Our Kids Will Always Need Therapy. And It’s Okay.

My stern great-grandmother came from Copenhagen around 1890 and married a stern Welsh potato farmer in Northern Maine.  Katinka assimilated totally; they spoke no Danish, celebrated no Danish holidays, ate no Danish foods.  Children were to be seen and not heard.  My potato farmer grandfather Percival (her son), was equally stern.

He mostly repeated the family pattern, and almost finished his job doing so before big cultural changes came.  His children were born at the end of World War II and were young adults in the 60s.  The peaceniks and free love revolution didn’t quite infiltrate rural Northern Maine.  Percy’s kids (my dad and uncles) had farm exemptions from service in Viet Nam; they worked HARD.  They planted, tended, and picked potatoes. They may not have worn beads and protested, but they played HARD. They rigged their cars’ windshield washers to dispense moonshine into their glove boxes and started families earlier than planned.  Ahem.

They really failed at being seen and not heard. Gloriously.  Their kids, my cousins and I, were not expected to be seen and not heard.  We went on family camping trips and had big raucous Thanksgivings.  But still, we were not invited to speak. I’ve had to learn, as a person, to speak up — and unlearn, as a parent, speaki17105275_10156068423693916_1637972395_nng for or over my kids.

Big cultural changes happen quickly now, generation after generation.  Baby boomers, peaceniks, yuppies, gen Xers, generation Y, millenials — technology, gender roles, economic opportunities, the changing shape of the family.

What we learned about parenting, from our parents, is dated.  Historical trends in parenting have changed quickly, and in the last decades they have multiplied, too.  There’s not just Doctor Spock followed by Dr. Sears.  There’s permissive, free range, attachment, mindful, and authoritarian parenting.  And there’s more: religious (conservative or reform?), Adlerian, gender-neutral, tiger moms, geek dads… you see.

Best practices seem to change with the release of each new study.  New digital technologies mean we fly by the seats of our pants.  There’s no way a parent can stay ahead of it all.

But one thing remains steady — when kids, teens, and young adults misbehave, parents are first in the line of blame — l17101738_10156067620438916_1980051568_n.jpgike we operate in a vacuum.  The stakes feel high, and they are. Parents, kids, schools, and the culture at large see parents as responsible for their children’s behavior.

We simply cannot do it “right.” With high stakes, shifting criteria, changing terrain (new technologies, family shape), how could we?  How can we do those “best practices” about to be announced?  I always joked that my kids will need therapy because the standards of parenting change every decade.

But it’s true.

So when we need to course-correct in the funnerfamily, we get an outside contractor  —  a professional to survey the situation, advise, and help make new supports.   Honestly, sometimes we are late to the game.  Like we should have called in a pro six months ago!  haha.  But better late than never.

Often when I tell someone we are seeing a therapist, they respond with pity or sadness or some version of “this too shall pass.”  I think that’s the wrong attitude, frankly.  “The family” and its day to day decision making, traditions, and comforts, just doesn’t move at the same speed, or with the same agenda, as “the culture” with its press toward novelty and innovation.  Bridging the gap requires outside resources!  Haha…

My kids need an orthodontist, I’m not going to even think about doing THAT myself.  I don’t want to be in charge of EVERYTHING!  Our kids need experts.  I’d like to see our kids  invited to speak, and I for one need someone to paint some lines on the road so that I can stay in between “seen and not heard” and “the kids are in charge.”  We will always need professionals — they help me invite my kids to speak.  Our kids will always need therapy… and it’s okay.

I would love to hear about something you wish you had learned earlier, or could unlearn.  Or that your parents had unlearned.  Comment here, and let’s move forward together.  ❤

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Holding space for our kids in anxious times.

I’ve written here before about the onus of healthy eating falling to moms.  About moms feeling guilty.  As things shift in larger culture, moms are telling me that they feel more “on the hook” than ever, and I feel it too.

Our grown up anxieties are spilling over onto our kids, and these days I don’t know how we’d ever completely exempt them from adult worries.  Instead:  twitter-128 I urge us to get our coping skills in place; feeling the feelings and making space for our kids to do the same.

I was on Facebook live recently, talking about holding space for our kids and I’d love you to check it out here.

Please don’t get distracted by the water I splashed on my shirt.  Snort.  #LetMomOffTheHook

 

My background is in cultural studies and women’s studies, and I have spent a lifetime tending to women’s changing roles in culture.  Join me as I focus in on helping moms, particularly us moms of sensory kids. Come on over to AngelaLTodd on Facebook and follow along.

Picky Eating Has Returned: here’s what we are doing this time.

On vacation, salmon for dinner.  Dogs for the kids.  We’re surrounded by amazing garden produce — afternoon snack, I wasn’t there, and they say “I’m hungry.”  That phrase does drive me nuts.  I’ve explained to the Things that it’s just a declaration, and articulating your feelings is usually a good thing.  But behind it is the unspoken part — I’m making my hunger YOUR problem.

Regular readers know we have a family member who simply doesn’t believe in picky eating.  It shouldn’t exist or be tolerated.  Especially during happy hour, haha.  They found me, wisps of smoke coming out of their ears.

“I’ve offered him everything in the frigging house!”

I couldn’t ignore it any more.  Picky eating reared its ugly head. Again.FamilyDinner.jpg

At first it feels like a normal fluctuation, but it keeps moving, changing… then something forces you to see — a sea change is happening!  You think something has been handled once and for all, but it shifts and returns.  At 13, Thing 1 is changing, he’s taller than me suddenly, and I hear changes in his voice.  Middle school social life is raucous and sometimes cruel — he seems to have opted out of it, for better and worse.

Thing 1 and I do talk about picky eating: years ago he said he wouldn’t eat anything that looked  like vomit: stews, goulashes, lasagna, etc.  If you look for it, it’s everywhere!

Recently I learned that if we cook, say, button mushrooms (which he dislikes) with Portabella mushrooms (which he loved), it ruins his fondness for Portabellas.  Okay.  Also, his teeth and the roof of his mouth are sensitive, so he is wary of sharp tortilla chips and steaming hot pizza cheese (and his sister complains that he eats these noisily).

Click to tweet: I worked out a system with him: my Parenting Picky Eaters course.  It stopped working.  So we are doing it again!

And here’s the awesome part… it’s okay!  Once we got home — and I realized our previous agreements had an expiration date, it was all okay.  It now takes two of us to track what my elder eats, and it’s a real exercise in … intimacy to make space for him to be honest about school and snacks without punishment.  He’s 13.

But we have a process, he knows the process, and it’s clear that we are problem-solving together.  The outcome is already shaping up — a workable series of agreements and choices, and believe it or not, I welcome this project for us to do together at this time that he’s maturing away from his mama — funner or not.

If you have a picky eater, sign up for my free newsletter and look forward to problem-solving tips for picky eaters, new school or anxious kids, right HERE.

Travel time bonding activities

Before kids, I was leery of sitting near kids on planes.  Having two of my own now, I am committed to NOT being the one with the annoying kids!   The very best way to keep kids amused on planes is to give in to giving them your full attention.  I’ve skipped their naps and let them have bottles on planes, and that has worked.  But they are 9 and 13 now! Set them — and you — up for fun.

Travel time doesn’t have to be an annoying waiting game, even if your flight is cancelled.  It’s a great time to talk and bond!  Here is my list of tech-free strategies — no mind-numbing beeping or squeaky little voices:

*Phone Pictures 1348.jpgLook for unusual signs. Read them aloud, imagine why they are there (hilarious accidents leading to “one way” signs, for example), or imagine what they’d serve at this public supper, and photograph them. Look for and try regional, unusual, or new foods.
*What’s in there?  Trucks, cars, buses, wagons, warehouses.  To simplify for younger kids, make crazy suggestions like penguins, pingpong balls, or bean bag chairs when you see those cargo planes or big trailers on the runway. For biggers, figure out the system that it’s part of: shipping, luggage transfers, food access?
*Uno is a great card game for the plane, and in general the plane is a great place to capitalize on having your kids’ undivided attention to teach them card games or practice a foreign language.

*Tell the kids’ stories: one of mine came out with a small peep; one came out screaming her head off!  Haha.  The first one stayed in the hospital for a while; with the second one I said bring the car seat and winter coat tomorrow, and Running Mate said “It’s not like they’re going to just send her home with us.” But they did! haha.  One kid got a first bath from Nanny, one got a first bath from Running Mate (dad).  They had different baby songs, we lived in different places.

*Keep lists: when my son was small, on road trips we kept a list of mighty machines; my daughter likes animals.  You could adapt this for plane travel and your family’s personality: plaid pPhone Pictures 1291.jpgants? someone traveling with a pet? a bird, flying dragon, or good witch out the plane window? Spot a necktie or fuzzy hat in the airports or rest stops, keep track of your points.  At takeoff and landing, look for back yard swimming pools, parks, parking lots full of school buses.
*Mad Libs!  Filling in the blanks is great practice for learning nouns and verbs.
*Rock paper scissors – we’ve found that if you do this often enough, the competition goes out of it.  We also occasionally throw a new sign, the “thumbs up” sign might be a grenade, the wick of which scissors and sharp paper can cut. We did one with Chinese food – two fists beside each other for egg roll, two fingers for chop sticks, and thumb between the pointer and middle fingers (like “I’ve got your nose”) for fortune cookie.  Just make up the rules as you go.

*Cat’s cradle – another cooperative game for the kids.*Sound effects game – make a noise and have the other players build a story around it.  Creaking or clapping are good to start with, and using props like ruffling book pages is encouraged — but be warned, preteen boys and dads tend to deteriorate into body sounds. And this one is better for the car.

*With pen and paper, you can play tic-tac-toe, hangman, draw your pet and let the kids color it in, play an impromptu drawing-and-guessing game similar to dictionary,  draw the head (or spikes) of a dragon and let them finish it.*Hum-a-song — one person hums and the other guesses.  Itsy-bitsy spider, happy birthday, holiday songs.*Origami — teach your child one simple construction.  My 5-y-o made penguins till the paper was gone!  Then we gave them away everywhere we went.Phone Pictures 902

When I drive, my mind always wanders back to the Native Americans that lived here before the highways, and I imagine if one could come up this hill and know exactly where they were, or if they followed a river up to it’s source, or could fish out of my Dad’s pond.  I talk about it with my kids, but I don’t know yet if they really “get” it.  They indulge me, mostly.  I think Pioneer Culture, with wagons and paths, are more imaginable for them, and we do talk about that, too.

I’d love to know what kinds of games YOU play that aren’t on this list; please do add them in below and share with us.

And if you’d like to chat about making the transitions from vacation to home to school, shoot me an email at Funnermother [at]funnermother.com.  Happy dog days!

Summer ain’t what it used to be. But it can still be fun!

As a kid, Maine summers with Dad stretched on endlessly. I had a friend or two but spent my time on my treadle sewing machine, watching old movies, going to the library and reading the Nancy Drew series, walking downtown to look at fabric, or sitting on one of the big rocks around our little pond in the woods with my orange plastic typewriter, tapping out profound things.  I. Loved. It.

I had kids late, and summer ain’t what it used to be.

Forty years later, my childhood summer is unavailable…Children’s Services snaps up kids on their own, or worse, someone else does.  And though it’s statistically unlikely, the news warns us about both and we are all thinking about it all the time.  The little orange typewriter has been replaced by a keyboard in each pocket. It’s a long walk to the suburban library in the next town; we don’t have woods or pond.  And “kids these days,” including mine, don’t even want to do these things.  Harumph.

When I worked in academic libraries, my kids were in care or camps.  Basically, year-round school.  I couldn’t wait for them to spend the day reading on the lowest branches of our maple tree, or finding a little nook on the path that caresses the side of our house.  Or laying on a quilt with me and watching the clouds, you know, like you do.  For hours.

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None of those things has happened.  None!  I’ve stopped feeling bad, almost.

Click to tweet: twitter-128Expectations about our kids’ summers set us up for disappointment or guilt. We think they’ll be just like ours, or magical, or full, or blissfully empty.  On the other side of that, of course, is only compromise.  We can’t force a 1970s summer; authorities would step in! Ha!  But I’d love to help you work out a summer that leaves you and the kids happy.

With a plan and a laugh about how our kids don’t want our dream summer, we’ll hash out what you want and what will work. We’ll work out a screen contract, build in touchstones during the day and week.   We’ll make a fun summer bucket list, and a plan for moving those kids to the next level of independence and contribution before school starts up again.  For all the details click here, and if you’d like to talk about my Summer-Saver VIP day, let’s schedule time to talk.  Just email me at Funnermother [at] Funnermother.com or message me on Facebook.Facebook.Facebook.  Let’s make summer funner.

What’s a White Mom to Do?

I cried all the way to the library.  Then I told my kids about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  “Remember last summer when I said not to leave a black friend if a cop showed up or if you were all doing something and it went sideways?  Or if things started to unravel, or if any one of you did something wrong? To ask the cop if you can call us before you reach for your phone? And that we will come and support you all?”

They nodded solemnly.  When I cry it gets their undivided attention.

“Well that’s not enough.  I’m sorry that the world is not a perfect place.  But each of us by being here has the responsibility to leave our place better than we found it.  We need to figure out what we can do to heal this place.”

They blinked.

“I want us to try harder.”

How? they asked.  “Be friendly. Look people in the eye, say hi.  Let’s start there.”

My slightly atypical, rather antisocial teen bristled: But I don’t associate with ANY people, white, brown, or any race.  And I know this is true – we’ve been trying to figure that out already.

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Click this image to purchase this set or see other ceramics from Acme Humane.

“Just talk to Fred at the bus stop.  It’s just you two.  I’m not asking you to be his friend only because he’s brown, but I AM asking you to be friendly.  Just start by saying ‘hi.’  Do you ever talk?” If there’s something going on at school to talk about. “Okay, good, start by just talking.”  I know I am asking a lot of this kid, but I am asking anyway.

“And you, sister, have you noticed that the bus stop breaks into 2 groups by color when we’re there?  You have?  Talk to those brown kids, too.” But those are all boys and they’re rough and act crazy.  “Yep, I know, they’re younger than you and when they get together, they can act silly.  I’ll help you.”

I’ll help you.

Inside the library, an African American boy about 2 or 3 is being held to a very high standard by a black adult woman: “That isn’t yours.  Put that back.  Look at me. I don’t like that.”  And I wonder about how much the pressure on her has increased over the last 48 hours, the last year — or 2.  A white couple arrives with three biracial toddlers.  I wonder who is at the most risk, how the visible markers of skin color override history, behavior, rules, rights… Race matters, and being “colorblind” does not help, as Mamademics has pointed out.

We are white like salamander bellies.  It is up to US to breach this gap.  Imperfectly, perhaps, but we need to start.  Because we are outside the script that gets laid on people of color.  They cannot heal this rift alone, it is too dangerous.

We must.

We must start somewhere.

I would dearly love to hear what you are doing in your family or neighborhood to breach this gap.  Pop on over to Facebook and let me know; let’s talk.  And if you don’t know how to get started, pm me over there.  I’ll help you.  Or I’ll talk to your group, or share a reading list, or just listen.

 

Parenting Picky Eaters: Tactics that Work!

I want to push us all to think about the family as a culture, not just mom’s responsibility.  And I’m starting with food.  Sign up for my free seminar:

stainedglassmama copyParenting Picky Eaters: Tactics that Work

One of my kids is a sensory averse white bread lover, the other is a seeker who snacks on raw onions! If I can feed these two, I can help you feed yours, too.

May 28, 8pm EST; 5pm Pacific
Click here for more details and to sign up!

If you’ve been reading along, you know: I’m frustrated with how much moms are on the hook for cultural problems, starting with kids’ diets.  Obesity, diabetes, test scores, long-term health, even behavior is linked to what moms are feeding their kids.  And yeah, moms.

I’ve written before about the decline of the “typical American family.”  Statistically, there is no longer any one family structure that constitutes a third of American families; there is no typical category any more. And yet simultaneously, the barrier to healthy eating rests on women — studies show.  Somehow it seems that women can’t seem to get out of the kitchen.   Still!

If you have a picky eater, rent those kids a movie, pick up your favorite beverage, and join me as I share some of my best secrets to taking the stress off mealtimes.  You’ll get a free .pdf of three Edible Tools for Fussy Eaters immediately upon signup.

Let’s do this.  See you on the seminar!

 

Methuselah Moms: Rise Up

In  Balance is a Bitch, I recently wrote about moms being immersed, about the struggle to achieve a life/work ‘balance’ that works, and about what our kids learn by watching us do work we love.  Older moms like me, caught between two parenting paradigms — the baby boomers and the millenials — need to hear this message about sculpting our own “balance.”

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Want help with your “bounce”?  Call me.

We older moms are established in our careers or professional/artistic paths, solid, and tired.  This very special position is an exhaustingly rich one, and one we recognize as a gift of this historical moment like none before.  And our kids are seeing new possibilities in what it means to age, to be a working woman, to be a mom.  But we are ready for a new metaphor  — to help us be happy, to help us conceptualize the often incongruent projects of parenting and careering, and to help us see our pattern and be okay with it.

The heartfelt comments that y’all wrote on “Balance is a Bitch” led me to think of  the big long swinging turns of giant slalom skiing: GS turns, strong and loving the turns, always in motion, first one way then the next.  Choose a word that fits your style: Braiding, three strands twisted around one another inextricably: working, parenting, and the self.  Or  weaving: one atop another over-under then under-over — many strands, colors, patterns, working together.  The pendulum has been my term (until the GS turns).  I go through periods of rocking parenting, and of being average, and of needing help.  Success at working, for me, is usually in inverse proportion to my success as parenting.

And that is okay.

Methuselah moms, fear not.  We have it “all.”  Where the ideology trips us up is in imagining that everything is always perfect — and of course it’s not, not in real life. Not always.

twitter-128Click to tweet:  Nothing’s perfect. But imperfection doesn’t mean failure, nor that work & family aren’t both worth having.

Imperfection does not mean it’s never good nor that it is effortless.  And in those moments of seeming failure, when we can’t gracefully patch everything together, those are the most important ones for our kids — because of what happens next.  You know what that is? You bounce.  You get a grip.  You rewind, apologize, hire someone to do it, just do your best, laugh at yourself, cry on someone’s shoulder, or reach out to a friend.  Knowing what to do is important; having coping skills is essential.  And imperfection gives us constant opportunities to model coping skills to the littles.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your braid or pendulum, or if you want someone in your corner strategizing, reach out to me at Funnermother@yahoo.com.  We can have a chat and see if we could work together on brainstorming, making some systems that work, or talking through what it means to bounce.

And as always, you can come on over to Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.  Come on, let’s hang out.  🙂

 

Picky Eater at the Library Party

Academic library folk can party!  Every year we went to a swank restaurant owned by an Italian celebrity chef.  My former micropreemie, now toddling, came to work with me a couple of days a week and was also invited.

It was a pasta restaurant, his favorite! Yummy comfort foods — what’s not to love?

There was a much-anticipated $5 gift swap, wine, and small talk.  A little more wine.  Appetizers.  Then we picked from a special menu pulled together just for us — a trio of extremely lovely highbrow pastas. Gnocchi with duck; garganelli with Prosciutto, peas, and cream; ravioli with wild boar and rosemary.

Fudgey, creamy, or spicy.  Uh oh.

Luckily, I had backup.

I found our waiter and, with big smiles and nodding my head, made my request.  My cheeks felt flushed. Again.  I sat at the big round six-top with Peanut on my lap.

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Click here to receive three quick videos with tips for your picky eater.

I ate; he didn’t.

CLICK to tweet:  If you have a sensory or food-averse kid, you know — you cannot wait them out.   They’d rather not eat.  At the six-top, my coworkers noticed, looked worried, asked if he was feeling okay.  I was still smiling wide, nodding, and now sweating, too.  And still flushed.

If you have a picky kid, you’ve probably stuck food in your purse a time or a hundred.

Finally the waiter came out with my secret weapon — purse nuggets!  In those days purse nuggets were my constant companion; just throw them in frozen and by lunch they’re ready to heat up.

He’s still picky at 13, but it’s okay. In the decade since then, I’ve worked out a system and he’s come a long way.  He’s no longer underweight and I don’t fret about his diet.

Purse nuggets got us through some scary times, and I am grateful to the nugget inventors of the world.  But shifting to a deliberate family culture around food has changed everything.  He’s become curious and he even eats outside his comfort zone — and points it out, haha.

If you want tips for building food curiosity in your picky kid, click the link above to get 3 quick videos sent right to your inbox.  And stay tuned, I have a webinar coming up in May that will help you ditch those purse nuggets forever!

If you can’t wait another day, check out my Parenting Picky Eaters program.  And as always, follow along the antics in the fun house on Facebook.

Purse nuggets be gone!

Balance is a Bitch

Decades ago I was talking to my smart and artsy friends about balance.  We were graduate students, activists, feminists trying to make a mark on or a space in the world.  We went to protests, cultural theory classes, and dance clubs.  We thought deep and hard, organized conferences, started women’s groups, wrote a lot, pulled all-nighters, cooked together, talked nonstop, took road trips, or slept for an age.

ladies at a party

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And when we took a pause, we wondered how to achieve balance.  We all wanted it and thought we should have it; but nobody could really do it.  None of us felt we could strike a balance.  One day, one of us said it: balance is a bitch.  Indeed,

twitter-128 the chase for elusive “balance” was frustrating;

I felt throttled, guilty for not slowing down, so that I could do all the things.  And I was not alone.  That turned out to be one of my best college lessons.

Sometimes balance is just unattainable; and… here’s the important part: that’s ok.

I tapped my fingers through a scheduled massage.  A poetry reading.  A walk in the woods. I had shit to do!

Not every time, but most times.  My fingers would type out what I was thinking while I was trying to force some “balance” on myself.  And feeling like a failure because I couldn’t do it without typing on my leg about the thing I would rather do.

The search, the struggle, for that slippery idea of balance can actually be harder than allowing yourself to live without it.  There is nothing wrong with passion, hard work, or immersion.  Passion projects lend themselves to lack of balance — have you ever been so involved in a project you love that hours slip away like minutes?  To me that’s a really good feeling.

I’ve had no bigger passion project than parenting — where striking a balance implies constant stability, regularity, discipline —  foundational to making a happy home.  IMG_20160314_091030007

And while one kid in particular may enjoy having a more organized home, a less spontaneous schedule, regularly scheduled weekly one-on-one time, it’s not happening right now.  Not every month, month after month.  Maybe two weeks in a row, maybe three.  And I have stopped beating myself up about that.  Instead, I do spontaneously say “we haven’t had our time together, let’s play a game.”  And they have yet to reach the age where they won’t come sit.  And sometimes, too, I am happy to spend a full afternoon and evening playing board or card games. Cuddling. Chaperoning. I love spending a few days in the car, traveling. Camping.

We are finding our own pace, and I’m not tapping my fingers on the sides of my legs while we take a “leisurely” walk by the river.  We still take walks, but sometimes five minutes of eye contact works, too.  And it’s ok.

They know when I’m distracted, and they know when I’m present.  They are learning to ask for time, to keep themselves entertained, and sometimes, to wait.  We all love each other and their grades are good.  They see me taking care of business, following through on commitments, making mistakes and fixing them.  They see a woman following her heart, make time for herself, and make time for them.  It’s not always balanced, and we are all learning that it’s okay.

If you’d like someone in your corner as you find or re-calibrate ‘balance,’ I have some spots in my “funner” coaching programs made specially for moms.  Message me here or on facebook to schedule a free chat.