When it feels as if someone or something always needs your attention, thoughts of life and death and growth and change tend to fade into the twilight. Since the birth of our third child less than a year ago, the constant busyness had successfully obscured my peripheral vision.
However, much like the weather in my home state of Florida, my mental state, particularly when it comes to my children, can be very fickle. One moment the sky is filled with brilliant sun and fluffy white clouds, and suddenly, a soft breeze off the ocean gives way to grumbling thunderheads. The change happens so rapidly that it can be hard to tell the precise moment when the good weather gives way to the bad.
So it was for me several weeks ago. One day as I watched my 5-year-old and 2-year-old playing together happily I felt something shift inside me. I looked on with a smile as they chattered away. I remember they were extremely excited about something. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember thinking how trivial and mundane was the object of their exuberance.
At that point, I noticed my psychic sun was ducking behind the clouds. I began to think about how fleeting this childlike wonder is, which led, inevitably, to deeper thoughts about the relentless passage of time and the slow but steady deterioration of childhood naivety and innocence.
It is this abiding paradox of parenting that I have yet to get my head around. Parents of young children so often yearn for them to grow up and become more self-sufficient because the early years of dependence are so physically and emotionally demanding, yet, when we take a wider view, their growing up often leave us feeling sad.
We celebrate their accomplishments and achievements, their first words and first steps, but at the same time, we shed a tear for the babies they once were. Because as our children grow, while they gain so much, they also lose little personality quirks that we come to love and cherish. The way their little fists rub at their eyes when they are tired or the way they mispronounce a word in the most adorable fashion.
Perhaps even more daunting than this constant sense of loss is the existential dread that, for me at least, has become even more powerful and cumbersome as my family continues to grow. As a childfree adult, I sometimes fell prey to the sting of anxiety and depression, but I usually felt confident in my ability to fight back, largely because I only had myself to care for. Like a pesky counterpuncher in the boxing ring, though, melancholia never gives up. It continues to probe for weaknesses in your defenses. For me, and I suspect many other parents, my weakness is my children.
Now when the dark clouds gather, not only do I worry for myself, I worry for my kids. When they toss and turn at night and the blanket of my protection can’t cover them completely, the reality of the world and its dangers and its inexorable sadness will begin to creep in. In those moments, it is to me and my wife that our children turn first for guidance and counsel. I hope I will be able to help them. I have my doubts, though, largely because I have proven to be a somewhat unreliable caretaker of my own psyche.
However, perhaps I can take solace in the possibility that I might still have a little time left to figure things out.
“Will I die?” my son asked in the car that night.
“Well, bud,” I replied. “Someday, a long, long time from now, you probably will. But it’s not something to worry about now.”
The car was silent for several seconds except for the music on the radio and the road noise seeping in; his little brother and sister were sound asleep in their car seats as he mulled over my answer.
“Daddy. I really want to play on my iPad when we get home.”

10 Habits That Change Boys Into Men

The demise of our culture will result from the demise of its men if something isn’t changed quickly. Far too many men remain directionless, devastated, and scared children.

The male suicide rate increased to three to four times higher than the female suicide rate. Men are twice as likely as women to become alcoholics, and males are far more likely to commit a juvenile crime.

Much has been said and written in recent years about the challenges of men and boys. A sampling of book titles includes:

A common theme is that men and boys have become increasingly confused about their identity and role in society. Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up, put it this way:

“It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that whereas girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess, or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors of women and children; this was always their primary social role. Today, however, with women moving ahead in an advanced economy, provider husbands and fathers are now optional, and the character qualities men had needed to play their role — fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity — are obsolete and even a little embarrassing.”

Academically, it is reported in the United States that:

  • Girls outperform boys now at every level — from elementary school through graduate school.
  • By eighth grade, only 20 percent of boys are adept in writing and 24 percent adept in reading.
  • Young men’s SAT scores in 2011 were the lowest they’ve been in 40 years.
  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of both high school and college.
  • In 2017, women will earn more than 60 percent of bachelor’s and more than 63 percent of master’s degrees.
  • Boys make up two-thirds of students in special education remedial programs.

Women deserve the increased success they are getting. They’ve been oppressed for far too long. They’re hungrier and more motivated than most men. And hopefully, society will continue to allow them the increased equality they deserve.

However, this article’s focus is on helping the struggling and confused young man. Indeed, many young men have taken the adverse cues of society as an excuse to evade responsibility and never really grow up.

If you are a young man and you’re struggling, you are not alone. This article is intended to challenge you to rethink your entire approach to life. If applied, these habits will radically set you apart from the decaying norm.

1 | Think Beyond Yourself

Kids look to their parents for all the answers. When they become teenagers they know all the answers. Many never mature out of this stage and remain incredibly narcissistic, which is displayed in the following ways:

  • Believing you are better than others
  • Exaggerating your talents or gifts
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration
  • Failure to recognize other people’s emotions or feelings
  • Expressing disdain for those who seem inferior
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships
  • Acting as if you have nothing to learn

Moving beyond self-consciousness requires an increase in overall consciousness.

By heightening your level of consciousness, you’ll see the brilliance of humanity in general, be able to relate deeper with others, experience greater joy, and have enhanced ability to manifest the destiny of your choosing.

The following are ways to increase your level of consciousness:

  • Allow yourself to experience your feelings, rather than block them out. Meditation is a helpful way to do this. You experience your thoughts and feelings, learn from them, then let them go.
  • Let go of framing your idea of what should be and genuinely accept what is. The journey is the end, not simply a means to an end.
  • Identify the meaningless things to which you’ve assigned meaning. Happiness and security can never be experienced when dependent on the external — they can only be achieved internally.
  • Begin trusting your inner voice. If you feel a prompting to bring an umbrella with you, even when the weather report says the contrary, bring it.
  • Explore the world, experience new cultures, and have your paradigm shaken and reframed.
  • Question your own intentions and motivations.
  • Be humble about your own humanity.
  • Act with love, and become aware when you are not.

2 | Stop Playing Video Games

There are a host of both positive and negative effects of playing video games. However, approximately 15 percent of American youth have an unhealthy addiction to video games. Another study reported that 31 percent of males and 13 percent of females have felt “addicted” to video games.

Naturally, boys have a strong need for accomplishment and challenge. Yet, studies suggest that some of the most popular video games are disengaging boys from real-world pursuits. Boys’ need for accomplishment is satisfied by “leveling up” in the game; so they don’t feel the need to go out into the world and solve real problems. Thus, society is not being served by their efforts.

Gaming often gets in the way of important relationships or meaningful life pursuits. 15 percent of divorces are filed by women because their husbands prefer video games over them.

This point is particularly significant to me. I, myself, spent a large portion of my time in junior high and high school playing World of Warcraft. Literally, thousands of hours logged in and lost.

I see many of my high school friends and family members who are now in their late 20’s and 30’s continuing to play four-plus hours of video games per day – even when married with kids.

Playing video games is being touted as a “healthy” way to escape reality. Yet, one must ask: Is escaping reality (especially for extended periods of time) ever healthy?

The need for achievement and challenge can be accomplished in real life. You can “level-up” the real you while simultaneously solving social problems.

3 | Learn In Healthy Environments And Lay-Off The Meds

The industrial classroom model is killing our boys. It is not a healthy environment for them. Young boys need more physical stimulation.

The result is that many are improperly and lazily diagnosed with ADHD. Their natural characteristics, emotions, passions, and gifts are being curbed by medications.

Although it is not a popular notion, boys and girls are wired differently. Girls are often exclusively motivated by praise. They will perfect their handwriting just to have it noticed.

Boys on the other hand, are often motivated by tangible experiences that relate to real life. Thus, many boys see no point in having good handwriting if one day they will spend their time typing. They don’t care as much what other people think. They just want to be challenged.

4 | Get Intensive Physical Stimulation

Short and intensive learning spurts, followed by rigorous physical stimulation is a powerful and positive way for boys and men to learn. Rough-and-tumble play helps develop the frontal lobe of the brain, which is used to regulate behavior. Sadly, many public schools are removing gym class and recess, further exacerbating problems among boys.

In the recent book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, authors John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman share some amazing science and stories. For instance, despite many schools removing gym-class from their curriculum, others have put more focus on it and found staggering results. When kids exercise in the morning, they learn far better. In fact, they improve in all areas of their lives. Human beings are holistic. Your brain, your emotions, your relationships, are all tied together.

If you’re living a sedentary life as a man, you’re not getting the needed stimulation you need. Research has found that males thrive in kinesthetic learning environments — learning through moving.

Healthy testosterone levels

Intensive physical activity, like sprinting or heavy weight lifting (followed by extended rest periods) is a good outlet for men’s need of physical stimulation. Moreover, these intensive physical activities can activate healthy levels of testosterone which produce many positive effects — including:

  • Fat loss
  • Muscle gain
  • Healthier bone density
  • Normalized blood pressure
  • Lower likelihood of obesity and heart attacks
  • Increased energy
  • More enjoyment of career and family
  • Feeling younger, stronger, sexier, and healthier
  • Healthy sex drive

Studies have found that healthy testosterone levels affect men’s cognitive performance, and can improve focus, motivation, and memory.

The need for physical pain

Interestingly, boys and girls experience pain differently. For boys, physical pain can be a stimulant fueling mental clarity. On the other hand, physical pain for girls can be a narcotic, making them feel hazy and confused.

I’ve seen this in myself. Some of my greatest insights have come while pushing myself to the extreme while doing yard work or while exercising. This phenomenon is also seen in endurance athletes who push themselves through pain for many hours at a time.

5 | Take Responsibility For Your Life And Set Your Standards High

In his book, Boys Adrift, Dr. Leonard Sax explains that boys need — not want — to be responsible. If they are not needed, they don’t flourish.

Men step down if they’re not needed, and because of society’s message that men are no longer needed, many are staying in their parents’ basements.

Although most men will not go out of their way to take on challenges and responsibility, this is the very thing they should do if they want to thrive. Indeed, it is becoming common knowledge that perception is followed by physical experience in the form of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you will succeed, you often do.

If you set your sights high in life, you will achieve incredible things. In order to do this, you can no longer play the victim to circumstances – blaming the world, your parents, school, or the challenges you’ve faced in life is not going to solve your problems. It’s going to keep you stuck and bitter.

Instead, take the time to imagine and mentally create your ideal life. Mental creation always precedes physical creation.

You have the inner power to create whatever life you want to achieve. All you have to do is spend the time creating that world with intention. Write down exactly what you want in life. Set your standards ridiculously high. Don’t hold anything back.

Read, rewrite, and reread your ambitions often. These will soon consume your subconscious mind creating new patterns in your brain. Eventually, you’ll manifest the world you’ve been creating in your head.

6 | Prayer, Meditation, And Journal Writing

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and every other religious and spiritual tradition strongly stress the significance of regular prayer. Although the form of practice may be different, the purpose is the same

  • Gratitude
  • Inspiration
  • Self-realization
  • Deepened connection to God/existence
  • The improvement of humanity as a whole

Prayer (and modifications such as meditation and gratitude journals) are regularly found to increase physical and mental well-being.

For me, I often combine prayer with journal writing as a form of meditation. I seek inspiration, direction, heightened perspective, and gratitude.

Scientifically supported benefits of prayer include:

  • Improves self-control
  • Makes you nicer
  • Makes you more forgiving
  • Increases your trust
  • Offsets negative health effects of stress

People are often turned off by prayer, believing it is a strictly “religious” practice. Even if organized religion is not your thing, you can still have a positive and healthy relationship with prayer.

7 | Earn Good Friends

You are who you surround yourself with. There’s no way around it. If you want to evolve past your current state, you need to remove yourself from the negative forces in your life. This will not be easy. Misery loves company.

However, when you decide to remove yourself from negative people – and instead surround yourself with people who uplift and inspire you – your life will dramatically improve.

Take the leap. Invite your friends to come along with you. If they don’t understand your needed evolution, kindly bid them a loving farewell.

8 | Commit Fully To Someone

“We’re supposed to believe that relationships tie people down, that they are the death knell for creativity and ambition. Nonsense.” — Ryan Holiday

With all the productivity and success advice going on in the world today, very little is written about the benefits of finding a spouse who supports you and makes you better.

It is quite rare for people to stay committed to anything or anyone these days. There are countless fatherless children. Many seek easy sexual prey followed by the internal pit of emptiness — too afraid to reveal and confront their true identity.

Research has found that committed relationships can reduce the chance of illness and increase the length of life. Other benefits of long-term commitment in relationships include:

  • Greater sense of life satisfaction
  • Increased happiness
  • A host of practical benefits, such as shared assets and children
  • Less likely to engage substance-abuse
  • Decreased likelihood of depression and neglect of one’s health

“Choose your love, love your choice.” — Thomas Monson

I got married at age 24. I’ve never felt restrained by that decision, only liberated. Now 29, we have three foster children, what most would consider a huge blow to our freedom.

This could not be further from the truth in my experience. Instead, I’m challenged to become a better person every day. I’m challenged to think beyond my own needs and to learn patience, humility, and love.

I would never make such monumental decisions without prayer, fasting, meditation, and journaling. However, when you’re in a state of clarity, you can follow your intuition and consistently make good decisions. As Malcolm Gladwell expounds in “Blink,” snap decisions are often more accurate than well-thought-out ones.

Of course, marriage isn’t easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But why choose the easy path? As a man, challenge and responsibility are precisely what is needed to thrive.

9 | Fall In Love With Learning

Ordinary people seek entertainment. Extraordinary people seek education and learning. We now live in a world where you no longer need to go to college (or high school) to become educated. At your fingertips is an unlimited and ever-increasing well of information. You can become an expert at anything.

Many of the world’s most successful people attribute their success to a love of learning. They often read one or more books per week. With a few books, you can learn how to build wealth, healthy relationships, and the life of your dreams.

With more information and education, you will make better lifestyle choices. You’ll be less likely to have destructive addictions and make ignorant decisions.

You’ll be more likely to surround yourself with brilliant people, learn new languages and explore the world, come up with solutions to the world’s problems, and have passion and zest for life.

Stop gaming and start reading. The real world awaits. And it’s amazing.

10 | Take Bigger Risks

“Don’t fail by default.” — Richard Paul Evans

Richard Paul Evans, the famous writer, often tells a story of being a shy high school kid. In one of his classes, he sat next to the girl of his dreams. He spent an entire year wishing he could work up the courage to ask her out. But he never ended up talking to her.

“Why would she be interested in a loser like me?” he would say to himself.

A few years later, at a high school reunion, they met and talked.

“I just have to ask: Why didn’t you ever ask me out?” she asked. “I always liked you and hoped you would talk to me.”

Evans was shocked.

He had been wrong that entire time and missed the opportunity he spent over a year dreaming about. In that moment, he determined to never fail by default again.

“If I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail big,” he has said. “If I fail, I’m going to fail after giving it everything I’ve got.”

Stop playing life small. Date people that seem absurdly out of your league. They’re not — only in your head.

Don’t be conservative in your career until you’re in your 40’s. There is little risk while you’re young, energetic, and motivated. Now is the time to take huge risks. Embrace rejection and failure. In turn, embrace enormous and unimaginable success.

Conclusion

You can have whatever life you choose.

Don’t be afraid to dream big for yourself.

Have the courage to seize that life and truly live, rather than only imagining living.

The world needs you.

Call To Action

Are you proactive? If so, check out my 7-page checklist of the most effective morning activities.

Click here to get the checklist right now. (p.s. – good luck with the cold showers!)

This piece was originally published by the author on Medium

A Very Brief Guide to the Hottest New Parenting Styles

Despite being a seemingly modern concept, the term “helicopter parent” dates all the way back to 1969.

In “Between Parent and Teenager” author and psychologist Haim G. Ginott quotes an over-parented teen patient as saying, “Mother hovers over me like a helicopter and I’m fed up with her noise and hot air.… I’m entitled to sneeze without explanation.”

And here I thought mom bloggers made it up.

Since then we’ve seen the dawn of the self-described “Tiger Mom” who rules with an iron fist, pushes hard, and over-schedules with the intention of raising academically competitive offspring. Then there’s the “Snowplow Parent”, who allegedly clears their child’s path of obstacles, preventing them from experiencing challenge and hardship at any cost.

It seems parents are desperate to define the different ways we approach the role. Let’s throw a few more options on table.

Goalie parent

A goalie parent is a pro at keeping their head in the game while reserving action for the moments it’s truly necessary. They know there’s no reason to be involved in every play, and that eventually the ball/puck/need/complaint will head their way. These parents are always on their toes, but keenly aware of boundaries.

Children of goalies are agile and surefooted, yet confident that when things are out of their control or too slippery to manage, mom and/or dad are willing to swoop in hard. (These kids also have deft smack talk skills.)

Hot air balloon parent

With a few precious resources, hot air balloon parents pile it all in one basket and take to the skies. They know there’s only so much they can fully control, yet head fearlessly into uncharted territory. They’re adventurous and willing to go with the flow. Despite outwardly appearing jovial and confident, they take the job seriously. Additionally, their children may develop a penchant for fire.

The Al Roker parent

(Not to be confused with Al Roker’s parents, whom I’m sure are lovely people.)

For better or for worse, these parents are completely oblivious to the fact that a storm is raging all around them. You’ve seen them at coffee shops sipping lattes and chit-chatting away while their sticky tornadoes nearly trip every third patron and dive under tables knocking over everything in their path.

They calmly prepare dinner while a house full of kids dump a jar full of marbles down the stairs and stage WWE matches on a pile of couch cushions. They’re barely rattled until they get taken out at the knees and start bleeding from the head. While this type can occasionally appear irresponsible, their one-track mind and ability to focus on the task at hand is enviable. (This is a video of Al Roker falling.)

The roadkill parent

You want to feel bad for these guys, but it’s sort of difficult to muster the sympathy. They’re the ones who walked out into traffic and didn’t even look first. They allow their kids to run roughshod over every weakly-defined rule they attempt to establish. Despite starting out with high aspirations and plenty of motivation to do the job well, it all seems to have fallen apart. Children of roadkill are often rude, demanding, and unlikely to be invited on playdates.

What type of parent are you?

Learning to Parent Without You: A Letter to My Late Mom

The entire family was crowded into the living room of that rental house on the shore. It was you and dad, the six of us kids and our spouses, and several of the older grandkids. We sat on old couches that smelled of ocean, feeling the grit of sand between our toes after a long day on the beach.

We gathered as a family to discuss the next few months. What did the doctors say at your last appointment? How much pain will you be in? Are all the finances in order? How much help will Dad need taking care of you in the coming months? When will hospice care start?

You barely had the energy for that trip, but barring a miracle, we knew that it’d be the last time we were all together. The doctors said you probably wouldn’t be around at Christmas.

You looked weary and thin, wearing wrinkles in your skin that aged you beyond your years. But you were beautiful. You sat on that old sofa next to Dad, answering our questions and concerns with a voice that occasionally quivered and eyes that drooped with exhaustion.

That summer, while talking about the harsh realities of your cancer, it hit me in a deeper way than ever before that you would not know me as a mom. You wouldn’t be there to see my kids grow up or hear them run into your house, arms outstretched as they gave their Nana a hug.

My voice shook and hot tears ran down my face as I shared my fear with you and the rest of the family. We wept, my heart aching so deep inside me in anticipation of how much more I’d miss you when I had kids and couldn’t share the joy of motherhood with you.

During that last year, I so badly wanted to get pregnant simply so that you could be there for it, but I knew that at that time, my primary focus was taking care of you. I wanted you to help me learn how to be a mom. Instead, I was living the crude reality of changing you, feeding you, brushing your teeth, making you comfortable.

It was a joy and a privilege, a season of my life that in an odd way, I’m thankful for. But it wasn’t what I envisioned.

I remember when I found out I was pregnant. I think I took at least three pregnancy tests that morning, just to make sure. My husband was getting ready to walk out the door to work. I came downstairs trying to hide the excitement evident in every bone of my body, and he asked what was going on.

I tried to keep it a secret – just until the end of the day at least. I knew there was no way he’d be able to focus at the office if the day started off with this news. But he saw right through me, and there in the kitchen, me still in my pajamas, we smiled, laughed, and cried happy tears because of the new life that was inside of me.

We had our first doctor’s appointment when I was eight weeks along. I wish you could have seen my husband’s face when the doctor told us the news. Twins! Unknown to him at the time, I had been praying for two.

He had that “deer in the headlights” look, and I was nervous and scared, but my excitement outweighed all of that. We called everyone in the family on the way home from that appointment, still trying to wrap our minds around the reality of two babies.

Oh, how my heart ached to call you.

As my pregnancy progressed, there was so much I wanted to talk to you about because, well, you did this whole mom thing six times over. What baby gear did I really need? Was breastfeeding hard? Did you have any suggestions on how to sleep better at night during pregnancy? Did you go into labor naturally? Did your water break, or did they break it at the hospital? Any suggestions on how to deal with this annoying pregnancy heartburn? You were the expert I desperately wanted to consult.

When people found out I was pregnant with twins, they’d often say something to the effect of, “Wow! Congrats! Is your mom going to stay with you for a while when they’re born?”

I know they meant well, because having your mom come help after childbirth is a wonderful, beautiful thing. But it wasn’t my reality. I’d try to dodge the question by saying, “My dad and sisters will come out, and we’ve got family in the area, too, so I’ll have lots of help.”

But as much as I tried to avoid the question, I was regularly reminded that you weren’t going to be staying with us. You wouldn’t be stocking our freezer with homemade spaghetti sauce and pineapple chicken. You wouldn’t be there to run errands or rock a crying baby. I wouldn’t be able to ask you questions about my daughter’s reflux, or whether or not you sleep trained, or the question that’s been on repeat in my mind throughout my entire journey of motherhood: “How the heck did you do this six times?”

On my first Mother’s Day, my sisters gave me a video of an interview they did with you and Dad. It was about all things pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. Your health was in rapid decline when the video was recorded, but you did your best to answer so many of my questions. I wasn’t even pregnant when they interviewed you, but I was given the gift of hearing your answers years later during the trenches of motherhood.

At times, it felt like you were there in the room, talking directly to me, as if I was actually sharing my first Mother’s Day with you. It was one of the best gifts I have ever been given. Eventually, the video ended and you were gone. How I wish I could just pick up the phone and call you.

The kids are walking and starting to talk now. My son is a snuggler, who could spend all day playing in the dirt. My daughter is strong. She knows what she wants, and she’s as stubborn as anything. My husband says she gets it from me – and I know I get it from you.

I want to ask you questions about discipline, the developmental differences between my siblings and me when we were kids, what it was like to have more than two. I want you to see the dimples on my daughter’s cheeks when she smiles and hear my son’s giggles when he’s tickled.

I want you to cry with me when motherhood is overwhelming.

As the years go by, waves of grief make room for waves of healing, and I remember I have much to be thankful for. I miss you deeply, and I wish I didn’t have to learn how to parent without you. I wish you were here to watch me be a mother.

But I’m eternally grateful I got to watch you.

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