A Million Little Moments

I wrote a post last month about trying to remain mindful as opposed to losing my mind when things with my kids aren’t so easy. It’s been up and down since then. Some days I get caught up in power struggles with my daughter or get frustrated quickly with my son’s high energy excitement or focus on the fact that I have had yet another terrible night’s sleep. When I do this I end up feeling completely depleted and disconnected from the kids by the end of the day. Other days I do such a good job of keeping myself centered and my agenda in check that my daughter’s tantrums don’t set me off and my son’s dreaminess and difficulty moving at my pace don’t phase me. As I mentioned in that earlier post, one of the things that helps keep me in that more connected frame of mind is being in the moment. And what keeps me in the moment is really noticing the moments. I know that statement sounds simplistic and I know it’s not easy to just “be in the moment”. I know this because it’s supremely hard for me, and I have some practice at it.

My dad sent me a video today that really moved me. After watching it I had the most remarkable day with my kids. The whole afternoon was filled with things going “wrong” and yet I was composed. I was compassionate with meltdowns, I was relaxed during negotiations, I was patient with the pace at which things were moving. Most of all, I was really aware of all the little, ordinary moments throughout the day…none of which were remarkable, but in noticing them I was able to stay calm and focused. I don’t know, maybe it’s just coincidence. But I wanted to share the video with you. I’d love to know what you think.

For me, it just boils down to being so grateful for each moment. No matter how basic, ordinary or simple; each moment can be a piece of poetry if you can only see it that way. I am sure I will be frustrated again. Or lose my temper. But it’s not about being perfect. I’m simply working at being able to notice all these little pieces of the day, so I don’t let one moment in time, that isn’t going as I wish, destroy the million little, beautiful moments that surround it.

Boys Don’t Cry. But Maybe They Should

I don’t care about football. I know nothing about any of the teams or players. So, it wasn’t statistics that caught my eye and made me read this story about Chicago Bears’ QB, Jay Cutler. It was the headline, “Cutler cried when told about player’s criticism of his toughness”. Yes, the fact that a man had shown some emotional vulnerability when he was told that other players around the league had questioned his effort and toughness when he pulled out of a game due to injury made headlines. The author of the article had this to say:

Though some have already used Cutler’s tears to prove their point that he’s a wimp, shouldn’t the opposite hold true? (This isn’t elementary school. We should know by now that crying isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness.) If I was someone who doubted Cutler’s injury (and I’m not), the fact that he cried about it would indicate to me that he cared more than I thought. An apathetic man doesn’t tend to cry. A quitter would probably feel the need to defend himself. Those tears suggest he’s neither of those things.

Before you get worried, I’m not headed into a discussion about whether or not Cutler was really injured or whether he should have played in this all-important game (really, I don’t get why people care so much about this stuff), but what intrigued me was twofold. First, that such a big deal was made about this athlete showing some emotion other than what one might expect from macho football types and second that teammates and football enthusiasts felt this guy should have “toughed it out” and played regardless of any injury. After all, isn’t that the “manly” thing to do?

strong boyI don’t know. All this pressure to “man up” or “be a man” seems pretty ridiculous to me. If those of us with boys take a look at our little ones and really look at their sweet, sensitive natures and pay attention to their fears and their questions we might realize that little boys aren’t born macho. If we stop to know our boys for who they are, rather than what society says they should be, would it be easier to imagine that when they grow older that the boy who cried over a squirrel squashed by a car or who delighted in a rainbow after a storm, is actually inside that surly teenager or that tough football player?

Boys develop that part of their brain that controls language later than girls do which may, in part, explain why girls generally tend to be more at ease with expressing their feelings and emotions. In the terrific book, “Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys”, the authors discuss this in the early chapters, saying:

“We know that ease with verbal expression improves impulse control. So does emotional understanding, or being able to be conscious of your emotions and the reasons you feel a certain way. When this literacy is absent, the emotions tend to be expressed through movement or action”

Hence, the typical male “action” response of needing to do something when presented with a problem. Understanding the development of our children does help understand their actions. For books about understanding the boys and men in our lives, I highly recommend both “Raising Cain” and “The Wonder of Boys” which has the excellent subtitle: “What Parents, Mentors And Educators Can Do To Shape Boys Into Exceptional Men”.

And this is what drew me to that story about the football player in the first place. Don’t we want a world of boys (and men) who know what they are feeling, who express themselves, who can ask for what they need, who freely give love and are able to receive it? Aren’t those exceptional men who can do that? Why do we still revere the strong, silent type? Perhaps Quarterback Jay Cutler was just overcome with frustration when tears welled up, or perhaps he was genuinely hurt at being mocked. Whatever the case, it seems to me that a culture in which someone who is demeaned first for not acting “manly” enough when injured, and then for showing emotion about the ridicule he receives, has truly missed the mark.

I hope I am raising my son in such a way that he is learning to recognize and label the complex emotions he experiences. I want him to know that expressing those feelings makes him healthier, happier and yes, stronger. And I am working to raise my daughter to know that a boy (or a man) who shows his feelings is someone to admire and someone who she should want to be around. I don’t want my daughter marrying someone who doesn’t know how to communicate with her! Our job as parents is to raise emotionally intelligent boys; if we fail to do that, we are also failing our daughters. Think about it.

Creating A Life In Balance

Last week I took a chance and sent a guest post to a blog I am a huge fan of. I’ve been reading Visionary Mom for some time and love what she’s doing. I was honored that she liked what I wrote and posted it last week. In case you missed it, I am reprinting it here.

Years ago, as I was learning various healing modalities before I opened my private practice, I had a class in which we were given an assignment to create a Vision Board. The idea behind this request was to encourage us to connect to all of the emotions, feelings and hidden desires lurking in our brains and bring them out, front and center. I quickly saw what a fantastic tool this simple idea was for getting clear about where you’re stuck, what you wish for and how you plan to get there.

Every year, like most people, I make a list of New Year’s resolutions. Not surprisingly, I never get very far with them, in part because my brain was the only part of my being that connected to these ideas. This year, inspired by Visionary Mom, I decided to change two things. First, I am making intentions, not resolutions. This simple change of terms completely altered the way I look at what I want to accomplish. Now, instead of feeling stress and guilt, I feel possibility and excitement. Second, I heeded her call to create a Vision Board in order to crystallize these intentions.

The really interesting thing about making this board is that I learned something about myself through each step of the process. As I spread out my choice of magazines from which I intended to pull photos and quotes, I smiled as I noticed the variety of topics that inspire me: parenting, writing, Eastern philosophy, homemaking. As I cut through these magazines, laying out words and pictures, adding family photos here and there, I notice myself struggling to keep from over thinking things. I walk away, give the board a break, come back to it and rearrange the placement of things, still over-thinking.

Then I recall another class I took in which the important aspects of a person’s life were compared to the four legs of a table – when any one aspect is less focused on than another, the table becomes unbalanced. Suddenly I realized that even though I had been thinking so much, I had not even noticed that I had set up 3 categories on my board: my children, my writing, my self. But what about that 4th table leg? Don’t tell my husband, but I had completely left out anything having to do with my marriage!

Best Friends Or Just Brother And Sister?

I have a good friend with boy/girl twins who are just 3 days younger than mine. when my children were less than a year old and still completely ignoring each other, hers were seeking each other out. Hers were the twins with the secret twin “language” that only they understood. In the middle of the night her son calls for his sister instead of mommy. There’s a part of me that wished for my kids to be so close, to be so “twin-like”. People ask me often if my twins like each other and I always reply, “yes, and they also fight like brother and sister”. So many people forget that although twins are different from singleton siblings in many ways, they are, in fact, also just brothers or sisters (or brother and sister, as in our case). And what do brothers and sisters do much of the time? Fight.

Now, I’m an only child and it’s been difficult for me to handle what many people tell me is “normal” sibling behavior. My husband is one of 7, so he has a much different take on things when our son teases his sister by constantly touching something she doesn’t want him to touch or when our daughter won’t let her brother play with her no matter how hard he tries. It is so hard for me to sit back and let them solve these issues on their own because for me, all I hear is one child being mean to the other. I know that cognstantly stepping in to facilitate their problem solving isn’t helping them. But underneath it all is just a desire to help them like each other! There is a paragraph at the beginning of the excellent book “Siblings Without Rivalry” that says:

“Instead of worrying about my boys becoming friends,” I explained, “I began to think about how to equip them with the attitudes and skills they’d need for all their caring relationships. There was so much for them to know, I didn’t want them hung up all their lives on who was right and who was wrong. I wanted them to be able to move past that kind of thinking and learn how to really listen to each other, how to respect the differences between them, how to find the ways to resolve those differences. Even if their personalities were such that they could never be friends, at least they would have the power to make a friend and be a friend”.

I realized, after reading this, how much pressure we put on ourselves when we try to “make” our children be best friends. Especially those of us with twins because everyone thinks that twins must just automatically love each other! I really like this concept of not forcing sibling friendship, but instead, teaching your child how to make and be a friend.

twins having funFor those of us with multiple children (whether they are twins or singleton siblings) it is not surprising that you might end up with children who have vastly different interests and temperaments. Here are some tools and ideas to help bridge the gap:

Avoid making comparisons.

As Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish say in “Siblings Without Rivalry” “…Whatever you want to to tell this child can be said directly, without any reference to his brother. The key word is describe. Describe what you see. Or describe what you like. Or describe what you don’t like. Or describe what needs to be done. The important thing is to stick with the issue of this one child’s behavior. Nothing his brother is or isn’t doing has anything to do with him.”

Allow your children to own their own toys.

Not all toys should be shared. Children who are given permission to own something are much more able to share. If your children aren’t growing up with a sense that there is “not enough” or that, because of forced sharing, their sibling is going to take away what little they have, they are less likely to be possessive and will want to include their sibling in playing together.

Create “brag books” for each of your children.

Make your children each a book about their sibling with pictures and stories about all the things the other is really good at. Include in your book constant reminders like “that is your brother who is such a good climber!” or “Your sister scored the winning goal in soccer class!” This reminds them that they can feel proud of their sibling. As an extra added bonus, try to get a few sentences from each child about what they really like about their sibling and include it in the quotes in the other’s book. Just as we may not realize how someone else feels about us until they tell us, our children are the same.

The Kindness Tree.

When the kids were about two years old, we began an ongoing project in our house called “The Kindness Tree”. I created a large tree out of construction paper that we hung in our dining room. Each time one of the kids does something kind towards the other, they get a leaf on one of the branches with the act of kindness, and the date, written on it. We periodically read the leaves and show it off to anyone who comes to our house. Once the branches are full of leaves, we do something special to celebrate their kindness towards each other — usually a special outing. I have saved all of the leaves and plan to make scrapbooks out of them to give to each of the kids to remind them of all the little ways their sibling has been kind to them throughout the years.

Spend alone time with each of them.

I’ve written about this often (most extensively in this post) and believe that time apart actually allows siblings to build a stronger bond with each other. I’d get sick of even my most favorite person if they were with me 24/7! It’s good to give them time away from each other, a chance to experience things without each other. Plus, in knowing that they get mom and dad all to themselves on occasion, your children are less likely to constantly compete for your attention. Oh, they’ll probably still do it – but there will be less of a power struggle.

Give your children shared experiences.

As much as time apart is vital to having siblings get along, so are shared experiences. Make family rituals, outings and customs a priority and you give your children a bond over memories they have in common. Photos and scrapbooks of these events keep the memories fresh and children love nothing more than looking at pictures of themselves!

Allow your children to express their feelings.

This seems pretty obvious, but when a child says something like, “I hate my brother! He’s so mean!”, parents often respond by saying “You don’t mean that!” Well, yes, he does mean it in that moment. And even if it’s an exaggerated feeling, who wants their feelings negated? Let your children express their frustration about having brothers or sisters. Let them know you hear them and you get it. Sometimes it does suck to have a brother (or so I’m told).

Perhaps I am lucky. Because I have a son and a daughter, there is less competition to deal with. Boys and girls naturally gravitate toward different interests (usually). And my children’s personalities don’t seem to clash as of yet. But I am aware of my own deep desire for them to be “best friends” and that when they fight or are angry with each other I recognize how distressed I get. Again from “Siblings Without Rivalry”:

“I realize how relaxed I am. I realize how little emotional investment I have in the moment-by-moment ‘temperature’ of their relationship. I know that the differences in interests and temperament that kept them from being close in childhood are still there. But I also know that over the years I had helped them build the bridges to span separate islands of their identities. If they ever need to reach each other, they have many ways of getting there.”

As with so many things in life, one must remember that when something upsets you all you can change is your reaction to it. I am trying to just roll with the (figurative) punches and trust that I am giving my kids the tools they need to discover for themselves how lucky they are to have each other.

And how about you? What has your experience been with your children or your own siblings? Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

Guest Post: What’s A Whole Food

I recently discovered Dr. Heather Manley’s series of audio stories called Human Body Detectives, and my kids have been hooked ever since. At four years old, they are a bit young for the very clever workbooks (aimed at kids ages 6 – 10), but they LOVE the stories and have learned so much already about what it takes to keep your body healthy! One of the best part of the CDs is that the main characters are kids, too. Dr. Manley’s “kids teaching kids” approach empowers children to embrace healthy choices and increase their mind, body and nutrition consciousness. I was very excited when Dr. Heather offered to write a guest post here. I hope you enjoy it too.

By guest blogger Dr. Heather Manley

I am very fortunate to be able to go into second through fifth grade classes and teach my Dr. Heather’s Healthy Kids series to them. I go in four times a year, for about an hour each time, and we talk (and do) a lot of great things. One topic that brings in more discussions than I would have anticipated is whole foods and processed foods. At first, I thought it would be a simple talk but I soon realized that kids had no idea what the difference was. However, once they grasp the difference they were literally on fire about it. My favorite line was, “Ohhh, I get it. It is something you can pick off a tree or bush!” Children completely inspire me.

We continue the talk by categorizing different colors of whole foods and what these foods do in the body. As you can imagine, it is always a lively chat! Here is more of an adult version, but go ahead and bring this topic up with your kids. It will make for a great dinner conversation!

Red: Folate, lycopene, flavonoids…..oh my!

Lycopene has been linked to fight cancer cells, folate to prevent birth defects, depression and irritability and certain types of flavanoids (or bioflavonoids) are known for their antioxidant activity (defending us from those free radicals!).
Also, think red = heart because red foods may help fight heart disease.

Green: Lutein to the rescue!

Green foods are full of nutrients, fiber and there are so many to choose from: avocados, spinach, broccoli, kale, kiwi – YUM! Lutein is an antioxidant, and found in high concentrations in the eye (and associated with the ability to see). Bring on lutein rich foods to decrease your risk of blindness…which can occur in the aging process.

Yellow and Orange: Vitamin A or beta-carotene?

Yellow foods are packed with beta-carotene and the body does its magic by converting the beta-carotene into vitamin A. The importance of vitamin a, besides seeing in the dark, is keeping the tissues of the respiratory, urinary and intestinal tracts healthy. By doing this, it makes it difficult for germs to attach to the linings of these tracts. Therefore a great help for the immune system.

Purple and Blue: Blood vessels, memory and what?

Back to flavonoids, but this type of flavonoid found in the blue purple foods, helps to maintain strong healthy blood vessel walls. This means a decrease in heart disease! Eating blueberries may also help with your memory, which, I am admitting, I could use some help with in my aging years! Lucky for me, this is one of my favorite fruit.

All in all, colorful foods are packed with all types on nutrients that do all sorts of things in the body to help us function optimally everyday. Next time you are at the market, think about filling your cart with some color (easier if you stay in the periphery of the store), make that dinner plate like a rainbow and make up stories about what certain foods do in the body. Kids love this! They will, I guarantee, think about these stories next time they are up to bat or running a race.

Heatherm-9369_2Dr. Heather Manley, who in 2001 received her medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, is a practicing physician whose primary interest is preventative healthcare for families. She is the author of Human Body Detectives, her educational series of story-telling audiobooks and accompanying activity workbooks. She also promotes wellness and naturopathic healthcare on her website drheathernd.com. She lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with her husband and two daughters, and is currently at work on the next Human Body Detectives adventure.

Are Your Kids Making You Crazy? Mine Are.

No matter how many times I see this video it cracks me up. I swear, my children do stuff just to see my reaction. They look me right in the eye while they throw things off a balcony. They jump off the coffee table onto the couch the minute I finish telling them not to do it. They run naked, screaming hysterically, through the halls as I tell them for the 500th time it’s time for bed. I know that this testing is “developmentally appropriate”, but it’s still pretty frustrating.

Lately I’ve been having a lot of trouble with our daughter and frankly, I’m exhausted. She’s not sleeping well, she is scared of every room in the house unless I am with her, she throws horrible tantrums when she doesn’t get her way (have you read my post on Veruca Salt?), she hits, screams and pinches me in complete frustration, then collapses in my arms in tears. It’s like the worst PMS you’ve ever experienced.

I adore my children, and being their mother is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. Being a parent is also so much harder than I ever could have imagined. You do need a deep sense of commitment because all of your hard work doesn’t really show for many, many years. One day in the distant future your son or daughter will toast you at their wedding or call you one night from college and thank you for what you’ve done. But until then, you just have to develop a thick skin and a sense of humor about it all because really, it often feels as though much of what we deal with all day is quite ridiculous.

This article below was passing around via email recently and it was so funny and so accurate that I wanted to share it with anyone who hasn’t seen it.

11 Step Program For Those Thinking Of Having Kids

Lesson 1
1. Go to the grocery store.
2. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office.
3. Go home.
4. Pick up the paper.
5. Read it for the last time.

Lesson 2
Before you finally go ahead and have children, find a couple who already are parents and berate them about their…
1. Methods of discipline.
2. Lack of patience.
3. Appallingly low tolerance levels.
4. Allowing their children to run wild.
5. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child’s breastfeeding, sleep habits, toilet training, table manners, and overall behavior.
Enjoy it because it will be the last time in your life you will have all the answers.

Lesson 3
A really good way to discover how the nights might feel…
1. Get home from work and immediately begin walking around the living room from 5PM to 10PM carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 8-12 pounds, with a radio turned to static (or some other obnoxious sound) playing loudly. (Eat cold food with one hand for dinner)
2. At 10PM, put the bag gently down, set the alarm for midnight, and go to sleep.
3. Get up at 12 and walk around the living room again, with the bag, until 1AM.
4. Set the alarm for 3AM.
5. As you can’t get back to sleep, get up at 2AM and make a drink and watch an infomercial.
6. Go to bed at 2:45AM.
7. Get up at 3AM when the alarm goes off.
8. Sing songs quietly in the dark until 4AM.
9. Get up. Make breakfast. Get ready for work and go to work (work hard and be productive)

Repeat steps 1-9 each night. Keep this up for 3-5 years. Look cheerful and together.

Lesson 4
Can you stand the mess children make? To find out…
1. Smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains.
2. Hide a piece of raw chicken behind the stereo and leave it there all summer.
3. Stick your fingers in the flower bed.
4. Then rub them on the clean walls.
5. Take your favorite book, photo album, etc. Wreck it.
6. Spill milk on your new pillows. Cover the stains with crayons. How does that look?

Lesson 5
Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems.
1. Buy an octopus and a small bag made out of loose mesh.
2. Attempt to put the octopus into the bag so that none of the arms hang out.
Time allowed for this – all morning.

Lesson 6
Forget the BMW and buy a mini-van. And don’t think that you can leave it out in the driveway spotless and shining. Family cars don’t look like that.
1. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment.
Leave it there.
2. Get a dime. Stick it in the CD player.
3. Take a family size package of chocolate cookies. Mash them into the back seat. Sprinkle cheerios all over the floor, then smash them with your foot.
4. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car.

Lesson 7
Go to the local grocery store. Take with you the closest thing you can find to a pre-school child. (A full-grown goat is an excellent choice). If you intend to have more than one child, then definitely take more than one goat. Buy your week’s groceries without letting the goats out of your sight. Pay for everything the goat eats or destroys. Until you can easily accomplish this, do not even contemplate having children.

Lesson 8
1. Hollow out a melon.
2. Make a small hole in the side.
3. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side.
4. Now get a bowl of soggy Cheerios and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon by pretending to be an airplane.
5. Continue until half the Cheerios are gone.
6. Tip half into your lap. The other half, just throw up in the air.
You are now ready to feed a nine- month-old baby.

Lesson 9
Learn the names of every character from Sesame Street , Barney, Disney, the Teletubbies, and Pokemon. Watch nothing else on TV but PBS, the Disney channel or Noggin for at least five years. (I know, you’re thinking What’s ‘Noggin’?) Exactly the point.

Lesson 10
Make a recording of Fran Drescher saying ‘mommy’ repeatedly. (Important: no more than a four second delay between each ‘mommy’; occasional crescendo to the level of a supersonic jet is required). Play this tape in your car everywhere you go for the next four years. You are now ready to take a long trip with a toddler.

Lesson 11
Start talking to an adult of your choice. Have someone else continually tug on your skirt hem, shirt- sleeve, or elbow while playing the ‘mommy’ tape made from Lesson 10 above. You are now ready to have a conversation with an adult while there is a child in the room.

I’m sure if I had read this before having kids I would have dismissed it as mere exaggeration. Even though it’s very tongue in cheek and we can all agree that having kids is pretty terrific most of the time, this description is also pretty accurate. There’s something about seeing everything you go through in a day spelled out like this that helps you laugh — especially if, like me, you aren’t feeling so terrific about your parenting all the time. I am currently particularly relating to lessons #3, #6 and #11. How about you? And what about those of you who have twins, any extra lessons you can think of? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.

When Does Encouragement Become Pushing Too Hard?

“Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value.”
~Albert Einstein

I spent my 1970’s childhood partly in Europe, but mostly in Brooklyn, being raised by bohemian, intellectual parents. My parents had a great love of art, music and literature, thus all three were a large part of my growing up. I became very interested in these things, perhaps because I am an only child and spent more time with my parents than children my own age, or perhaps because it was a way to connect with my dad, or perhaps just because that is what my particular soul needed. Whatever the reason I liked these things, it was not because my parents pushed me. In fact, when they did push, I pushed back. Hard.

Many of you may have seen the article that came out this weekend in the Wall Street Journal by Yale Law Professor, Amy Chua, entitled Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. It’s caused quite an uproar. With all the bashing of “Helicopter Parents” that has been going in the last year or so, this article isn’t happy to just bash, it pulverizes. Chua basically takes the stand that parents who place their children’s spirits above academic success are wimps and ultimately don’t really care about their kids:

First, I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

There is some level of being tongue in cheek, but Chua’s overall presentation is that having children who are “the best” in every area should be a parent’s ultimate goal. By way of explanation, she says that Chinese parents presume that their children are able to do everything set in front of them and if they fail it must be because they must not have tried hard enough. While I like the idea of believing in our children’s innate abilities, and I agree that praising a child who hasn’t done their best at something is counter-productive, Chua’s description of this “Chinese way” of parenting seems to take it a little too far.

After a painful description of an enforced piano lesson with her 7-year old daughter, in which Chua, after using other coercive and (to me) abusive methods, calls her daughter who is struggling with a difficult piece, “lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic”, this article ends by saying,

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away

One of the first things I thought after finishing this article is that what Chua misses is that by focusing solely on some unknown “future” she is preparing her children for, she, and they, are actually missing out on life. I totally agree with her goals, but her methods leave me wondering.

Because I was so curious to hear their take on this, I sent the article to two friends who are Asian (Lisa, a Chinese woman who came to the US with her parents when she was 3, and Dan, raised in Taiwan until he was 12 then sent to boarding school in the US). As an American woman raised in the US to parents who would never think of pushing me the way Ms. Chua describes, I have a very difficult time relating to this article except to feel turned off. What I got from the conversations with my friends was very interesting. Lisa, who is now a professor of psychology, said that while she believes the parental attitude described in this article is very accurate, what Ms. Chua fails to point out is that it leaves no room for individuation and that, while it may work to some extent, with children who are very capable, it almost can’t help but have negative consequences.

I also really liked Dan’s thoughts when he said to me “What I do is always ask do you think you can do better? Did you try your best? I have no problem expressing disappointment when I know they can do better. What I do struggle with is how do I as a parent connect the results with the effort? Is effort without the right result good? If effort is all that matters, how do you get that instinct to excel and be the best you can be? Or is result without the right effort good? There’s no easy answer”

Children are inherently wired to want to please their parents. They don’t need to be forced or coerced in that department. I do believe, however, that children often need to be encouraged beyond their comfort zone, but what possible reason could there be for demanding participation in something that makes their child feel bad about themselves, even if they become a star performer? Back to the piano playing 7-year old. After all of the coercion, her daughter finally figures the complex piece out:

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming. “Mommy, look—it’s easy!” After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn’t leave the piano.

Ms. Chua goes on to say how she and her daughter cuddled afterwards, laughing, painting a picture that her daughter was just being stubborn and was now so delighted that she could play this piece. Obviously I don’t know this family, but it strikes me that Lulu may have been more thrilled to be in her mother’s good graces again and thrilled to at last do something that would earn her mother’s approval each time she performed as expected. To me, that’s not a good reason to become an expert at anything. As an adult, I now wish my father had found a way to push past my refusal to take piano lessons; but he gave up because I fought so hard against it. Now, looking back, I believe I gave up in a confusing blend of wanting him to be proud of me for being a great piano player, but feeling as though I could never be as good as he was and simply doubting myself. However, had my father employed any of the tactics described in Amy Chua’s article it would have been extremely detrimental not only to my self esteem, but to the relationship I had with my dad. Yes, in part this is because I was not growing up in a family or culture where that type of discipline was the norm, but also because of who I am and how I learn. Amy Chua might want to take a look at Howard Gardener’s theories of Multiple Intelligences.

Ultimately, like my friend Dan, I want my children to develop their instinct to want to excel in any area they choose. I also want them to push themselves beyond what they think they can achieve. But they need to want to do this for themselves. I believe that by saying that there are only certain areas that are acceptable to excel in is where we run into trouble. Who is to say that someone who is a fantastic teacher, house painter or plumber shouldn’t be as esteemed as someone who is a world renowned concert pianist or cardiac surgeon? If we were all to be mathematicians or scientists or doctors, the world would be a lot more boring and a lot less joyful. For me, as a mother, there is a place in the world for all of us, and all of us have a purpose. Perhaps it is solely a “Western” idea, but I want my children to be individuals and discover what makes them passionate in life. Perhaps I just define success so much differently from Ms. Chua. I will push my children to be kind 1,000 times harder than I would push them to score well on a math test. As Albert Einstein said, to be a person of value is truly a success to strive for.

There is so much more to say on this topic. I am sure I have only scratched the surface. What do you think? How do you encourage your children? Do you relate to Amy Chua’s methods and think they might work in some respect? Please take a minute to leave a comment. I’d love to know!

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: Empowering Girls

I saw this movie trailer today and was so moved by it that I felt I had to post it here. I have both a son and a daughter and spend most of my time trying to figure out the best way to help them grow up to believe in themselves. I try to teach them that what matters is what’s inside. That is, how people treat one another is what is paramount, not what someone looks like.

I want my daughter to grow up knowing her power comes from her mind and her heart, not from her body and her beauty. I want my son to respect women. I want him to know that women have so much more to offer to the world than just their sexuality. I want them both to know that it is because of a woman’s ability to feel and listen and intuit that she brings so much to the table.

For those of us with boys, it is up to us to teach them of the value of girls so that they will grow up to be men who know better, who do better and who fight the stereotype. For those of us with girls, remember that it is up to us to raise girls who will be women who know their value. In order to do that, we have to believe it ourselves. As Marie Wilson says at the end: you can’t be what you can’t see.

Sparking Some Good Conversation: Leaving Comments and More!

One of the intentions I have set for myself this year, in terms of this blog, is to get more conversation going. I am deeply honored that so many people are reading what I write and am so touched when you take the time to tell me your thoughts. I do believe that parenting “experts” are helpful and I have learned a lot from many of them, but I have learned just as much from mothers and fathers like you.

When I began this blog, I hoped to eventually create a sense of community where I can share my thoughts and ideas with like-minded people, and also receive their wisdom and experiences. Many of my readers email their thoughts to me directly, and I love that, but I have begun to realize that perhaps because of the way Blogger is set up, many of you don’t realize that you are able to comment at the end of each post and that you can do so anonymously if you wish. Your comments are so welcomed and, in fact, encouraged. It is through dialogue that we begin to connect and share insight.

So forgive me if this is common knowledge or rudimentary, but more than a handful of people have asked how to post a comment. So here goes: at the end of each post, just past the photo suggestions of other posts you might like, if you don’t just see a large box which says Post a Comment, you will at least see a few link symbols for sharing the post by email, on Twitter, Facebook etc. To the right of that is a very inconspicuous link (damn you, Blogger!) that says 0 Comments (or 5 Comments or whatever number of comments there are). Click there and you can write a question, a comment, a suggestion — whatever you wish. You may post anonymously, use your name, link to your own blog…again, whatever you like!


If you would like to subscribe to comments (meaning, you would like to receive, via email, any comments made about a post), after clicking the comments link, you will see another link which says Subscribe by email. You can always unsubscribe afterwards by clicking the same link. That way, you know if someone has something to say about what you wrote or if someone has said something interesting about what I wrote and so forth. Voila! Conversation!

On that same note, many of you have found The Twin Coach on Facebook and Twitter already, but for those who haven’t, I invite you to join us there. I post a lot of things that I find really interesting, thought provoking or of value (hopefully), but just don’t have time to blog about. Again, there is great conversation happening there and I would love your voices to be added to it! Join us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for indulging me this little tutorial!

Oh, and while we’re at it, have you signed up to receive posts via email yet? It’s a great way not to miss out on anything! Just click on this link in my sidebar to the right that says Enter Your Email & click Subscribe Me!

Perfection Is Perfectly Impossible

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~ Anna Quindlen

Where did we come up with the idea that we needed to be perfect? At what point in our lives did this idea take hold so fiercely that even the most brilliant among us still can find something about him- or herself to criticize? Why is it that we constantly compare ourselves to others, not to marvel in each other’s uniqueness, but to either pump ourselves up for being “better than” or to tear ourselves down for “not being enough”?

When I used to see clients in my healing practice, one of the exercises I frequently used to help determine where people were losing power in their lives was kinesiology, or muscle testing. A sure fire way to deplete yourself was to simply think the words “I am not enough”. I am not pretty enough. I am not smart enough. I am not a good enough mother.

catherine-pink-300x400I notice that my own perfectionist tendencies come out in full force now and then (my husband will tell you they are out more often than not). I have had full-fledged meltdowns over not being able to find the right bedding for my children’s new bedroom or not having the appropriate wrapping paper for a 3-year old’s birthday gift. I have looked at the beautifully prepared, incredibly healthy and diverse lunches Catherine McCord of Weelicious.com makes and wept over the sad salami, cheese and crackers lunch that my daughter insists on eating at school every day. And while we’re at it, I look at the impossibly beautiful Catherine McCord and wonder why my hair doesn’t blow in the wind like hers and why I can’t look quite so fabulous in a simple pink sweater 4 years after birthing twins. I used to not let people into my house except on days the housekeeper had been here; I still feel the need to apologize for its messiness even though I do know I have two 4-year olds, a huge dog and a cat….life is messy, yet there is a part of me that thinks I should be able to rise above it. And don’t get me started on my parenting. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t beat myself up over a harsh tone or a frustrated sarcastic remark or the wish that school would be 7 days a week instead of 5. Bad, bad mom.

So let me take a breath and think about what I am really saying to myself: if I were really a good mother, my children’s bedroom would look as though it was straight out of Ohdeedoh, my food preparation and personal grooming would be a constant glamour shot and my house would be straight out of Martha Stewart Living. Oh, and my parenting? I can come up with any number of parenting experts that have all the great tips and tricks that I should know and should be able to use effectively with every given scenario. Realistic? Or crazy making? Talk about losing my power.

I read recently in “A Beautiful Place Of The World” (a blog I really like) on this idea of perfection. In it, Nathan M. McTague writes,

Of course, our children are of absolutely paramount importance, and the drive to be the best that we can be for them is not the worst thing we can have as a parent. But we would do well to remember — we are just as much “works in progress” as are our developing children. And if the drive to be at our best gets to the point of interfering with being our best, then (even by perfectionist standards) it has to go.

It’s fairly easy to look at my 4-year old twins and remember that they aren’t perfect, that they are still learning, that they have the right to screw up. Why is it so hard to give myself the same gift of understanding? I would never teach our children that they need to be perfect in order to be wonderful people, why do I think that way about myself?

The idea of being a perfect mother has been around for a long time. I am sure that even before the 1950’s TV moms there were women who felt that they didn’t quite live up to some set standard. We compare ourselves in every possible way. I read a terrific post the other day on Feast After Famine (another great blog worth checking out) in which the author, suffering severe mood swings due to early menopause, wrote a tirade against judgmental comments made regarding women who used hormone replacement therapy:

I remember a moment in my early 20’s when I realized people didn’t grow out of their catty, judgmental teen selves. They just became catty, judgmental adults. That was a brutal gut punch. I suffered a similar letdown recently when I realized the Perfect Police will dog me into old age. The hypercritical folks who find fault with my decisions to work or stay home with my children, nurse or formula feed, use cloth diapers or clog the landfill with disposables aren’t going to stop once I become an older Mum. They’re just going to change their focus. Apparently, the people who do things the “right way” want to tell me how to experience menopause.

For me, this is the crux of the matter. Our own insecurities about being less than perfect drive us to find fault with others. For many, the need to be right is more powerful than the need to be real. Does it really make us feel better to try and take away someone else’s power? Is perfection really an attainable or desirable goal? What are we trying to achieve by being perfect parents? Perfect children? Nathan M. McTague again:

“…when our perspective on parenting, and our own parenting specifically, is too narrowly focused on perfection. Any deviation from the ideal is seen, not as part of the process, but as an affront to it.”

I think back to my last post about being mindful and realize that in my push to be this perfect mom, I am creating so much stress in my life (and therefore in my children’s lives). Is the push toward being perfect really what I want my kids to learn? Or do I want to remind them, as those Leonard Cohen lyrics say, that it is through our imperfections that our true beauty and our true selves shine through.