Someone Else’s Experience Isn’t A Judgment Or Commentary On Yours

Has it always been like this? Is this a result of the rise of social media—this petty ugliness between moms? Or were our mothers and grandmothers just as catty and competitive and willing to cut one another down for being different, but it just wasn’t blasted on IG and FB?

Well, regardless of when or how it all started, this is how it is now, isn’t it? Celebrities go through it. And regular moms like us go through it. You can’t celebrate pumping a full bottle of milk without someone accusing you of shaming women who don’t breastfeed. You can’t talk about how hard sleep training is, even though you believe it’s what you and your baby need, without someone blasting for you being cruel and neglectful. You can’t talk about your son breaking something in your house and making a joke about being a “boy mom” (even though maybe you only have boys), without being accused of sexism because “girls break stuff too!”

Listen, we know.

 

We know our fellow moms on this motherhood journey struggle to breastfeed or choose not to breastfeed. We know sleep training isn’t for everyone. And we know that lots of girls wrestle and rough-house and destroy the house.

We. Know.

Sometimes we are just telling our own stories. That doesn’t mean we are negating your experience. In fact, we encourage you to tell your story too — there’s a place for all of us at this motherhood table. Breastfeeding moms, formula-feeding moms, working moms, stay-at-home moms, “girl” moms, “boy” moms, moms of both, moms of children who are transgender or nonbinary. We all deserve a place to tell our stories, whether to vent or just find solidarity in this sisterhood.

We aren’t trying to take away from your story by telling our own.

I’ve been a stay-at-home turned work-from-home mom for over 10 years. I’ve told stories of having a gifted child and a feral child who destroys everything in his path. I’ve talked about fighting stay-at-home mom depression, of struggling to breastfeed and eventually having success in breastfeeding, and the emotional end of that era for me. I’ve talked about being a mom to boys and a mom to a girl and what that has looked like for me. I’ve written about the SAHM life and the WAHM life and marriage and family and baby days and toddler days and everything in between. I’ve admitted that I struggled to potty-train all of my kids for a variety of reasons and that it damn near broke me. And I’ve opened up about what it’s like to have a child with life-threatening allergies and watch him go out in a world that isn’t peanut-free.

Most of the time, I read responses like, “I feel ya!” or “Been there!” or “Thank you for telling this story. It makes me feel less alone.”

Sometimes someone will say that they’ve had a different experience: “I potty-trained using the 3-day method and it worked!” on a post where I lamented that I’ve been wiping butts for a decade and see no end in sight.

And having someone comment that their experience was different is completely fine, and in fact, one of the greatest things about social media —the ability for moms to have a discourse about how our stories are all unique to our own families and circumstances.

But the problem arises when one mom tells a story that differs from another, and someone feels insulted. Like, because you choose to breastfeed at the zoo, you’re somehow spewing negativity and judgment at the formula-feeding mom at home, when really maybe you’re just feeding your baby while your toddler looks at elephants.

Why do we do this to each other?

Which one of us wrote the book on motherhood? I know I sure didn’t. I screw this shit up all the damn time. My kids eat way too much junk food, and I’m too busy and too tired to fight them. Their rooms are a mess, one of them called the other a dumbass the other day, and I’m 99% sure we are waaaaaay overdue on well-visits to the pediatrician. (But hey! They got their flu shots! See? I’m not a total disaster.)

My point is, my story does not negate yours. If I talk about how my 6-year-old breaks shit (including his own face and body) jumping off furniture and throwing balls through windows, I might make a joke about being a “boy mom.” That doesn’t mean girls don’t do the exact same thing. My daughter happens to be more docile. She spends her days happily crafting and couldn’t care less if she ever throws a ball again.

I’m not saying “all boys” or “only boys” at all. I am simply talking about my own kid and what it’s been like for me to raise a feral raccoon.

I also often talk about the struggles of stay-at-home parenting. This one makes my head explode, because, without fail, the comment thread becomes a brawl over who has it harder—stay-at-home or working moms. At no point have I ever (or will I ever) say working moms have it easy. I know they are up before the sun, running every second of the day, and operate on a level of exhaustion and caffeine intake I probably can’t imagine.

My story is simply my story. I know that other moms like me struggle when stuck home all day with babies and toddlers trying to crawl back into their uterus. I know because I lived it for a very long time. So when I talk about the isolation, or how hard it is to go entire 8-10 hour days without talking to or seeing another adult, or the depression that can set it in when you don’t have time to shower, or wonder why you should even bother when a child is just going to spit up in your hair in 10 minutes, I am not trying to discount the life of another mom who leaves the house every day for work.

It’s not a competition.

My story doesn’t undo anyone else’s. And it isn’t a criticism or even a commentary on anyone else’s.

And the thing that sucks the most is when a post meant to provide comfort and solace to another struggling mom ends up causing a comment thread clogged with negativity and cut-throat nastiness among parents who really should just lift each other up or mind their own business.

So how about we don’t do this anymore? How about this instead? If you see a post about homeschooling or dealing with toddler tantrums or where to buy the best organic produce, and you happen to not homeschool, or not have a toddler, or not have any interest in organic produce, maybe just recognize that this particular post isn’t tailored for you? That it likely has value to other moms who are living different lives and making different choices?

And, on the other side, if you’re like me, and you really don’t do the organic thing a whole lot, and your kid is a hot mess at Target chucking a shoe across the aisle, also remember that not every mom is in our boat either. Organic mom isn’t necessarily insulting our choices if she posts about homemade baby food. That’s just her life and her choice. And a mom whose kid is totally well-behaved isn’t always saying we suck. She might just have a different kid, and that’s all.

Social media doesn’t have to be a toxic dumpster fire. But it’s up to us to make that change. If someone blatantly calls you out and says you’re a shitty parent if you don’t use cloth diapers, then yeah, I get it if you go off. But more often than not, parents are just trying to tell their own stories, forge a friendship, or at least feel less alone in this sea of uncertainty we’re all swimming in.

So here’s my truth: I breastfed. If you didn’t, come sit with me. I go to church. If you don’t, come sit with me. I rarely wear makeup and I live in leggings and sweatshirts. If you spend an hour getting ready every day and wear real pants that button, come sit with me. My house is a trash-heap. If yours is clean and your shoes don’t stick to the floor, come sit with me.

Because even though we are different, I think we could be friends. (But seriously, my kid really might break your house, so just come here. It’s safer.)

The post Someone Else’s Experience Isn’t A Judgment Or Commentary On Yours appeared first on Scary Mommy.

How To Raise Bully-Proof Children

Back to school: An exciting time punctuated by new teachers and classes, fresh books and school supplies, resuming friendships and extra-curricular activities. For the child who has experienced bullying, however, it can be the worst time of the year.

It sure was for me.

Every year, I’d hope maybe it would be different. Throughout elementary and high school, bullying was a big part of my experience. By 10th grade, I even had a bully on the public bus I would take to and from school.

He would sit at the back of the bus with his friends and call me names and say, “What’s wrong? Are you scared to sit at the back of the bus? Maybe we’ll just have to follow you home…”

I remember I would get on and off several stops away from my own stop for fear that he would one day discover where I lived.

This went on for two years.

Things got so bad that I became depressed, isolated, and even considered suicide.

As an adult who survived bullying, I became a high school music teacher who focused on building confidence and self-esteem and I, once again, was immersed in an environment where bullying was an everyday reality. I was determined to make a difference for my students.

Here are a few steps you can take to help your child deal with bullying.

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1. Listen to your child.

Your child will tell you or show you that they are being bullied. Listen and notice. If your child tells you what’s going on in school, listen. If your child is less communicative, listen all the more. Ask open-ended questions. Wait for answers, but don’t force them. If you demonstrate that you are always ready to listen without judgement and without jumping in too quick and potentially embarrassing action, eventually s/he/they will open up.

Listen with your eyes. Children who are less communicative will show other signs such as not wanting to go to school, feigning illness, and may even show signs of physical injury.

2. Tell someone.

Teach your child to tell the adults in charge. Bullies and friends alike parade the ridiculous notion that one shouldn’t be a tattletale, which is ideal fodder for people looking to get away with something they shouldn’t be doing.

Tell someone. And, if nothing happens, tell someone else. Even in this day and age of bully-awareness, your child may need to tell a number of people before someone actually takes action. After all, it’s much easier to sweep something under the rug than to address it.

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As a parent, tell someone else who your child trusts; teachers, siblings, friends, an older cousin or camp counselor. I never told my parents or family. They had absolutely no idea what was going on. While your child may not open up to you, by telling others, you increase the chances of getting support.

3. Travel in groups.

Bullies win by isolating their targets. Teach your child to go with a buddy — if at all possible — to places in which s/he/they may encounter bullying. Unfortunately, oftentimes a bully’s ideal target is the awkward child with few to no friends.

4. Watch for cyberbullying.

If your child is being bullied online, there are ways to address it.

Do not respond to cyberbullying. Rather, document it.

Record dates and times, save screenshots, emails, and text messages.

Report cyberbullying to the relevant social media platforms and providers.

There are rules against cyberbullying. And there are laws against it too. If the cyberbullying involves threats of violence or the release of private information, report it to law enforcement.

5. Talk about it.

Don’t wait until it happens to talk about bullying. The truth is your child is experiencing bullying in some way; either as a victim or as a spectator.

Have regular conversations about confidence, self-esteem, behavior, bullies, and bullying.

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Pay attention when your child tells you stories about their friends who might be displaying bully-like behavior. Ask questions. Get your child’s opinions. Have a discussion.

Kids do well if they can. A bully is simply a child who isn’t able to manage something else that is going on in their life. Empower your kids to ask questions when they see someone being a bully – to ask if the bully is OK.

6. Celebrate who your child is, in all their weird, awkward uniqueness.

Bullies are most effective when they target those who already feel uncomfortable in their own skin. Adolescents who feel as if they don’t “fit in” and have low self-esteem are prime targets, which unfortunately is figuratively the very definition of adolescence.

When a child feels worthless and undeserving and feels there is something wrong with him (like I did), he is the least likely to report bullying behavior. Rather, he feels like he deserves it, and all the more so, will do almost anything to hide the source of his shame.

Consider two LGBT youth. One is ashamed of his feelings for the same sex and tries to hide it. Another is very visible and proud, holds hands in public with his boyfriend and advocates on campus for LGBT rights. Whereas the bully may attempt to intimidate each of these students, he will only be successful with the former.

This brings me to the most important point. Parents, you cannot prevent bullying. The best you can do is prevent your child from being vulnerable to bullies. From the day your child is born, your job as a parent is to love your child unconditionally, and to positively and authentically mirror to your child her uniqueness and incomparable worth.

A child who knows she is loved for all her weirdness, awkwardness and authenticity cannot be blackmailed into believing less of herself.

Celebrate your child, and teach him to celebrate himself, each and every day. Teach him to pat himself on the back for challenging himself, for learning, for growing and for just being himself.

A child who celebrates themselves for being just who they are, cannot be bullied into believing something else.

 

Previously published on TODAY Parenting.

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Here Are 8 Ways To ‘Hakuna Matata’ Your Parenting

As a parent, there are probably a million thoughts racing through your head that have zero chill. Was that a cough or hiccup? Did she wash her hands before picking up my baby? If I don’t buy this locally-sourced, organic thing shipped from a puffy cloud full of rainbows, is my family doomed? 

See, parenthood can be rough. 

Sometimes, though, we find inspiration where we least expect it. Like from Simba’s friends Timon and Pumba in Disney’s The Lion King — now available on Digital, Movies Anywhere & Blu-ray. There is so much to be anxious about, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to sometimes tell yourself, “Hakuna matata, we have no worries!” 

We asked the Scary Mommy community, “Tell us one thing about motherhood that keeps you up at night?” And Scary Mommies shared a range of things — from the safety of your kids to what the future holds to asking, “When will all this laundry end?” Because seriously. Make it stop. With your worries, we sprinkled some hakuna matata over those fears. Because, after all, you’re doing great, mamas.   

1. Parenting Comes With Lots Of Worries.

It’s normal to feel like everything is a concern when you’re a parent. You’re only one person, though. Try to deal with things one at a time, and only focus on what you can deal with in the moment.

2. Oh, They Know.

The sign of a great parent is that they even care about their kids knowing that they love them. If you’re wondering about this, they already know. They might not show it now, but as they get older, you’ll see how much they appreciate you.

3. Goodness, When Will It End?

As long as you have kids, you’ll have laundry. There’s no use in worrying about it. If the laundry gets folded, great. If not, so what? The family still has clean clothes, and a few wrinkles never hurt anybody.

4. At Some Point the Kids Grow Up.

Even if your kids choose a path that takes them down a rocky road, as long as they have you, they’ll be okay. No one is going to have a problem-free life, but it’s nice to give your kids a safety net in case things don’t go as planned. 

5. The Good Thing Is That Kids Bounce Back Quickly.

What is is about beds that turn a sleeping kid into a gymnast? Children have been rolling off of beds for centuries. Trust us, they were built for this life. 

6. Trust Those Instincts, Mama.

It’s natural to be unsure about whether you’re doing things right when you’re a new parent. You leave the hospital and it’s like you’re being set free in the wild with a newborn. Trust your instincts. They’ll be a great guide for what you need to do to take care of your baby.

7. Safety Is Always A Concern.

As much as parents whine about kids and their screens, thank goodness for technology. There are so many apps and programs that help you to track your kids and know where they are at all times. Check them out and let that a little bit of that worry go!

8. If You’re Showing Up, You’re Doing Fine.

While you’re stressing out about how you’re doing as a parent, your kids are thriving and other folks are watching you rock out this parenting gig in awe. As long as you show up for your kids, they’ll be just fine. Just make sure to hakuna matata!

Disney’s The Lion King is available now on Digital, Movies Anywhere & Blu-ray. 

The post Here Are 8 Ways To ‘Hakuna Matata’ Your Parenting appeared first on Scary Mommy.

If You Aren’t Telling Your Children You Love Them Every Day, You Are Doing It Wrong

I was recently giving my 12-year-old son a lecture because he’d gotten in trouble in his garden class. Apparently he and another boy wandered off from the school garden, out of sight, and started smacking random trees with one of the school rakes, attempting to break it. The principal caught them. Only it gets worse, my wife — his mother — was also teaching the class.

Naturally, on a list of stupid stunts pulled in junior high, I’m pretty sure this ranks somewhere near the bottom in terms of severity. However, it was pretty embarrassing for my wife to have her own son brought to her by the principal. And I told him as much. I also told him that I’m surprised his mother didn’t break her foot off in his butt, right there in front of his classmates. He looked at the ground, sheepishly, and once I was done giving him a punishment, I said, “You know what you did was out of line, but I do want you to know I still love you.”

This isn’t the first time one of my children has been in trouble, and we ended with an “I love you.” That phrase really is the refrain of our home. When I leave for work, I hug my kids and say, “I love you.” When I come home, it’s the same. When I put them to bed, I say it again. I’ve been a father for 12 years, and I cannot think of a day I haven’t told my children that I loved them. I don’t know if I say it too much. I don’t know if you can tell your children you love them too much. But what I can say is that I didn’t hear that phrase all that often from my parents.

I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I think it had something to do with my family being pretty unstable. My father was in and out of jail because of a drug addiction. My mother struggled as a single mother. But when I was 14, I moved in with my grandmother, and she said, “I love you” after everything. She must have told me she loved me three or for times a day, sometimes even more. When I was in trouble, the lecture always ended with an, “I love you.” It seemed like no matter what I did, how I performed, the good, the bad, and the ugly, my grandmother loved me.

In high school, I didn’t think much of it. And when she said it around my friends, I’ll admit, I got a little embarrassed. But looking back now, I know without a shadow of a doubt that my grandmother loved me no matter what. And I must say, in comparison to the uncertainty I have around my own parents’ love for me, it feels like this cool refreshing certainty that I cannot help but want to give to my own children.

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So I say it a lot. I say it when I’m angry with my kids. I say it when I’m happy with them. I say it before I hang up the phone, and when I drop them off at school, and before they step out on the soccer turf, or gymnastics mat, or settle into bed.

I have this strong desire for my children to now that regardless of who they are, what they do, who they become, how they perform, or how they feel about me, that they know I love them. My love for them cannot fade, and it does not have to be earned. It is the foundation of our relationship. My love for them is their safety net. It is the parachute. It is their soft landing.

This doesn’t mean I don’t express dissatisfaction when they slack off in school. It doesn’t mean that I don’t speak firmly with them when they do something boneheaded, like my son did in garden class. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have high expectations for them as humans. It also doesn’t mean that I look the other way because I am blinded by my love for my children.

It simply means that my children are loved. They have a father who is there for them during the good and the bad. Sometimes it means tough love, and sometimes it means “kiss their scuffed knee” love. But ultimately, I want my children to know, regardless of how they turn out, that their father loves them.

So back to the story with my son. When I told him I loved him after scolding him for misbehaving in his own mother’s class, he didn’t roll his eyes. He didn’t argue with me, or stomp out of the room. He just looked up at me and said, “I love you too, Dad.”

And in so many ways it felt like he was saying, “I know you are doing this because you love me.” It took us a long time to get to this point, but I know for a fact that we wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t made sure that he knew I loved him.

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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.

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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.

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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

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