Monday, June 22, 2015

The Messy Downside of Perfect Parenting

My teenage daughter is volunteering at a children's art camp this summer.

There is one little girl who wears 8 rubber bands on her left wrist. When she drinks a bottle of water, she moves one rubber band from the left wrist to her right. Her goal, she informed my daughter, is to drink all 8. Her mom says it is very important.

The majority of the children - age 6 to 10 - say they are vegetarians. Their snacks are carefully restricted, and so (it seems) are their lives. Most of them leave art camp to rush over to another pre-scheduled summer activity.

Something about this parenting style makes me nervous.

Rubber bands. Eight glasses of water?

Why do these children sound like a group of 40-something women doing power yoga? Why are they worried about fluid intake and calories?

As a mom of one, I can only claim so much parental experience. But I do have some. And, I know that one lesson I have learned the hard way is to set aside the whole parenting-I-must-do-everything-perfectly attitude. The guilt trip for you and for your child needs to stop.

When my daughter was an infant, I started reading parenting books. I was in a mad frenzy to do everything right. I wanted straight As in mama-hood. And my attitude was causing a series of emotional breakdowns along the way.

I remember the night I tried "tough love" in letting my daughter go to sleep on her own. I had her door closed, and I sat outside, the wood pressing into my spine, the carpet scratchy on my bare legs, and tears running down my cheeks. My daughter was wailing in the closed bedroom.

Finally my husband came out - "What are you doing?"

"We have to do this," I sobbed.

"Why?" he said.

"Because, the books say she has to learn to comfort herself," I explained.

And he said to me, "That's ridiculous." And it was.

But sleeping on her own was just one of my parental worries that spurred me on to craziness. Daily I would Google my concerns: Why was she crying all the time? When should I switch to formula? How could I get her to pee in an actual potty? Was it a sign of dismal parenting that she thought Barney was a real person and had all the words to Elmo videos memorized. And on, and on, and on my neurotic parenting went. I my effort to be a good parent, I was making myself miserable.

And then someone (older and wise) said to me, "You know what. All kids learn to pee in a potty eventually. And no child I have ever met is still drinking formula at age 18."

They were so right. So I stopped (mostly). I tried to quit beating myself up. I tried to stop worrying if nap time didn't happen on schedule or I didn't have the most perfectly balanced meal. I remembered how I would play outside in my pajamas as a kid - catching fireflies and scabbing my knees. I remembered sparklers and kick the can and a million other little joys that have nothing to do with wise parenting or safety concerns.

Messy parenting is freeing.

My daughter is 17 now. She is not perfect. She is quirky and has her struggles. But she has amazed me as well and far exceeded my expectations. She is strong and brilliant and beautiful and creative and sleeps through the night (sometimes). So there are a few things I know now that I wish I had realized then.

1) I am not mess-free - and neither is my child. We don't fit every other person's prediction of how life should look or be. God made us individually. As a parent, I need some grace and flexibility - and so does my child.

2) Your child is not you. Resist the urge to put 40-year-old or 30-year-old or 20-year-old concerns onto an 8-year-old. They don't need to lose a few pounds or worry about their cholesterol. They don't struggle with self esteem. They are little. They are wonderful. They need to be crazy and goofy and full of mischief.

3) These moments with your kids are fleeting. Enjoy them, and try to take a deep breath before you let stress and worry kick in. Take time to just be with your child. Pull them out of some scheduled activities and let them have down time. Take off those rubber bands and let them drink water straight out of a germy fountain. Mix it with brightly colored Kool Aid - even the kind with real sugar.

4) When you start to freak out and think you're aren't doing something right, that you must have missed that secret session of "How to Be a Mom," stop yourself and say with me, "It will be okay. They will be okay." (Breathe deeply and repeat as needed.)

Sure there will be trials. Yes, you will have anxious, crazy, messy moments, but in the meantime you should actually smile and breathe deeply and enjoy your little one. Because nothing you do or don't do will prevent difficult times, your own parental failures, or unexpected disasters.

And, through each moment, both good and bad, I have found that loving and living fully and imperfectly is better than any prescribed idea of what parenting should look like.

By letting them be kids, we become better moms.

Friday, June 12, 2015

What I Learned From the Mentoring Group I Didn't Want to Join

I received the invitation to be in a professional women's mentoring group at work. And I thought - "What a wonderful idea...for someone else."

Joining a mentoring program seemed like another "to do" on my pretty big list. I am a mom of a teenager. I work full time. We just finishing a cross-country move. I try to make time to write. And, occasionally, I clean house and cook.

And, as long as I can remember, I have been a reluctant joiner. I don't really appreciate being assigned to relationships one-on-one or in a group. I prefer to go it alone quite a bit, and (when I do connect to others) I've found that relationships are best that happen naturally.

But this invitation was different. It came from a former student and colleague who I greatly respect. She is kind and smart and thoughtful. She wanted to improve professional life and opportunities for women at our organization. How could I say no?

So, I said yes.

For the past months I have been mentoring, and frankly being mentored right back, by a wonderful woman named Eunice. She has been patient with my on-again-off-again Skype connections and my forgetfulness of what exactly we were talking about two weeks ago.

Even during our first conversation, I found myself relaxing. It became not "what can I teach her" but how can we - two women working for the same organization - grow together. We realized that we were both different - and yet the same.

She is from the Dominican Republic. I am from the United States.

She has two daughters. I have one.

She just had to unexpectedly put a new roof on her house. So did I. Same weekend!

She works in a left brain field (legal/accounting). I work in a right brain area (fundraising/writing).

She and I talked frankly about what we fear at work - confrontation, asking for what we want, facing office issues like gossip, and the future. I offered examples and advice from my 25 years of service at the same place. She gave me insights about how she views our organization as a newer employee.

It was wonderful.

Mentoring or the idea of mentoring can be intimidating. I tend to think of myself as someone who has not yet arrived. Surely I am not an expert. What do I have to offer? What if they expect me to know more than I do?

But once I set aside those fears and took the plunge, I learned a few significant things:

1) Connection is important. While we all have some friendly relationships at work, the desire to connect in a meaningful way is something most of us desire. It takes a regular investment of time to do this at the office. Too often women are balancing multiple responsibilities - in and out of work. Taking time to meet new women is frankly not a priority for many of us. Mentoring relationships make time for this.

2) You have more to offer than you realize. You don't have to "know" business or be an expert. If you've worked in any capacity for a number of years, you have gained experiences that will be helpful to someone else. Just as we will naturally share a recipe or household tip, sharing work advice becomes second nature. I found that once I quit fretting about what I was supposed to say, I had plenty to share.

3) Mentoring is about learning. As I talked to Eunice about my own past and listened to her own concerns and work situation, I found myself reflecting and processing my own work history. It helped me verbalize what I have learned in the past, and understand what I think today. As we shared, I grew.

I would encourage you - if you get the opportunity - to consider participating in a professional mentoring relationship with someone either ahead of you in the journey or following close behind.

The time commitment was less than I thought. We worked around each other's schedules, and I found myself looking forward to that prioritized twice-a-month conversation. For me, it also brought unexpected joy - and I know I will continue my friendship with Eunice in the future.

To build a great company of women, we need to take time - make time - to learn from and listen to one another.

Thanks, Kim Pickett, for your work to bring Envision to Moody Bible Institute.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

After the Big Leap: Settling in After Major Change

I've been sighing a lot lately. 


"What's wrong?" says my mildly concerned husband.

"Nothing," I reply. "Sigh...."

And nothing is wrong. Really. Well, there are a lot of concerns floating around me - even fairly significant ones about family and friends. But my personal life has settled into a much more quiet and normal routine.

We've made our big move - one of the biggest changes I've ever experienced. And, we've landed, feet on the ground, planted firmly on the other end.

When we were in junior high, my teacher had this wild idea that I could learn gymnastics. They had this leather vaulting horse that we were supposed to run toward at full-speed, jump hard on a wooden bouncing board and hurdle ourselves into the sky, over the vault and onto the blue vinyl mats on the other end.

Olympic champion Kerri Strug made it look easy . . . even with a sprained ankle.

It is not easy. It is terrifying.

If you know me at all, you know I am not an athlete. So, maybe you are, and you enjoy this sort of thing. Be quiet. I don't like you.

But I am not. And, in 7th grade, I was horrified at the prospect of hurdling my 80-lb body over anything.

But Miss Weckering was glaring at me over her clipboard, so I ran (reluctantly), and I jumped (lightly), and I sort of crashed, stumbled, fell over the stupid vault. And I made it (somehow) to the other side.

That's how I felt about our move to Florida.

I faced the prospect of a major job change, a house sale, clearing of our mountains of possessions, moving three cars, a dog, and my 88-year-old mother-in-law. Finding a place to live. And sorting through piles of paperwork.

And now I've landed. A bit beat up. But, I've landed.

I'm on the blue vinyl mat.

Laying here, a bit bruised but whole, on the other side.

And now, I'm sighing.

I think that I have post-stress malaise. The kind of sadness you feel when you no longer have a huge snowball chasing you down a hill. It is relief, but you kind of miss the crazy.

I am so much like those crabby Israelites who bitched all the way to the Promised Land. Over and over again God provided for them. And they complained. And moaned. And sighed.

Big sighs.

To me, they seem just plain selfish. But I realize that they, too, had gone through a major time of transition. They had left everything they knew (the good and the bad), and they were following God one step at a time into the unknown. They had to trust and believe and not look back.

So I'm pressing forward. I can get past this as well.

And I'm trying to remember gratefulness. I need to stop and thank God for getting me this far. I need to remember the way He's blessed us and cared for us and provided unthinkable things that cleared our way. I need to be overwhelmed with His love.

I am ashamed that I'm not. How quickly I forget God's goodness and turn to my own mixed-up perspective.

So - I'm pulling myself up off the gym mat. I'm saying, "Thank you, God." 

Thank you for getting me to the other side. Help me not to miss the crazy. 

Help me to keep looking forward and upward. 

Help me to get over myself and my mixed-up, selfish, neurotic emotions, and to focus on you.

And, help me to quit sighing.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Time I Knew I Was A True Mama

I remember one distinct moment when I knew I was no longer just a girl, I was a mama.

We were camping in Door County, Wisconsin. Sabrina had invited a friend to stay with us for the week. Uninvited, but equally present, was a horrible stomach virus.

First, her friend puked all over the back part of the camper, including all over the cute, little blue shag rug I put between the girl's beds. I pulled it out and suds it out in a hot bucket of soapy water.

I called her girlfriend's mom, and (after many rounds of sickness) I fed her saltines and 7-up. This particular bug was hard-hitting and relentless and highly contagious.

But I remember first staring long and hard at that smelly, revolting mess and thinking, "Now. I am truly a mother. Only a mom would do this."

There was no one else to clean it up. I was it. I was the one who called upon to fix the problem. I was the mama.

So I cleaned it up.

And then, Sabrina got sick. And then, my husband followed suit.

Each time I would take a deep breath and talk to myself. "This is it," I would say. "You can do this. You love these people."

Myself would answer back with angry hissing sounds. "I absolutely, positively cannot do this. There is no possible way."

The commentary would wage back and forth between myself and myself. And myself won.

I washed that stupid blue rug until the fourth time it got soiled . . . I threw it out.

I washed and cleaned because I loved them all: my daughter, my husband, and my daughter's friend.

They say you marry in sickness and health, but you mother the same way. You mother when you don't feel like it anymore, when you are sad, when you are tired, when you are angry, when you are pukey.

You mother because a deep part of you loves this person - and you have absolutely no choice. You mother because you love.

So thank you, to my mom. To my grandma. To my mother-in-law. To all the moms who do the impossible every day because they have no choice and because they choose to mother.

You are loved and needed and appreciated.

When we were children, we had no understanding of what it means to parent. You thought that your mom and dad were invincible, that they could do anything and cure anything. You no understanding of the days they almost turned away, when they didn't think they had an ounce of can-do-spirit left in them. But, moms (and dads), you did it anyway.

For that, I am forever thankful.

Blessings on you today.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My New Jet Setting Life and What I've Learned About Airports and Planes

I have never flown as often as I have in the past six months. And, I've traveled solo.

Relocating from Chicago to Florida meant that I would need to travel back to home base, occasionally, for my job. Plus, I've added in conferences, work meetings in other states, speaking engagements, and one more trip for my daughter to attend an anime convention. So, I've been in and out of airports... a lot.

Following is a list of unrelated incidents and observations from this newbie frequent flier:

1) Orlando Airport has the most children. Children bearing Mickey Mouse ears and in full-blown meltdowns from over stimulation. I have never, ever in my life seen so many cranky kids and adults with glazed-over eyes clutching their cups of coffee.

2) There is something joyous about going through security alone. For all of you mamas out there, you know what I mean. You only need to take off your shoes and coat, and unpack your Ziploc baggie of essentials. You only need to keep track of you.

3) Even then, I mess up. In the tiniest airport ever - Grand Rapids - I was pulled aside for an extra security check. The TSA agent asked me if I had any weapons. Really? Me? No. What I did have - I soon discovered was a renegade bottle of water.

4) Women have it rough. I stood next to one woman who was shouting to the TSA agent: "It's a breast pump." "Great," she told me. "Now the entire airport knows I'm lactating." She said that one time she even had to take a drink of her breast milk to show it was the real thing. Oh dear.

5) Starbucks is your friend. I only went through one airport - Midway - where Starbucks was not clearly evident and abounding. I hated that. I almost felt paralyzed with confusion.

6) I am always fearful I will drop my suitcase on someone's head while lifting it into the overhead bin. Thankful for the chivalrous man who helped me on the last flight. Thank you kind sir. You have no idea.

7) Southwest rules. They just do.

8) There is no gum for sale in the Orlando Airport. I know. Travesty. The clerk told me to buy Mentos. Really?! How will my ears ever pop?

9) I still get a childlike thrill at take-off - and always put my hand out to help the pilot break when we land. Always.

10) I have enjoyed many, many packets of Ritz Cracker Chips - which we all delightfully accept - and I will probably never ever buy or eat them anywhere else. They're kind of like 7up when you are sick. You are so grateful and happy just to have a little treat.

11) You really do need to check in 24 hours in advance. I once went renegade and didn't. I was in something like the "E" section - behind everyone else. When I got to the boarding gate, they needed to "check" my bag. Bummer. Now, I sit by my computer like a hawk searching for its prey - ready to pounce at that exact minute. Once, I claimed B-1!!!!

12) Choosing your seat is strategic. In Southwest, you choose your seat. Avoid the screaming kids (I know - I had one once - but I don't now). Avoid the coughers - you just know you'll be sick two days later. Avoid the strange chatty men that smile and pat the seat next to them. Avoid the center seat. Try to get near the front for a quick escape.

13) I really like flying. It is like a little mini-vacation. I can read, chew my gum, eat my little bag of Ritz Cracker Chips, have a Coke with ice, watch a little home decorating, do some writing, and then I'm there - somewhere else.

14) Coming home is the best. Tap my sparkly red shoes and take me home. As much as I enjoy the momentary sense of freedom and the quiet hotel room with full control of the lights, air and tv channel, I miss everyone the minute I leave.