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Because My Kids Are Already At Risk

I made the decision to stop drinking about six weeks ago.

I did this for a number of reasons.

One is that I have a hard time drinking in moderation.

I either drink no alcohol, or drink all the alcohol.

Another reason is that while my body has never really tolerated alcohol very well, the older I get, it’s really becoming a problem.

A mom’s night out turns into a mom’s two days out, because that’s how long it takes me to recover from a night where I have more than two drinks (which was pretty much every time I went out).

But there is a third reason. And it’s a pretty big one.

One of the things I noticed about myself, especially since becoming a parent, is how often I would joke to other people that it had been a really long or tiring or especially shitty day, and how I couldn’t wait to have a glass (or a whole bottle) of wine later that night.

That’s the thing so many of us moms do. We joke about how shitty our kids or our days have been and about how we can’t wait to  have a drink. Or nine.

Because we earned it.

We deserve it.

I’d often say this in front of my kids. Like really often.

On a side note, I come from a long line of addictive personalities on both sides of my family.

I also have a long history of depression.

If I’m going to be honest with myself, alcohol is pretty much the last thing I should be putting into my body.

Ever.

I am only able to acknowledge this now, at almost 48 years old. It’s taken me 30+ years of drinking to be completely honest with myself.

So that third reason I quit drinking… I still haven’t quite gotten to it.

Coming from a long line of addicts and having a history of depression puts my kids at a much higher risk for becoming addicts.

I’ve known this.

But then I recently read a blog post from Scientific American entitled Opioid Addiction Is a Huge Problem, but Pain Prescriptions Are Not the Cause

In a nutshell, the majority of opioid addictions do not stem from medical use. Meaning if you hurt yourself and get a prescription for percoset, chances are, you will not become addicted.

According to this article, “90 percent of all addictions—no matter what the drug—start in the adolescent and young adult years… The vast majority of people who are prescribed opioids use them responsibly.”

AND…

“If we want to reduce opioid addiction, we have to target the real risk factors for it: child trauma, mental illness and unemployment. Two thirds of people with opioid addictions have had at least one severely traumatic childhood experience, and the greater your exposure to different types of trauma, the higher the risk becomes. We need to help abused, neglected and otherwise traumatized children before they turn to drugs for self-medication when they hit their teens.

AND…

“At least half of people with opioid addictions also have a mental illness or personality disorder. The precursors to these problems are often evident in childhood, too. For example, children who are extremely impulsive are at high risk—but on the opposite end of the scale, so, too are children who are highly cautious and anxious.”

So I read this.

And then I thought to myself, What if one of the kids had a really bad day at school. If their friends were jerks to them. If they did bad on a test. If they were just feeling down… and they came home from school and said to me, “I am going to get so wasted tonight. I totally deserve it.”

I’d be crushed, honestly.

But I’ve said that same thing in front of my children probably hundreds of times.

(It may not be opioid usage, but the drug doesn’t really matter).

I have modeled for them that getting drunk, (even if I was only joking), is an acceptable way to deal with stress and disappointment and worry and anxiety and depression.

I’m not okay with that. Because while I am grateful my kids haven’t had any major childhood trauma to put them at an increased risk for addiction, thanks to genes and heredity, they are all candidates for mental illness. (Although really, at one point or another, aren’t we all?)

And we’ve got anxiety and impulsivity issues here at home already.

I’m not saying that alcohol is poison for everyone. There are plenty of (lucky) people who can enjoy it in moderation.

But joking about how you’ve had a bad day and can’t wait to have a drink (or five) in front of your kids?

Now that I’ve got six weeks of sobriety under my belt, I don’t think that’s such a great thing.

In fact, I think it’s pretty bad.

I am not trying to tell you or convince you to stop drinking.

I’m really not.

But I am throwing out there that maybe you are sending messages to your kids that you don’t mean to send. Or that you don’t realize you are sending.

The next time you have a shitty day? The next time your kids are total assholes?

Maybe don’t joke with your friends about how badly you need a few drinks.

Instead, tell them you need a time out. Some alone time. A walk to clear your head.

Send your kids a different message.

A healthier one.

A message that doesn’t have the potential to put them at a higher risk than they may already be.

Because that’s that’s the message we all really want to send anyway, isn’t it?

 

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Don’t Complain. Especially If You Are A Part Of The 80%.

I recently saw a Facebook post written by a teacher where she described two different interactions with parents regarding school supplies.

It’s a post from last year, but now that it’s that time of year again, the post is resurfacing.

In a nutshell, one parent was complaining about how much money she had to spend on school supplies for her kid, and the other parent was completely supportive and understanding about the whole thing.

As a parent, I get it. With five kids in the public school system this year, we will spend between $100 – $200 getting everything on the school lists for our first, second, third, sixth, and seventh graders.

As a former teacher, I also get it.

When I first started teaching, there was money in the budget for most supplies.

We got paper and pencils and crayons and scissors and tissues and almost everything we would need for our students. And then, as budgets were cut, those things were some of the first to go. And gradually, students were responsible for more and more supplies until eventually, they were responsible for pretty much all of them.

It’s not a fun position to be in as a teacher or as a parent.

But here is the thing…

Parents.

You do have some say and some influence in this department.

But it’s not by complaining to the teacher. It’s not by complaining to the principal, either.

Your influence comes at the times that most parents choose to be ignorant and oblivious.

Every year there is a vote on our town’s school budget.

The first five or six years we lived here, I was completely uninvolved politically. I was as clueless as you could possibly be.

If there was a budget vote, I couldn’t even tell you when it was.

Ignorance was bliss.

Until my kids entered school and I saw the f*&@ing supply lists.

HOLY SHIT.

They were massive!

How many goddamned glue sticks does one kid need?

It took me a few years to educate myself with respect to local politics.

And I don’t have the exact numbers. Not even close.

But here is what I have learned:  the percentage of people with children who vote on school budgets and who attend Board of Ed and PTA meetings is embarrassingly low.

And I know it’s not just my town. It’s every town.

It’s something like less than 20% of parents who vote.

But it’s 100% of parents who complain about how much money needs to be spent on school supplies.

You know where your influence is? It’s at the polls. It’s at the Board of Ed meetings.

But you have to be involved. You have to speak up.

And you also have to approve budgets.

The last time one of our budget increases for the school was shot down, the increase in taxes per family was something like $38.

Thirty eight dollars.

A year!

You could be involved, know what’s in your town’s budget, speak up regarding what you are unhappy about, and approve a $40/family increase that could pay for a lot of those supplies you complain about having to buy, or you can remain completely uninvolved, bury your ignorant head in the sand, and shell out two or three or four times the amount of a proposed tax increase at the beginning of the school year depending on how many kids you have in the school system.

Those school supplies you are paying for? They aren’t the teachers’ faults.

They are the parents’. The 80% of the parents who don’t want to be bothered participating in the decisions that will affect their kids in school in the years to come.

And waiting until your kids are in school is not early enough! But the time they are in kindergarten, there are decisions that have been put into place that could take several years to reverse.

You need to get involved well before your kids are ready for kindergarten!!! You need to get involved as soon as you are a taxpayer!

So before you complain this year about how much money you have to shell out for your kids’s school supplies, first you might want to consider a few things.

Did you vote on your last school budget?

Did you vote in your last local election?

Are you even registered to vote?

If not, you really have no right to complain about anything.

And instead of spending time bashing school systems and teachers in an angry Facebook post about how much shit you have to buy, maybe you should focus your energy on being a responsible citizen, filling out a voter registration card, and educating yourself on what is going on in your town.

 

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20 Things You Can Do To Be a Great Parent

Yesterday I came across this question when I was wasting time on Facebook:

“I’m going to be a first-time dad in a few weeks… I’m quite nervous! Does anyone have some helpful tips on how I can be a great dad? “

About a million things immediately popped into my head.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman. You could substitute the word mom or parent into that question and my thoughts would be the same.

And I’m not claiming to be a great parent. But that is definitely a goal!

So how can you be a great mom/dad/parent?

I’d start here:

1. Understand that a great parent is not synonymous with a perfect parent.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Regardless of what you see on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest, all parents make multiple mistakes. Daily. You will fuck up.

All the great ones do.

2. Get your kid on a sleep schedule.

Whether you are an infant or an adult, sleep is crucial. Tired kids suck. Just like tired adults do. Think about how hard it is to focus and to remain patient as a grown up when you are exhausted.  Now multiply that by four billion and you will know what your kid will be like. The more your kids sleep, the better they sleep.  If you have to stay in your house for six months to get your kid on a sleep schedule, DO IT.

3. Ask for help.

If you are struggling, ask for help. If you are exhausted, ask for help. If you are unsure, ask for help. If you are worried, ask for help. It’s okay to want/ask for/ need help. We have all needed help at some point in our lives, and we will all need it again!

4. Teach your kids about mental health. And take care of yours.

This one is so important! So many parents are misinformed/ashamed/embarrassed when they are affected by a mental health issue or when their kids are. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, whatever mental health issue… they are all real things. They all suck. But they mostly suck when you feel you are alone or you feel like you are the only one affected by them.  In one form or another, we have all dealt with one of these things. And if we haven’t, we have a family member or very close friend who has. You are not alone!!! And you have nothing to be embarrassed about.

5. Make your marriage (if you are in one) a priority.

Your marriage is the foundation for your whole family. The stronger it is, the stronger your family is.  Maintain it. Spend time on it. Focus on it. Strengthen it.

6. Give your kid responsibilities.

Your kids need to learn the value and importance of hard work, manual labor and contribution to the family unit! They need to have respect for your time. They need chores. They need to know they are part of the family. Kids need to help out. Start young. A two-year-old will not clean to your standards, but he can do something! He can pick up toys. Two-year-olds love to vacuum! (They pretty much vacuum the shit out of one spot, but like I said, it’s a start).

Older kids don’t need to be rescued! If they forget their homework or their saxophone or their lunch (YES! Even their lunch!), don’t bring it to school for them.  Kids will never learn to be responsible if you are constantly coming to their rescue.

And when kids aren’t responsible that’s when being a parent can really be sucky. And when parenting is extra sucky, it’s extra hard to be great.

7. Teach independence.

Let your kids dress themselves. Who cares if they aren’t coordinated? Teach them to tie their shoes and zip their jacket and put on their snow pants when they are young! Teach them to pack their lunches when they are in elementary school (yes, they are capable of this!) Give them the skills and the confidence to know they’ve got what it takes to navigate the world as early as you can.

Don’t worry, even when you teach them to be responsible and independendt they will always be your babies, and they will still need you.

8. Give your kids financial responsibilities.

Teach your kids how to earn and save money. Let them pay for the things they want with their own money. Your teenager can pay her own monthly cell phone bill (YES! SHE CAN!). You do not owe your children these things. But you do owe it to them to teach them the value of a dollar and how you have to work to make one.

9. Build a big net.

It can feel good, especially for moms, to be needed.  But when you put yourself in the position to be the only person your kids goes to for help/comfort/whatever, you are creating an unhealthy and codependent relationship. You are putting a tremendous amount of stress and responsibility on your shoulders, and you are creating a very, very small circle of support for your child. The more adults your children know and feel comfortable with, the bigger the support system they have available to them, and that is super comforting, not only to your child, but to you.

No matter how many grown ups your kid has a relationship with, you will still be their Number 1. Except for those times you hold them accountable and that makes them angry and they tell you they hate you. But that doesn’t last for too long.

10. Take risks.

Growth happens outside of your comfort zone. Model this for your kids. Let them see you take a chance and succeed. And let them see you take a chance and fail! Teach your kids that there is no such thing as perfection. Teach them that failure is inevitable, it’s okay, and it’s how you become a stronger, smarter, and more well-rounded human being.

11.  Acknowledge your mistakes.

You will fuck up. You will do some stupid shit.  It’s okay. We all do it.  Teach your kids that we all make mistakes and that when this happens, they are great opportunities to learn! This doesn’t make you any less of a person. It makes you more relatable, more respectable, honest and human. Mistakes help us to learn about ourselves and to ultimately feel empowered!

12. Exercise.

Your brain needs this. Your body needs this. Your children need to see this behavior modeled for them. Your children need to learn the importance of exercise.

Plus if you wanna keep up with them, you’re gonna need some stamina.

13. Make yourself a priority.

Take care of yourself.

Sure, now that you are a parent your kid’s needs come first.

But remember that your kid’s needs are much different than your kids wants. Secondly, remember that one of your kid’s needs is a healthy and balanced mother and father. You cannot be well balanced and healthy if you don’t take care of yourself.

14. Be consistent.

This doesn’t mean be a drill sergeant and never ever be spontaneous or break the rules.  Great parents are also flexible. But kids need structure and consistency and predictability.

15. Encourage your child.

Be an asking parent. Not a telling parent. Get in the habit of asking questions that encourage your child to think and help them to feel and be more capable. Instead of Pick up your toys, try What is your responsibility when you are done playing with your toys? Instead of Clear your plate and put your dishes in the sink, try What did we decide about what to do with the dishes when we are done eating? You might be surprised at how empowering this is for your kids, not to mention how effective it is to help them be responsible.

16. Give hugs.

You can never give (or get) enough hugs!

17. Respect the mother/father of your child.

Yes, even if you are divorced or not married or not on speaking terms or whatever.  I know there are some extreme cases where this may be impossible.  Trust me. I know.  But you are modeling how a to treat your husband/wife and just human beings in general by how you speak about the mother/father of your child.

18. Spend one-on-one time with your child.

When you have more than one child, this becomes more challenging. It doesn’t have to be hours every day. Even a five minute check in with your kid is important, though. Sometimes, it’s tough. But do what you can to consistently make this happen!

19. Be open to change. 

It’s inevitable. You can’t fight it. Accept it. Make the most of it. Embrace it.

20. Relax, have fun and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Being a parent is hard. But it’s also the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do. Twenty years from now, no one will remember what your daughter’s hair looked like that day you sent her to school without brushing it. They won’t remember what your son’s batting average was when he was ten years old. They won’t remember what your first grader did for that fucking 100th day of school project.

Those very forgettable details don’t make you a great parent.

What makes you a great parent is that 1) you care, and 2) you realize you are always a work in progress.

And as in life, being a great parent is a journey, not a destination. Make the most of the journey!

 

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ad in a few weeks. I never had a father figure in my life. I’m quite nervous! Does anyone have some helpful tips on how I can be a great dad? “

I’m done emptying the ocean with a spoon.

I don’t know if you’ve heard that Coldplay song Up and Up, but one of the lines in it says:

lying in the gutter, aiming for the moon
trying to empty out the ocean with a spoon

I have probably listened to this song a thousand times.

It helped me get through this summer.

I struggled really badly this summer. And I didn’t really have much to complain about. Not relative to previous summers.

I mean, our financial situation had improved drastically. Nobody was injured or required surgery.

But I was completely overwhelmed.

And as a result, I really  dropped the ball in the parenting department.

The kids were not exactly behaving the way I would have liked them to.

And I just didn’t have the energy to do anything about it.

I was operating at the survival level.

Just keep everyone alive.

So the kids weren’t listening to me, they weren’t cooperating, they were often rude and disrespectful and they were pushing every goddamned button in my body.

In the parenting department, I was definitely trying to empty the ocean with a spoon.

I wasn’t getting anywhere, and I was feeling completely hopeless.

Once school started, things were a little better, but the kids were still driving to me to the point of exasperation before they even got on the bus.

And so I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time.

I registered for a Positive Discipline class. There was a six week course being offered as a research study, so it was free. Six, two-hour classes, once a week.

I know a lot of you see the words Positive Discipline and you roll your eyes.

But please keep reading.

PLEASE.

If you don’t know much about it, then you may not fully understand what it is.

When I signed up for this class, I asked my husband to go with me.

He has never been on the PD bandwagon.

EVER.

And so he told me he was totally against it, but that he’d attend the first class.

But after that, he was out.

We had our first class last Tuesday.

And when we left, my husband said, “I really liked it. It wasn’t boring. I’ll definitely go next week.”

Thank God.

He realized in two hours what it’s all about.

And what it isn’t about.

It’s not about punishment.

BUT —

It’s also not about permissiveness.

It’s not about rewards or praise or pampering or punitive time-outs, and it’s not about taking away privileges as punishment.

What is it about then?

What the hell is left if you aren’t putting your kids in a time out or taking shit away from them but you also aren’t giving them rewards???

I can’t really sum it up in one blog post.

So I hope you will join me each week as I talk about it.

Because I am CERTAIN that this course is going to be life changing for me. And my kids. And my husband.

It is going to change the relationship I have with my kids.

It is going to change the relationship they have with each other.

And I believe very strongly that it is going to improve my marriage.

If you’ve been around here a while, you know that I’m not a push over. I’m not a wuss. I have expectations for my kids. They make their own lunches and fold their own laundry pay for their cell phone and are independent and responsible.

So I am not going to subscribe to any philosphy where my kids can do whatever the hell they want and where I want to make sure that life is unicorns and rainbows for them all the time.

But what I’ve been doing isn’t working.

And I am done feeling like I’m trying to empty out the ocean with a fucking spoon.

And what I want you to know is that after one two-hour class, things have already changed.

THINGS HAVE ALREADY CHANGED.

I’d say my kids are 25% less douchey today than  they were on Tuesday.

By the way, less douchey isn’t a Positive Discipline-approved term to describe your kids.

But there is only so much progress a person can make.

Anyway, two of the things that have really got me feeling like I’m emptying the Pacific with a ladel is the number of times I ask my kids to do the same fucking thing over and over and over again and the fact that as soon as I leave the room, my kids start doing things they know they aren’t supposed to or intentionally bugging the crap out of each other until they are inevitably beating the shit out of each other.

It’s infuriating and it’s exhausting.

And what I learned on Tuesday is that you can be a Telling Parent, or you can be an Asking Parent.

One encourages kids to take responsibility for their shit so you don’t have to repeatedly nag them.

And one doesn’t.

Take a look.

tellingasking

I copied those examples right out of the Positive Discipline workbook.

So I’ve been a Telling Parent. Constantly telling the kids what to do. Over and over and over. And wanting to strangle them when they don’t do it.

I know you may look at that  Asking Parent column and think those are a little cheesy.

But let me tell you something.

My mornings have not been running very smoothly.

Number 6 gets so distracted, and I have to remind him  150 time to  brush his teeth or get his socks or get his shoes or….

I must have been asking him an average of   10 times a morning if he had brushed his teeth.

And so, on Wednesday morning, instead of saying “Did you brush your teeth?” on a continuous loop and getting louder and more annoyed with each repetition, I changed it to,

“What else do you need to do to be ready for school?”

And I SWEAR TO GOD, I only had to ask that question one time for him to brush his teeth.

ONE TIME!

His answer every day has been, ” OH YEAH MOMMY! I HAVE TO BRUSH MY TEETH!”

And he ran right the hell up the stairs and into the bathroom.

I’m telling you, it works. It helps you not feel like the World’s Biggest Asshole, and when your kids climb onto the bus and you haven’t had to lose your shit because you had to give 47 fucking reminders, that feels good for all of you.

So if your kids are giving you a run for your money, think about how you are communicating with them.

You may be doing more telling than asking.

(And note that you are not asking your kids if they want to do something.)

Give it a try.

And if you forget, it’s okay.

Use it as a learning experience, and try again.

And next week, I’ll let you know what else has really helped us out.

Stay positive!

 

 

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