Defiance Moment

What do we hide from?

We hide from the things we fear.

What do we hide from others?

We hide the deepest truth of our hearts.

We live in a constant state of fear and scarcity, never believing that there will be enough to go around, enough to cover it all. We hold ourselves back from truly diving into life and living authentically because we’re afraid we won’t be accepted as we are or that love is somehow a limited resource that we will lose. So instead, we paint on a face that we think will satisfy the “thems” and “theys” and quietly let our truths and dreams die inside.

But when will the defining moment, or the defiance moment, be the turning point that sets you free? It’s up to you. You are the only one who can decide to look fear in the face and move past it. You are the only one who can choose to push past the discomfort of owning your truth and shed the skin of your pretense to become the person you’re truly meant to be.

It’s in learning to let go of preconceived ideas, subconscious baggage, and the knee jerk response to control that you will find the deepest levels of growth. The only person you own is yourself. The only person you can control is yourself. When we stop trying to control things from a place of fear, we can begin to live from a place of authenticity and experience life in its fullest and most beautiful form.

On the other side of fear is your freedom.

 

 

Building a Growth Mindset

 

The other morning, we sat outside on our porch and I gave Madi a notebook to write in. She sat down willingly but then began to shut down and I could see her anxiety building. Writing comes easily and naturally to me, it always has but Madi struggles with both reading and writing. Writing is an instant stressor for her and often creates feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Knowing this, I decided to use soft music, a tool that has worked with her before, to help her feel relaxed and focused. At first she sat there stuck and frustrated then I told her that she didn’t need to write anything in particular and she didn’t need to spell everything correctly. I encouraged her to write whatever came into her mind and as an English teacher I once knew said, “throw up on the paper and edit later.” So she began to write …

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She finished writing and handed this to me and I cried. I was so proud of her for processing her big emotions and not giving up. I gave her a hug and told her that I appreciated that she stuck with it even though it was hard. Then I said, “Look! Do you see how your mood changed as you wrote?” She smiled and nodded. Then we sat down together and edited the words she misspelled and she was open and receptive, feeling completely positive. It was a beautiful thing.

I have always found writing therapeutic, especially in terms of processing difficult emotion and anxiety. I struggled with anxiety from the time I was a child but did not know what I was dealing with until I was an adult. Because of this, I lacked the tools I needed to successfully and effectively process through my anxiety and this negatively effected many areas of my life and relationships. To this day, I am continually navigating this aspect of myself and learning to channel it in a positive way instead of allowing it to process through me as a destructive force.

Now as a parent, I have a child who deals with anxiety as well. Often, my own experiences with anxiety have helped me to model and facilitate the use of effective coping strategies for her. However, there are times that our anxiety bounces off each other and I struggle to maintain the calm composure she needs to learn how to process these heavy and challenging emotions. We have begun to refer to this as “crashing cars,” because sometimes when we are both struggling our emotional responses “crash” into each other.

Parenting has challenged me on every level of personal growth and development. It has made me aware of the areas in my life that are not so pretty and require intentional work to heal and create new path ways for negative emotions to become positive growth.

Recently, I’ve begun to use Carol Dweck’s Fixed vs. Growth Mindset research with Madi – the goal is to change the “I can’t” headspace to the “I can’t yet but if I keep trying, I will succeed.” In her book Dweck states, “For students with the growth mindset, it doesn’t make sense to stop trying … working harder was not something that made you vulnerable, but something that made you smarter.”

I am working to help Madi build a growth mindset while also giving her effective coping skills to help her process through the anxiety she experiences when things become challenging.  When challenges become a positive rather than a negative, it releases the pressure of perfection and allows for creativity to flourish. Fear of failure causes the brain to shut down and stifles the ability to process. We remove the fear of failure when we allow for mistakes and see them as stepping stones to growth and success. When we operate from a growth mindset, we can step back and take our anxiety for what it is – a feeling. No matter how genuine, difficult, and valid a feeling it is, we do not have to allow it to control us and dictate our life. We can simply sit with it, allow it, and know it will pass. Then move forward and tackle the challenge head on.

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
— Carol S. Dweck

 

Change

Change can’t be forced or stopped. Sometimes it’s sudden, sometimes it’s gradual. There is no perfect map to guide us through the changes life brings our way. All we can do is allow the change instead of fighting it. We must find a way to flow with the change, to allow it to promote growth and endurance. Fighting change won’t stop the change itself and will only make the inevitable journey harder to navigate. We have the choice to move forward with bitterness and resentment or with grace and courage.

The choice is always ours and that is where our power lies.

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One Loving Choice at a Time

One of things that parenting has brought to the surface in my own life is my need for healing. It has required me to take ownership of my life and not allowed me to play the victim card. My daughter is counting on me to give her my best not my brokenness. Have I failed, do I still fail? Yes, I do. However, every day I am striving to be a more balanced and whole person. To create the boundaries in my life that I need so that I can mirror for her what being healthy actually looks like.

One of the biggest lessons I am learning through Madi is patience. I am not patient by nature but my daughter has required me to slow down and dig deep inside myself for the resources I need to remain calm and present in the moment. Yesterday, Madi was exhausted to the point of complete emotional melt down. A year ago, I was still struggling to handle these situations with grace and kindness and my reactions were often harsh or too emotional. I began to see a pattern – she would get emotional, I would react instead of respond and in turn, her emotions would escalate. It was not healthy for either of us. It was destroying the connection that I have always worked so hard to create with her. When she is feeling out of control she needs me to be in control. She needs to feel secure in me when she is feeling insecure in her self. So I began to actively check in with myself and become more in tune with her needs.

Yesterday could have been a disaster but instead it became a time of meaningful connection for both of us. Despite her protest and tears, I removed her from a high energy situation – her cousins at the Mall play area – because I knew she need space to reset herself emotionally. I chose to remain patient even though I was frustrated. We cuddled in the car and read Harry Potter, we went into Trader Joes and I bought her flowers, we drove back to my sister’s house just the two of us listening to Norah Jones and before I knew it, she was happily and peacefully playing with her toys in the back of the car while I drove.

You can’t fight fire with fire, it only increases the damage. Everyone is entitled to their feelings and even the little ones have bad days. I have bad days and I want people to understand and validate how I am feeling. How can I expect my six year old to feel any different or to respond in a more mature way than I am sometimes able to? As parents and as people, we have the choice to feed into negativity and anger or to actively work to bring love and peace into our situation whatever it may be. It’s not easy; gentle parenting requires a lot of energy and deliberate choice. Reacting is always easier than responding. However, if the goal is love and connection we have to actively work to maintain our relationships.

Parenting is hard, relationships are hard and not all of us have had the best examples of what a healthy relationship looks and feels like. We are all broken – but it is our responsibility to find healing for our brokenness instead of using it to hurt others. We can find a way to take our brokenness and turn it into something beautiful, healthy and whole if we are willing to work towards the healing we need. Love will always win if you let it and connection is more important than having the upper hand.

Let’s change the world together one loving choice at a time.

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The Slow Down

I think of Fall and the way it eases us back into a slower pace, a more scheduled routine, an earlier end to our nights. I think of Madi and how like Nature, she is always pushing me toward the slow down.

She takes her time, she does not comprehend the need for rush or urgency. She has always been this way. I have not. I rush head long into everything. I push myself past my own limitations. For so long I have lived on the edge of urgency even when nothing was truly demanding that type of intensity.

I am learning … I am learning that sometimes it’s best to step back, to reassess and to just be here in this moment allowing myself the time to process without pressure. This is something that I will forever be learning, this is my lesson in this life. To learn patience, to learn trust and to let go of all my preconceived ideas of how life should be.

This morning Madi took it very slow waking up and getting ready; this was hard for me. I used to get really upset. I used to make our mornings more miserable than necessary and set a bad tone for our day out of frustration. She is teaching me and I am listening. She has a tender heart and a gentle spirit. She vibes off of my moods. My stress is not worth her heart. She needs me to send her off into the day feeling peaceful and confident in herself. She does not deserve to feel sad or as if she is doing something wrong because she takes her time.

I am learning to prepare as much as I can beforehand to minimize morning stress and just let the rest go. I would love to be at work a half an hour early but for now that is not my reality – let it go. I would love to eat breakfast before I leave the house, who has time? – let it go. I would love to stop for coffee on the way, that ain’t happening – let it go. All of these things really don’t matter in the grande scheme of things but she does.

In the same way, I feel that life is pointing me into the slow down. Sometimes suddenly and other times gradually it is awakening me to the fact that so much of my stress and anxiety are self inflicted. Perfect isn’t reality and sometime good enough really is enough. Why the rush? When I rush I am actually missing out on the moments and that’s where life is, in the moments. 

Growth takes time, I can not rush the process. Slowly, steadily life unfolds and I really have no control of it after all.

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Reframe It

I appreciate structure, I feel at my best when I have a plan and know what is going on. But that’s not life. I am reminded on a an almost daily basis that despite best effort, there are no guaranteed outcomes.

Life has a way of stretching me past my comfort zones pretty consistently. Sometimes I handle this well and just “roll with the punches,” still other times, sudden and unexpected change throws me into an emotional tail spin.

I firmly believe in the power of positive thinking. I read an article recently on the concept of Reframing. Reframing is a way of looking at events, ideas, concepts and emotions that could be viewed negatively and instead changing the perspective to a positive one. Finding the good. “Positive thoughts give rise to happy, contented emotions and negative thoughts result in sad and depressive emotion. These emotions than affect biological changes in the body. Basically, the quality of our thinking affects the emotions we experience  and the state of our physical health”

When circumstances do not go the way that we hoped, intended, or wanted them to, it is easy to slip into a negative headspace. But what is the benefit of that? Sometimes we get so caught up in what “should” have happened that we miss the real meaning of what actually did happen in all of the chaos, beauty and pain. All of our experiences in life hold value, even those that make our heart hurt when we think of them. “Regardless of what’s going on in our lives, we can always ‘reframe’ our situation. So – no matter how bad everything appears to be, we always have the choice to make ourselves feel better by changing the way we view our problems or situations.” There are no guarantees in life. For someone, such as myself, who likes structure and order this often creates a sense of anxiety and stress. However, I believe that there is a strong coorelation between the ability to reframe your thinking and a heart of gratitude and forgiveness. When I find reasons to be grateful for the good in any situation, I am then able to deal with the negative aspects of the situation in a healthier way.

“True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”
― Oprah Winfrey

We have to make a concious decision to choose happiness and find the good. We have to actively choose to reframe our world view. We have to make the choice. Our quality of life depends upon it.

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”
― Seneca

 

Let There Be Spaces

New relationships are always challenging, but when you begin one in the midst of chaos and change it adds another level of pressure. It has been a little over two years since R. and I started dating. He has been through some of the worst moments of my life with me and most certainly has seen me at my lowest point. We struggled, we went back and forth, we still struggle to meld two lives together. Something that came naturally in my 20’s is a whole lot harder in my 30’s. I have different ideas, a different outlook on life in general, I am a lot more opinionated and I still struggle to develop healthy headspace.

I didn’t grow up with a good sense of healthy boundaries, especially when it came to expressing emotion. We were a hot headed, loud and large family. We yelled a lot. When I got married, at twenty one, I continued this pattern in my marriage; high emotion and yelling. I thought this was normal, it was my normal but it was not healthy. My ex husband and I are both intense and emotional people, we did not know how to express our feelings appropriately or work out conflict in a constructive way. In some ways, this led to the breakdown of our relationship.

I am not saying that emotion is wrong or that you should stifle what you feel. I am a firm believer in being in touch with your emotions and your feelings. However, there’s a certain level of self control and self awareness that needs to exist so that your emotions do not control you or alienate others. As someone who also deals with anxiety, this is very difficult for me both in a relationship and as a parent. Some days I am able to internally cope and regulate, other days I miss the mark completely and end up hurting those closest to me.

One of the things that I have come to appreciate about R. is his ability to call me out on my crap. Obviously, I don’t appreciate it immediately but over time I have come to see the benefit of his insight and ability to stay calm more often than not. He has helped me to realize that plowing ahead full force with all my emotion and feeling is not healthy and in fact creates a disconnect with the people I love most. This was insight and understanding that I had never received before. I had never experienced life in any other way. My parent’s relationship was fraught with tension and emotion, my childhood and teenage years were full of high emotion and intensity, and my marriage followed the same pattern.

So here I am, in my 30’s trying to reconstruct my life and change the destructive patterns I have created in my life. I would love to say that I have figured this all out and that I am on my way. However, I am really at the beginning stages of mental reconstruction and self awareness. I have been presented with the challenge to change. I have said quite often that I believe change is a choice and I guess now would be the time for me to take those words to heart in a new way.

A few years ago, I participated the My One Word project. According to their website, “It’s okay to want to be a better you—the question is, how? My One Word replaces broken promises with a vision for real change. When you choose a single word, you have a single focus. You are moving toward the future rather than swearing off the past … This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future.” So although I am a little late to the party, I have decided that my word this year will be “Space.”

I need to develop a healthier head space, I need to make time for my own space in life, and I need to give those around me the space they need. In doing so, I believe that I will begin to develop better strategies for coping with my own emotions and also minimize my anxiety.

When it comes to relationships, I am all about togetherness but I am finally realizing that for a relationship to grow and to remain healthy, there must be “spaces in your togetherness.” You can not be your best self if you do not take the time and space to develop your best self. So this is my challenge and goal for the year.

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

A Safe Place to Land

There have been many times during this process of separation and divorce that I have wanted to explain things to Madi but I can’t. There are things that are too far beyond her ability to comprehend and process. Sometimes she asks me the hard questions …
“why can’t you and daddy live together again?”
“why did we have to move from our old house?”
“why do I have to leave you?”
And my heart feels like it’s dying a little every time.

I don’t always have the words that she needs. I know that she will understand someday when she is older but I don’t want to bank on that and wish her life away. In these moments, all I can do is hold her close and validate her feelings. I let her know that it’s ok to be sad, that I feel sad too. I let her know that she is so very loved by so many people and that we will get through this together. Of course I wish I could erase the hard times in her life altogether.

I don’t have all the “right answers” or a magical fix, but what I do have is the ability to give my daughter a safe and secure place to land. Sometimes this is as simple as cuddles on the couch while we watch a favorite movie, other times it means being ok with “not ok” behavior. It can be easy to forget that children have bad days too. Often it seems that our adult expectation is for children to “behave” with little consideration as to how they may be feeling. I know that when I am having an especially rough day, I just want someone to understand that, be ok with it, and maybe give me a hug. Why should I expect any different from my child?

As adults, we won’t always have someone there to give us support when we need it. As a mom, I am able to give my daughter the support she needs. Often this requires letting go of my expectations of her behavior and allowing her to express her emotions in whatever way she may need to. On days where I am at my best, this is easy. On days when I am struggling myself, this can be especially challenging.

In her article on teaching children emotional intelligence, Dr. Laura Markham talks about allowing for emotion while still limiting potentially harmful actions. She states, “while you limit behavior, your child is allowed to have, and to express, all her emotions, and that includes feelings of disappointment or anger in response to your limits. Children need to “show” us how they feel and have us “hear” them, so meltdowns are nature’s release valve for children’s emotions. Instead of banishing your child to her room to get herself under control (which gives her the message that she’s all alone with those big, scary feelings), hold her, or stay near and connected with your soothing voice: “You are so mad and sad right now. That’s ok, Sweetie, I am right here, you are safe.”

When it comes to our children, the goal should always be for connection. When we tell our children to suppress their thoughts and feelings, we are creating isolation and shutting down meaningful communication and connection. “Children WANT to have happy, warm interactions with their parents. They want to be good people. Misbehavior comes from overwhelming feelings or unmet needs. If you don’t address the feelings and needs, they’ll just burst out later, causing other problem behavior (Markham, 2016).”Our children deserve to be seen and heard. Their thoughts, feeling, and emotions are valid and deserve respect.

There are various ways that I make a purposeful commitment to be there for Madi when she is having a rough time.  I never isolate her in the midst of her emotional outbursts. Even if she runs away and slams the door on me, I go after her. However, I respect that she may  need personal space. Sometimes I sit and quietly wait until she is ready to come to me and other times I am able to pick her up and hold her until she calms down.There are times during conversation, she may share a negative interaction she had during the day. I make sure to acknowledge her feelings about the situation, validate her right to speak up for herself  and still encourage her to be kind in spite of what other people may say or do. She’s a little girl with big feeling and it’s my job as her mom to help her sort them out.

When we take the time to connect with our children, to validate their feelings and give them a safe place to land, we are creating emotionally intelligent children. There is less of a need for children to act out when their emotional needs are being met. Of course just like us, children are human and will make mistakes. However, the way in which we respond to their mistakes will determine the value of lesson that they learn.

Sometimes Mama is Wrong

I was grumpy, I had a headache, and we were running late per usual. We were on the way to a birthday party for one of Madi’s best friends and had stopped to pick up a gift for her on the way.

We looked around at various things, I made different suggestions, all the while telling Madi that we needed to hurry. Madi finally found the gift she wanted to give to her friend, to me it seemed silly and I kept trying to redirect her to something else. She was insistent.

Instead of allowing her the flexibility to shop at ease and be free in her choice, I was stuck in my grumpy mood and did not honor her ideas or her feelings. In exasperation, I finally agreed to her choice.

At the party, when it finally came time for Madi to give her friend the gift, she was so excited! The gift was perfect – her friend loved it, all the children at the party were intrigued by the magical little music box with a plastic key.

As I stood there, my heart felt the weight of my mistake. When Madi had a moment, I called her over and I apologized. I said, “I am so sorry Madi, Mama was wrong and you were right.” Her face lit up with amusement at the fact that I had admitted I was wrong and she was right. We hugged each other and I told her I loved her and that her gift was perfect. Sometimes Mama is wrong.

It’s hard to admit that you’re wrong, especially as a parent, especially to your child, but it’s so very important to do so.

When parents apologize they are instilling a value system and a belief that it’s okay to be human and therefore imperfect. They are role modeling accountability. They are demonstrating that taking action to accept responsibility after a mistake is more important than the mistake itself. They are living the old adage “it’s not whether you make a mistake, it’s how you handle that mistake” … When parents overcome their fear of apologizing and say “I’m sorry” to their child, they give their child a gift of freedom to make mistakes. – Katie Roberts, Ph.D.

I am learning, learning to slow down, learning to listen, and learning to trust my child. Her heart and our connection is worth so much more than Mama being right.