As A Working Parent, I Feel Like I’m Never Giving Enough At Work Or Home

I was sitting in the living room looking at my phone when my wife, Mel, asked me a question.  When I looked up, she was obviously irritated. Turns out she’d asked me the same question twice already and I’d responded “sure” to a non-yes-or-no question.

She was asking me about a weekend trip we were planning, and yet there I was, only half listening, trying to answer a text from one of my employees. Before that, I’d been scheduling posts on my professional Facebook page. None of it needed to be done right there and then, but at the same time, I was feeling the itch so many working parents feel to get to finish up a few things while at home, so you can get to bed a little earlier.

I looked up at Mel. Her lips were drawn to a tight line, right hand on her hip. Naturally, I felt guilty, so I put my phone down.

“Sorry,” I said.

I tried to play it off, like I always do. I said, “Yeah, I heard you.” I said it with sincerity and conviction.

I do this all the time, and each time Mel hits me with a pop quiz. She asks me to repeat what she said, or something along those lines, and I never can.

My interactions with my children aren’t all that much better, mind you. It’s getting to the point where the refrain in our home is “Put your phone down, Dad!” And I always respond with an affirmative grunt that no one in the house believes.

She didn’t quiz me this time, however. Instead she sat next to me at the table, looked me in the eyes and said, “When you don’t listen to me, it feels like you are saying I don’t matter.”

It got quiet them.

I let out a breath, and thought about the tug-of-war I always find myself in between home and work. I work for the academics side of a Division I athletics program. I have tutoring and study tables that run well into the evening. My schedule is a little wacky, and it isn’t all that unusual for me to get a text or a call from one of my student employees that must be handled immediately. But there are also a lot of messages that could wait until morning, and I often have a really difficult time taking my hand off the wheel and letting that stuff wait.

Now I will admit, were it not for my cellphone, I would need to be at work much more than I am. But the understanding that I am always on duty in case of an emergency causes me to always have that phone near by, and the reality that I cannot seem to fully pull myself away from answering every little question regardless of its importance, is creating a real problem in my house.

I think I’m good at multitasking while being a working father, but I’m obviously not. I seem to always be half at work and half at home, my face in my phone while trying to care for my kids, and ultimately I’m turning into a half-assed father and husband.

I have no doubt that I am not the only parent living this struggle.

There are times when I’m not a good listener, but like so many working parents I have a difficult time admitting to that. Until that moment when my wife called me out, I didn’t ever think about what I was actually saying to my wife by not listening to her speak.

One of the most beneficial things a spouse can do is listen, regardless of what your partner has to say. Listening is one of the highest forms of validation. And yet, although I know all of this, I still struggle to put down the distractions and really listen to my wife.

But honestly, if I am to take a step back, and look at this whole situation from the sky level, I was ignoring my wife of 14 years, the mother of my children, and the person I love most in the world, and that is pretty rude, don’t you think?

So I stood up, put my phone on the other side of the room, and turned on the ringer, so I could hear if someone needed me, but not keep getting sucked into every little thing. Then I sat down next to her and said, “I’m sorry. That’s not what I’m trying to say.”

I’m not going to say that she 100% forgave me, and I’m not going to say that I won’t fall into this balance trap again, but what I will say is that when we sat across from each other and I gave her my full attention. Because she deserved it.

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Getting Sober Didn’t Make Me A Better Parent

When I finally admitted to myself that I had a drinking problem, I was able to consider what I wanted to do about it. For a couple of years, I kept drinking. It was easier to not deal with a drinking problem by drinking. It wasn’t until I admitted that I am an alcoholic that I had to make another decision: Do I keep drinking and continue my pattern of slowing down for a day or two at a time to pretend I have control, or do I stop?

When I made the choice to stop, it was not for me; it was for my kids. At the height of my drinking, I hated myself too much to give myself the kindness or grace of doing anything that put me front and center. If I was the only one to consider, I would have drank myself to death. But I had enough strength left in me to know I did not want my kids to witness that.

I quit drinking so I could be a sober parent. But getting sober did not make me better parent, at least it hasn’t yet.

I was a high-functioning alcoholic who, even with booze, could not escape my need for perfection. Guilt and shame played roles in my quest for perfect appearances too. My writing career, health, and emotional growth suffered, but on the surface I was a great parent. As long as I had my alcohol, that is. Gin was a great companion for hours on the floor with babies and toddlers. Time to feed the babies? I can do that. Let me get a beer. Time to hang out and read stories? Do puzzles, make art, build with blocks or Legos? Play, make a mess, or do anything that requires supervision? Sign me up, but let me make a drink first.

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"Being a parent is a literal turbulence. One minute you are the smartest, most patient and loving parent that ever parented and the next you are standing in a puddle of pee while holding what you think is a chewed granola bar and being asked to explain why dogs lick their butts. Add exhaustion, financial stress, work deadlines, and ongoing flashbacks or waves of PTSD symptoms from past trauma and you have the ultimate test of sobriety. It’s okay to admit parenting while sober is hard. It’s really hard." My latest for @thetemper. Link in my bio. (P.S. I made them do a mini crossfit workout with me because they were being assholes and I needed to move. We were all happier after.) #queeraf #soberaf #yogaaf #nonbinary #lgbtq #advocate #educate #enby #transawareness #translivesmatter #parenting #gayparenting #nonbinaryparent #kids #sobriety #addiction #recoverymonth

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I didn’t only use the idea that “kids are hard, so let me get a drink” notion that is the root problem in mommy wine culture; my thinking was also “playing with my kids or spending time with them means I get to drink.” Alcohol stunted the healing and discovery I needed to do, but it also slowed me down to make it look like I was an engaged parent. It was also a great way to stay engaged at the park or a playdate too. Hidden alcohol in a travel mug was motivation and the companion I wanted to have when I was a stay at home parent navigating the playgroup, library, music time scene. Accepting invitations from parents who were happy to have mimosas through lunch time was a great excuse to get the kids together.

If I had a drink in hand, I was present.

Except, I wasn’t really present. Not like I thought I was at the time. Even though I was physically present, I was mentally somewhere else. I was happy to use alcohol to avoid myself and the impact other people had on me, specifically the impressions my children made on me. As long as there was a wall of protection and distraction between the reasons I drank and my role as a parent, then I was able to maintain the façade.

In order to stay well, I miss bedtimes so I can get to AA meetings. I tell my kids I can’t play a game until I get in a good workout. I am less patient and snap at them more.

I wasn’t dealing with PTSD from years of childhood sexual abuse that was triggered by my young children. This was no fault of theirs, but changing diapers, giving baths, and watching them grow into the toddler age I was when my abuse started hit me in ways I never anticipated.

I wasn’t trying to understand why I was so uncomfortable in my body. I was avoiding the growing need to numb myself with alcohol in order to get through the day living in a body that doesn’t feel home to my identity. Examining that would have meant admitting the female gender I was assigned at birth was not right. And if being a female, a woman, is not right, then what am I?

But when I stopped drinking, I couldn’t fake it anymore. I had to admit I am transgender. I had to find ways to live authentically. I had to find ways to heal from very old wounds. When I stopped drinking for my kids, I had to start living for me and that looks selfish at times.

I quit drinking so I could be a sober parent. But getting sober did not make me better parent, at least it hasn’t yet.

In order to stay well, I miss bedtimes so I can get to AA meetings. I tell my kids I can’t play a game until I get in a good workout. I am less patient and snap at them more. I know I am coming off as harder and less nurturing than I used to be. I apologize for my sharp tone and tell them I am working through tough stuff. I love them. They know this, but they also sense this love is coming from a new place.

It is coming from a safer and more mindful place, even if the edges are sharp. This is to be expected, though, because I am no longer numb. I am no longer avoiding feelings. I am in the thick of healing from past traumas and discovering who I am while being in the thick of parenting three small children. I am raw and on edge and doing my best to become the parent I know I can be.

I will give myself the grace to say I am still a good parent. I know the benefits of sober parenting, but the real payoff will be in a year or two or more when I have had time to practice being a person in recovery. I am discovering the strength I have in myself. I am learning how to be uncomfortable. I am learning how to be present without a vice to get me there. I am cultivating in myself what I want to grow in my children.

My kids will remember a sober parent. I want them to also see and remember a parent who loved them enough to learn to love myself.

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We Need To Stop Telling Our Kids What To Think

I try not to teach my kids too much.

Perhaps I should clarify: I try really hard to teach my kids, not what to think, but how to think. I want my kids to leave my home as young adults possessing the tools to acquire knowledge and analyze data and come up with creative solutions to unique problems on their own. I don’t want to eject a carbon copy of myself and my belief systems out onto the world.

It grates on me when I hear a kid proudly parroting their parents’ beliefs, clearly demonstrating that those beliefs have been rammed down their throats since before they were able to regurgitate what they’ve been told. Whether it’s religion or politics or arbitrary social norms, it makes me cringe to see a kid repeating their parents’ mantras like a tiny robot clone.

Even if it means they end up disagreeing with me on topics I consider important, I don’t want this for my kids.

This is tough with foundational belief systems like religion that, beyond being a guide for behavior and morality, are also woven into the fabric of one’s culture. I was raised up in the Southern Baptist church, and my kids’ father was raised and still practices Catholicism. Catholicism isn’t just a religion for my kids’ father — it’s literally a part of his culture. Family gatherings are planned around the liturgical calendar.

Our kids have attended Mass on and off since they were babies and both have received their first communion. They believe in God and Jesus. But they also know that only 31% of the world is Christian. That means the vast majority of people on this earth are not Christian and do not share their beliefs. In fact, the third largest group represented when it comes to faith are those with no religious affiliation at all. My kids know this, but a lot of kids raised in various religions assume everyone shares their beliefs because no one has ever thought to tell them otherwise (or they did think about it but intentionally opted not to). I was one of those kids. The first time someone confidently told me they were an atheist, my head about damn near exploded. I had no idea.

Flora Westbrook/Pexels

So, although my kids are exposed to and practice Christianity, I won’t shove dogma down their throats and demand they acknowledge Christianity as the only possible truth. It is arrogant, in my view, to be a part of a 31% minority and to claim, essentially, that the entire rest of the world is wrong. I recognize that acknowledging the potential for another truth conflicts with the very idea of faith, but this conundrum is exactly why I’d rather give my kids the tools to evaluate different belief systems for themselves. I won’t paint them into hypocrisy by commanding them to believe a certain thing. I’d rather they learn about different religions and spiritual philosophies and think about why people are religious and how they got that way. Then, based on the information they’ve collected, they can decide for themselves what to think.

Granted, part of teaching my kids how to think means teaching them to question whether a belief system or “difference of opinion” infringes or aims to infringe on someone’s basic human rights or labels any person as unworthy or inferior. I know plenty of Christians who, for example, are working hard from within the church to change the church’s bigoted stance on the LGBTQIA+ community.

Same goes for political ideologies. I will tell my kids what I believe and why I believe it, but I will also share with them views that are in opposition to mine. Why do so many people disagree with me? What led them to think this way? Was it their environment? Their education? Their belief systems? Greed? Bigotry? Could it be possible they actually believe their particular set of values (which may be in opposition to my own) truly are what’s best for society as a whole? And why might they believe that?

I try to share knowledge with my kids in a way that allows them to arrive at a conclusion as a result of their own thinking. I can tell them it is important to be kind, but why? I ask them why kindness matters and encourage them to think about what a world without kindness would look like. I ask them how they feel when they do something kind for someone else or when someone else does something kind for them.

I also admit when I’m not as informed as I’d like to be on a certain topic. I don’t want to present myself to my children as someone who has all the answers because then they may arrive at adulthood expecting to know all the answers, and won’t it be a rude awakening to them to realize that’s not how any of this works. And guess what — mom might be dead wrong about some things. That’s okay, because admitting you’re wrong and committing to learning and doing better is one of the richest gifts you can give yourself in life.

Lenin Estrada/Pexels

I want my kids to question sources and factor in bias. I tell them to question and doubt anyone who acts like they have all the answers. I tell them almost nothing is black and white, there is rarely a definitive answer. In a world where too many people “inform” themselves via inflammatory headlines without even clicking the link, I want my kids to explore nuance. To understand the difference between statistics and anecdotal evidence. To understand that sometimes humanity trumps numbers.

Sure, it’s cool to see your kid parrot you or do something just the way you taught them; but it’s infinitely cooler to hear an original, insightful argument come out of your kid’s mouth as a result of their own careful thought and research. Even if the end result is that you disagree.

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When It Comes To Raising My Sons, I Constantly Wonder, ‘Have I Done Enough?’

My boys are 18 and 15—their silky baby cheeks have long since vanished in whiffs of aftershave and occasional razor stubble and when they hug me, I can feel the muscles bunching across their shoulders. I think to myself, “they’re good boys,” but then like a malevolent ghost the thought floats in: what if I’m wrong? 

A few weeks ago, after we’d had a visit with my nieces, the boys asked me if I wished I had a daughter instead of a son. I said, “Well, I’d never trade either of you for a daughter but girls are just…familiar. I know girls.”

The boys frowned. It wasn’t quite the firm “of course not” they’d been expecting.

“Aren’t we familiar?” one of them asked, and I laughed. Unless they are someday fathers of daughters, they will never understand how deeply strange it is to be the mother of sons.

A daughter would be familiar—her body would be a version of my body, as my body is a version of my mother’s. My skinny ankles and squishy stomach, the thin lines carving in around my mouth and the knuckles gnarling on my hands: all my mother. Her body has given me a map for my own.

Colin Hawkins/Getty

My sons’ bodies don’t have anything to do with mine. Their bodies gleam with muscle, their skin slides lean and close against the bone. When they put their bare feet on the coffee table, I see men’s feet, not the little dumpling toes I used to kiss during their bath-time. The boys have become something utterly not me and sometimes when I look at them I feel like Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. When the creature that Victor has created opens its yellow eyes and stares at him, Victor is stunned: he’d made the creature, dreamed over it, hoped for it—but had never expected it to have a mind of its own.

Bereft and unloved, the creature turns to violence; he tells his creator that if he were loved, he would be virtuous—but Victor refuses to love him, and refuses to give him a female companion to love, for fear that this second creature might also escape his control. It is in Victor’s refusal of all things female that we see the subtle feminism of Shelley’s novel: without women, no society can flourish.

I look at the creatures I’ve spawned—large, autonomous, full of their own desires—and I hope that I’ve avoided Frankenstein’s mistake. I’ve filled my creatures with love, with affection, helped them understand that they have a place in the world, tried to ensure that they see women as equal participants in the world.

And yet in the insomniac hours of the night, I worry that it’s not enough. I worry that, like Frankenstein’s creature, my children might decide to react to life’s inevitable disappointments with violence. My boys—all our children—are coming of age in a world where toxic masculinity swirls like a fog: what if that poison has already seeped into their lungs? What if they’ve absorbed through their skin the belief that they are the most important people in the room, just because they’re men?

How do we inoculate our children—our boys—against this disease? I wonder about all those perky #boymoms I see in social media: do they worry about this toxicity as they post cheerfully exasperated photos of their adorably dirty lads playing with dinosaurs? Or is mine a late-stage worry, one that doesn’t surface until the toddler becomes “man”?

I think I did all the “right things” when my boys were growing up. They had a toy stove that they loved; there were spangled dresses in the costume box, and their room was littered with light-sabers and Legos, Polly Pocket dolls and race cars. I even splurged for the clear plastic Cinderella slippers that one of them wanted for his fifth birthday. One of my proudest moments was when one son announced—while wearing a purple sparkly dress, a Jedi cape, a lightsaber, and the Cinderella slippers—that he was Princess Leia, Queen of all the Jedi.

Hero Images/Getty

Surely that boy is inoculated against the disease of misogyny. Surely that little boy could never get raving drunk at some college frat party and paw at some disinterested college girl?

And yet.

Think about all the monstrous children who romp through our cultural imagination, from the demonic son in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child, to Rosemary’s Satanic baby, to the twisted sisters in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and that whole mid-twentieth-century run of movies like “The Omen” and “The Exorcist?”

Monsters are often thought to mark the boundaries of a society, the limits of acceptability: we are here and over there is monster. And actually, come to think of it, so too with children: they are us/not-us; their bodies are ours when they’re small and then become emphatically their own. They elude us as they slide into personhood, leaving us holding memories and a few fragile hopes. Just as the monster marks the very edge of a community, so too children mark the edge of the unknown: the future, with the potential to be both benevolent and cataclysmic.

I tell myself that we must have done enough to help our boys build a moral compass that will point them away from monstrosity but then I look around at the monsters of misogyny preening themselves in the public eye: Kavanaugh, Weinstein, Lauer, the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief. And those are only the most public offenders. What about all the ordinary terribles, the fumblers and grabbers, the pawers and leerers, the “lighten up it was just a joke” bros—what about them? How did they become those people? And how can our kids avoid seeing these men as success stories?

Have I done enough?

That’s the question that lingers. What if I’ve somehow missed something and toxic seeds have settled into the beautiful bodies of my sons, only to emerge one day—who knows why—and wreak havoc.

I know that the parents of daughters struggle with some of these same questions and have the same hope (which flips into fear) that they’ve done enough to prepare their girls for their lives as women. And I know that some of that preparation involves teaching these girls how to keep themselves safe from men who might hurt them. This is not to say that I think girls are inherently virtuous or kind just because they’re girls—I am still too scarred by some of the mean-girl I shit suffered from in high school to say that. It’s more that I think the parents of girls don’t have to worry (as much) that girls are going to commit some kind of violence.

Let’s go deeper: my sons are growing into men and, like many (most?) women I know, I have always been slightly afraid of men. Only slightly—not debilitating, not terrible—a few moments of panic here and there over the course of my five decades on earth. Particular men—my husband, my brother, a few friends—are loving and gentle. But men in general make me just a little bit anxious. My boys will grow up to become like the particular men I love, right?

What I know is that I can’t know. I want to believe that my husband and I have made boys who will be good men. I want to believe that it’s all going to be okay, that it will never be my boys who do something monstrous. But the world shows us that the shift between possible and impossible can happen in a eye-blink.

I know my boys won’t be monsters. Not my boys.

That couldn’t happen.

But I am still afraid.

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Parents Are Using Fake Social Media Accounts To Monitor Their Kids

I lived with my grandmother during high school, and when I was 16 I had a girlfriend that grandma hated. She only let me go out with her once a week, and she didn’t like me talking to her on the phone. Sometimes I could actually hear her breathing on the other end of the line because she was trying to listen to our conversation by picking up the phone in her bedroom. To keep our conversation private, I actually drilled a hole in my bedroom closet and ran a secret phone line. I’d then hide in there and talk to my girlfriend.

Looking back, this was probably the ’90s equivalent of a “Finsta” or “Sinsta.” For those of you unfamiliar with those terms, let me fill you in. “Finstas” and “Sinstas” are fake social media accounts that teenagers create so they can keep their online interactions secret and away from their parents.

Who knows how long teens have been using secret accounts to stay away from their parents, but I assume the practice happened shortly after social media was invented. But there is a new twist on that practice: parents creating secret accounts to monitor their children.

I know. I know. All of this feels like some sort of a cloak and dagger operation where no one is who they appear, everyone is spying on someone, and who really knows what government we are all affiliated with. Is your teen a spy or a double spy, and are parents actually working for Russia?

I can’t answer those questions, but during a recent interview with former New York Yankees short stop Alex Rodriguez, he let it slip that he uses a “burner” Instagram account to keep an eye on his daughters. While interviewed on the podcast, he mentioned that his daughters wouldn’t let him follow them or see what they post, so this is his work around.

Well since this story ended up being discussed on mainstream media, I’m pretty sure the cat’s out of the bag and his daughters have brought this up with him at the dinner table. But outside of Alex Rodriguez’s home life, his confession to using a fake Instagram account does raise some interesting questions, such as, how many parents are actually doing this?

Naturally, it’s difficult to tell. I can speak for myself and say that I don’t. But at the same time, my oldest is 12 and we haven’t allowed him to get on social media yet. Or at least, that’s what we are telling him. I suppose, he could have a Finsta I don’t know about. But on the whole, he’s a pretty honest kid, so I’m optimistic.

I did, however, ask the question on my blog Facebook page and received hundreds of comments. Many parents said they refused because they respect their child’s privacy. A number of parents clearly had never heard of this practice, but are now convinced it’s the best idea since email. A number of folks said they’d only do it if they suspected their child was doing something dangerous or illegal. In the case of my grandmother listening in on my phone calls, she had the same fears. And you know what, they were valid. I was into some things I really shouldn’t have been.

One mother had this to say about why she has a fake social media account to monitor her children, and I do admit, looking back on my own teen years, I can’t help but feel she has some good points: “Yes. Because I remember being a teen and I made major decisions that I now wish my parents would have caught me and stopped me. I also know a few addicts who also wish their parents would have been more up their booty. Our job isn’t to make our kids happy all the time. Sometimes, we have to piss them off.”

On the whole though, according to this small sampling, it seems lots of parents wouldn’t monitor their children with a fake account. What they do, however, is regularly search their child’s phone. Some said they did it nightly. They insist on passwords to all social media accounts.

One mother even said: “If I want to see her social media I get on her phone and look at it. No need to sneak around.”

Many parents clearly have strict rules around social media, including setting accounts to private (particularly platforms like Instagram and Twitter), and not accepting friend request from people they don’t know IRL. And all of them seem to do it for the same reasons parents have been searching their children’s bedrooms since the dawn of time. To keep them safe.

But naturally, this is a new and ever-changing landscape, and so much of it all comes down to trust. The hope is that your children trust you enough, and that you trust them. When that trust is broken, it can all come out sideways, hurting relationships, and causing parents and children to drift apart.

So my friends, if you are going to monitor your child’s online activity with a burner account, tread lightly.

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12 Lessons I Need My Kids To Know Before They Leave The Nest

I often wonder if I’m doing too much or too little to raise good human beings. Many articles discuss how the baby boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers were in some way damaged by their over-loving, under-loving, over-protective or under-protective parents. Of course, this isn’t encouraging news for the parents of our next generation, the Gen Alphas.

These days we as parents are trying to have and do it all. Our pace is frenetic; our lives are filled with activity after activity – all to ensure our kids are getting the best (fill-in-the-blank) out there. But I wonder how much of what they’re learning is truly meaningful?

During these blurred years of parenting, I’m trying my best to slow down, to be mindful of teaching them (and myself) these life fundamentals. Fortunately, I have 18 or so years with them to discuss and explore these ideas – many of which have been around longer than all our generations combined. I hope that despite the chaos of our lives and my many imperfections as a parent, these growth mindsets will help my children become decent, well-adjusted adults.

1. Adopt kindness as a way of life.

Always strive to be your best self, using kind thoughts, kind words, and kind actions. Be empathetic, be humble, be sincere, be moral, be helpful, be happy for other people’s wins. No gossip. No drama. But kindness doesn’t mean weakness – stand up for yourself or others if someone else is being unkind.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  – Plato

2. Cultivate gratitude. 

Most of what you’ll deal with in life will be first world problems so check yourself before you start complaining. Pause often to tell yourself that you have enough. Every night pray for those who need prayers. Every morning pray with thankfulness for what you have. When feeling down, don’t dwell on the “me,” get out and help the “we.” Always send thank you letters.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” – Aesop

3. Be self-aware.

Realize your strengths and weaknesses and how your actions are impacting the world around you. Power through your insecurities and moods. Even if you’re uncomfortable, say hello and smile. Shake people’s hands firmly and look them in the eye when talking. Practice good manners and good hygiene before someone else has to tell you. Learn what your body language and tone is saying, not just your words. Pay attention to the lies you might be telling yourself.

“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu

Salina Wuttke

4. Accept accountability. 

Own your actions. Most predicaments are due to being a victim of yourself; if crises seem to be a trend for you, consider that you might be the source. Never blame your past for why you’re making poor decisions today. You’ve hit the lottery of birth in both time and place so you can control your path. Control the things you can change, consistently making wise, mindful choices that’ll add up to a successful life that you’ve rightfully earned.

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” – Sigmund Freud

5. Find your inner tranquility. 

Understand that we all get anxious and overwhelmed, so be kind to yourself and stop resisting your struggle – embrace it. Accept the present. Try to quiet your “monkey mind chatter” by thinking bigger. Take the “you” (i.e. the ego), out of your thoughts and think of time and seasons passing, the earth going round and round. Mindfully breathe. This temporal worry you are facing at this time — this too shall pass, and the world will still go on.

“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

6. Be mindful of how you’re filling your void.

We all come to this world with a void, a search for something meaningful to fulfill our lives. Money, cars, trends, social media – the pursuits of sensualists are buckets with holes (no pun intended). Fill your void with the spiritual or meditative. Learn to enjoy being alone. Slow down to question your life’s meaning and pace. Serve others. Connect with the people in your life deeply – below the surface-level. And create beautiful memories.

“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” – Viktor Frankl

7. Work to solve problems. 

Being smart won’t sustain you long term. If there’s a challenge you can’t solve, take the time to figure it out. Most everything is solvable. When stuck, ask for help. Work hard to keep solving whatever life deals you, again and again – breeding confidence and an accomplished life. Accept you’re not perfect – you’ll make mistakes and fail. But fail fast and bounce back again. Be gritty, be resilient, stay motivated. Do any job to the best of your abilities.

“All life is problem solving.” – Karl Popper

8. Strive for moderation.

Learn to be moderate with food, exercise, technology, work, money, politics, spirituality. Work against compulsions. 80% of the time be moderate. But even moderation needs moderation. So, 20% of the time have fun and go big. Work to keep your life and all parts in it simple, organized, minimal, and with no or very little debt.

“Never go to excess but let moderation be your guide.” – Cicero

9. Seek the truth.

Read books. Cultivate a passion for all types of music, art, literature, history, travel, and religion. Continue to create. Don’t be a collectivist. Question yourself if you find that everyone around you has the same opinions and ideas as you. “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates

10. Take risks, smartly. 

Never run away from things you’re afraid of as your world will continue to get smaller. Growth happens most when there’s discomfort so dig deep to cultivate your bravery. Before doing something big and rash, ask yourself why with logic before heart as sometimes it can be for subconscious or existential reasons – realize those issues first before jumping in headfirst. And always try the food and go on that trip (if you have the money).

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” – Sren Kierkegaard

11. Learn to express love. 

Work to overcome your own life’s restrictions and insecurities that are preventing you from being open to your fullest measure. Lower your walls. Be first to express the love or appreciation you have for someone. Admit when you’re wrong and apologize immediately. No silent treatments. Always communicate and forgive. Live, love, and laugh deeply, as today may be your or their last. “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa

12. Don’t be a narcissist. 

Most of the time, life’s not always about you and you’re not more important or more special than anyone else. You do however have unique gifts you can contribute to the world. You’re loved. You’re valued. The world will never be a perfect utopia but that’s okay. You’ll have bad jobs and you’ll have to deal with bad people, but that’s okay too. It’s part of your journey — a journey that you should never sugarcoat. The perfect man/woman of your dreams doesn’t exist but a good, moral one does. There will never be a perfect time to have children so have them, adopt them, or be a mentor for them.

Life is an exciting business, and most exciting when it is lived for others.”  – Helen Keller

The post 12 Lessons I Need My Kids To Know Before They Leave The Nest appeared first on Scary Mommy.

A Twitter Thread Shows How Teens Are Unknowingly Being Manipulated On Social Media

There’s a reason we are terrified of our kids going to middle school. That’s when it all changes, doesn’t it? Suddenly our babies who were just watching Paw Patrol like five seconds ago are learning things—things that make our ears bleed when we imagine them inside our sweet innocent children’s brains. They’re learning about sex (beyond the “talk” Mom and Dad gave them at nine). They’re tempted to try new things—”cool” things like vaping and drinking and making out on the bridge after school. (Is there a bridge by you? There’s always a bridge or path in the woods or spot under the bleachers where kids make out and do shit they aren’t supposed to, isn’t there?)

We are helpless as we approach this cliff of adolescence. We have to let our kids fall off into the abyss of new knowledge and new temptations and peer pressures that middle school will inevitably throw at our kids.

But today’s kids face far more than classmates egging them on to kiss a boy on a bridge or try a puff of this or a swig of that. Today’s tweens and teens are also navigating social media. And through Twitter, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or whatever else pops up next, they are inundated with information—good and bad—that floods their still developing, still impressionable brains.

And, as one mom recently found out, one of those things is the ugly, racist underbelly of America.

In a now viral Twitter thread, Joanna Schroeder (@iproposethis) provides a much-needed wake-up call to parents—especially parents of white teenage boys.

Schroeder then goes on to say, “Social media and vloggers are actively laying groundwork in white teens to turn them into alt-right/white supremacists. It’s a system I believe is purposefully created to disillusion white boys away from progressive/liberal perspectives.”

And that should be alarming to all of us.

Just like anyone who preys up young kids too naive to know better, racists and white supremacists, according to Schroeder, are trying to influence our kids early and groom them. Only it’s 2019, so they’re doing it through social media.

“First, the boys are inundated by memes featuring subtly racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic jokes. Being kids, they don’t see the nuance & repeat/share,” Schroeder explains.

Then what do you think happens to the 12-year old who shared or retweeted something he thought was funny and not offensive (because he’s 12 and still learning)? He’ll be attacked, ridiculed, and blasted online as a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, or a bigot. And then he’ll have to choose what to do with that shame and embarrassment—apologize and right his wrong, or listen to the voices saying, “The world is too sensitive!” and “People get offended by everything these days” and “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

If that boy follows route #2, (which many do) and believes the voices telling him that he’s being unfairly punished because “it was just a joke,” he’s already made it through the first phase of training. Now he’ll get angry for being in trouble, and those who spread racist, sexist, and offensive “jokes” are his new online friends. Because they’ve got his back.

And that’s how a new white supremacist is born. That’s how the seeds of anger are planted. Seeds of anger at: “Women, feminists, liberals, people of color, gay folks, etc etc. So-called snowflakes,” Schroeder explains in her Twitter thread. “And nobody is there to dismantle the ‘snowflake’ fallacy. These boys are being set up—they’re placed like baseballs on a tee and hit right out of the park.”

It’s not like it was generations ago, parents. Grooming young minds to believe in bigotry used to take more time. It relied on exposure via newspapers and word of mouth. It took years of brainwashing. Not anymore. The process is quicker now. And easier. All thanks to the internet and social media. And the fact that our kids are accessing all of it at younger and younger ages.

So what can we do? “Stalk their social media,” Schroeder says. Look for red flags—like if your son says the word “triggered” in response to a sensitive topic. Someone has already planted that in his mind—that a topic that’s offensive to some is really “just a joke” in today’s politically correct climate.

Schroeder also implores us, as parents, to take several more necessary steps. We need to explain how propaganda works—by making “extreme points of view seem normal by small amounts of exposure over time—all for the purpose of converting people to more extremist points of view.”

We need to ensure our kids know that they are being used as pawns, and that it’s up to them whether they’ll be played the fool or not.

And we need to change the narrative on that whole “snowflake” thing. Is a “snowflake” someone who “gets offended by racism/sexism and actively wants to help end bigotry?” Well, then it’s time to teach to our kids to be proud snowflakes, isn’t it?

She adds that we should also talk to our kids about comedy, since the continuous argument we hear is “You can’t make jokes anymore!” because “Everyone’s always offended!” Schroeder says we need to “show them that progressive comedy isn’t about being ‘politically correct’ or safe. It’s often about exposing oppressive systems—which is the furthest thing from ‘safe’ or delicate as you can get.” She suggests exposing our kids to the witty and poignant humor of comedians like John Oliver, Trevor Noah, and Stephen Colbert and talk about what they’re trying to achieve with their jokes.

This is scary shit, folks. Our kids are seeing these messages at younger ages than ever before—well before they’ve had time in their lives to truly figure out what bigotry really is. And if we don’t intervene, they’ll be influenced by the wrong ideologies and could possibly share such tweets and posts themselves without knowing that once they hit “like” or “share,” the damage is done.

It’s a whole new world for 21st century parents and their kids—for better or worse. We can’t simply ignore the social media world our kids are exposed to. It’s our job to protect our kids from the ugliness that’s out there, and to ensure that they don’t become part of the ugliness themselves.

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Remembering Your Own Past Is The Scariest Part Of Raising Tweens And Teens

I remember when I was around 15, and I was getting ready to head out on my first “car date” with a boy. We were going out for ice cream. It was my birthday. I was, as you can imagine, beyond excited. And nervous.

And my father certainly didn’t help calm those nerves. He was trying to find a middle ground between “tough, protective” dad and “I trust that my daughter can handle herself” dad. But one thing he said stuck with me—and now that I’m a parent, I know why.

He explained that the reason he was worried, the reason he didn’t trust any boy who picked me up (even if I vehemently defended them as “super nice!”) was this: he remembered “what it was like to be a teenager.”

There’s a lot wrapped up in that statement—teenagers are hormonal. Sometimes they do stupid shit. Sometimes they are impulsive and act without considering consequences. Sometimes they take unsafe risks.

My dad was also rational and knew that this was happening, whether he liked it or not. His little girl was growing up, was going to date, was going to get into boys’ cars, and was going to have to figure out how to handle any situation that came her way.

And truth be told, he also really liked a lot of the guys I was friends with, or dated, and knew that despite the raging hormones and not-yet-fully-developed prefrontal cortex, they were pretty good kids—kind, respectful, and usually responsible. But “good kid” or not, kids are kids, and as a dad, he knew full well what kids might do—including his daughter.

Now that I’m a parent myself, I know what he meant. I have found myself with similar thoughts as I watch my own kids navigate friendships and new experiences. They aren’t teens yet, so there aren’t car dates or curfews yet. I still have to drop them off and pick them and I always know who they are with and where they are.

But already, I think of myself, and the stupid choices I made as a kid, and it scares me. Because even though my kids are 10, 8, and 6, they are old enough to be motivated by the one thing that often drives kids to make poor choices. The one thing that definitely impacted my poor decision-making. And that thing is the desire to fit in.


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I was a good kid—a really good kid. I never got in trouble in school. I was an honor student, class secretary, and had an academic scholarship lined up by the end of senior year to my dream college. But did I still do stupid shit? Yep. Why? Because sometimes, despite being a well-behaved, rule-following kid, I still wanted to fit in. I still wanted the cool kids to like me. I still wanted to be included in the inner circle. And sometimes breaking in meant compromising my own values.

Do I regret some of the choices I made? Sure, but I know that part of growing up is messing up. And I know that my kids are going to mess up too. I just wish I could instill in them a better sense of confidence so that their actions aren’t driven by the desire to fit in with a bunch of kids they won’t speak to or see ever again after high school.

I wish I could hold up a mirror to 14-year old me trying a cigarette for the first time or taking a shot of Jagermeister and thinking it was gross, but pushed me up a couple rungs on the popularity ladder. Or 16-year old me, whose crush finally noticed her and asked her out. I wish I could show my kids this beautiful girl who had so much to offer the world. I wish I could talk to her and stop her from placing all her self-worth and value in that high school boyfriend who’d end up breaking her heart a few months later. I wish I could stop my kids from going down that path—the path of following the crowd, the path of doing whatever kids need to do to feel cool or liked or valued, the path of making choices they know aren’t right. Choices that don’t feel right in their gut, but they don’t see another path because the “popular” one is so shiny.

I see it already, even in my 8-year-old. I see the way she watches other girls, specifically older ones. I want to grab her and hold her tight and somehow protect her from those insecurities I faced—insecurities that made me take risks, hang out with kids who broke rules and made me uncomfortable, and date boys who were the wrong boys for me.

So yeah, I know what my dad meant when he said “I remember what it was like being a teenager.” He may have talking about hormones, but he was probably also talking about the fact that most kids really do want to be “good kids,” but pretty much of all of them still mess up. And he was worried that one of those times of “messing up” would involve his own daughter. And that she might “mess up” too.

With each passing week, month, and year, I have to let go a little bit more. My oldest will be going into middle school next year. He’s a really good kid—the best kid, in fact. But he’s going to face circumstances where he’ll have make a choice. And that choice might determine his position in a certain social circle, or score him a spot at the cool lunch table in 6th grade. And my daughter is not close behind him; neither is their little brother.

So I guess all I can do is talk to my kids about their value. About their worth among friends, among boyfriends and girlfriends. Among the cool crowd and the nerds. Among the athletes, the band kids, the theater kids, and the book worms. All I can do is explain to them—in a way that they really hear me—that actions have consequences. And some consequences are hard to recover from. Some aren’t worth that momentary spot in the inner circle, surrounded by a bunch of kids who will have no bearing on their lives in 10 or 15 years.

I don’t have a magic mirror that can show them a nervous girl experimenting with things she wasn’t ready for. Or who let a high school broken heart shatter her feelings of self-worth. But I can take those memories to heart, just as my dad did, and parent my kids the best I can. And most of all, when they mess up, I can be there with love and forgiveness. They are just kids after all.

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It’s Parents Against The World When It Comes To Teaching Our Kids

My husband and I teach our sons that the most important thing in the world is kindness. I make sure to show kindness whenever I’m out with my sons; I try to never say a mean word in front of them. We never belittle them. We never belittle others in front of them. We’re incredibly strict about their media consumption. But even though they’re homeschooled, they see other children (we obviously don’t want them to live in a bubble). Those other children have taught them words, words you use to talk about people and things you don’t like: Meanie. Stupid. Now they deploy the words against each other, and we have to run interference.

Sometimes it feels like it’s parents against the world when it comes to teaching our kids.

We can’t keep them sheltered forever. And goddammit, we do our best, but no one wants to raise a child who isn’t prepared for the world. Your children are not your children, wrote Kahlil Gibran. And while this is a beautiful and poetic sentiment, it’s also the truth: your children belong to the world just as the world belongs to your children, and you have no right to keep the two completely apart. That means that even my supremely, supremely sheltered kids (my nine-year-old asked what gum was the other day) encounter the world, and I have to fight against it to instill the values I want them to grow up with.

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Take guns. I hate guns, and believe in gun regulation as strict as Japan’s. But I live in one of the reddest of red states. My son’s best friend’s mother has a sticker on her car, something about loving Starbucks and guns. It nauseates me, but I like her and I like her daughter — and I know that she and my son probably play pretend guns when I’m not looking. I also know that my kids love Star Wars, and Star Wars means blasters, and blasters are a sidestep from guns. They see Star Wars everywhere — even if I confiscated every blaster that came into my house, they’d still encounter them — and so they play with blasters. The other day, I had them memorize the poem “America is a Gun” for school. My seven-year-old swung a toy blaster around his finger while he recited. I made him stop. He complained. We fight, but we fight against the world that tells us guns are okay, guns are part of the culture, guns are toys.

And there’s sex. You can’t keep your kid from talking about sex, or discovering ideas that conflict with your notions of sexuality. Right now, my children are young and sheltered: they’ve only had mostly us to talk to about it. But they’ve still had toxic messages filter in from the Catholic Church about masturbation, about premarital sex, about birth control (one of the reasons I wanted to leave the church to begin with). Their carefully constructed notions of consent, which we have hammered into them: I don’t like the way you’re touching me, or Stop touching me like that — those have been shaken when an adult laughs them off while they’re hugging our sons. We intervene. But these influences come from everywhere. It’s a rising tide, something all parents have to fight, have to face, have to cope with: how do you fight against the world?

You don’t.

You can’t.

You can only do your level best and pray.

I used to think that if I homeschooled my kids, they would be different. I thought they would never call each other names. But they came into contact with other children — and if we had kept them in a sealed bunker, they’d have heard us tell their brothers not to whine. So they call each other “whiney.” They say “You’re whining” as an insult. They’d have found a way. I thought if we discouraged violence and they never saw it from other children (they don’t, really), they wouldn’t act violently towards one another. But they see it on TV, and everyone wants to wrestle. They only have an old school Nintendo, but everyone wants to play Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Then they want to act it out.

You can’t fight the world. It leaks in. So we pick our battles.

I don’t personally care if my kids curse. So we let them listen to music with curse words in them but I do care if they drink the toxic masculinity Kool-Aid. So I have to fight that battle. We actively hammer in that notion of consent not only for them, but for the girls they will one day encounter: so they know that no means no. We never, never tell them to stop crying; we say, “I see you feel ______ right now.” We simply can’t. The world tells them every day to stop crying, to toughen up, to be a man. We avoid shows for “boys” and stick to gender-neutral TV as much as possible. We let them pick unicorn and kitty shirts, pink and purple ones, from the girls’ department if that’s what they like. Other kids, one day, will ridicule them for this. We can only pray they’re secure enough to tell them to, in no uncertain terms, to (nicely) fuck off: colors and animals are for everyone.

And I sure as hell care if they’re kind. So I discourage friendships with kids who aren’t. When they see unkindness, either from other children or from adults, we talk about it. We know the world is going to invade. We can’t fight against the world, the rising tide of culture invading, pervading everything: the sex and the beauty standards and the devaluing of human worth and the guns and the Trump administration and the list goes on. All we can do is talk about it.

We can try our best to hand our children something better, to live that something better and make it more attractive.

But in the end, they have to pick for themselves.

We have no right to keep them from the world. We can fight against the world. But the world will inevitably win.

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I Learned How To ‘Pick My Battles’ With My Ex And It Has Made Us Better Co-Parents

My ex-husband can be a bit of a flake. Yes, that is a nice way of saying he’s not only forgetful, but thinks he can change plans and make decisions about our children, and our custody schedule, without checking in with me. He has a tendency to think his feelings matter so much, there’s no need to check in with anyone else because if it works and feels good for him, who the fuck cares? In his mind, it probably feels that way for everyone else, right?

Wrong.

Needless to say, this is a big reason for our divorce. I was the nurturer and the one who made sure everyone had what they needed. I baked his favorite meals and celebrated his birthday and Father’s Day hard while it was a struggle for him to plan anything on Mother’s Day.

If I didn’t say anything about what I needed from him, he figured all was well and he was in the clear. But if I did say what I needed, it really put him out. Hence our divorce.

After we split, he didn’t change. I would literally clench my asshole every time he did something I didn’t like and try to challenge him on it, only exhausting myself further. It wasn’t working for me or for anyone else in the family for that matter.

Thank god my best best friend doesn’t let me get away with playing the victim for too long. One day while ranting away, she gave me some tough love and said, “This is who he is. He’s always been this way, Diana. He’s never going to change.” And she was right.

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We’d gotten in an argument because he bought tickets to take our children to NYC during Christmas vacation without even asking me. He showed them pictures of the hotel, told them all the things they were going to do, and they were over the moon about the trip.

I was not. I not only felt like I was getting robbed of valuable time with my kids around the holidays, but their plans were killing me. I’d always wanted to go to the city with my my family when I was married, but he never wanted to take the time off work and thought it was too expensive. But now he could make a getaway to NYC happen? WTF.

The talk with my bestie flipped a switch in me and I was able to calm down (after breathing into a bag for several long minutes). I realized I needed to learn how to deal with this way of parenting with my ex — this was our life from here on out.

There would be other things I’d be pissed about. There would be times I’d be tempted to put my feelings of anger and resentment before my kids’ feelings, and I didn’t want to be that person, ever.

I started doing two things that helped me find my way through co-parenting with my ex-husband with a smidge of grace. It’s helped me keep my eyeballs on what’s important and not want to box his ears every time he does something dumb (which is often).

First, when we are stumbling, or can’t come to an agreement, I make the decision about whether this is worth sticking to or whether I can relent or compromise a bit. Then, I either agree or I stand my ground.

If I make the decision to relent, I don’t look back or hold on to anger and resentment. AT ALL.

I started doing two things that helped me find my way through co-parenting with my ex-husband with a smidge of grace.

For example, this week my ex decided he wanted to take our son out of a camp I paid for so they could go to a water park and spend the day at the lake. My initial reaction was to want to break something, because changing plans makes my head spin. But I took a breath (co-parenting involves taking lots of these) and asked my son what he would rather do. He was super excited about the water park and jet skis, so we went with that. I agreed and then forced myself to be fine with it and never think about it again. 

Instead of my old, “What the fuck is your problem? Why do you always do this? You are so inconsiderate and this is why we aren’t married and you suck,” I said, “Okay, he’d like to do that.”

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We had a pleasant exchange, and I felt like the bigger person who deserved a trophy and crown for the way I handled it. Then he deposited the money for two days worth of camp into my bank account (even though I didn’t ask for it), and we all felt jolly and great.

I can honestly tell you, if I’d taken the low road and ripped him a new one there’d be no reimbursement in my bank account, but more importantly, no jolly feelings. Jolly feelings make for really fucking good co-parents, which is the long-term goal here. 

However, there are times when I have to put my foot down. Like when I made reservations to take them on a little weekend getaway. I told my ex about it, but later he wanted me to change the dates because he got rare concert tickets. 

I could have gone on a rant about how I made plans first and he was being unreasonable, but I cut through all the drama and said in a very kind tone, “No, we are keeping the weekend as is, and I’m not changing my mind.”

Jolly feelings make for really fucking good co-parents, which is the long-term goal here. 

He’s seen me as a mother and knows when I say this to my kids, I’m really not changing my mind, so I decided to tap into that magic, and it works like a charm. 

Listen. Co-parenting is really, really hard. You live in two different places, you likely parent two different ways, and there are so many things your ex can do in their parenting styles that can feel personal and bring up a lot of old shit. It’s really hard not to spiral, and there was a time when letting myself spiral would bring me a bit of relief. But the arguing and yelling was just a buffer It never solved anything. 

You can stand your ground without the drama. You can give in and make a decision about what’s important (your kids, of course) and show your kids a healthy way to co-parent. 

I’m not saying doing these two things are easy. What I am saying is they feel so much better than the alternative. Besides, you can always punch your pillow in private and rant to your best friend to let off all the steam you need. 

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