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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah, messy.

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

Those are the only explanations I can come up with.

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

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

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

Confessional #25785384

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

Confessional #25780780

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

Confessional #25775194

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

Confessional #25783086

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

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

Confessional #25785258

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

Confessional #25785168

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

Confessional #25776424

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

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

Confessional #25783603

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

Confessional #25781990

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

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

Confessional #25782602

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

Confessional #25781753

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

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

Confessional #25779758

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

Confessional #25776150

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

Confessional #25780954

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

Confessional #25774321

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

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

Confessional #25768524

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

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

Confessional #25785125

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

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

Confessional #25771764

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

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

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

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

The post From The Confessional: We’re Tired AF Of Cleaning Up Everyone’s Sh*t appeared first on Scary Mommy.

This New Pandemic Phase Is More Stressful Than Lockdown

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

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

Yeah. Tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we’re not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah. I’m fucking tired.

And it’s only June.

The post This New Pandemic Phase Is More Stressful Than Lockdown appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Why I’ve Totally Changed My Tune On Video Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Honest Complaining Is Better Than Fake Positivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essentially, all that is to say:

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

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

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

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

Live your life authentically. And be grateful every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I Miss My Over-Scheduled Calendar — And My Kids Do Too

Someone asked me recently if I was able to commit to an end of May deadline for a work project. I can do the project from home and any work I can drum up right now is work I am saying yes to. Sadly, there was no need to check my calendar, and we both had a good laugh. Who said a pandemic isn’t a hoot?

Everything has been canceled and anything new is written in faint pencil lines. I feel like Ralphie at the end of A Christmas Story right after the Bumpeses’ dogs ate the turkey. As Ralphie’s dad stands in shock, holding a discarded turkey wing, the voice of adult Ralphie is heard saying, “It was gone. All gone. No turkey, no turkey sandwiches, no turkey salad, no turkey gravy, turkey hash, turkey a la king, or gallons of turkey soup. Gone. All gone!” As I stand in front of the blank family dry erase board in the kitchen, clutching my virtually useless paper calendar, I understand. No birthday parties, baseball practices, dentist appointments, playdates, work dinners, community events, or school functions. Gone.

It’s all gone, and I miss it.

During a February meeting in which a group of us were trying to plan a spring function, I reminded people that May is the worst month of the year for parents with school aged kids. Field trips, spring sports, teacher appreciation events (I am appreciating the hell out of teachers right now), I think Mother’s Day is somewhere in May, and all of the other end-of-the-school-year happenings make it very hard to function with sanity, let alone grace. At the time, the last thing we needed was another event. But now I miss the rat race and long for any and all events.

I keep looking at the mostly white, blank dry erase calendar that is in the kitchen and mourn the events that would normally be color-coded for each person in the house. Of course I sighed and complained about the work that went into keeping everyone organized, fed, on time, and well-rested while juggling my own schedule, plus those of three kids and a co-parent. But I am great at time management, and structured chaos is my wheelhouse.

An empty calendar is not maximizing my multi-tasking, over-planning, detail-oriented skills. Pride while watching my Little Leaguers step up to the plate is not just for them, but also for the fact that their uniforms were clean and their bellies were full of the dinner eaten in the van on the way to the field. We made it on time too, FYI. Let’s just say my kids weren’t the only ones knocking it out of the park each spring.

I miss watching my kids play sports, but I also miss the edge it took off their manic energy. My kids have always been busy and athletic with unlimited stamina. Yes, we can still get outside and find ways to move our bodies. But the focus required at school and during extracurricular activities, plus the physical work to keep up with peers while learning and playing, made for calmer, more content kids. Pandemic equals pandemonium in our house, and without a spring sport to practice my kids are getting really good at jumping off of furniture, drop-kicking their siblings, and getting bloody noses while doing blindfolded somersaults.

My kids and I are social creatures. We love downtime, but we thrive on activity. We want and need variety. I miss my workout buddies, volunteer work, and speaking engagements. I miss juggling the pieced together schedule of being self-employed. I am hanging onto some gigs, but most of my work has been canceled, and with it my packed calendar. When I would pick my kids up from school they always asked what the plan was; more often than not, we would have a sporting event or dinner date with someone. Playdates were weekend staples. Sometimes it felt like more work than it was worth to manage our social calendar, but clearly it was worth every second of group texts, booster seat maneuvering, and cleaning up after mess-making, endless-snack-eating kids.

Being on the go is our jam, and in this new day, finding a routine is hard. Everything has stopped, and we are still trying to sprint.

I try to maintain a sense of normalcy for myself and the kids, but nothing about this is normal. Per the kids’ request, each morning I write out our schedule for the day; it involves plenty of screen time, outside time, and some school work. But in the sense that something has to be done on time, there isn’t an urgency to get to the next task. The urgency comes from wanting to do and go. We are itching to be active, social, and productive. We are craving our busy, multi-sport, far from social distancing life. My kids never knew the effort it took to maintain our hectic, color-coded calendar, because I am organized AF and can multi-task like a boss. They just know they’re missing out on a lot.

There were some days that were overscheduled, and I will undoubtedly be overwhelmed at some point in the future with the need to be in three places at once while deadlines and assignments hang over my head. Some people are appreciating the slower pace and the time to be still, but I will appreciate the rush of life when I am able to speed up again.

When this pandemic is over we are going to hit every library, park, ball field, birthday party, and community event until our calendars return to their state of beautiful, organized messiness.

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Parents, YOU Are Your Kids’ Biggest Role Models

Parents, you are your kids’ biggest role models. It’s hard to remember that in the daily grind of parenthood. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time as a parent wondering if my kids are listening to me. It feels like I say the same things 700 times a day. I don’t think anyone has ever put on a pair of shoes as a result of listening to my very first request. In the day-to-day of parenting, repeating myself feels like my full-time job.

But I also wonder if they are hearing me when I tell them the big things. Do they see what I do for them and appreciate that it all comes from love? Will they grow up to value the virtues I hold dear? Do they believe me when I tell them that they are incredible and can accomplish anything if they work hard? When they are adults and they think about people who inspire them, will I make the list?

According to a new poll by the University of Phoenix, I have a pretty good shot at making that list. When asked, 42% of respondents listed their mom as one of their role models. My husband has an even better shot: 47% of those questioned named dear old Dad.

Sure, your kids will go through phases where they are obsessed with the accomplishments of an athlete, YouTube sensation, actor, teacher, or even a friend, but at the end of the day, they’re looking at you.

It might be a lot of pressure, but it’s also great news. Your kids are likely to emulate your proudest choices. That college degree might actually inspire your own kids to seek higher education. Your choice to serve in the military or volunteer your time with charitable organizations could give your kids direction when they are deciding on their path. Your work might very well become their work. Has there ever been a better reason to do your very best?

Inspiring your kids’ future is a worthy goal, but there’s a more immediate reason to pay attention to the messages you are sending your kids. Highlights magazine polled 2,000 kids ages 6-12 to get their take on kindness, among other things. It proved that our babies are always watching: Almost 70% of the kids reported seeing their parents treat someone unkindly, and 93% of those kids said they felt something negative about the experience.

Our kids value kindness and want us to be kind, but only 23% of kids felt like their parents wanted them to be kind more than they wanted them to do well in school.

When our kids watch us interacting with our adult world, they’re not always seeing kindness, and I can only imagine how confusing that must be.

You and I understand that the world is ugly, people can be a lot to deal with, and we just can’t always walk around sprinkling gentleness like confetti. Real life just isn’t like that. Our kids will grow up and learn that, too.

But right now, they are still building the inner world they will live in forever. We are co-creators, helping them establish a sense of safety and self-worth. As they forge an understanding of social interaction and the world around them, we are the people they have to emulate.

We are their biggest role models.

It’s important for us to have conversations about the kind of people we want them to be. Our kids should have our voices in their heads pointing them toward kindness, inclusivity, justice, dedication and hard-work.

But it’s way, way more important for them to see us being the kind of people we want them to be.

If you want to raise a kind child, you have to be a kind person. Do your best to be gentle to them. Let them see you generously praising your spouse, welcoming all kinds of people into your home, and championing for the underdog. If you want a little inspiration, check out this guide from Harvard University about raising ethical, kind kids.

Raising a hard worker means being a hard worker. Your kids don’t have to wake up to a tidy home and a hot breakfast every morning. Let them see you working your tail off to scrub and cook. Work alongside them during chore time. Let them see you being the person you hope they will become.

If they ask you something you don’t know, let them see you study it. There’s just way more power in teaching them to value learning than there is in letting them think you already know everything.

Let them see you fail. They will learn the value in trying again and again, which is even more important than succeeding sometimes, isn’t it?

Give yourself some help along the way. Provide your kids with other amazing role models to support the work you’re doing every day. Give them plenty of chances to read about brave people who have changed the world. Show them videos of people doing what they do impeccably. Let them spend time with the people in your life who are doing things that feel important to you. Make sure they’re aware of kids who are making a difference even in their youth.

You don’t have to be everything to your kids. There are tons of incredible role models on this planet who can inspire them to go beyond anything you’ve ever imagined for your own life.

But remember that they’re looking up to you more than anyone else.

If you think about it all at once, it can feel overwhelming. You already have to give them everything they need every single day. Considering the lifelong way your actions influence who your kids will become can be daunting. It’s a lot to get right.

But it’s also such spectacular news. Every single good thing you do is helping your kids become better people in the long run. Our work as parents matters so much.

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I Don’t Know How To Teach My Daughter To ‘Own Her No’ When I Still Don’t Know How

I scrolled past a Facebook article the other day while waiting in the school pick up car line. The headline, from a website that had appeared on my feed a handful of times in the past, was about a girl who asked the Internet for help with a flirting situation, and the anonymous, all-knowing people of the Internet delivered. The sub-headline read: “You’ve got to own your own ‘no.’”

To be honest, I didn’t click on the link in my feed. The school doors opened and the kids ran out, after school activities and a few dozen to-dos swamped my brain, and the link disappeared into the chaos of the afternoon, the load I carry as a single mother, and the endlessly updating Facebook feed.

But that night, after the kids had gone to bed and the quiet of the evening gave my mind a chance to filter through the static of the day, that sub-headline stuck out: Own your own no.

Because the truth is, I am terrible at owning my own no.

Not in the big ways, like when a “no” can re-write a story or change an entire life trajectory. Those nos come easier. The nos I struggle with are the smaller ones, the ones that pop up a few times a day, the ones that could easily be yes, if I fail to prioritize my own self-care, my own heart, and my own time. The nos that turn into yes for the sole reason that saying no simply because I’m feeling tired or tapped out feels selfish, or worse, feels unkind, and I hate feeling selfish and unkind.

Clearly, I’m a people pleaser. I know I will bend over backward to say “yes,” sacrificing my own wants and needs as long as it means I can avoid an uncomfortable “no.” And if I can’t find a way to say “yes,” I’ll couch my “no” in a thousand ways to soften the blow, soften what I perceive as a harsh answer. I know I shouldn’t. I know I should own my no and feel comfortable with the word, especially when saying no means having the opportunity to say yes to something I’d rather say yes to. But I don’t. And that’s okay. I’m human and imperfect and I can accept who I am and that I am a work-in-progress.

The problem, then, is not that I, a 37-year-old mother, am still learning to own my no, but that I do not know how to teach my 10-year-old daughter to own her no. How do I teach her an essential life skill when I have not yet mastered it? How do I teach her to prioritize herself, to sometimes make the selfish choice because being selfish isn’t always bad, but instead, sometimes, empowering? How do I teach her to be the woman I am still learning to be?

I could go with the age-old “do as I say, not as I do” approach, tell her that if she doesn’t want to do something, she should say “no.” In theory, that would work because the concept is simple enough. But children, I believe, learn by example. They learn manners by seeing manners modeled, respect by seeing respect in action. Even if I tell her to say “no” when doing so might make someone else uncomfortable but would be important for her own well-being, she’ll see me saying “yes” in a comparable situation. For all the times I advise her one way, she’ll see me model something else. At best, she’ll be confused. At worst, she’ll stop trusting my words.

Which means, I need to find another approach.

I could simply begin to own my no, confirm my “no” is coming from a place of integrity and then own it. As a self-aware woman, as a solo parent and a head of the household, it’s not a terrible solution. It’s possibly the right solution. I can recognize the situations when I’m saying yes but want to say no, and attempt to do better. I can begin to internalize that being selfish isn’t always a negative, and pleasing everyone else isn’t always a priority. And yet, I know it’s not that easy—there’s too much learned behavior to unlearn for that simple solution to be the solution that I need.

Which means, maybe the answer is just to be honest. Maybe—and only maybe, because I truly don’t know—the only way to teach my daughter to own her no is to let her know that it’s okay to prioritize yourself, even if it feels selfish, and I’m learning to do that, too. I might make mistakes; she might, too. Maybe the answer is to tell her—at an age-appropriate level—that I’m still working on myself, that I am hoping to teach her the things I’m learning alongside her.

Maybe the answer is to teach her that she doesn’t have to have it figured out by 10, or 12, or 15, (or 37), and the only thing she needs to know is how to find compassion for herself, for the things that make her a work-in-progress, for the things that make her perfectly imperfect. For the things that make her human.

For the things that make her her.

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