When Grandparents Say You’re ‘Using Your Child As A Pawn’

Almost five years ago, I made the decision to cut off my own mother from myself and my children, and since then, I’ve fought tirelessly to uphold parental rights within the courts against grandparents’ visitation right suits (also known as third party visitation right lawsuits). I’ve Googled, I have read article after article — and mostly, when you look this up, you come to the general consensus that parents are evil and use their kids as “pawns” against grandparents or third parties who “just want to see the kids.” There are very few (if any) dissenting opinions, so I decided to write my feelings down.

The ultimate battle cry in grandparents’ rights groups is the complaint of adult children using their children (the grandchildren) as “pawns.” It’s like the grandparents who say this believe that this is a game (as pawns generally come from a game of chess) and they’re being kept from their prize so the parents can win the “game.” Some even say that this is “child abuse” and “elder abuse.” Let’s discuss that, shall we?

From a parent’s point of view who has been accused of such things, I will tell you truthfully that protecting your children from abuse, of any kind, is not using your child as a pawn. Ever heard a grandparent say they’re “so depressed, they need to see the baby to cheer them up?” This is emotional abuse. My child is not your dose of Xanax, lady, and is not responsible for your mental health. There’s also verbal abuse, and sometimes even physical. I’ll say it again: protecting your child from an abuser (or abusive behavior) is not using your child as a pawn.

Protecting your child is literally one of the most primal instincts one can have. If your mother or mother-in-law doesn’t hesitate to verbally lash you, whether in front of you or in private, then why do you think she will be kind to your children? Even if she is related to that child, she has expressed disdain and hatred for (or even “disappointment” in) one of these children’s parents, which literally makes up 50% of that child’s DNA. Again, for the ones in the back: if they hate you, or dislike you, or express discontent towards you, they are frankly saying that they dislike 50% of your child’s DNA. Protecting your child from these sorts of people is not “using them as a pawn.” It’s not a game; it’s your child’s emotions, mental health, and overall happiness.

Now, let’s dive a bit deeper, shall we? You don’t think that the grandparent in question would be unkind or abusive to the child… they just hate you, the child’s parent. After all, that’s why they’re accusing you of “using your child as a pawn,” and even abuse by withholding the child from the grandparent, right?

Well, let’s look up the literal definition of “pawn” as defined by Oxford Dictionary: “A chess piece of the smallest size and value, a person used by others for their own purposes.” By calling your child a pawn, they are straight up saying your child isn’t of much value beyond a bargaining piece.

So, I’ll say what I want to say every single time I see a grandparent accusing a parent of using children as pawns. Protecting your child is not, and will never be, abusive. Abuse runs deeper than physical abuse. And the grandparents know it. How many cut-off grandparents default to saying, “We spoiled our kids rotten, so it’s our fault she’s a brat” or similar? That right there tells you that you are protecting your child from emotional and mental abuse — that they’ve bestowed not only on their grandchildren, but on you both as a child and an adult.

It is parental instinct to protect your child from harm, and that is what you are doing.

Furthermore, if there happens to be a grandparent reading this and shaking their head in disagreement, let me ask you something to make you think a bit: if you love your grandchildren, why not be respectful to their parents and work on a relationship with them first, before bringing their children into the equation? And if your mind instantly jumped to insults or excuses on how “horrible” your son or daughter or son-in-law or daughter-in-law is, I encourage you to seek therapy — because you certainly don’t need to be around your grandchild while you’re actively disliking a person (their parent) who makes up 50% of their DNA.

And the first thing you should probably discuss with your therapist? Why you are comparing your grandchild to a game piece of little value.

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There Is Something Magical About The Mother-Daughter Bond

My daughter crawled in bed with me a few months ago. She was on the cusp of turning fifteen, and that day in the car we were listening to that new song called “Supah Lonely” by Benee. Maybe you’ve heard it with your own teenage daughter. Or maybe you have no idea what song it is. Regardless, it’s a woman talking about how lonely she is.

Without thinking too hard about it, I told my daughter the song reminded me of myself. I tried to laugh after I said it. I was trying to cover up the fact I was feeling sorry for myself. I knew I was letting my daughter in on a secret I’d been trying to hide from my kids — I’m lonely.

I’m lonely because they’ve grown older and they need me less. I’m lonely because I feel like our relationships have changed. And I’m lonely because they all went through puberty at once, leaving me with the sound of music behind their closed bedroom doors instead of being downstairs with me. 

As soon as I said it, I regretted it. While I want to be real with my kids and see that their mother is not made out of iron and has swinging emotions, I don’t want them to feel guilty about growing up and their independence.

But my daughter’s reply let me know she heard me, she saw me, and she cared.

“I didn’t know that, Mom. I didn’t know you were lonely,” she said. We drove then the rest of the way home in silence and I tried not to tear up thinking back to the days when I wasn’t this lonely. 

I realized being a mother to a daughter gifts you a bond unlike any other. We argue, we disagree, we don’t like each other at times. But we love one another so deeply we know there’s nothing that can break that love. If that’s not a bond, I don’t know what is. I mean, when you feel really safe with someone, isn’t that the time to really be yourself and know you will be fully accepted and loved unconditionally?

How many people can you say you have that bond with? 

According to a study published in Journal of Neuroscience, the bond between a mother and daughter is like no other since their brains are more closely matched in the empathy department. 

So when your daughter comes to you with a problem, situation, or is experiencing something good in her life, as her mother you are able to see yourself in that same situation and relate to her in a way no one else can.

I love my two sons just as much as I love my daughter. But when she comes to me with something that is bothering her, I see myself in her so much. And when the role is reversed, I can see my daughter is able to empathize with me deeply hence her coming in bed to get some snuggle time with me after my confession. 

Scary Mommy polled some of our readers to see if they agreed with the sentiment about mother-daughter bonds … and they did. 

One commenter admitted to crying for days when she found out she was having a girl. “I didn’t know what in the world I was going to do with a girl. I’m not girly and I just knew it would be a disaster. She’s almost 11, she’s my best friend. She’s so amazing! I can’t imagine my life without her. She’s so smart and wise beyond her years.”

Another mother said, “I was ecstatic when I found out I was having a girl. Her dad and I divorced when she was three. We have had an extremely close bond from day one. We definitely have a battle of wills at times because she is a very strong willed child but she is my greatest joy. My mom and I are super close and always have been and I pray that my daughter and I have the same bond throughout life.”

A mother of two boys and two girls said she was terrified when she found out she was having her first daughter, “I said ‘check again!’ I was terrified. I have two and two — wouldn’t change it for anything. Love my girls, they are my best friends. Strong, resilient, sporty and big hearts!”

One mother who has both sons and daughters explains it perfectly, saying, “It’s an indescribable bond. I’m incredibly close with my son. We share a lot of similarities, humor and just get each other. But with my 17-year-old daughter, it’s magnified. So many things she has accomplished or overcome are the same things that I dealt with at her age, but somehow amplified by all of today’s stressors.”

The bond some mothers have with us feels different than the bond we have with our sons. It doesn’t mean we love them more, or favor them over their brothers. But the study does prove there can be such a strong bond simply because we are sharing a lot of the same experiences and are connected in a different way to our daughters.

And even when we feel like we don’t know what we are going to do with them as they grow up, gain independence and sass, we know that bond won’t be broken.

The post There Is Something Magical About The Mother-Daughter Bond appeared first on Scary Mommy.

How Learning To Speak ‘Athlete’ Changed My Relationship With My Teen

I had some time this morning as I waited on my son to try out for the high school soccer team. But instead of catching up on Season 3 of my friends’ latest exploits on Facebook, I got out of my car and took a walk.

Oddly enough, I gained some serious life perspective while getting in my steps.

You see, my son is 14 right now and about to begin high school. Our ability to communicate is tough on a good day and completely non-existent on a bad day. But today, somewhere between band practice and the soccer field, I think I figured out the root of our problem – we don’t speak the same language. I am fluent in “nerd” and he’s well-versed in “athlete.” Let me explain.

When I attended this same high school, I focused on foreign language, reading books, arts and humanities, and music – specifically band. (I played the French horn.) I attended sporting events but my primary purpose revolved around playing the school fight song. So, it seemed appropriate that as I began my climb to the top of the school parking lot, I encountered members of the marching band. They chatted and honked their horns, quite literally, on their way to the practice field. And by practice field I mean a dedicated parking lot striped with white paint to resemble a football field.

I tried not to stare at those kids as the band director explained how to move backward with quick, tiny steps while simultaneously supporting the tone and quality of their notes and remembering their music. Marching band is hard. It takes a lot of focus and concentration to do so many things at once. Interesting… my brain thrived in that environment. I knew where to go and what notes to play, all while keeping an eye on the conductor and the person in front of me. It seemed natural.

As I rounded the edge of the faux practice field, the shrill of whistles and thuds of contact football interrupted my journey down memory lane. What an abrupt shift. Instead of young men and women moving in unison, playing delightful music, tons of guys clad in helmets and maroon shorts ran, zig-zagged, then tackled a bright blue padded cylinder. The coaches yelled instructions across the actual football practice field and the athletes did what they were told.

Once I Learned To Speak 'Athlete,' Communication With My Teen Got So Much Easier: mother and son posing for photo
Courtesy of Ashley Johnson

*Light bulb over my head*

No wonder my son and I have a hard time communicating. We’re coming at it from two totally different perspectives – languages, if you will. I am explaining all the parts of a situation in great detail and reminding him how the pieces fit together into one harmonious melody. I want to engage him in critical thinking and have deep conversations about the nature of things. He’s programmed to reply with, “uh-huh.”

It dawned on me, in the grassy no-man’s land between the football and soccer fields, that my son and I needed to meet in the middle of this language canyon if we were going to make it through high school with our relationship intact. I still had a few minutes before try outs ended, so what better time to learn the basics of speaking “athlete?”

I stood at the edge of the soccer field and listened to how the coaches communicated with the team. (Don’t worry, my son couldn’t see me. OMG that would be so embarrassing!)

Here are a few key phrases I wrote down for future use:

“Come see me” – What you tell the kid during practice or an activity. It means the coach wants to talk to you once you’re finished with your task.

“This is what I need from you” – Follow the statement with specific instructions and/or actions.

“You’re not at your best today. What’s up?” – Coach language for “I can tell something is wrong with you. Here’s your chance to talk about it.”

I started incorporating these sports phrases into our home life and discovered my son opened up a little bit more when prompted by familiar words. It makes total sense. This is what he’s used to hearing at every practice and game. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out.

Now, could someone add a foreign language credit to my school record, please? I earned it!

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COVID-19 Forced Me To Create A Self-Care Plan

After my daughters went to bed one Friday night and my teenage son was glued to some episode of The Flash on television, I had some time for myself. I’d never truly given myself time prior to COVID-19 — time to disconnect, time to collect my thoughts, time to treat myself. When COVID-19 hit, and I found myself in my house, all day, with my kids — I needed a release. I didn’t want to take up having a cocktail each night like some of my friends had. I’d long deleted the Nike Run app from my cell phone — so exercise was out. The last book I opened lay collecting dust in my work bag. I was out of ideas.

That night, I stood in my living room, listening to the intro of The Flash, unsure of what to do with myself. I had free time. I decided to take a bath, something I’d not done since I was six months pregnant with my daughters. I needed to figure out a consistent self-care routine for myself or at just three weeks into our family’s isolation, I was going to lose it. I needed a plan to hold onto my sanity a bit longer and doing so made me feel like I was in control over it all.

One night, I snuck away and lit two candles, turned on the faucet, and ran myself a bath with lavender scented bubbles. I refrained from snapping a photo of my beautiful, dimly lit bathroom to later post on my Instagram page and enjoyed the moment. It’d been a long week of nonstop work calls, tantrums from my four-year-old twin daughters, and back talk from my 13-year-old son. Like me, they weren’t handling the COVID-19 quarantine well.

I sat in the tub that night, thinking of all of the times I’d brushed myself aside to be there for my kids. But this, the warm water, the smell of lavender and the quiet, was something I could do for myself — and the best part? It was easy. As I settled into my bath that night, I found myself enjoying it. I started planning what I’d bring with me during my next bath: maybe a glass of my favorite summer cocktail (a Moscow Mule as of late) or a People magazine or one of the books on my bookshelf that I needed to finish.

All week, I was mostly the only parent on duty, juggling my work schedule, the kids’ homeschooling schedule, Zoom meetings, and keeping them from getting restless. I was exhausted by 5pm every day. I felt like I was drowning in calls for “more snacks” or “more food” or “can I have seconds?” — the demands on me seemed neverending. Then came the texts from my wife: “What’s for dinner?” or “How were the kids today?” or “Did you get everything done for work that you needed to?” and I felt the pressure.

On top of that, I’d been on another kind of roller coaster for almost five years — losing weight. COVID-19 was the perfect opportunity to revert to my old ways, emotionally eating coupled with finishing the food my kids didn’t eat, and it was truly all a recipe for me to fall off of the bandwagon. Somehow, I held on and went back on a modified Whole30 meal plan. I also, ironically, took being at home as an opportunity to learn how to bake.

I’d always told myself a story, I can’t bake. I can make a mean dinner but I can’t precisely measure anything. COVID-19 gave me the chance to change this story. First, I learned how to bake bread. I joined the chorus of folks who said “I can’t find flour” or “I can’t find yeast” and when I did, I bought as many as the store would allow, usually two packs. My first loaf didn’t turn out that great, but the five loaves I made after were Instagram post worthy. Three of my harshest critics even asked me when I would make another loaf. Baking became another form of self care for me. It took me away from breaking up fights, and gave me the opportunity to literally dig my hands into something I could control (mostly). Even if it looked a little lopsided, it tasted fantastic.

I’d finally found what worked for me, a way to release from the pressures of COVID-19, which included taking baths, baking and small home improvements. During the first few weeks of our five-person family quarantine, I perused Wayfair.com, planning out how we’d put to use our yet to be received stimulus check. I bought paint and painted our laundry room. I checked out Pinterest to get inspired by ways to build a beautiful garden. I roped my wife and son to finally clean out our basement. I added home improvements post-it to our fridge.

Personally, I found such comfort seeing these projects through from start to finish. It not only gave me confidence in my abilities to complete projects, but it gave our home a tiny face lift. Because we were in the house all day, the to-do list of home improvements quickly grew as I looked at each corner of our home all day.  

Now, I look forward to planning out the weekly baths I am able to give myself. I’ve upgraded from bubbles to bath bombs infused with essential oils like lavender, mint, and eucalyptus. I am reading more and have added the forthcoming novel by author Leigh Stein, called Self Care, to my summer bath time reading list. I am collecting new cookie recipes since my son ate all of the 36 chocolate chip cookies from my first homemade cookies baking session. And next up on my small home improvements list, to spend some extra time in our garden in hopes of growing lush green grass. I daydream about having soft grass so my kids can lay out their wet towels after their slip and slide sessions, and relax.

They often remind me, after their dip in their kiddie pool, that they are “I am living my best life.” I now am following their lead, living the best life I can under the most unpredictable of circumstances.

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The Day I Could No Longer Deny The Impact Of My Eating Disorder On My Child

Just like moseying into the kitchen to grab a coffee as soon as my eyelids cracked open, stopping to examine my body every time I passed a mirror was a subconscious compulsion I did without a second thought. I’d turn to one side, then the other, and determine my worth for the day based on how much my stomach protruded.

For as long as I could remember, at least since hitting puberty when my once-flat belly began to bloat, my stomach size determined my worth every single day. If it stuck out more than normal, I’d be ashamed and starve myself for the day. But, if it was within my acceptable range, I’d splurge and binge, sometimes eating thousands of calories in one meal.

Since giving birth to my oldest daughter, I knew I needed to get a handle on my eating disorders; my biggest fear was passing my habits onto her. But healing my relationship with food was always tomorrow’s problem. I continually told myself the children were too young to notice my habits, let alone comprehend my inner dialogue. One day I’d recover, but I didn’t have to quite yet.

Looking back, I wasn’t ready to heal because I feared that, without the appearance of control, my body would swing like a pendulum to a point of no return. My eating disorders wrapped me in a cocoon of self-absorption that kept me from reflecting on the things holding me back in my life. My fight against food meant I wasn’t fighting with my then-husband, setting boundaries with people who wronged me, or researching and advocating against issues in society. I was too busy spending every free moment reading about body cleanses and foods that blasted belly fat that I didn’t have the room to think about anything else.

One ordinary morning as I turned to the side to examine my body from every angle, I caught my five-year-old’s eye in the mirror. When I noticed her watching me, my nerves prickled like a startled cat as if I’d just been caught in a lie. I didn’t know how long she’d been watching, or if she saw me grab the skin and pull it out, and then suck it back in as far as I possibly could. I opened my mouth to try and say something witty or deflective but she looked away, seemingly uninterested, and I exhaled relief at the thought that I was still in the clear.

Not long after that, I caught her observing me in the mirror again. Her eyes were glazed over with a neutral look, the way she looked when we’d been walking through the Target aisles for two hours. But this time it didn’t alarm me as much; she had no idea what I was doing and didn’t care. According to her, I was looking at my body. It was innocent. It’s not like she’d ever seen me shove my toothbrush down my throat in an attempt to vomit an entire meal. I made certain to only do that at night when she was asleep, or when she was at preschool. Yes, she watched me weigh food, log it into my phone, and sometimes not eat, but anyone watching their weight did that. It was normal. I was normal(ish).

I was as certain that I was getting away with this big secret as I was that if I bought a carton of ice cream, I’d eat the entire thing in one sitting.

And then one day as I carried a bag full of laundry into my room to fold, I caught my daughter looking in the mirror as she turned to the side the same way I did. Her eyes grazed down her tiny body as she looked at her tummy like she was trying to understand what I had been doing. A red flag popped up, but that inner demon inside me — the one that gave me delusional self-worth based on my size — reassured me that she was only looking at herself in the mirror. Everyone did that. I took an extra precaution and cheerily said she looked beautiful and was so lucky to have such a strong and healthy body.

Then I caught her doing it again. And again. Every time her eyes were searching for some sort of answer. I don’t know if it was days or weeks later, but one morning as I left the bathroom and examined my stomach in the mirror, my five-year-old came into the room and said, “I wish my tummy was as small as yours, mommy.” My heart dropped into my stomach and knocked the air out of me.

It was one of those moments when the pretty glass reality you were living in gets cracked and tumbles down. When I looked at her face, I instantly recognized the pain in her eyes; it was the same pain I felt on the days I was deemed unworthy of food. I’d planted a seed of self-loathing in her brain, that I then watered every time I mentally picked myself apart in the mirror. And now here she was, about to start kindergarten, already filled with the agony I felt of not loving your body or self.

I said all the reassuring things that I thought would fix it. “Your body is perfect!” “You’re beautiful!” “Don’t think things like that!” “Don’t ever compare your body to anyone else’s!” As if throwing words at her would fix this problem before it snowballed into a life-consuming avalanche that she’d spend years trying to run from. And, of course, it didn’t work.

She’d later tell me three more times that she wished her stomach was smaller. And then a friend told me she overheard my sweet, gentle daughter tell her friends that she wanted to be as skinny as another friend’s mother when she was older. I didn’t understand how she even learned the verbiage when I’d been so careful not to say anything negative around her. I was a mother, her protector, and her teacher. Like a sponge, something ugly absorbed into her through our parent-child osmosis. She saw how I felt about myself and thought if I, her role model, didn’t love my body the way it was, then she shouldn’t love hers either.

I decided, at least for her, that it was time to stop hiding and numbing. Like learning a new language, I immersed myself in recovery. I bought books, listened to podcasts, read articles, watched YouTube videos of people who healed, and started going to therapy. I ate, breathed, and lived eating disorder recovery for six months as the pings of disillusion and fear became less and less. I retrained my lower brain to trust me by promising myself I’d never starve again, which eventually stopped the binging, followed by the desire to purge. And, so very slowly, almost beyond my awareness, I learned to let go of the control.

I began to love myself, to eat when I was hungry, and stop when I was full. I stopped excessively exercising with the mentality of punishment and began going on more walks with my children, and doing fewer sit-ups alone in my room. Over time, new pathways formed in my brain while others shut down like abandoned ghost towns.

Somewhere along the way, my daughter stopped talking about her body and looking in the mirror with criticism. Letting go of the control felt like hell, but it was worth it so my two daughters could grow up with a mother who mirrors self-love instead of self-hate.

My recovery may have been inspired by my daughter, but it ended up being especially for me.

The post The Day I Could No Longer Deny The Impact Of My Eating Disorder On My Child appeared first on Scary Mommy.

From The Confessional: We’re Tired AF Of Cleaning Up Everyone’s Sh*t

Motherhood is messy. There’s no other way around it. It’s a literal shit-show to start, and then it’s a full-on disaster every day forward—from the toddler days of dumping all the Tupperware out of the cabinets over and over all day long, to the big kid years of “crafting,” eating snacks everywhere, and letting dirty cups pile up in their rooms. Babies are boogery and messy and smelly. But turns out, so are teenagers. And eight-year-olds. And then, someday, they grow up and leave. But not long after, we have grandkids who come over and fuck shit up all over again.

So yeah, messy.

Some moms miraculously have clean houses. (I’ve never understood this.) It might be because they’re just naturally organized and actually have a place for every single tiny LOL doll and Shopkin. It might be due to anxiety and the need for neatness and order to function. Or it might be because you secretly (or not so secretly) have a housecleaner that makes the beds and flushes the toilets and hangs up the wet towels that are all over the floor.

Those are the only explanations I can come up with.

Now that my kids are older, they are helping more and have new chores this summer that they’ve never had before, so that’s a huge help to Mom. But is my house still a post-apocalyptic shit-show on the regular? Yeah. And I’m pretty sure it always will be.

The Scary Mommy confessional is full of moms with thoughts on their own messy homes—whether they’re actually fine with it but are sick of judgment from others, or whether they’re not fine with it, but can’t get it under control (and also are sick of judgment from others). A lot of moms, however, are just freaking tired of the mess. Tired of the stickiness and poop and pee and piles of toys and never-ending dishes and laundry.

But most of all, moms are tired of feeling invisible and taken for granted as we seem to be the only ones who fucking see it.

Confessional #25785384

“Entire house is a disaster, usually hate messes but I have no motivation anymore. I could spend an entire day cleaning and my DS would have it undone in less than an hour. So frustrating! He refuses to help. Wish I could ship him off somewhere for a week”

Confessional #25780780

“I think if I left my family would miss me... just not because they love me. Because they would be lost without the magical fairy that cleans up their messes, washes their clothes, pays for their life style, and overall makes every responsibility disapear.”

Confessional #25775194

“I can clean my kitchen spotless and my fucking slob husband will have it destroyed before I get home from work. So tired of not even being able to cook for myself because he’s left a fucking mess everywhere.”

Confessional #25783086

“I'm sick and tired of cleaning up messes that I didn't make.”

So, if anyone else in the house could, maybe, step up and take out the trash or fold a damn towel or wash a fork, that’d be great.

Confessional #25785258

“Jesus christ I swear if it's not one of the kids making messes and/or ruining shit, it's one of the pets.”

Confessional #25785168

“My house is constantly messy but I have 2 little kids and ADD. It is damn near impossible to keep things neat and tidy. FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE”

Confessional #25776424

“When I signed up to be a parent no one told me about grabbing turds out of the bathtub with your bare hands before they can dissolve and make a bigger mess.”

Little kids are gross. Cute, but gross. Pets too.

Confessional #25783603

“Annoyed how the kids mess up the house - handprints on everything, the playing that scratches furniture, chipping paint, Wearing the carpet, etc. none of this would happened if I was single.”

Confessional #25781990

“If I lived alone I’d have no problem cleaning...bc I would never make the mess my family does!”

And living in our family’s constant mess makes us fantasize about being alone someday. Sorry-not-sorry, fam.

Confessional #25782602

“Love that my kids want to learn to cook. The mess though!”

Confessional #25781753

“I love my kids, but I don’t want to play tag, army men, Monopoly, or do crafts that take forever and make a mess.”

We know we should be more fun and do all the special memory-making but we also know it will just lead to a giant mess for us to clean up after.

Confessional #25779758

“I'm doing everything "right": relaxing standards, delegating chores, focusing on just one thing at a time. But the truth is, I live in constant mess no matter how much I clean (Thanks, kids) and it's really getting to me.”

Confessional #25776150

“When I was a SAHM the house was easy to keep clean and running smooth because no one was home to mess it up. Now everyone is home, it looks like a mild case of hoarders.”

Confessional #25780954

“It’s noon and these kids can already fuck right off. I want to be a good mom but I have listened to them bicker over lame shit and cleaned up their messes and bitched at them for being messy for 60+ days w no break”

Confessional #25774321

“I keep hearing everyone talking about how they've been deep cleaning and organizing their homes while they're stuck inside. I literally haven't done shit, my house is still messy and will probably stay that way. Kinda feel bad about it.”

And then quarantine hit and we were trapped under the same roof as these people for weeks and months on end. Any chance we had of keeping a clean house was pretty much canceled.

Confessional #25768524

“I hate when people tell me "Don't worry about the mess. You are raising kids, not a house." I still have to live here-I can't relax when all I see around me is a never-ending 'To-Do' list. Mom...NOT maid. #cleanupyourownshit”

For some of us, a messy house really affects our mental health.

Confessional #25785125

“I judge people when their houses are messy (unless they're sick or disabled). I do this because I grew up in a hoard, and it traumatized me.”

And we find ourselves judging others due to our warped upbringing.

Confessional #25771764

“My friend proudly states she's not Susie Homemaker. She also doesn't work. I'm not saying scrub the floors with a toothbrush, but would a little cleaning and organization be so bad? Her place is a hoarded mess.”

Except this person. She’s just judging for the sake of judging, and that’s not cool.

So if you’re living a never-ending cycle of laundry folding and dish washing and toilet scrubbing and you are desperate for your stinky family to just leave for a day or two so the bathrooms can smell like lemon scented cleaner and not stale urine for once, I hear you. Same. Boat.

My family isn’t going anywhere and I do love them to pieces, so I’ll keep pushing laundry piles out of the way that no one seems to notice but me, and I’ll keep putting shoes back in their cubbies that don’t belong to me, and I’ll keep nagging the people I brought into this world to put. away. their. shit. and flush the damn toilet. They will, and then they won’t. And then they will, and then they won’t again. And round and round we’ll all go, forever, on this dirty-ass merry-go-ground we call parenthood.

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This New Pandemic Phase Is More Stressful Than Lockdown

So, it’s pandemic phase… 2? 3? 103? Who knows. Whatever “phase” we’re in, for me, that old familiar exhaustion is back. You know the one. It’s not like “yawn-tired” — rather, it’s tired-to-the-bone exhaustion. I felt it in March as the world crashed. As my kids’ schools locked up their doors indefinitely and I abruptly became a 1st, 3rd, and 5th grade teacher and we frantically tried to find masks and toilet paper and learn how to navigate grocery delivery (our family eats A LOT of cereal, we quickly learned)… It was all scary and new and each day brought another challenge to figure out.

I remember that during those first few weeks, I felt mentally and physically depleted by the end of the day. After navigating each child’s “Google Hangout” and “Zoom chat” schedules, figuring out what TF a “comparison bar” is and how to submit my 1st grader’s math worksheet on Seesaw, helping my 5th grader choose a memoir topic, learning “Google slides” for the first time so my 3rd grader could make a presentation about manatees… while also, you know, doing my own actual job for which I am paid, and also making sure everyone ate a vegetable, washed their bodies and brushed their teeth on occasion, kept them quiet when my husband had work calls, kept them quiet when I had work calls, swept the floor so we don’t get ants, checked on my children’s mental health as weeks ticked by without in-person contact to the outside world, exercised and drank water (self-care!), called my parents and sister and ensured everyone was healthy…

Yeah. Tired.

But over time, we settled in to our new normal. The kids knew the general schedule of the day and got used to making their own breakfast and most days, lunch as well. I figured out Seesaw and Google classroom and Zoom (I still don’t get the wonky way they do math now, but whatever) and my energy slowly came back. We all made peace with our reality—that we weren’t able to see friends. That horseback riding was canceled. So was baseball. And tennis. There were no play dates or going to restaurants or visiting grandparents. Over time, my kids stopped asking. We all kind of stopped thinking about it. And life went on. The fog of depression lifted a bit as we didn’t really feel like we were missing out on a whole lot because everyone we knew was hunkered down like we were. We found bits of joy in learning to grill our own pizzas, play family board games, make campfires, let the kids sleep in their basement forts, and stay up late watching movies.

April went by, then May. But now, June seems different. June means actual warm summer weather (for the northern Midwest where I live), and it seems, the re-opening of the world.

And, I’m realizing that the emergence of people from their homes, into society, has brought back that old tired feeling I battled at the onset of this pandemic. Again, I’m wandering around in a zombie-like trance, trying to adapt to the new way of things—similar to how I did in March. I’m finding myself barely able to make it through dinner, skipping my daily workouts, and handing bedtime over to my husband while I pass out in a drooling heap on the couch.

Tired isn’t even the right word. Exhaustion doesn’t seem to do it justice. What, then, do I call this? And why has it returned?

Honestly, I think it’s a new type of fatigue brought on by the world seeming to be “all done” with COVID-19, when COVID-19 is nowhere near being “all done” with us.

I think it’s due to the fact that over the past few days, we’ve been invited to pools, BBQs, play dates, and happy hours with friends. We were notified that the horse barn was open again for lessons, and tennis is back up and running too. Restaurants and bars and movie theaters are dusting off their counters and opening their doors. And our annual 4th of July town festival—one of our favorite traditions—has been given the green light to move forward.

And I’m finding myself saying, “Wait. What? We’re already doing this? So quickly? How?” as I watch the COVID-19 numbers continue to climb.

It seems like I’m stuck in a maze, gripping the hands of my children, as door after door after door opens, beckoning me to enter—doors to the park, the pool, the library, a friend’s house, festivals, concerts… and we keep saying no, but another door immediately opens in response.

I’ve felt extremely fortunate throughout this entire process that my kids are young enough to be easily distracted by an online movie or ice cream sundae or backyard campout. We’ve missed no major milestones like high school graduation or prom. Sure, we had to cancel some vacations and miss seeing our relatives, but we’ve had it far better than so many.

And I’m also eternally grateful that our friends are reaching out and miss us and want to get together. There is no better feeling and I hope they continue to think of us.

But we aren’t ready to say yes, and it’s getting harder and harder to say no. My kids, despite being young enough to pass these quarantine months with riding bikes in our cul-de-sac and stealing popsicles and Oreos when Mom’s not looking, are also old enough to know that the world is starting to re-open. They are old enough to hear that their friends are getting together, playing sports, going to camp, and taking summer vacations.

And we’re not.

Because, what seems like five minutes ago, we were all on lockdown. Because people in every nook and cranny of the U.S. are still getting sick. Because even though it feels like we’ve aged 10 years since February, the coronavirus is still very new and we don’t know a lot about it. Because my number one job is to protect my family.

But it’s this “decision fatigue” that’s the new tired. Before, it was the holy-crap-what-is-happening-is-it-safe-to-get-the-mail daily fears that made us crash by 9 p.m. every night. Now, it’s the everyone-else-is-going-out-and-living-again-but-what-if-its-not-safe-and-there-is-a-new-spike-next-week fear that’s bringing me down.

It’s the sadness in my kids’ eyes when they get wind of me declining another invite to see friends.

It’s the overwhelming burden of how to pass these summer days with no camps or really anything planned as I work from home and three sets of eyes stare at me every morning wondering what we might do that day.

It’s the constant second-guessing—is it more detrimental to my kids’ health if I expose them to the outside world or keep them at home in isolation from their peers? One expert says it’s safe as long as we social distance and wear masks. Will kids even social distance and wear masks? Another expert says no way. Stay home. All I know is that my kid are desperate for interaction with the world outside the walls of our home. But I’m scared AF of bringing COVID-19 into our home. Of them getting it. Of my husband getting it. Of me getting it.

It’s the back and forth of one chart saying “We’ve flattened the curve!” while another says “Numbers are still climbing!” and morbid stories of kids getting MIS-C and healthy adults like me in their 40s hooked up to ventilators or never coming home.

It’s the rollercoaster of being at peace with your decision to decline invites and stay home but then having FOMO (or FOMO for your kids) as you see social media footage of friends and family out there, living life, and having a kick-ass summer while you binge Netflix and eat chips on the couch for the nine bajillionth day in a row.

It’s barely having a hot minute to catch your breath after the unexpected forced homeschooling ends before everyone already starts talking about whether they’ll send their kids back in the fall.

It’s the not knowing if you’re doing the right thing, but doing the best you can with the information you have and praying it’s right.

It’s saying “I’m sorry” as your kids run from your arms and scream how unfair you are, when all you’re trying to do is keep everyone in your family alive.

So yeah. I’m fucking tired.

And it’s only June.

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Why I’ve Totally Changed My Tune On Video Games

I’ve never been a “gamer,” but my husband sure is. He grew up on everything from Mario Kart to Call of Duty, whereas I grew up with the stereotypes. You know the ones… video games make kids violent. Video games make kids impatient. And, my personal favorite, video games make kids lazy. 

Not long into our relationship, we became pregnant with twins. Before we even knew what we were having, my husband said to me one day, “Do you know how much fun it’s going to be to play video games with them?” It wasn’t the only thing he was excited about, but it was something he was (and still is) really into, and he hoped that he could share that hobby with at least one kid, if not two. Like any father who says, “I can’t wait to take our kid fishing when they are older,” my husband couldn’t wait to teach them all about gaming. 

Let’s just say, I didn’t feel the same way. Because to me, video games were a waste of time. I think my words were, “Video games don’t give you anything to show for your achievements once you are done.” Now, I’ve had to eat those words I so proudly stood behind, because like father, like son — my boy is now obsessed with all things gaming.

They aren’t my forte by any means (we’ve already established that), but watching him discover his love for video games is almost the equivalent of sneaking some greens into his smoothie. Because even when the video game he’s playing isn’t designed to be educational in the slightest bit, there’s no denying that he is still learning. 

According to researchers, video games have actually evolved into “effective learning tools” over the past half-century. “Not only do they promote an astounding amount of time on task, the games also use a number of techniques known to promote efficient and transferable learning,” Adam Eichenbaum, Daphne Bavelier, and C. Shawn Green, authors and psychologists who specialize in perceptual learning, said in The American Journal of Play. “Although some researchers express concern about the potential negative outcomes of gaming, others see quite clearly that video game training creates a great number of positive outcomes.”

Video games should be supervised, with parental controls put into place when necessary, of course. Even still, the online gaming community is a wealth of opportunity for kids to socially interact with their peers. Multiplayer games require the player to depend on other members of the team for help and vice versa, presenting kids with some amazing teamwork abilities they can carry with them into real-life situations. 

Most times, too, video games can be a positive experience for kids because of the game’s reward system. Whether it be words of affirmation or a new feature unlocked that allows the gamer more flexibility, positive reinforcement can be a vital part in keeping kids motivated even after they’ve failed a time or two.

No kid wants to play a game for fun only to be pushed too hard without an incentive — that’s what makes kids feel defeated. At the same time, they certainly don’t want a game that’s boring due to a lack of difficulty. In my brief time as a “gamer” mom, I’ve come to realize that video games are good at finding a balanced ground tailored to meet the needs of many users. 

Even as a beginner, video games create space for these incentives by allowing the user to adjust difficulty settings. This strategy of keeping kids interested throughout multiple rounds and differing scenarios is a great way for kids to practice their newly-acquired skill sets in alternate ways and settings in order to reach a common goal. Whether that goal is to cross the finish line, beat the bad guys, or even to accomplish a thought-provoking task, video games teach our kids how to be resourceful by nurturing their problem-solving techniques. 

To put this into a real-life perspective that’s easy to understand, think about tying a knot. Though there are several ways to do this, not every type of knot is going to be the most effective method for the situation at hand. The goal may be the same, but the steps to get there in the most beneficial way are not. 

According to the American Psychological Association, strategic games, particularly those with a role-playing aspect, have been shown to improve a child’s problem solving ability while also boosting their grades in the following school year. Action games can sharpen a child’s problem-solving ability, and at the same time, teach them a thing or two about multi-tasking. 

In a recent article with NPR, one columnist, Kaity Kline, shares her experiences with learning through gaming while she was growing up. When Kline was seven, she says that she learned to multiply rather quickly through an educational game called “Treasure Mountain!”, but “Assassin’s Creed” provided her with an interactive way to learn history. 

“You can learn about the Olympic Games, and how Sparta trained its soldiers in ancient Greece, with real historical figures acting as your tour guides. Or jump over to ancient Egypt to check out mummies and climb on the pyramids. There are also points of interest scattered around the map if you want to do some extra reading. The tours are free with the purchase of a base game, but you can also buy them separately,” Kline says. “Obviously, Assassin’s Creed can’t teach you everything you need to know about the ancient world — but the games do make that world come alive for people who are reluctant to learn, like I was.”

Just because video games are new (“new” meaning they’ve been developed within the last century), doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad. The methods of teaching and learning are ever-evolving, and they are happening in the most unorthodox ways. Beyond teaching kids how to deal with real-life situations, video games also improve hand-eye coordination, boosts creativity, can retrain lazy eye, and can increase cognitive flexibility even in the elderly who have seen an age-related cognitive decline. 

To some (much like the old me), these video games may be just that — games people play to pass the time. But it’s important to realize that, to our kids, these virtual accomplishments are points they can feel proud of. And if boosting my child’s confidence was the only positive outcome from video games, it’d still be worth letting him play a million times. 

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Honest Complaining Is Better Than Fake Positivity

Normally I try to build up to a particular “moral of the story” when I’m writing a piece, but this time, I think I’m just going to get right to it: Honest complaining is preferable to false positivity. Make sense? I hope so, but if not, come along with me as I explain.

There is a particular mentality that exists out there in the world that we should all just walk around being positive all the time. This idea is that if you are positive, you will attract positivity to your life.

However, there are a few flaws with this logic: First, it assumes your positivity is genuine. Second, it assumes that you can’t complain and be grateful simultaneously, which is incorrect. In fact, being grateful is more fundamentally important than being positive, as gratitude will naturally make space for positivity. Lastly, if your positive attitude leads you to condemn others in their moments of negativity, there’s a good chance you’re doing the whole positivity thing all wrong. Meaning, if you’re grounded in gratitude, you can express empathy, rather than judgment, for others in their time of need.

I’m going to provide you with an example. Let’s say a mom has had a particularly rough day with her little ones. Let’s say she’s feeling a little isolated and alone, and so takes to her internet world to do a little venting. Her expectation, most likely, is that there will be another mom out there in her little community that will hear the venting and respond with, You’re right. Kids can be jerks. Tomorrow will be better.

Or perhaps, in this mom’s imagination, a fellow parent will respond with venting of their own, thus opening up a channel of free expression, each being each other’s mutual venting companion. She imagines that once they get their venting out of their systems, they will sigh with relief and go back to their kids, feeling lighter and better able to handle the challenges of parenthood.

Imagine, then, that rather than being cheered along, she is hit with responses like “Kids are such a blessing” and “Enjoy it while it lasts” and “They grow up too quickly” and “Some people just handle it better than others.” Imagine how these kinds of responses can turn one mom’s bad day into something she cries herself to sleep over that night. These types of responses are not genuine, not empathetic, and not positive, despite being delivered with an air of (passive-aggressive) positivity.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that most moms recognize that their kids are a blessing. Most moms go to sleep each night feeling grateful for their children. Most moms are naturally racked with guilt over the bad days and don’t require any exterior assistance when worrying over how they are screwing up their kids. Most moms are simply human. Responding to someone complaining that their two-year-old peed on them on purpose with “You’ll miss it when they’re gone” is kind of akin to telling someone who has had a miscarriage that “Everything happens for a reason.” Like… fuck off.

Essentially, all that is to say:

  1. You can be grateful and still need to vent once in a while.
  2. You can be generally positive and still have bad days. And you’re allowed to say it’s a bad day when it is a bad day. Call it what it is.
  3. Unless you’re my friend Wendy, who is genuinely positive (it is her actual, natural, all-the-time state—probably because she says fuck more than anyone I know), you are likely not a genuinely positive-all-the-time person. And it’s totally A-O.K. You are not calling any bad karma or mojo to yourself by being genuine. Sometimes, we all just have a need to complain. Don’t hide it. It’s better to be honest with yourself.
  4. You don’t always have to look on the bright side of life. In fact, sometimes it’s more useful to face the dark side.
  5. Complaining can help you let go of pent up emotions.
  6. You may get judged for complaining, but you’ll probably get judged no matter what you do, so you may as well go for it.
  7. Not having empathy for someone’s bad day makes you a jerk.
  8. Gratitude is everything — followed closely by authenticity. Don’t mistake either of these for positivity.

Now, I admit that some people are just negative all the time, and they can be a drag to be around. But there is a difference between complaining all day every day about everything from the temperature of your coffee to the brightness of the sun, and letting out some steam because you had a crap day. I think that most of us are able to recognize the difference.

Also, I believe that an honest bout of complaining is often followed by direct action, doing something useful to alleviate the issue that caused you to complain in the first place. All complaint/no action? That’s either someone with too much time on their hands, or someone who is really having a hard time with things. These are people who probably need our kind attention most.

So, moral of the story, don’t be a jerk. A little bit of honest complaining does not a negative person make, and that it’s better than being fake positive.

Live your life authentically. And be grateful every day.

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Hey, Parents Not Following Social Distancing Rules: You’re Making It Harder On The Rest Of Us 

I’ve been feeling a low-level of anger all the time these days. Then, when I see a group of teenagers walking together sans masks, touching shoulders, and people posting pictures on social media with graduation celebrations of teens throwing their hats in the air off a back deck, that anger rises in my chest and I want to scream.

I have teenagers living in my house. Teenagers who want to see their friends and constantly tell me they are the only ones not allowed to have friends over. My oldest tells me at least once a week that all his friends are getting together for a bonfire, a trip to the beach, or a pizza party at his friend’s house.

Supposedly they all hang out together during the day and roam the neighborhood.

Whether it’s all facts or not, I’m starting to believe most if it is true — I mean, he shows me their SnapChat stories in hopes of convincing me that he’s the one left out and I’ll feel bad and change my mind. 

 It’s not working. What it’s doing is making me mad at the selfish parents who are raising selfish kids. I’m sick of the excuses and hearing parents say they can’t control what their kids do.

Really? Because last time I checked, lives were on the line here, and the adults in the house had the ability to collect the car keys and cell phones (that they pay for) if their kids break the simple rule of staying at home.

What these cavalier parents aren’t getting is that the longer leash we have for our kids, the longer this nightmare is going to live on.

These parents who refuse to follow social distancing rules because they think it’s silly, or saying this isn’t living must not believe the death toll, all the scary symptoms like the Mystery Inflammatory Syndrome, which is affecting children and teens. That’s the only conclusion I can come to — because I don’t understand their thought process otherwise.

I still see posts almost once a day on Facebook from parents asking fellow parents if they think it’s okay to let their kids hang out with their friends right now.

They must think the fact that their child could get very sick and die from COVID-19 is a big fat hoax. How many times do they have to hear from a doctor this isn’t an old-person disease, or can only harm those with an underlying condition?

Putting your child’s wants first (and let’s face it, seeing their friends in person right now is a want, not a need) is self centered. 

Certain parents are making it so much harder for the parents who are doing the right thing and keeping their kids at home right now. They are very clear in their intent — they don’t give a flying fuck about the state of the world and they certainly aren’t taking the time to think about what they’d do if their child got sick or infected another person (or people). There is no other answer.

It’s a horrible example to set for your kids. The whole world is advised to keep their distance from one another and take all the necessary precautions. That doesn’t mean letting your child run off to the skate park for a few hours with a bunch of friends or allowing them to attend a freaking pool party.

Letting kids go about their merry way and hang out with their buds because “You don’t see the harm in it” or “It’s been long enough,” aren’t good enough excuses. 

I wish all parents would take a moment to think about the message they are putting out there to other kids whose parents are playing by the rules. I want them to know about the difficulty they are causing for those who are respecting what the doctors tell us we need to do in order to stay safe. 

I want them to think about the front line workers and the overloaded hospitals. By letting their kid go back to their normal  life, they are adding to that, by a lot.

If their child was taking a drive by themselves for the first time, they’d tell them to wear their seatbelt and obey the traffic laws because if they don’t, there could be disastrous consequences, right?

And on top of that, they’s also worry about the other drivers on the road not being careful or paying attention, and fear someone could hit their child.

Parents who are letting their kids roam around as they wish are like the careless drivers of the world. They aren’t following the rules because they think they are above them, and nothing will happen. 

Or maybe they think their kid is too important to stay in the house and practice social distancing because they aren’t really living, what with all the missing out and all. 

Guess what? We are all missing out. In order to save lives. It’s actually worth it. And the careless parents of the world are making us miss out even longer.

They are like the buzzed drivers on the road right now thinking nothing will happen and their kids won’t harm anyone. 

I want them to ask themselves if they’d let their kid get in a car after a few drinks and drive around? I bet the answer is no — because they are aware that the risk is too big.

It’s time for all parents to smarten up and realize this is no different … and do the right thing, no matter how hard it is, no matter how much they beg, so this shitshow can start moving in the right direction.

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