Archive for September, 2009

Kids and Technology – Parents Making Choices

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009
Kids and Technology

Kids and Technology

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but I have seen more and more elementary kids carrying and talking on cell phones each year.  I see more and more of these kids wearing a full sized iPod.  Kids have computers and TV’s in their rooms.  Am I being an old fashioned fuddy duddy by dragging my feet with this trend, or could there be good reason for caution here?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my little iPod shuffle.  Obviously, I enjoy having my computer with internet.  And I greatly appreciate the convenience my cell phone usage has provided me for the last several years.  But does my nine year old need all of this at her complete disposal too?  And her own version of each one of those?  Hmmm….it just really makes me think about what fits for our family and our situation.

My daughter said there are kids her class getting cell phones soon, and that a few already have them.  So I asked her what made her prepared to basically carry two $100 bills around in her bag or her pocket all day? She doesn’t ride a subway or need to walk 15 blocks to school through a difficult neighborhood.  We don’t have work commutes that require us to leave her alone for long periods of time.

I can’t imagine an “emergency” situation (her words) that she would be in where she wouldn’t be nearby a responsible adult or babysitter of my awareness and approval.  When she’s a teen and would have earned greater freedom and mobility – I can see justification for that.  But at nine, and in our neighborhood so close to school and friends?  I’m not seeing it now.

As soon as this conversation started, I launched into my own story about how my dad gave me and my sister use of a gigantic bag phone twenty years ago.  It cost a dollar a minute to talk, and if there were minutes charged on the bill, it had better be from an emergency or car-related incident.  She …

Even Happy Family Change Requires Adjustment Time

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Wow – that’s about all I can say after moving the family into our new house last week.  Even with all of my careful preparation for this highly anticipated event, I learned the limits of my brain capacity.  It simply cannot get around the vastness of this task and process.

My oldest daughter and I looked wistfully at our old house as we stood in the driveway.  The new owners we about to sign papers and we were about to be homeless for a few hours (until we signed our own closing papers).  She and I were at once feeling the sentimental tug of our only family home and the buzzing excitement of all that was possible in our new home.

The mixed emotions, the sheer number of objects being gathered and moved, the difficulty maneuvering some large pieces to the new property, the uncertainty of how it will all magically line up on time, the pressure to get things complete and not spend too much money doing it.  And once you get to the new house, the adjustment goes on and on.

I made a really interesting observation about the girls last week.  If we had tried to make this move just two or three years ago, we would have had one interested helpful girl, one semi-interested preschooler, and an unhelpful toddler.  I had been wishing so hard for this for so long, but really this was just coming at the right age for them.  They were such troopers, all three of them.  If we had somehow needed to move earlier, we could have found a way to keep them busy.  But I’m grateful and pleased that they were so personally involved in the move.

Granted, the pace has slowed since the urgency level is a lot lower.  We all have toothpaste, finally.  We all have beds up, the kitchen is pretty much put together, and so on.  The kids have let their remaining boxes sit and we’ve been pretty liberal with the free play in the neighborhood.  My husband and I have backed off, too.  I even …

Addiction and Family Roles

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

When a family isn’t emotional healthy, everyone begins taking on fairly predictable roles.  Usually, this kind of family upset is caused by a drug or alcohol addiction.  But it can also be caused by any other disruptive thing that seems to overtake the family’s mental wellness.  The key thing is that no one wants to face reality and make necessary changes.  This could be someone with a mental illness, severe grief, or chronic illness.  All roles are meant to distract from the real problem

Since addiction is the most common reason for these roles to appear, I’ll describe them briefly in the context of drug and alcohol addiction.

Addict – This person uses excuses, minimizes the problem, and refuses to change their behavior.  They sneak and lie about their drug use and mishandling of their money because of it.  They deny that they have a
problem and make it sound or appear that others have the problem.  They allow their emotions to dictate their life by trying to cover them instead of being honest about them.  They haven’t been approached about drug rehab, or they have refused to go, or they have been before and have relapsed and are in denial.

Enabler – This is usually the spouse or significant other, sometimes a parent or friend if there is no romantic partner.  They stand by the addict helping to pick up the pieces, making more excuses, not exposing the problems in a way that can make them stop.  They sometimes try to help but in ways that end up allowing the addiction to continue.  Or, they are is as much denial as the addict on how bad it is and they block out all the evidence in their mind that this is happening (or was at risk for happening).

Hero – This is typically the oldest child.  They distract from the addiction by being the “good face” on the family by being an overachiever and being a rule follower.  They are the do-gooder,  but often resent this in the end.  They do all sorts of extra work but …

Depression and Perfectionism

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

When I had my postpartum depression and PMDD, I would be the last person on earth to claim perfectionism.  THE last.  Frequently disorganized, burning the candle at both ends, trying to juggle everything – bleah!  But with some distance from the experience, I can say personally that I have recognized and struggled with my perfectionism since then.  It is far better than it used to be, but mostly because I know it and can see it much more easily.

Depression would seem to be about the complete opposite of perfectionism.  Depression seeming dark and desperate, sometimes with excessive sleep or eating, below average self care, etc.  Perfectionism seeming to be about everything being super clean and always always in its place.  Let me reintroduce you to depression and perfectionism as a dangerous duo.

The stereotypical descriptions of depression and perfectionism do have some truth to them.  However, perfectionism can also show up in a less expected sort of way.  While some perfectionists give all their energy and effort to do it all “right”, some decide that if they can’t do it “right” then they just won’t do it at all.

You see, these two problems are closely related because they share one important attribute – black and white thinking.  There is only one standard of acceptability, and either it’s 100% right or it’s all wrong.  No in between.

People with depression tend to believe that most things are horribly wrong, and too far gone to ever be right.  Nothing gray is accepted as even partly right.  This blanket judgment creates piles and piles of bad things wherever the person looks.  This allows a debilitating despair to grow, something that hinders people with depression from taking even small steps to get better.

If it’s wrong, it’s all wrong, so why bother?  That’s how the perfectionism angle works with depression.  If this day is going to be as bad as the last day anyway, why bother looking nice or doing something fun.  It won’t matter because nothing can make a dent in how lousy life is.  Since there is no hope for …

Mental Illness Touches The Whole Family

Monday, September 21st, 2009

You can’t have mental illness in a family without it touching everyone.  It’s like a mobile that hangs above a baby’s crib.  You touch one part and the rest of it starts to move around.  When one person in a family changes for the worse, the others can’t help but react differently.

Everyone has expectations, memories, and rhythms unique to themselves.  Family members get used to these over time.  When these patterns change, families have more conflict, more emotional distance, more confusion, more pain, and a lot of adjustment.  This usually causes people to do what they can to not only keep the family somewhat functional but to also reduce pain for themselves.  The tension from this adjustment is often palpable.

The family tries to remain functional, but there is something deeply wrong under the surface.  If the family group does not successfully address or manage the problem, these adjustments could continue for years and have a lasting impact.  And even if the family does communicate honestly and address the problem, the adjustments can continue throughout the process.

Imagine that you are a kid with a brother who is just a couple years older than you.  For years, you were each other’s playmates.  Then over a period of months, he changed from an outgoing energetic boy to a sullen irritable boy who liked to keep to himself.  He used to laugh with you, now he snaps and seems angry when you try to talk to him.  Not only have you lost a playmate but you have also lost some camaraderie with a sibling to relate to within the family.

You now feel somewhat lonely and show your sadness by hanging out by yourself and not showing your usual energy.  Your parents are now concerned not only for their older son who has become very different, but now their younger child seems down and less interested in spending time with the family.

This creates another loop of worry and adjustment for both parents.  Your choice to isolate more also means your brother has fewer social experiences.  In his mind, …

Handling Yourself in Difficult School Situations – Part 2

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Getting Along With Your School

I had so much to say about this yesterday that I had to continue it on a second post!  Learning to manage our own emotions is a lifelong job.  It’s so easy to get defensive about your kid, so it’s important to take time to absorb all of this information.  If you let your feelings get the best of you sometimes, take heart.  You wouldn’t be the first parent to get reactive.  I just want to make sure you get heard by the school personnel and that you get the best outcome for your child.  Here are two more keys to staying in control and making that happen.

Make Connections – Just because you have a difficult situation with one person at the school doesn’t mean you’ll have trouble forever.  Get familiar with the school secretary, the principal, the librarian, the teacher’s aide, etc.  Find someone you can connect to in a positive way.  If you cannot resolve what has happened with that one person, you can still take something positive from the experience.  And if you are able to patch things up, you will have an even better network than before.

Show Confidence Not Defensiveness – Carry yourself tall when you walk into the building.  Whatever emotion you are feeling, it’s likely to show with your posture and behaviors.  So if you want to feel more confident, walk and stand in a relaxed but strong manner.  Look like you know just what you want to accomplish, even if you are somewhat nervous.  Once you start acting confident, it will probably rub off on your emotions.

Sometimes, despite all of your efforts, you just can’t work out a situation with your school.  At this point, you might find that moving your child to a different school would be in their best interest.  If that is the situation, do your best to keep things cordial while you disconnect from the first school and start with the next.  Try not to burn bridge – you might benefit from some of the connections down …

Handling Yourself in Difficult School Situations

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Let me say first that this is not a post about solving every problem you encounter with your child’s school.  Schools across the country are so different and unique.  Each has their own set of expectations, emotional atmosphere, standards, rules, history, and so on.  That’s a little too broad for me to cover.  But I can help you learn to manage yourself.  The rules of human nature are more general, and these tips can help no matter what kind of school your child attends.

Stay Calm – It’s very natural to feel defensive when a teacher has a problem involving your child.  If   someone else in the meeting is also acting defensive, you can have some pretty awkward unproductive communication.  Your “mother bear” might be fighting to come out.  But understand that you can make a strong impression without getting out of control.

Think about my advice a few days ago about using a lower slower voice to make your child really tune in to you.  That can work in a professional setting like this as well.  You are going to come off looking like you really mean what you say, not a hysterical parent.  Plus, this allows you to keep your comments simple and to the point.  Fewer words at a slower pace with a lower voice will help the teaching staff tune in to what you are saying.  You can set the emotional tone to “calm”.

Show Respect – Parents should have a strong voice about what goes on in their school districts.  It’s their kids getting an education after all.  However, it’s important to remember that no matter how flustered, shocked, or ticked-off you are, make an effort to show some respect to the school personnel and the school environment.  If you go on a tirade in the front lawn when kids are waiting for parents, you might not get too far.  If you collect yourself and move your conversation to a more private location, you will give a better impression of a parent with something important to say.

Get The Facts – Before you go …

When Daily Family Life Gets Tough Get Help

Monday, September 14th, 2009

We are moving to our new house next week.  This is all very exciting and I can’t wait to finally be in there.  But the next ten days are going to be pretty ridiculous.  This is starting to tweak the supermom in me.  I’m young, I’m smart, I should be able to do this, right?  Yeah, don’t count on it.

We are moving most of our worldly possessions in a 24-hour period to a new location. Plus we have parent teacher conferences, a science project due, three dance classes, flu shots, an annual physical checkup, and probably something else I’m forgetting in the meantime. Oh yeah, and did I mention we’re moving?

I have been down this road before. Too much stuff, too little time, and people getting frayed around the edges. Having this moment of reflection, I can see that it is in everyone’s best interest that I get a different plan.  The wing-it-and-get-stressed method won’t keep anyone calm.

My mom will be helping me cook some meals ahead of time at the end of this week. We will have family around during the move. I know I could call a few of the moms that I know from school to help get kids back and forth to dance. The question is, how much will I allow others to help me?

Will I let my pride get in the way? Is there a prize for moms who don’t ask for enough help when they could really use it? What habits can I let go of to make room for the added chaos of moving? What habits would be useful for me to keep during the added chaos of moving? If I don’t speak up and say that I need help, I might not enjoy this long-awaited move as much as I could.

Many people go through worse situations than what I’ve just described.  Long illnesses, long commutes, pending divorces, jobs being lost, businesses failing, and more.  Regardless of what your family life challenge is, it is so important to ask for help.  Nobody is a hero if they just …

9 11 Affecting Families

Friday, September 11th, 2009

9/11 is a day few people can forget. Just seeing a picture, a video clip, or hearing about the memorials this morning brings it all back to me. You didn’t even have to be near the crash site or know someone who died to be affected by this horrific tragedy. Every year, I imagine the families who lost loved ones, people who witnessed the events first-hand, and any child hearing about the news that day.

In September of 2001, I had one toddler and one child on the way. Now, I have three girls in elementary school. My oldest wasn’t even big enough to have memories of that time. Yet she and her soon-to-be born sister were in my mind all day long that fateful day. Because I was a young mom, I interpreted the tragedy and the felt the fear by how it could affect my family.  What if there are more attacks today? How will I keep my daughter safe? What else will happen by the time my baby is born in a few months? Is my family really safe anymore?  I began to wonder about my brother-in-law who was in the Army at the time. Would he be put in danger? How is my sister feeling right now about that?

It wasn’t just about me and my feelings. My husband and I had a responsibility to protect our young daughter and unborn child. And let me tell you, I had not felt so completely helpless as a parent before.  I had never considered that I would be in such unpredictable danger in my own backyard. I could put up child safety gates, baby proof the outlets, and feed my daughter vegetables every day. But I couldn’t do a damn thing about our country’s safety. This rattled me in a way I have not yet tried to explain, until now.

It has been a long time since those events happened. Each year, my girls have become more and more capable of understanding the world around them. And every year, the discussion about what happened on 9/11 …

Parents Do You Use The Look Effectively?

Friday, September 11th, 2009

You know just what I’m talking about – The Look.  When you saw your mom or dad with The Look on their face, you already knew you had trouble before they said a word.  Hard to be confused by that one.  But sometimes we undermine one of the most powerful parenting tools known to mankind.  Read on to see how.

A common complaint from parents is how much their kids argue with them.  Granted, I know this is frustrating from personal experience.  But the biggest problem isn’t the argumentative kid in many cases.  It’s the parent letting the argument continue.

What?  If a kid is trying to argue, shouldn’t the parent show the kid who’s boss and set the record straight?  Unfortunately, the more words a parent uses with discipline, the more diluted they tend to become.  And yes, you should show the kid who’s boss.  By closing your mouth and giving the look.

Take yourself back enough years to when The Look from your parents made you shudder.  What was worse, your mom or dad rattling off a lecture or stone cold silence with The Look?  The Look actually gets its power from the near lack of words.  I say near lack because just a few is all you will need to clarify things for your child.  A low voice spoken slowly with great control of each word.

But the silence – it felt like an eternity when you were waiting for the verdict from your parents about your report card, your missed curfew, the dent in the fender, or whatever.  You just wanted it to get over with and were often willing to do whatever was necessary just to get out from under that stare.  The waiting nearly killed you, and you hung on the few words spoken, hoping for mercy.

Compare that image and feeling to seeing a wordy parent carrying on with a loud angry voice.  It’s pretty annoying and unpleasant, but do you really care what they are saying after a while?  Don’t you tune out after the third time they repeat the same explanation?  …


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