The real-talk kind of mom.

I’m not in the parenting business to make friends, and I am okay not doing what other parents do. My children need to know that sometimes the right thing, is not what Susie and everyone else is doing. Sometimes the right thing is the least cool thing to do.

Personally, I envision my children as adults rather regularly, and some of those days are full of confidence and some of those days are frightening! I mean, let’s be honest here. Gage can cook a full meal, yet become annoyed with the task of sweeping the hallway. Cole loves to be in the mix with adults and young children, yet making him go outside and play with friends his own age – can literally open Pandora’s box. And, Gracie, she can basically do anything, and do it well, like really well – but failure, making mistakes, not understanding something, will throw her into a tailspin.

They may be teenagers today, but I’m raising more than that, I’m raising someone’s future spouse, parent, employee, friend etc. And, sometimes I think that our job in preparing them for success in these areas is forgotten.

Uncomfortable or not, I answer their questions.

The first time Gage asked as he giggled from the backseat if I liked hot dogs or tacos when he was younger, or when Gracie asked what rape was, I learned to be prepared to be uncomfortable. Gracie and Gage are two years apart, and their questions kept me (still, actually) on my toes. Some were silly, some were good, some were completely inappropriate, some I didn’t know and had to research, and some were embarrassing to answer, and took an act of god in keeping my composure. But, I did it because if they were comfortable enough to come to me and ask the question, there was a reason they were, and I had better be comfortable enough to answer it, honestly. Trust me, three teenagers keep the questions ever flowing and super awkward.

We talk about everything – ev-er-y-thing!

When Matt and Cole moved in, they didn’t talk about anything, and I do mean anything. The first time Gracie talked about her period, Matt was squirming and unsure if he should run out the door, or throw up. It was hilarious because for us it was second nature. Cole had at one point made a flippant comment about being among the kids in the world with one testicle. Matt laughed it off and told him he had two testicles, and they went on about their day. Literally, went on like nothing. I was in shock, telling him he needed to check, do something, but he swore he was certain he had two testicles. In his defense I remember that Gage had two testicles from changing his diapers, and that super awkward moment when he was two or three years old and called me in during bath time to inquire as to what that dot was between his legs – it was just a mole. It was also the last time I saw that area, thank goodness! But, I could see how seeing it once would make you assume it was still the same.

Now, while Cole is now every bit my son, then the idea of asking him to drop trou so his stepmom could investigate his nether regions was not appealing to either of us and he adamantly refused to let his dad. So… with football coming up and his need for a sports physical – I did what every other mom not wanting to see that region does, I took him to our pediatrician! One uncomfortable appointment with the pediatrician later, led to an even more uncomfortable visit to a urologist, and then a subsequent surgery retrieving an undescended testicle. You want to guess who talks to me about everything now? Yep, you guessed it, Cole! And, Matt too actually.

I think before saying: “You’re only a child, you don’t know.”

In my childhood home you were raised to be seen, not heard, to be pleasant not pretentious and that respect was given, not earned. Like with most traditional norms in your family that you were raised with and despised, you counteract those in your own family life. Some households may see that as not requiring vegetables, I on the other hand require open communication. The words “you’re only a child, you don’t know, or “you are too young to understand” will never leave my mouth. Because, I wasn’t too young to understand a lot of things, and even as a child, your mind still processes feelings, and emotions such as self-worth, love and acceptance.

I’m not their mom, I’m your mom.

What Susie’s parents let her do doesn’t matter to me, aside from possibly encouraging that friendship to continue. I’m not in the parenting business to make friends, and I am okay not doing what other parents do. My children need to know that sometimes the right thing, is not what Susie and everyone else is doing. Sometimes the right thing is the least cool thing to do. It’s not going to a party where everyone will be drinking, or where a parent allows that. Sometimes, it won’t be extending a curfew just because a friends parent did. This is teaching them that it is okay to be and do different, that going with the crowd isn’t always going to be beneficial, and that thinking for their self is more important than what others think of them.

I actively choose to give them a voice.

You’ve heard the saying “oh no, I’ve done something wrong, my dad is going to kill me if he finds out” and “oh no, I’ve done something wrong, I need to call my dad” well, I could never call my dad – and I refused to let my children down by continuing that as a mother myself. That is a priority in our relationship, confidence in them knowing I’m always a call away, no matter the situation.

We as parents learn something new every day, so how does it make sense to think that while raising our children we aren’t raising ourselves as well? I try to not suppress their voice, in fact I encourage it.

Open dialogue builds confidence. I’ve never been the type of parent who thinks I know more even when I think I may. Giving them the floor so to speak and allowing them to share what is on their mind, in their hearts, in a safe environment – is colossal in developing confidence. This voice will be what protects them, asserts them, what lands that job, what saves a life, what defends themselves or a friend, what talks someone out of a bad situation and most importantly the very voice that empowers and speaks love to themselves throughout their life.

I Pick my battles.

My husband loves many things about me, but this is not one. Picking my battles and saying yes more than no, are two things he and I differ on greatly. He is a “no” first kind of parent – he even said no to the boys to going to youth group once, before he realized what they had asked. We joke that if he were offered a million dollars, he would say no without even thinking because it’s like second nature to him.

I try for the most part to live with a motto of “I say yes, unless there is a reason to say no” and it has worked. This halts a majority of lying, it fosters respect and communication, and it teaches trust. When Cole first came to live with us, I said the words “I can’t stand up for you, if I can’t trust you, and I can’t say yes to you, if you’re showing reasons I should say no” until I was blue in the face and it has changed his ways almost completely. The little things can add up, and the big things can seem so minor when you break them down. So, I’ve learned to pick and choose what battles are necessary and why I am saying no instead yes. If I am saying no just because I can, it is the wrong answer. In my opinion the more we say yes in situations, the more opportunity we have for communication, lessons, mistakes etc.

I don’t hide all my mistakes or hardships.

It is essential that our children know that we make mistakes, that we do not have everything figured out and that sometimes in life things go badly. This is where they see you work through those hard times. Especially if your mistake is with them, they need to see you take responsibility of that, to not let pride keep you from being an example. Taking ownership, compassion and making amends are key factors to healthy relationships. You are who they will mimic when life gets difficult. If all your children ever see is sunshine and roses, what are they going to do when it rains, and that flower dies? They won’t just be ill prepared for the real word, but chances are they’ll feel like their childhood was a lie.

Parents who tell their children, “do as I say, not as I do,” aren’t giving their children enough credit. Children, especially teens still see, still know and still will most likely do as you did because that is natural. You can’t say don’t, then do it, and expect them to simply listen. That is where communication comes in, the “why” before the mistake is sometimes the magical deterrent. Also, personalizing the mistake, showing them that all humans makes mistakes, and that nobody is perfect, helps too. There is great power in saying I did this…, and this happened…, it was bad because…, I wish I hadn’t because it cost this… or caused this…, so when I say don’t – it is because I don’t want that to happen to you. You’ll have much better odds that way, versus just saying “because I said so.”

Religion vs. Relationship with God.

The greatest blessing of my childhood was being taught about God. As you become older and see the bigger picture in life you also see that all the answers you need are in the bible. Being raised catholic left a bad taste in my mouth in that not all things made sense, and being forced to believe what my family believed didn’t feel right, so I made a goal to not force a religion but instead introduce a relationship with God.

Going to church now more regularly, when they are old enough to understand what a relationship with God means is important, it shows that someones struggles may not make sense to us, or be visible to us, but that we still love them without judgment, just as God does us. It shows that we will have difficult times, but we are never alone. They are old enough now to ask questions, to put his scriptures into daily life and to see what true forgiveness means. That God, forgiveness and love all are part of the bigger plan.

Age appropriate responsibility.

Teens right now get drunk to hang out and have fun, have sex to be accepted and do drugs to numb and escape life. I want my kids to see that you can have fun without having a drink. That sex is more than how to “feel” loved and to live a life that never needs to be numbed or escaped. Their life can already be difficult with a variety of outside factors, but adding in these variables, only causes worse situations. There are reasons you get a license at sixteen, it is to get to a job. There is a reason you can’t drink until twenty-one, it allows brain development. And, there is a reason you wait to have sex until you’re married, because it creates an emotional and mental connection, it seals a covenant and promise and because it causes children!

Do I think that my children will wait until they are 21 to have their first drink, or until marriage to have sex? The drinking – no, but will I try and explain the importance of why they should until I am blue in the face? Yes. Teens these days are in a rush for everything which takes away the excitement. If you drive at twelve, what fun is sixteen? If you drink at fourteen, what fun is twenty-one? If you have sex at sixteen, and meet the man/woman of your dreams at nineteen, what are you giving them that is just theirs? With age becomes responsibility and if we rush these, the lessons are nullified in a sense. It is okay to hold hands before you kiss, to practice before you excel and to take small steps before a giant leap.

A homeless heart.

The way I see it is we are all one paycheck away from homeless, one lost job from a tent, one mental breakdown from a tarp and one life shattering moment from a cart holding all that is left.

Every morning on my way to work, I see the same homeless person, pushing a shopping cart with all the possessions they own and hold dear to them. And, each time I picture myself. When I see a tent hidden behind a bush, or a tarp made into a tent tucked away, I can imagine myself hiding inside. The dirty clothes, the dirty faces, the shameful eyes looking down at their shoes with holes, it is all me. I feel all of it and I do not know why. For as long as I can remember, I have always felt as though I will be homeless at some point.

Maybe it’s because when I was 17, I left home one-night, dead set to get away from the toxicity my home life had become. It was probably the most unplanned, unprepared for and simultaneously the wisest decision I have ever made. Back then there were no cell phones, I left without food, without setting up a place to stay and not a single person to call for help or even a dollar to my name.

And even then, being alone, unprepared, and without much of anything I was better off on the street than at home. My memory from that time is shoddy at best which is a blessing in disguise. The memory that remains is that I found places to stay, I got a job, graduated high school and that although it was the loneliest I had ever been, I was not truly alone because it’s by the grace of God that I’ve never been without a home again.

Failure and struggle makes me curious, people with a past intrigue me immensely. When I see a homeless person I want to know their story. Much like a kindergartner at carpet time, I want to sit crisscross applesauce with my hands under my chin and take in their entire life story. Because I know it isn’t always alcohol, drugs, crime and laziness that cost them a warm place to sleep, a suuportive loving family, a warm meal, or a sense of peace within their mind or within four walls.

It wasn’t any of those that cost me my own home, my own family or my safety. A few years back I wanted to collect and take blankets to the homeless, because when they were cold, I felt cold. When they were wet, I felt wet. But no one understood that or would help me with the project, because it was dangerous for a woman to do alone. And, knowing that kept me from doing it, but that feeling of wanting them to be seen, feel heard and know there was zero judgment has never left my heart.

Once when I was pregnant with my daughter, a man who appeared homeless, was stuck in the middle of a crosswalk in his wheelchair. One of his wheels was caught in a small pothole and he only had one leg to propel him forward. My father was a double amputee, and my heart went out to this man. There was no one else around, so I put my car in park, got out and walked over to him and offered to push him the rest of the way.

He told me to get away from him, he told me he did not need nor want my help. And, with all he had, he made it across all by himself. Sitting in my car I remember crying, in part I am sure because I was pregnant, but also in part because he reminded me of my father. I remember sitting there wondering how my desire to help could make him angry, why was his pride so prevalent? The truth though was that my pride was prevalent as well as were my assumptions. I assumed he needed assistance because of what I saw, I assumed he couldn’t do it because of how I would have felt if I were in the same situation. And, I was wrong. My heart was in the right place but I was wrong.

Maybe homeless is better than home for some. Maybe homeless is safer. Maybe they lost their home, when they lost the people inside those four walls that made it a home in the first place. Maybe they couldn’t bring themselves to walk back through a door that their child would never run to again. Or a spouse that would never be there to greet them. Maybe it was too hard, too much and they gave up. I can understand that, I could see that, I can feel that. Hard takes on different forms to different people, and what is hard for me, may not seem as hard to someone else and vice versa – but it is still hard.

Homeless doesn’t mean worthless, it doesn’t mean hopeless and it surely does not mean unlovable. Maybe for them it just means wild, liberated, free and possibly daring for some. I’ve heard so many times that a homeless person is well off, that they have a home and a family but that they choose to roam instead. I can’t imagine what that would feel like to have a family member choose to be homeless, dirty, hungry, unsafe and alone.

I’m not blind to the fact that a majority of homeless people are lacking the mental health and medical care they need and that those situations alone are the leading factor to becoming a sole tenant in a tent, a tarp and a shopping cart. That most are not in their right mind, and that yes some are even dangerous, and some are struggling addicts. I’m not blinded by the severity and the statistics. My heart just reminds me that we have no idea what made them walk out that door, or that there was ever a door to begin with for them. Yet, people treat homeless people like garbage solely because sometimes they smell bad, look bad or act poorly. And, that breaks my heart.

The way I see it is we are all one paycheck away from homeless, one lost job from a tent, one mental breakdown from a tarp and one life shattering moment from a cart holding all that is left. The only difference is how we are able to handle those situations with the resources we’re given. And, that should be enough to change judgment into compassion, because one day that could be me, you or someone you love.

It starts at home.

I should not have to be in fear dropping my children off at school, that they may be a victim today because you were afraid to be a good parent yesterday!

What would you do or say if I called you right now and said your child told my child to kill themself today? That your child told my child to do the world a favor and simply die. That their only wish was that my child would be dead by the end of the school year. What would your response be??

Would it be “I don’t get involved in child drama” or maybe you’d say “kids say mean things, they don’t mean it!” Or how about this response: “your child is lying, my child would never say that!” Because, I know what I’d say, and how I would react and I would not be afraid to be the bad guy with my child, to discipline my child, to talk to my child until I’m blue in the face to explain that it’s not acceptable. I would do what we are expected to do as a parent sometimes; teach hard lessons!

IT STARTS AT HOME PEOPLE, IN YOUR HOME. And, the worst part is, it rarely ends there. WAKE UP!

Our kids see so much, that parents just turn a blind eye to. They either witness, run chance of being victims of or are doing one if not all of these things: Bullying, cutting, getting drunk too young, being sexually promiscuous and having multiple partners before they can even legally drive, drugs, suicide attempts, school shootings etc.

Do you know your child was too busy to get help from a teacher or counselor when he saw fresh cuts on a kid in PE class? Do you know that his reason was because he was too busy?? Too busy! Too busy to help, to care, to save a life! Who’s fault is that? Yours or his?

How about your child who gets drunk and makes it a point to sleep with or be promiscuous with other people’s boyfriends just to piss them off. Is that her fault or yours?

Or, how about letting your child go to a party where they get drunk and taken advantage of? Her fault or yours? His fault or his parents? And, vice versa.

It’s not just that kids need to start SPEAKING UP about potentially dangerous matters but also the uncomfortable ones. PARENTS need to start talking to their CHILDREN, open their eyes to witness their ACTIONS and for the love of all that is holy, monitor THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA accounts!! It can prevent horrific events in a childs life. We are supposed to protect them. God bless that grandmother who had to do such a hard thing by turning in her own grandson. God bless her for not respecting his privacy and reading his journal! And, God bless her for protecting our children.

You as a parent should be the first person to know something is off with your child. That’s your job!!!!

You as a parent should know your child is depressed/withdrawn and needs to talk to a professional or someone more qualified than you.

You as a parent should know where your children are at all times, instead of them getting drunk/high at a party, allowing them to get into horrible and unsafe situations.

You as a parent should know that your child is having sex or using their body inappropriately way too young! And, ask yourself why? Investigate that? Hurt people, hurt people! Think about it!

You should also know that you as a parent, not acting on suspicions, not checking social media, not wanting to piss of your child, or violate their privacy, not talking to your kids about every little thing and not getting them help when they need it, that you are just as guilty of your child’s actions if not solely to blame.

I should not have to be in fear dropping my children off at school, that they may be a victim today because you were afraid to be a good parent yesterday!!!

Not your typical sports physical…

This past week, I took my daughter Grace for a sports physical/well child exam. (apparently insurance providers are kinder to you if its simply a well child exam) I’m guessing a case of karma may have bitten Grace’s nerves since she had to wait in the hall during her brothers physical last year. Which she spent laughing and taunting him while the doctor was making him “cough.”  There was simply no reassuring her conscience that reassurance was nothing for the doctor to check down there, or to make her cough!

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He did as any mother would expect, he checked her reflexes, her weight and height, breathing and bones, diet and exercise etc. he made her walk heel to toe, and to the other side of the room on her tiptoes – which resulted in my telling her that the shorts she was wearing are going in the garbage as soon as we got home! They were way too short for my liking.  After her doctor stopped laughing he then did something that shocked me.  He didn’t fill out our paper and send us on our way. Nope, instead he folded his arms, and started a conversation with Grace. How fantastic is that? Does your pediatrician do that?

He started asking some rather valid questions. Questions such as: Can you talk to your mother, and father? Are you ever sad, lonely or depressed? Do you have a best friend? Do you have the confidence to say “No” when you feel pressured to say yes? Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? To say I was impressed, was a huge understatement. Then when she joined in on this conversational rally of sorts with him, I just sort of sat back and took it all in. Man, is she growing up I thought to myself.

She trusted him, and was open enough to answer any question honestly and humorously – which might I add, she totally gets from me! For a second, it did make me wonder though, how many parents sit and ask their children these same questions? Could they answer these questions about their children? A slight sadness came over me in the thought that not every child has the opportunity or the openness that Grace and I have. The sadness was met with the appreciation for this moment though, and the realization that one day, it may change.

 

Quickly my thoughts were interrupted by her answers to his questions which she met them with such poise, intellect and witty retorts. During their talk, I was careful only to chime in when necessary, or an unavoidable humorous answer was necessary. Like, when he asked her “Do you worry” Are you a worrier?” I couldn’t help but share the answer of “Yes! She worries! She is terrified that if she doesn’t re-post those forwards on Facebook that says your mother will die at midnight, that I’ll die! Yet, here I am, alive in the flesh!”  We all laughed, and he explained as I have numerous times – those aren’t real.

He talked to her about periods, which I did ask if he could rush along, because the hormonal pre-teen stuff is simply too dramatic at times, he said no, damn it! He talked to her about sex, birth control, drugs and alcohol – literally these two talked about everything. He mentioned teen pregnancy and she responded with the hand gesture of throwing a ball into a basket and said “ I’m not throwing my life in the trash!” Laughing he said “Okay, I think were good then.”

The best part of this appointment, besides her overall good physical and mental health, was what he said as was left. He looked at me and said “You are doing a good job Mom, you have a really special girl here.” And, while I fought back the desire to dodge the compliment with a hilarious remark of “Yes, the helmet kind of special” I instead simply thanked him, and agreed.

Sure there is the possibility he says that to every mom, but I took it as the truth. It’s truth and validation come from the fact that I know she is a phenomenal little girl. As well as knowing, that I am a phenomenal mother to her. We as parents owe it to our children to know our worth as parents. Our worth in ourselves as individuals and parents translates them as their own worth. Take the time to be that parent who takes the time. The parent who makes the effort, who has the strength and maturity to answer those questions, remember when you yourself were a child, think of what you needed, desired and wished your parents would have done. And, by that I don’t mean letting you sneak out and drink at fifteen!

Look at yourself in the mirror, right into your eyes and say this “You are doing a good job!” Your kids will thank you for it.