Category Archives: Philosophy

How to Manage Disappointment: When Kids Don’t Live Up to Your Expectations

Any parent knows that we should encourage children to be themselves and not mold them into “Mini Me’s.” However, sometimes this is easier said than done.

photo of a person leaning on wooden window

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Even if our kid isn’t going to be the next Serena Williams or Bill Gates, we all have SOME expectations. We might want them to excel in music or sports or be social or get straight A’s or be a master chess player. This may because this is something that we realized as a young person or because we see a spark in them and want them to develop that spark into something brighter.

In many cases our children will disappoint us at some point in our lives. It might be that they date someone we’re not crazy about or fall in with the “wrong” crowd at school. They might fail certain subjects or not have friends.  If our child has a mental health challenge, this can be even more disappointing – I’ve recently read of parents who were saddened by their teen not going to prom or not going to college or university when it seems like every other teen on the planet is doing just that.

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How do we separate ourselves from our children and allow them to grow and develop into the best version of themselves? Do we need to take a step back and realize that our expectations are unreasonable – or try to temper them accordingly?

With a tween and a teen, it seems that one of my kids is constantly testing me: just when I think they’ve achieved something or moved beyond a certain nagging problem, something else crops up. Honestly, it can be very hard to digest and deal with at times. For me, there are certain expectations that are non-negotiable: show up for school on time; pass all courses; get a good night’s sleep; take care of personal hygiene and chores; have a good attitude; show up for family dinner and to family events…

These are very basic things. I expect my kids to go above and beyond those basics and to achieve something more. However, sometimes even these basics are not achieved! That can be frustrating at best. Even if learning disabilities or mental health challenges get in the way, I still expect my children to try their best and not to make excuses. 

Have you experienced frustration when dealing with what you think are basic expectations? Does your child’s mental health challenges get in the way? I’d love to hear what you think and how you deal with these dilemmas.

Yours in the parenting trenches,

Lisa

Don’t forget fun: Parenting doesn’t have to be a 24/7 chore

This weekend I won two tickets to a “retro 80’s” video dance party at a club downtown. My partner and I were already thinking about attending – as two friends were going. Once I won the tickets, we decided that the universe was nudging us and that we should definitely go. While we neglected to wear our best 80’s neon and preppy clothing, it was an absolute blast and we were able to forget about life’s demands for a few hours as we danced the night away.

four person standing at top of grassy mountain

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Now, it’s not like I’m a martyr and stay home all the time to cook and clean and pay bills (though sometimes it feels like it). I go out with friends – mostly when my kids are with their dad but we do outings as a family too – and my partner and I go to the movies, to restaurants, on trips, etc. We try our best to enjoy life but, lately, the to-do list seems endless and the fun side of life gets buried in a stack of bills, report cards, and dishes. 

If you work outside the home, you know that getting kids to sleep on time and then up in the morning, packing lunches and dropping them off at school prior to getting into work can use all of your energy stores – then you still have to work all day – and then do it over and over again a la Groundhog Day. If you work at home or are a stay-at-home-parent, staying on top of and/or getting out from under the clutter of life can be a downer.

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But going out this weekend reminded me that parenting doesn’t have to be a chore. We all work hard and worry about our kids and their mental health – but our mental health as parents is important too. In fact, I submit that when we’re happy and cheerful and feel that our needs are met, we’re not feeling resentful to our children and can be more “present” in their lives.

Going out doesn’t have to mean an expensive get-away or partying until 3 am (though I do recommend it once in a while!). It can be as simple as going to your favourite book store or library and perusing the shelves and grabbing a coffee. Or, you can hit the local gym and do a Zumba class or lift some weights – or even go for a walk – alone or with a friend while ignoring the dirty laundry and piles of dishes for an hour or two.

selective focus photography of woman in white sports brassiere standing near woman sitting on pink yoga mat

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Parenting can absolutely take over and get overwhelming and demanding. But we owe it to ourselves and our kids to take a break every once in a while and enjoy ourselves. We are human too. I also think it’s important to show our children that we have our own lives, friends, interests, hobbies, etc. and that we can prioritize our interests at times.

So, next time a friend or neighbour asks you to grab a coffee – “get into the groove” and take her up on the offer. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Let me know about your tips for balancing life, work and parenting! You can reply in the comments or send me an email.

Yours in 1980’s “mom jeans”,

Lisa

 

Big Mouth Strikes Again…

I’m listening to The Smiths right now who are one of my all-time favourite bands. While “Bigmouth Strikes Again” is a cool and iconic song (take a listen if you’re not familiar), it reminded me that, so far, my new year’s resolutions are going well. One of my major family goals is to drastically reduce – or better yet, eliminate completely – yelling.

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Believe me, I know that yelling isn’t terribly effective or good for anyone. But shouting at kids is different than shouting at another adult.  Obviously no one yells for fun or to get their kicks – it’s generally out of exasperation, overwhelm or frustration. It’s learning to stay calm when we’re stressed and not resort to yelling that’s the tricky part.

I’m reminded of an interview I did with Erin Flynn Jay about mothers’ work during economic downturns. Through her research, she discovered that child abuse increases during economically difficult times. Children might sense a parent’s stress and then act out, causing the parent to feel the need to yell or strike back. It’s unfortunately a vicious circle.

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Now, none of this is meant to stress anyone (including me) out. But it is a good reminder that our actions and reactions to things do impact our kids – even if we don’t realize it or it doesn’t seem obvious immediately.

One of my other new year’s resolutions is to “think small.” I know that sounds like an oxymoron but, really, it’s meant to celebrate the little things in life. When it comes to parenting,  in my view, we need to pat ourselves on the back more and acknowledge that even small successes are still successes – especially when it comes to our or our children’s positive mental health.

If you made any, how are your new year’s resolutions coming along? I’d love to hear about ’em.

Peace,

Lisa

2020 Vision: Making Good Choices for Your Family’s Mental Health

Happy New Year! Can you believe it’s 2020?! Did you celebrate with family or friends last night? Have a party with neighbours or ring in the new year at home watching the ball drop in Time’s Square (if that works with your timezone)? Whatever you did, you don’t have to worry about comparing yourself to me: I did not have a Pinterest-worthy New Year’s Eve by any stretch – quite the opposite in fact; I was sick with a cold and fever and sleeping by 9 pm. Good. Times.

As bummed out as I was to not have a wild & crazy New Year’s Eve, I was happy to have celebrated the day with my partner and my children. Even though I was already starting to feel ill, my kids had been with their father for most of the holidays so I wanted to spend at least one day celebrating with all four of us. We went bowling, went out for sushi and had potato latkes  in the morning – made by yours truly along with my daughter. It was a really fun day out but, by 5 pm, I was exhausted and very sick.

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So, now that New Year’s Eve has come and gone: Onto the business at hand. Regardless of my cheesy headline for this post, for the past few weeks, I have been thinking about my goals and objectives for the year ahead. Have you given it much thought? Any goals – business, personal, family or otherwise?

Here are a few very basic family-oriented goals of mine for the year ahead. You are welcome to follow along with me. If you do, please let me know of your successes or any missteps. It takes a village!

2020 Family-Oriented Goals:

  • Listen more and talk less.
  • Reduce my own social media use and technology use – and encourage my kids to do the same.
  • Read more books – and encourage my kids to read more.
  • No more yelling/use silence as an alternate way to communicate.*
  • Enjoy the simple moments with my family.
woman reading book

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Do any of the above goals pique your interest? I have already started implementing some of them: *I’ve started texting certain things instead of yelling up the stairs – for instance how many more minutes until the “taxi” i.e. me, leaves for school. I’ve also started talking/responding less both at home and at work – and even on text. Not in a snobby or rude way but just not responding if I don’t have anything constructive to say. It seems to be working – it’s certainly reducing my stress-level.

Whatever you and your family decide to do: I wish you all a very happy 2020 full of positive family interactions, peace, joy and success.

Here’s to positive strides in your and your children’s mental health!

Lisa

Frenemies: Should You “De-Friend” Your Non-Supportive Friends?

If you’re reading this blog, you probably have ADHD, anxiety, depression, autism, mental health challenges – or you care about someone who does.

And, if you or your loved one fit into any of the above categories, you have probably suffered from being shunned, isolated, “de-friended”, bullied, unsupported, or, at the very least, misunderstood.

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As a parent, it’s hard not to blame other kids, adults or teachers who shun or misunderstand your child. It’s hard enough trying to parent a child or teen who has ADHD or other atypical traits without having neighbours, friends or family members question your parenting style, isolate your child or point fingers. When dealing with the daily stress of parenting, comments such as these can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

What do you do when people purposely leave your child out because they can’t deal with his or her behaviour? I’ve written about this issue before here, here and here.

  • Do you speak to them about why they’re doing it?
  • Do you think perhaps you’re being paranoid and that’s not the case?
  • Do you shun them yourself?
  • Do you try to be even more friendly and overcompensate for your child’s behaviour/their view of your child’s behaviour?

I don’t think there’s any “right” answer here. I do know that it’s extremely troubling, stressful and heartbreaking to discover close friends are not spending time with you because they don’t like your child. I guess the most mature thing to do would be to have a heart-to-heart with the person but, that can open a can of worms because they might be embarrassed to discuss it or deflect the blame or laugh uncomfortably and not engage.

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In the past, we’ve had myriad friends and family members politely decline invitations or only want to get together without kids around. One of the saddest moments was finding out that a former neighbour with whom our child was very close had a birthday party and didn’t invite our child. Of course I realize that we can’t invite everyone to every birthday party but I know why my child was not invited in this particular case.

Another neighbourhood mother who ran a home daycare pretended she wasn’t taking on new children when I inquired. But, I later saw posters everywhere advertising her daycare and promoting open spots. This type of activity can be extremely hurtful (sometimes more for the parent than the child). Luckily, for us this isn’t something we have to deal with any longer now that my children are growing up and some of those annoying traits have dissipated or disappeared.

Has this happened to you? Do you “de-friend” your friend, neighbour or family member if they don’t engage with you or your family because of your child’s condition or his/her behaviour? What’s worked best in your case? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lisa

Educational Options for Your Child, Part 1: Home Schooling

For some parents and guardians, having their child attend a regular public school isn’t an option. This is due to many factors: religious or cultural concerns; clashes with administration; bullying issues; physical abilities that are not or cannot be addressed by the school and mental health/neurological issues like anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism or concussion.

In these instances, some parents decide to go the homeschooling route.  Even as a child I had heard about homeschooling but no one I knew/know was homeschooled and, up until quite recently, I knew very little about how one would go about setting up a home school and teaching their children. That has changed!

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Through a blogging community I belong to, I have “virtually” met many wonderful people who are doing amazing work through their blogs/sites. One of these wonderful people is Heidi who runs The Unexpected Homeschooler.

Heidi has kindly agreed to answer some questions about homeschooling and about why parents or guardians of children with mental health challenges might do better learning from home. She lives in the U.S. and worked for many years as a special education teacher in a public school system.

1) From your perspective, what’s the criteria for homeschooling? For instance, do you feel it’s best in all cases for both parent and/or child?

I think homeschooling is a personal choice for every family, and sometimes even per child. It has a lot to do with their reasons. For some families, it’s a religious reason and they most likely would want all their children homeschooled. For others, it may be academics or special needs and it would depend on each child’s needs.

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2) What would you say to a parent who is considering homeschooling due to their child’s anxiety, depression, bullying, etc.?

As a parent of a child with anxiety, I personally feel being at home is the best place for her. Of course it can depend on the type of anxiety a child has, but the public school system can be overwhelming for a lot of these kids and even detrimental in some cases. Being able to provide a positive, loving environment allows these children to have exposures to certain situations when they are ready for it. They can be themselves without being ridiculed, teased, or bullied. I have found that most of them blossom when homeschooled and have much more success.

3) What are some characteristics of successful homeschooling parents/teachers? What are two or three things that must be in place?

I think every parent is a homeschooler whether they realize it or not. They have been teaching their children since the day they were born. No one else is going to love or understand a child better than his parent. The best homeschool parents/teachers are the ones that understand every child learns differently and at his own pace. It is not a race and we can’t compare our children to everyone else’s.

Figuring out their child’s learning style and presenting information in that format can make a huge difference. That’s not something that can be done in a classroom of 25 students. The second factor is a combination of organization and teaching their children to become independent learners. If the parent can set up systems to teach their students to work on their own, the benefits are huge and will carry over into adulthood.

4) Obviously, each state/country/province’s rules differ, but what do parents need to know before they pull a child out of public or private school?

Any time a child is pulled out of the school system, the parent needs to realize the child may need some time to “de-school” especially if the child is coming from a negative situation. De-schooling is the adjustment period a child goes through when he leaves the school system. He may need time to explore his interests, feel safe (if he’s come from a situation where he was bullied), time to figure out how he learns best, and perhaps time to build some self-esteem.

Learning at home is different from school and parents need to realize it’s okay to take a few weeks or even a few months to let their child get used to it. It doesn’t mean academics aren’t being taught; they are just being presented in a different way. It could be in the form of field trips, projects, reading books, and many other ways.

5) Do you know of instances where homeschooling has made a positive difference in a child’s life that was previously difficult due to mental health matters?

I don’t. However, while my own daughter has always been homeschooled, I do think putting her in the school system would have had a negative effect. I think her anxiety would have gotten in the way of her learning.

I also know of a child who is autistic and was not getting the kind of education he was capable of in the school system. In fact, he wasn’t even being supervised properly. This child is now doing amazingly well and has far exceeded the educational expectations the school system had for him.

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6) Do you know of instances where it hasn’t worked?

I don’t know of any particular situation where it hasn’t worked but I know it can be more difficult to pull a child out in the high school years because of the loss of friends.  Homeschoolers are socialized, despite what many people think, but older teens don’t want always want to make new friends at that age.

7) What resources can you recommend?

I recommend finding a local homeschool group so families can have support and find friends to do things with. It’s not necessary, but often when a family is new to homeschooling, it’s nice to have other parents who have been through it to ask questions. Also, there are a lot of Facebook groups homeschoolers are active on and these are a great resource as well.

8) Do you feel that liaising with other parents/teachers/families in similar situations makes a big difference?

It’s always nice to have a circle of homeschoolers to bounce ideas off of and to do outside activities with. It’s very helpful, especially when you are just starting to homeschool.

Thank you, Heidi, for offering your advice and opinion. Of course, you can visit The Unexpected Homeschooler for more resources, tips, book reviews and ideas.

I also want to add that parents (regardless of your country of origin) should look into the rules and regulations for homeschooling in your state or province and what type of exams, essays and tests that children must take in order to qualify legally for homeschooling.

Enjoy your autumn,

Lisa

The Resilience Fallacy

“Don’t worry, she’ll bounce back. Children are resilient!”

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Over the years, through divorce, moving, kids’ changing schools, new relationships, issues with friends, various diagnoses, etc., that adage and similar advice has been doled out to me like so much candy on Hallowe’en.

Although assuming that children will bounce back after trauma or even minor incidents may sound innocent enough and even reassuring, it can be a dangerous assumption.

What is Resilience?

Psychological resilience is the ability to cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviors in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors”. Wikipedia

Building resiliency in children is vitally important and it’s a skill that can make a critical and positive difference in your child’s life.

Here are some methods that can help:

Let them solve their own problems:

While we might want to jump in and “save” our children from falls (literal or metaphorical), it’s vitally important that kids learn how to defend themselves, stand up for themselves and others, and find ways of coping in difficult situations.

Of course, this isn’t a way to opt out of helping your children or forcing them to make bad decisions because they don’t understand the options but rather it’s a way for them to test their own skills in order to help build up their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Be a living example:

Through your words and actions, show children how you deal with problems in your workplace, with your own friends, in your neighbourhood, etc. – and also how you dealt with different situations as a child.

I find watching movies or reading books about how children deal with minute or massive problems teaches them context. For instance, my partner and I watched the movie “Lion” a few days ago and I can’t wait to watch it again with my children for both its cinematic brilliance and the incredible story-line and ending. (I won’t add too much here in case you haven’t seen it. Please do!)  My daughter is also into learning about Anne Frank – and of course there is plenty of context provided with her amazing and courageous story.

Be there for them

This may sound contradictory to the above advice but it’s not. To me (and I am certainly not perfect at this and fail regularly) it’s about trying to be there for my kids when they really need me and not hanging them out to dry. So, let’s say, your child had a bad day or was bullied at school or saw something that made them uncomfortable. Ask them about it, try to help them solve the problem, be sympathetic and perhaps brainstorm possible solutions.

Something that seems to work for me is asking my kids, “Do you want me to talk to the teacher about that?” if it’s a problem related to school. They almost always say no. Even though they often don’t want me to step in, I feel like asking my children if they’d like me to intervene puts the power back in their hands. Note: Occasionally, I do talk to teachers or principals if I feel it’s important to step in!

Get out there

Whether it’s volunteering, building leadership skills or travelling, getting outside of one’s comfort zone can build resiliency by providing new experiences and challenges.

Travelling has been one of the single most defining aspects of my life. Not only has travelling to other regions and countries allowed me to experience new worlds, but the lead-up of researching trips, booking hotel or hostel reservations and flights (even as a teenager) and asking strangers for assistance has helped to develop my self-esteem and resilience. Meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds also provides context and perspective to consider when faced with a difficult situations.

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If you are able to volunteer and/or travel with your family, you might ask your children to help research the non-profit organization or new region, point out aspects affected by war or strife, talk to locals, learn a new language or a new skill. In any case, if you are travelling by plane, train or automobile, everyone will have to learn to be patient, creative and innovative together when faced with inevitable travel delays!

What tools have you used to help your children build resilience? What happened in your own childhood that helped you face adversity? I’d love to hear from you.

Update from May

I’d also like to provide a quick update on “No Money May” since it’s now June. I’ve recently had surgery so was forced into a no spending mode for the last part of the month. Overall, I’ll give myself a “7” on a scale of 1 to 10 for not spending frivolously. I heard from other people who were going to try No Money May too. If you did it, how did it work out for you?

Feel free to comment at bottom or write to me privately.

 

Onward and upwards,

Lisa

 

Summer Daze

As a warm breeze blows through the window and birds chatter happily in the backyard ravine, I am wondering where the school year has gone.  Wasn’t it just the first day of school for my newly minted ‘tween and teen? Weren’t we just making plans for Christmas and then March break?

colorful umbrellas

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In our region, there is approximately one more month left of school. I can tell that my children are looking forward to having a break from the seemingly-endless days of early wake-ups and constant assignments as well as the periphery of peer drama; (one or two) ineffective teachers and constantly being told what to do, when and where.

Breaking Bad

Summer can (and should) offer a break for kids but what about parents? In days gone by it was the norm for mothers to stay home and enjoy summers off with their kids. I always imagine picnics in the park, swimming at the local pool, soccer with the neighbours and play dates galore. These days, though I know some people who are teachers or stay-at-home parents, I don’t know many who have the luxury of taking entire summers off.

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Is it so bad to take two months off to rest and relax? Of course not – in theory. As most people know, constant deadlines and over-scheduling puts undue pressure on children and teens (and adults).

But what’s the grey area between idleness and helicoptering? As much as we want our kids to have a break on weekends, holidays and in the summer-time, sometimes this just isn’t possible or can lead to chaos in the household. I like this post I wrote about this same topic back in 2015: Idle Hands? I also enjoyed this funny and honest New York Times portrayal of after-school scheduling in the age of working parents.

The point is that too much “on time” can cause depression and anxiety in children. All human beings need to have quiet time with no deadlines, no rushing from Point A to Point B, no “end game” in mind. I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that idle time isn’t always a bad thing: It can actually lead to improved mental health, better sleep, more happiness and even creative insights on how to solve a problem or write a song. Our brains need time to breathe.

Despite not having scheduled one single activity at this point, I am still confident this summer will be one for the memory books. If you’re a parent, what plans do you have for your children this summer? Are they going to camp? Hanging with grandparents? Going to summer school? Traveling? Volunteering? I’d love to hear your thoughts on scheduling and plans for the season.

Please note: I will be taking a short medical leave of absence soon so please excuse any related absence from this blog. Thank you for your understanding.

Eating Brownies for Breakfast

Happy Mother’s Day! For those of us in North America, we celebrate on the second Sunday in May. In the UK and elsewhere, I believe it’s celebrated on a different date.

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Did any of you get breakfast in bed on a tray with a mason jar filled with daisies…? Me neither! I’m not bitter though, honestly. I’m over the traditional, commercial idea of Mother’s Day and hoping for a peaceful, quiet day with my kids which should include no arguments, complaints or nagging (from me or my children).

Special dates like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day can be fraught with expectations and disappointment. As my children and I get older though, I realize more and more it’s not about the gifts and expensive dinners but rather, as cliche as it sounds, the time we spend together and the way we treat each other on this day and throughout the year.

Regardless, I won’t be preparing a lavish brunch or taking anyone out to celebrate this year. Due to my self-imposed No Money May, the fact that my partner is working, my tween daughter is at a sleepover and my teen son is still sleeping (and probably will be until noon or later), it will be a simple Mother’s Day. I’m hoping for a hike in the woods and of course will contact my own wonderful mom who lives in another city.

brownies

As a strange start to the day, I’m up at the crack of dawn (not a good start but apparently sleeping isn’t my jam), cleaning the kitchen and making marshmallow chocolate brownies. I will most likely eat said brownies for breakfast – and I’m okay with that! They don’t look that pretty (see photo above) but smell great. Yesterday, I made a chocolate peanut butter version for my daughter to take to her sleepover.

What are you doing to celebrate? Do you have a special tradition? Do you expect your partner or children to pamper you on Mother’s Day? Are you on the hook to host your own family?

However you celebrate YOUR day, whether reading a favourite book, snuggling with your babies, taking a walk, going to the spa, fêteing your own mom or simply being you, enjoy and cheers to all of the hardworking, dedicated, savvy moms out there.

Yours in good maternal mental health,

Lisa