Annette

Salute to Single Mothers

I’m tired. Last night my oldest child “A” decided (at 9pm) that she needed a great costume for her school tableau today. Her teacher said jeans and a t-shirt would work. But apparently that wasn’t good enough for A. She gets hyper focused on a project and if and when it goes off the rails, so does she. She finally let me put her to bed at 10. Then she heard a noise downstairs around 11. Out of a dead sleep, I had to go down and check it out to reassure her so she could go back to sleep. Midnight. I’m woken up by her trying to sneak into my room, probably because she wanted to sleep with me.

Fast forward to 6am today. I wake up because she’s in the hallway outside of my room, again working on her costume. No point in trying to go back to sleep. I lay there and think about last night. Family Home Evening went surprisingly well. The girls liked the activity I planned and actually joined in without whining or leaving the room repeatedly, like they usually do. This was followed by a visit to the park where A tried to teach her younger sister “B,” aged 9, how to ride a bike. B is a developmentally delayed child who is afraid to have anyone let go of the bike. I often wonder if she’ll ever learn to ride.

As I lay there, I ponder how A was very sweet at times with B. She came up with little word games and encouraged her. She wasn’t going to give up until B learned to ride. Then when B wanted to give up, A screamed at her. I finally convinced A to back off and let B do her own thing. We went home and I tried, and failed, to loosen a nut on B’s bike so I could put training wheels on it. I’m just not handy, and don’t have the right tools. I made a mental note to text the home teacher (or minister, now, I guess) to see if he could help me with this.

I say my prayers, read my scriptures, and envision myself remaining calm during what is usually a storm as the girls get ready for school. A will most likely say something nasty to her sisters or me. One or both of the other girls would most likely not like the fruit I prepared and have a tantrum. B will dawdle getting dressed so she will have to rush through getting her backpack ready. A will refuse to read scriptures. I need to be mentally prepared to handle it appropriately. “I’m calm. I’m zen-like. I can do this,” is my mantra.

We get through breakfast without too much difficulty, mainly because A is upstairs having a fit away from the rest of us. She comes down and screams at me as she heads out the door to catch the bus. Her sisters have already left. I’m alone with my thoughts. I’m tired. I feel like a failure. I get dressed and go for my usual morning walk.

I walk and pray. “Why do I have this child? I think you sent her to the wrong mom. Why don’t I have a husband to partner with and to have my back when this happens?” My list goes on and on. I cry and plead and whine with Heavenly Father. He’s used to this. It’s my daily morning ritual. After the tears, I can think and walk. As usual, nature and the spirit give me some perspective. I find my sense of humor again. I walk. Slowly, because I’m tired.

I stop and text my home teacher (minister) and ask him for help with the bike. He texts back almost immediately, willing to help. Halleluiah! I mean, I could probably go and buy a tool that would work and figure it out myself, but I just get plain sick and tired of always having to do stuff like that myself. Isn’t mowing the lawn and shoveling snow enough? Sheesh. I take a deep breath and try to get a grip again. I keep walking.

I mentally go over my to-do check list. I have papers to grade. I need to decide if I want to go to that work conference. I worry about money. Laundry needs to be put away. I haven’t dusted in a while. A’s tableau is at school tonight. How much will she freak out about her costume again before we go? I remember that my sister is coming into town for a few days and I smile. She always knows how to make me laugh. She has difficult kids too. We can joke about them. I walk a bit faster now. I decide that a hot bath and a Target run are in order. And maybe some dark chocolate and diet Coke. The papers will still be there to grade when I get done.

I feel a bit better. I reflect on how I’ve heard prophets and apostles refer to their mothers as “angel mothers” and how I can’t relate. I feel more like a weird hybrid. Part angel, part devil, mostly flawed human. Every morning I pray for patience, and every night I pray for forgiveness. I make a lot of mistakes and wonder just how much I’m messing my kids up. Will they grow up traumatized or just damaged enough to need a good therapist? I’m doing my best, I tell myself. And I remember the many priesthood blessings I’ve received over the years. In every single one, Heavenly Father has told me how much He loved me and that he is happy with my efforts.

I am grateful for that knowledge. I am grateful for my home teachers (ministers) who give me blessings and bring over tools when I need them, and visiting teachers (ministerettes?) who are always offering to take the girls off my hands for a while or listen to me complain about how hard life is, for a relief society president that leaves candy and sweet notes on my doorstop because she “gets it.” I’m grateful for a bishopric that had a dinner just for single sisters, which demonstrated to me that they are aware of us, want to get to know us better, and care about us. I’m grateful for a sister that makes me laugh and is always just a text or phone call away. I’m grateful for a mom that takes the girls so I can get out of town occasionally. I’m grateful for that sister in the ward who texts from time to time and says “Can I come get your girls to play with mine for a few hours?”

This is my row to hoe. This is my circus and these are my monkeys. I didn’t grow up planning on being a single mom (especially not to a strong-willed child!), but this is my life. And when I open my eyes and look around (or just go on Facebook) I see that there are many other ladies struggling, working hard, sometimes feeling like they’re failing, but getting up again every day, and doing it all over again.

So I raise my diet Coke and my dark chocolate to you, my sister single mothers! You are doing the most difficult, most important job of your life, and you’re doing it on your own (with a little help from your friends)! I salute you, I pray for you, I love you, I understand you. May you remember how completely and totally awesome you are on this Mother’s Day!

New YouTube series: Ask Annette

Check out my intro video for “Ask Annette.” Please shoot me your questions. I’ll be posting my next video in the next few days.

 

12 Rules for Life

I recently came across a wonderful book by Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Jordan is a clinical psychologist and I would say, philosopher. His wisdom is culled from the Bible, various philosophers, his studies of the Cold War and the effects of communism in Russia and China, the holocaust, and his psychology practice. The result is a practical, high-reaching set of rules which I will summarize here, along with my commentary. The book was interesting, if sometimes a bit esoteric. It’s definitely worth reading and pondering.

Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Jordan recommends this because it demonstrates to yourself and those around you that you are ready to take on whatever comes your way. It also produces serotonin in your body, which makes you happier. He talks about how when male lobsters lose to an opponent, it literally changes their brains and they then skulk about like the losers they see themselves as, and refuse to even fight lobsters they’ve beaten in the past. “If you present yourself as defeated, then people will react to you as if you are losing. If you start to straighten up, then people will look at you and treat you differently.” I have also found out from first-hand experience that bad posture causes chronic pain. I now remind myself daily to stand up straight with my shoulders back!

Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. This was an interesting chapter. Jordan says that statistically people will fill their pet’s prescriptions more often than their own. They actually take better care of their pets than of themselves. He says that people see themselves and all of humanity as fallen, and don’t really respect themselves much because of it. They feel guilty for doing wrong things and see themselves as not worth taking care of, where animals are innocent beings that deserve to be cared for.

He has an interesting discussion here that struck a chord with me. He says that we need to strive to have one foot in order and the other in chaos. What he means is that if we want to progress and grow in life we need to have just enough order in our life to feel secure, but still be reaching for the unknown. We need to be willing to take chances, and strive for something, even if we don’t know exactly what it is at the moment. I see it as being willing to take one step into the dark, trusting that the way will be lit. I see this in my own life. If I’m too complacent and willing to settle for what I already have, I’m not growing, so not happy. Part of taking care of ourselves is always striving to improve.

The cure to not caring about ourselves enough, according to Jordan, is to recognize the spark of the divine in ourselves. To recognize that we were made in God’s image. And we owe it to our maker to take care of His creation. “We deserve some respect. You deserve some respect. You are important to other people, as much to yourself. You have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. You are, therefore, morally obligated to take care of yourself. You should take care of, help and be good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help and be good to someone you loved and valued.”

He stresses that it’s not about making yourself happy. It’s about doing what’s right for yourself. The way you would for a child or someone else in your care. You wouldn’t just give them what they want whenever they want it just to appease them. It’s not self-indulgence. You would do what’s right for them, both short and long term. “You need to consider the future and think ‘What might my life look like if I were caring for myself properly? What career would challenge me and render me productive and helpful so that I could shoulder my share of the load and enjoy the consequences? What should I be doing, when I have some freedom, to improve my health, expand my knowledge, and strengthen my body?’” I would add, “What am I doing to increase my spirituality and bring me closer to being like the Savior?”

Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you. Jordan grew up on a very cold, small remote town in Canada. He learned that friends made all the difference, for good or ill. He warns against only befriending people you think you can rescue. As a psychologist, he recognizes that people need to want help. Don’t make friends with people who will pull you down. Friendship should be reciprocal. If you are always giving, helping, and rescuing, you are not in a true friendship. “If you surround yourself with people who support your upward aim, they will not tolerate your cynicism and destructiveness. They will instead encourage you when you do good for yourself and others and punish you carefully when you do not. This will help bolster your resolve to do what you should do, in the most appropriate and careful manner. People who are not aiming up will do the opposite.”

Good friendship takes a lot of time and effort. That’s why I have many acquaintances, but only a few people I would call ‘friends’. These are the people I know I can count on to tell me when I’m getting off course, and that I can do the same for. These are the people who believe in me, even more than I believe in myself. And I do the same for them. We genuinely care about each other, trust each other, and know each other well enough to share our honest opinion with each other. If someone demonstrates that they don’t want the best for me, I limit my interactions with that person and don’t count them as a friend.

Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. Jordan makes the point that comparing ourselves to others is pointless. “No matter how good you are at something, or how you rank your accomplishments, there is someone out there who makes you look incompetent.” I would also add the opposite. No matter how bad we think we are at something, someone else is worse! He also warns against excessive self-criticism. “If the internal voice makes you doubt the value of your endeavors—or your life, or life itself—perhaps you should stop listening.”

He makes a great point that we need to stop looking at ourselves as either a success or failure. We are involved in many things. We will do better at some things than others. “To begin with, there is not just one game at which to succeed or fail. There are many games and, more specifically, many good games—games that match your talents, involve you productively with other people, and sustain and even improve themselves across time.” He then mentions that there are many different professions. They’re all good choices. Not everyone is going to be good at every profession. “If you don’t succeed at one, you can try another. You can pick something better matched to your unique mix of strengths and situation. Furthermore, if changing games does not work, you can invent a new one.”

“It’s also unlikely that you are playing only one game. You have a career and friends and family members and personal projects and artistic and athletic pursuits. You might consider judging your success across all the games you play. Imagine that you are very good at some, middling at others, and terrible at the remainder. Perhaps that’s as it should be. You might object: I should be winning at everything! But winning at everything might only mean that you’re not doing anything new or difficult. You might be winning but you’re not growing and growing might be the most important form of winning. Should victory in the present always take precedence over trajectory across time?” (Emphasis added.) I love that! If you’re not excelling at everything, that’s a good thing because it means you’re trying something new and you’re still learning how to do it! You’re growing!

The other part of this chapter that stands out to me is that he talks about how we are all born with a nature. We aren’t going to change our nature. We can’t tyrannize ourselves into changing, or we will rebel. Instead, when we see something in ourselves we want to change, we need to negotiate with ourselves. For example, if we want to get organized, we can start small and then give ourselves a reward. If I clean off my desk, I will take a break and grab a soda. Then tomorrow I will clean out one side of my closet. If I do that, I can watch some TV or spend a little time on social media. I like the idea of making deals with myself like this. It makes me feel like I’m getting things done and getting rewarded, instead of browbeating myself.

Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them. Wow. This one was a hard one for me. If you’ve read my past articles, you know that I have a strong-willed child. It is a daily struggle to know how best to handle her in a firm, but loving way. The main thrust of this rule is to give your children adequate attention, guidance, and discipline. Not spending enough time with your kids and hoping they’ll turn out alright is a recipe for disaster. He describes some kids he sees in his practice who are basically ignored at home. They are needy, whiney, and directionless. And other children avoid them, which compounds the problem as they are not properly socialized. We need to make sure our children act like decent human beings so that other children (and adults) want to be around them so they gain acceptance and can make their way in the world.

He has a few rules of thumb for discipline: don’t use too many rules and when you enforce the rules, use the least force necessary. If we don’t discipline our children, others will. It’s better coming from a loving parent. We need to learn how to maximize children’s learning so that useful knowledge may be gained with minimal cost. He says it’s our job as parents to act as proxies for the world so that children are ready to face it. He also says that “parents should understand their own capacity to be harsh, vengeful, arrogant, resentful and deceitful,” which is one reason why two parents are better than one. When one parent is at his or her limit, the other can step in and take over. He unequivocally states that two-parent homes are better than one parent homes. Unfortunately, some of us aren’t in that situation, so we have to find other ways to deal with ourselves when we’ve reached our limit. But I agree with him, wholeheartedly. Kids are better off with two parents in the home.

Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. The gist of this rule is to stop looking outside of yourself to make the world better. He discusses the evil that can be found in the world and how some people give in to it, like the Sandy Hook and Columbine shooters. Then he points out that there are people like Aleksander Solzhenitsyn who survived a Soviet labor camp and then had cancer. “He could have become resentful and bitter. His life had been rendered miserable by both Stalin and Hitler, two of the worst tyrants in history. He lived in brutal conditions. Vast stretches of his precious time were stolen from him and squandered. He witnessed pointless and degrading suffering and death of his friends and acquaintances. Then he contracted an extremely serious disease.”

“But the great writer, the profound spirited defender of truth, did not allow his mind to turn towards vengeance and destruction. He opened his eyes instead. During his many trials, Solzhenitsyn encountered people who comported themselves nobly, under horrific circumstances. He contemplated their behavior deeply. Then he asked himself the most difficult of questions: had he personally contributed to the catastrophe of his life? If so, how? He remembered his unquestioning support of the Communist Party in his early years. He reconsidered his whole life. He had plenty of time in the camps. How had he missed the mark, in the past? How many times had he acted against his own conscience, engaging in actions that he knew to be wrong? How many times had he betrayed himself, and lied? Was there any way that the sins of his past could be rectified, atoned for, in the muddy hell of a Soviet gulag?”

“Solzhenitsyn pored over the details of his life, with a fine-toothed comb. He asked himself a second question, and a third. Can I stop making such mistakes, now? Can I repair the damage done by my past failures, now? He learned to watch and to listen. He found people he admired; who were honest, despite everything. He took himself apart, piece by piece, let what was unnecessary and harmful die, and resurrected himself. The he wrote The Gulag Archipelago, a history of the Soviet prison camp system.” “Solzhenitsyn’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of communism, as ideology or society.”

How can we be more like Solzhenitsyn? “Consider your circumstances. Start small. Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you? Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? Have you made peace with your brother? Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect? Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being? Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members? Are there things that you could do, that you know that you could do, that would make things around you better?”

He then says to stop doing things you know are wrong. And to take the responsibility on yourself instead of blaming capitalism, the radical left, or your enemies. He talks about letting your soul guide you. I would add, let the Spirit guide you. I know from personal experience that if you ask Heavenly Father what you could be doing better in your life, He will tell you!

Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (Not what is expedient). This rule is about sacrificing what you want now for something better later. “Pain and suffering define the world. Sacrifice can hold pain and suffering at abeyance, to a greater or lesser degree—and greater sacrifices can do that more effective than lesser.” He tells the story about Socrates and how he did not take the easy way out when on trial. He could have lied to avoid the fatal judgment that he received, but he knew it was better to be honest. He paid the ultimate price, but he was philosophical about it. (After all, he was Socrates!) He decided that staying true to his principles and accepting the death sentence wasn’t all bad. He would never grow old and suffer the physical problems of advanced age.

Jordan exhorts us to work to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, which is much more gratifying than any earthly short-term pleasure. He also points out that “expedience is wrong because it merely transfers the curse on your head to someone else, or to your future self, in a manner that will make your future and the future generally, worse instead of better.” “Sometimes we have to sacrifice what we love best, so that we can become who we might become, instead of staying who we are.” This sacrifice that he’s referring to is sacrificing our will for God’s. He points out that Heavenly Father sacrificed His Son for us.

He tells us to seek meaning, which I translate to living the gospel. “Meaning is the way, the path of life more abundant, the place you live when you are guided by Love and Speaking Truth and when nothing you want or could possibly want takes any precedence over precisely that.”

Rule 8: Tell the truth—or at least don’t lie. This seems pretty straightforward on its face, but Jordan’s focus is on how when we are inauthentic, we stop our progress. It’s about sins of omission. Saying yes when we want to say no. Not speaking up for yourself. “Consider the person who insists that everything is right in her life. She avoids conflict, and smiles, and does what she is asked to do. She finds a niche and hides in it. She does not question authority or put her own ideas forward, and does not complain when mistreated. She strives for invisibility, like a fish in the center of a swarming school. But a secret unrest gnaws at her heart. She is still suffering, because life is suffering. She is lonesome and isolated and unfulfilled. But her obedience and self-obliteration eliminate all the meaning from her life. She has become nothing but a slave, a tool for others to exploit. She does not get what she wants, or needs, because doing so would mean speaking her mind. So, there is nothing of value in her existence to counter-balance life’s troubles. And that makes her sick.” If you don’t speak up at work, you give your boss or co-workers permission to exploit you.

He goes on to say that if you don’t reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself. “That does not only mean that you suppress who you are, although it does mean that. It means that so much of what you could be will never be forced by necessity to come forward.” This leaves you incomplete. If we aren’t honest with ourselves, we never discover who really are and what we really want. And if we never discover what we really want, we can’t pursue it. Lying to ourselves is one way to avoid failure. But failure is necessary for progress. “If you’re lucky, and you fail, and you try something new, you move ahead. If that doesn’t work, you try something different again.”

If you’re honest with yourself and others, you can present your authentic self to the world—including your fondest wishes. It is only through living authentically that we, through taking chances and constantly striving to achieve, can become who were meant to be. Lying cuts that process short and leaves us living a miserable, unfulfilled existence.

Rule 9-Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t. Jordan makes a case for having deep, productive conversations with others. I personally love those types of interactions and wish I could have more. It’s hard to find that these days with the use of texting and social media. This is probably why so many of us value our counselors or therapists so highly. They are trained at this.

If you do find someone to have one of these interactions with, then Jordan recommends that you meditate, or think deeply, as you converse. This allows new and original thoughts to come from deep inside. Then you are listening to yourself as well as to the other person. If the other person is doing the same thing, you both discover new information. “A conversation such as this is one where it is the desire for truth itself—on the part of both participants—that is truly listening and speaking. That’s why it’s engaging, vital, interesting and meaningful.”

I would add that if you ask the Spirit to be present during these conversations, they will go to a whole different level. I have had some of these conversations. Where truths are spoken and confirmed by the Spirit. Where solutions are found. Some enlightenment is reached. When two people are intent on staying open and honest, willing to really listen instead of listening just to respond, willing to put in the work of doing some deep thinking, and are sensitive to spiritual promptings, great things can be accomplished.

I have only had the opportunity for a handful of these types of conversations in my life. That will most likely continue to be the case as long as I’m single. I’m sure many others are in the same boat. So I strive to have this type of conversation with Heavenly Father and myself. Again, it requires work to really search my mind and heart and present my true feelings and desires to Him. And then staying open to the answers which may come immediately or later. But when answers do come, I know they are better than anything I could’ve come up with on my own.

Rule 10: Be precise in your speech. This one seems very similar to Rule 8 to me. It’s about asking for what you want, but precisely, especially in relationships. Jordan tells the story about a woman who thought she had a great marriage and then found out that her husband was having an affair. This obviously shocked her and forced her to reevaluate her marriage. Where had it gone wrong? Had she avoided difficult conversations and fights merely to keep the peace? Had she left things unsaid that should have been said? Had he done the same thing? Could their marriage have been saved if they had both been willing to do the hard work, including telling each other what they really wanted to have stop (or start) happening?

Jordan has advice on how to have constructive discussions in the marriage: “You have to consciously define the topic of a conversation, particularly when it is difficult—or it becomes about everything, and everything is too much. This is so frequently why couples cease communicating. Every argument degenerates into every problem that emerged in the past, every problem that exists now, and every terrible thing that is likely to happen in the future. No one can have a discussion about ‘everything.’ Instead, you can say, ‘This is the exact, precise thing—that is making me unhappy. This exact, precise thing—that it what I want, as an alternative (although I am open to suggestions, if they are specific). This exact, precise thing—that is what you could deliver, so that I will stop making your life and mine miserable.’ But to do that you have to think: What is wrong, exactly? What do I want, exactly?” So always be precise in asking for what you want, especially in a relationship.

Rule 11: Do not bother children when they are skateboarding. This rule is about the feminization of boys and how it’s harmful to them and to society as a whole. Jordan takes on the whole idea that gender is nothing but a social construct. It’s not a construct, it’s biological. Boys skateboard because it’s dangerous and allows them to become competent at something. Competence is the best antidote to real danger. For example, nobody wants an incompetent doctor to operate on them. They are much safer with a doctor who knows what he’s doing.  We need to let boys do things that are dangerous like skateboard and in general, be boys.

“Men toughen up by pushing themselves, and by pushing each other. When I was a teenager, the boys were much more likely to get into car accidents that they girls (as they still are). This was because they were out spinning donuts at night in icy parking lots. They were drag racing and driving their cars over the roadless hills extending from the nearby river up to the level land hundreds of feet higher. They were more likely to fight physically, and to skip class, and to tell the teachers off, and to quit school because they were tired of raising hands for permission to go to the bathroom when they were big and strong enough to work on the oil rigs. They were more likely to race their motorbikes on frozen lakes in the winter. Like the skateboarders, and crane climbers, and free runners, they were doing dangerous things, trying to make themselves useful.”

“When the boys were spinning donuts, they were also testing the limits of their cars, their ability as drivers, and their capacity for control, in an out-of-control situation. When they told off the teachers, they were pushing against authority, to see if there was any real authority there—the kind that could be relied on, in principle, in a crisis. When they quit school, they went to work as rig roughnecks when it was forty bloody degrees below zero. It wasn’t weakness that propelled so many out of the classroom, where a better future arguably awaited. It was strength.”

This last paragraph really resonates with me for many reasons. “If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates: there just aren’t that many men around who can outclass them enough to be considered desirable. The spirit that interferes when boys are trying to become men is, therefore, no more friend to woman than it is to man.” He ends with “And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.” Amen.

Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street. This rule is about noticing the small wonders of our world—of appreciating what’s right in front of us. Jordan talks about a cat in his neighborhood and how she comes for a visit, giving him a nice break during his day. “If you pay careful attention, even on a bad day, you may be fortunate enough to be confronted with small opportunities of just that sort. Maybe you will see a little girl dancing on the street because she is all dressed up in a ballet costume. Maybe you will have a particularly good cup of coffee in a café that cares about their customers.” (Or in my case, a Diet Coke at McDonalds, or some really good dark chocolate.) “Maybe you can steal ten or twenty minutes to do some little ridiculous thing that distracts you or reminds you that you can laugh at the absurdity of existence. Personally, I like to watch a Simpsons episode at 1.5 times regular speed: all the laughs; two-thirds the time.” That is how I feel about Studio C. Only I watch it at regular speed. I just love Matt Meese.

“And maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it.” I relate to this because I take daily walks on a trail that takes me to a duck pond. These walks help me to maintain my sanity. I have the best talks with Heavenly Father on these walks, and then I sit and look at the ducks and let myself enjoy nature and God’s creations and forget about my troubles for a few minutes.

 

 

I Am Enough: Embracing Greatness and Rejecting Shame

Recently I had some professional and personal successes that left me feeling happy and excited, full of hope for my future. Within a few days, I was out for a walk and began being plagued by thoughts like “You’re not that great,” and “Who do you think you are?” These thoughts were accompanied by a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was dumbstruck. Why would I feel this way? I realized that this happened often after I had felt successful or proud of an accomplishment. I managed to talk myself out of it, but it left me feeling doubtful about my abilities, and frustrated that these thoughts should tarnish an otherwise happy time for me.

A few days later I was telling a friend about this experience and she basically said “Duh, you’ve seen this before. Remember Moses?” It was funny she should say that as I had recently taught Moses chapter 1 in Gospel Doctrine, and was reminded of the story after I struggled with those negative feelings.

As you’ll recall, in Moses chapter 1, Moses met face to face with God who told him a few things. God told Moses that He was the Lord God Almighty, Endless was His name, that Moses was His son, that Moses was in the similitude of God’s only begotten, and that He had a work for Moses to do. Then He proceeded to show Moses His creation.

Then God withdrew for a time and Moses was alone. What happens next, after Moses just had a giant glimpse of the world and his place in it? Satan comes along to tempt Moses, calls him ‘son of man’ and tells Moses to worship him. Fortunately, Moses didn’t have a short term memory problem, so he told Satan that he knew the difference between Satan and God, and to take off. Satan threw a hissy fit. Moses got scared, called upon God, received strength and again told Satan to depart. Satan, being powerless in the face of the God’s strength, left.

Obviously, Satan’s goal was to make Moses forget who he was and likewise, to make us forget who we are. He wants us feel bad about ourselves so we won’t accomplish anything of worth, and we won’t live up to our potential. Imagine if he had convinced Moses that he was nothing more than a ‘son of man.’ Would Moses have gone on to be the prophet he was? Who knows. But Satan saw Moses’ potential, and he sees ours as well. He wants to trip us up. Fortunately, Moses put his trust in the Lord instead of in Satan. Satan would have us be miserable like unto himself. One of his biggest tools is shame. And I can tell you from experience that it’s a pretty powerful tool.

After this experience I went back and re-read my favorite book on shame, Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown. If you haven’t picked it up, I highly recommend it. It’s life changing. She defines shame as “. . . believing we’re not enough—that we’re not worthy of love and belonging.” That nails it. That sick feeling we get when we feel like a screw up. We’re just not worthy. We’re not enough.

From Brené’s research, it’s clear that everyone experiences shame. Some people are better at handling it than others. But part of the human condition is being exposed to shame. We received shameful messages from our parents, teachers, friends, and society in general. Most people don’t spread shame on purpose, but they do out of ignorance, probably because they received the same messages growing up and don’t realize how harmful they are. And after feeling that shame, many of us believed it, held onto it, and now speak to ourselves in the same way we were spoken to as children. No one is immune.

Brené details the different types of shame that women and men deal with. For example, the number one type of shame for women is related to body image. I totally relate to that. I was raised to believe that being overweight was one of the worst things a girl could be. It simply was unacceptable. I remember stepping on a scale at eight years old and knowing that I weighed too much. That was the beginning of a lifelong struggle with weight. There was always a magic number that I knew would make me happy if it showed up on my scale. I would certainly never find a man unless I was thin. The ironic thing about this was that my dissatisfaction with my ability to reach that magic number drove me to be an emotional eater, which of course moved me further and further away from that magic number and the Nirvana of thinness.

I finally did reach a normal size (still not that magic number!) when I was in my late 30s. I did this through an answer I reached through inspiration. But this followed decades of diet after diet, hypnosis, crazy exercise regimens, and never feeling comfortable in my own skin. I mourn those lost years. I mourn all of that wasted effort and self-disgust. Just think what I could have accomplished if I had loved and accepted myself despite what the scale and mirror said? I often wonder how my life would have been different had I had more confidence in myself instead of never feeling good enough.

(Mothers of daughters: please don’t body shame your girls. Please let them know that you love them unconditionally. Teach them to love and appreciate their bodies for all of the things that their bodies allow them to do. Make cookies with them. Make healthy salads with them. Don’t give them the message that they must reach some ideal to measure up to your or society’s standards. One of the biggest ways you can do this is by demonstrating it in yourself. Let them see you loving your own body. This will be a huge gift to them that will serve them well the rest of their lives.)

This is the problem with shame. It focuses our attention on our lack (or perceived lack) rather than on our potential. And it’s usually a lie. Why do I need to be thin to be worthy of love? Does extra weight make a person less able to love and be loved? Absolutely not. But it’s one of the lies that Satan has successfully told the world. Society has picked up the idea and run with it. The weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that preys on our not feeling good enough about our bodies.

Sadly, people use it to shame each other. Brené discusses how people shame other people because they feel shame themselves. If they can point to others in judgment, they can say “At least I’m better than them.” Then they can feel better about themselves for a short time. It’s a vicious cycle.

Shame brings with it anxiety, fear, and depression. I know when I feel those emotions, my progress stops. Inspiration ceases. It’s hard to parent, to be productive at work, and to reach personal goals. Instead I am caught up in trying to get rid of those feelings, usually in an unhealthy way.

So what can be done about it? Brené mentions some great ideas. Self-compassion is a huge one. When you start feeling ashamed for whatever reason, question it, think it through, and then be kind to yourself. When I’m having a good day and shame pops up, I give myself a mental hug and tell myself “I love you, Annette.” When a bad memory surfaces where I am reminded of something I did wrong in the past, I mentally hug that past Annette. I wish I could go back and hug Annette from every age until now. And heck, I might as well hug future Annette, because I know she’s going to make a boatload of mistakes, just like past Annette.

That raises the issue of shame versus guilt. Shame, as I mentioned, is not feeling worthy of love. Guilt (or as my former bishop says, godly sorrow) is a feeling of having done something wrong. Guilt is a useful tool to bring us to repentance. Shame is not useful. It’s soul-destroying. It’s important to recognize the difference between the two. Act on guilt by repenting. Reject shame.

Another way to combat shame is through talking about it to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. Like all of Satan’s lies, when it’s exposed to the light, it withers away. Writing about it is another recommendation of Brené’s. Journaling is helpful because it allows you to get it out of your head and onto paper where you can analyze it instead of just blindly accepting it.

As people with knowledge of the gospel, we have an even bigger tool to combat shame-remembering who we are. In President Uchtdor’s talk in October 2017 General Conference, Relief Society session, he said

If you find yourself worrying about what other people say about you, may I suggest this antidote:  Remember that you are of the royal house of the kingdom of God, [sons and] daughters of Heavenly Parents, who reign throughout the universe.

You have the spiritual DNA of God. You have unique gifts that originated in your spiritual creation and that were developed during the vast span of your premortal life. You are the child of our merciful and everlasting Father in Heaven, the Lord of Hosts, the One who created the universe, spread the spinning stars across the vast expanse of space, and placed the planets in their appointed orbits.

You are in His hands. Very good hands. Loving hands. Caring hands.

And nothing anyone ever says about you can change that. Their words are meaningless compared to what God has said about you. You are His precious child. He loves you. Even when you stumble, even when you turn away from Him, God loves you. If you are feeling lost, abandoned, or forgotten—fear not. The Good Shepherd will find you. He will lift you upon His shoulders. And He will carry you home

 Another of my favorite quotes is from Marianne Williamson (often erroneously attributed to Nelson Mandela):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Let’s all remember who we really are and that our potential is limitless. Let’s reject Satan’s lies about us and embrace God’s unconditional love for us. Let’s embrace greatness, and know that we are worthy, that we are always enough. Let’s be kind to ourselves and to those we come in contact with. When you feel shame, reject it. Don’t own it. Think about it, talk about it, write about it, and pray about it. Let Heavenly Father remind you that you are His and that you are worthy of His love EXACTLY THE WAY YOU ARE.

Peeling Back the Layers on School Shootings

As soon as news broke about the most recent school shooting in Florida, the debate about gun control began. There were immediate calls for gun sales to be restricted, for stronger background checks, etc. Within a few days, CNN held a town hall style meeting where an emotional audience and the local sheriff went on the attack against the NRA. Social media was inundated with calls for gun bans and answering defenses of the second amendment. At the outset, guns were the obvious cause, and both sides responded. I will come back to this.

Soon after this initial knee jerk reaction, information about this specific instance began to come to light. There was a sheriff’s deputy outside the school that stayed outside. The shooter had had 39 visits from various law enforcement agencies over the years. The FBI had been told that this guy was reported to them as a potential school shooter. Even as this information began trickling out, one of the students present at the shooting was making the rounds of talk shows, vilifying the NRA. (I don’t believe a seventeen-year-old becomes an expert on gun control simply because he was present at the shooting, by the way. It’s too bad that he can’t see that he’s a pawn.)

Information continued (and continues) to flow. There were four sheriff’s deputies that never entered the school. EMTs weren’t allowed to go in and treat the injured. The sheriff’s department had failed to make a report by someone who called in a warning about the shooter. The shooter had actually attempted to turn himself in at one point.

Over the last two days I’ve heard two stories which contend that law enforcement has declined to charge and arrest teenagers for various offenses because in one instance, the Department of Justice under Obama wanted fewer minorities in prison, and in the other instance, Florida school districts wanted fewer students in jail, but in school instead. The motivation for the DOJ seems to be political correctness or social justice. There are too many minorities in prison. Therefore, arrest and convict fewer. That’ll solve the problem.

There appear to be a few motivations behind the school districts keeping more kids in school. The first is money. Fewer kids in attendance means less money for the schools. The other seems to be for job security for politicians who can claim that their district is successful in keeping kids in school and out of trouble. At best these motivations are shortsighted or ignorant. At worst, they’re evil.

The results speak for themselves. If a kid like the shooter is never arrested, there is no criminal record to be found when he goes to buy guns. Additionally, he’s on the street able to commit bad acts, instead of behind bars.

Other possible contributing factors have been discussed when it comes to this particular shooter. He had mental health problems. This starts a discussion about whether there is enough support for students with mental illness in the schools. The shooter’s mother died. He had a bad home life. Do families matter that much?

It’s obvious that there has been a breakdown of some sort in the way the Broward County Sheriff’s office handles active shooting calls. If either or both of the stories I read about law enforcement not arresting teenagers for political or monetary reasons is true, this indicates serious institutional flaws that need to be corrected immediately.

I don’t believe this is the end of the story of what happened and of who the bad actors are. I believe Broward County has some rotten policies and bad actors. I also believe that the sheriff in charge knows this and is doing his best to hide these policies and actors behind an emotional appeal to limit gun rights. He wants everyone to look at his right hand so no one notices what his left hand is hiding. He knows that his career and his reputation are in jeopardy, so he’s fighting for his own survival right now.

Hence, back to the attack on guns. This is where many people want to keep the argument. Those who want gun ownership restricted or outlawed will make emotional appeal after emotional appeal. Take the guns off of the street before more kids are killed! Protect our kids! Politicians are getting air time and probably campaign contributions. As I mentioned, one of the students is getting a lot of attention right now.

I believe the gun control argument is what they used to call a ‘straw man’ argument in law school. Even assuming that all gun sales were banned now, and had been since 2016, this would not eliminate guns. There are approximately 300 million guns in the U.S., according the Congressional Research Service. So if someone wants to get their hands on a gun, they’ll be able to do it.

Maybe it would be more difficult to get a gun if they weren’t for sale in stores or gun shows. (I think it would just create a black market and drive prices up, but let’s play along.) No gun, no violence, right? What about the bomb made of fertilizer and other easily available ingredients used in the Oklahoma City Bombing? What about the use of U-Haul vans to plow into people? ISIS uses suicide bombers. Guns are not the only way to kill a lot of people if that’s your aim.

These arguments also ignore the elephant in the room. Gun ownership is a Constitutional right. It’s guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Why? Because a government that knows its citizenry is armed is much less likely to try to take away their other rights. Hence, there is no First Amendment without a Second Amendment. This does not become any less important or true because a bad guy decided to shoot a lot of people.

So why the gun control argument every time? Obviously, gun control advocates see this as a chance to further their agenda. Politicians can seem ‘tough on crime.’ More insidious, those in power want more control over those they ‘lead.’ I could get into a discussion about how disarming people is taking away their power and how that is exactly what dictators want. I could talk about how this country seems to be  dividing itself into two camps-the Left and the Right, which is a dangerous place to go when we need more unity. But I have a different point to make here.

Getting into a long and prolonged argument about guns every single time a mass shooting happens gets in the way of finding the ACTUAL cause and finding cures. It stands in the way of finding better ways to handle what will inevitably happen again. It prevents us from having a discussion that will allow us to maybe even prevent some of these shootings.

What if, as a country, we agreed that taking guns off the street won’t change a thing and set fire to that straw man? What if we focused instead on dissecting the problem? Is there a mental illness epidemic in the schools? If so, why? What can be done about it? Is there a breakdown in the family? Is it causing young men to feel alienated and unable to handle difficult emotions? If so, what can we do about it?

Is law enforcement not arresting people it should be arresting? If so, why not? And how can we change that? Should teachers be armed? Should there be armed guards in the school? Should students be allowed to carry concealed weapons?

There are many, many issues here that need to be examined, analyzed, and discussed. We have a lot of great thinkers and problem solvers in this country. I feel confident that we as a nation can solve this problem if we stop arguing and start working together to find solutions. I think if we worried less about being right about guns and more about solving the actual problem, we could do it. Together.

 

 

 

Dating After Divorce Survival Guide

Dating after divorce is not for the faint of heart. It bears very little resemblance to never-married-20something dating. I should know. I’ve been engaging in this tricky (and sometimes downright bizarre) pastime for the last two and a half years and so far I have survived to tell. So for you newbies, here is my best advice, in the form of a survival guide. Take it with you whenever you dare to engage in post-divorce dating.

First tip: if you’ve been divorced less than 6 months, just say no. You’re not ready. Trust me. Everyone always thinks they’re ready. They’re not. I thought I was ready after three weeks. I went out and found three guys to date. What a woman I was! I could attract and keep three men pursuing me, all at the same time! Needless to say, none of those guys are still around. You see, newly divorced people often have something to prove. Like, “I’m still attractive to the opposite sex, even if my spouse stopped loving me!”

After I had been divorced for about a year and calmed down on the whole “must date the whole world so I can prove how attractive I am” thing, I made another big mistake. I dated a man who was newly divorced. Of course I thought “he’s different” mainly because he was so cute and we connected so well that I really wanted him to be different. He pursued me relentlessly. Funny texts, inspiring emails, flowers, I love you’s, sweet kisses. It lasted all of three weeks. He swept me off my feet and then dumped me on my tush. Because hello, he was only divorced for three months when I met him.

Newly divorced folks just aren’t right in the head. They have so much unfinished emotional business that they simply are not ready to get emotionally involved with someone new. After my three guy phase, I decided maybe the naysayers were right. I wasn’t ready, so I took my counselor’s advice and read ‘Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends’ by Bruce Fisher and Robert Alberti. (Available on Amazon here.

Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends, 3rd Edition (Rebuilding Books; For Divorce and Beyond)

This book took me through the mental work I needed to do to get me on the road to being relationship ready again. In time. Not right away. Because let’s face it. Everyone who is divorced has some baggage. Sometimes it’s fairly serious baggage. It’s not fair to lug that baggage to a new person and expect them to help you unpack it in a casual dating relationship. I am responsible for unpacking my own bags. At least the biggest ones. We all take something into a marriage or dating relationship, but we can’t expect someone else to be our therapist/counselor/life coach. That’s why we pay therapists/counselors/life coaches. So we can be fit to live with.

Once you’ve given yourself some time to get your head on somewhat straight and are ready to dip your toes in the water, fasten your seatbelt for a rough ride. Everything you remember about dating has changed. Now you have an ex. You likely have kids. You have a lot of responsibilities. You have the financial challenges that come from the divorce. Not only are you dealing with the fact that you are now divorced, you are also juggling paying child support (or worrying that your ex won’t pay it this month). Same with alimony. You now may have child custody issues. You may have a rocky relationship with your ex, which may include court appearances.

So picture having all of this going on and deciding to go out and find someone to date! Are you nuts? Okay, so you’re lonely. Single parenting takes it out of you. Or you don’t see your kids as often as you want to, and that makes you sad. You want some companionship. You want some fun. You want someone to hold you and tell you everything’s going to be okay. So where do you find these potential love interests?

There are a few options. First there is the local LDS single scene. There are firesides, singles conferences, dances, house parties, etc. If you happen to live in Utah, Idaho, or Arizona, you might find a very good selection of folks to date this way. If not, maybe not so much. Once you’ve been to enough of these you’ve met pretty much everyone in the group. Once you’ve dated everyone of interest in your group, you start waiting and praying that someone new will show up. (This puts you in the awkward situation of thinking “Am I praying for someone to get divorced or widowed??” I like to think that I’m praying for someone to move into my area that was already divorced or widowed with no help from my prayers or wishes!)

Tip #2: If you’re getting tired of going to local activities with the hopes of meeting someone to date and you know everyone in the group already, either change your focus or take a break. Instead of focusing on finding someone, focus on helping someone. I have a little prayer I say before I go to every activity. It goes a little something like this, “Please let me find a great guy to date. If I can’t find a great guy, let me have fun. If I can’t have fun, let me find someone that needs my help.” One of those things usually happens. But that way, my focus shifts so I’m not disappointed when I don’t find a great guy to date. I either have fun and/or I help someone. That generally means lending a listening ear or giving some words of encouragement. Either way, time well spent. If you simply can’t face another activity, take a break for a month or two. Go work on your hobbies, spend time with family, whatever. When you go back, there just might be some new folks to acquaint yourself with. And some of the excitement will come back.

If you don’t find anyone you want to date, (or who wants to date you!) in the group, you can go online. There are various LDS websites. I’ve been on a few, namely LDSPlanet and Mutual. I have young children so I can’t easily relocate so I restrict my dating criteria to locals. I’ve had a few decent dates with guys on Planet and been catfished once. I’ll get into that later. Mutual is still fairly new so doesn’t have many people to choose from yet. But it’s free. Planet charges. I’ve actually had more luck with finding men on Facebook. Of course I spend an inordinate amount of time on there, which I don’t recommend for people that have a life!

The fun (not really) thing about meeting someone online is that you really have no idea of what the person is like. You see carefully selected pictures, a few facts, and if you’re lucky a few paragraphs about the person. Not only does this not give you a sense of who the person really is, but it’s an opportunity for people to misrepresent themselves. And of course you don’t find this out until you spend time with the person in real life.

Which leads me to my catfish story and my next piece of advice. I received a ‘flirt’ from a man on Planet (not that it matters where it’s at, all sights can fall prey to these people). I checked out his profile. There was a nice picture and an intriguing blurb about the gentleman in the picture. I accepted his invitation to chat and soon we were exchanging texts. I was in a mood so I agreed to meet him for a short hike in a very public place that same day. He told me that he no longer had a beard like the one in his picture because he had grown that as a dare for work.

He told me what vehicle he would be in so I spotted him right away. My jaw dropped. I knew that guy and it wasn’t the guy in the picture! (Long story short I had been on Planet about 6 months earlier and had a few phone calls with a guy who I googled and found to be an entirely different guy-different picture, different name-than the one in his profile. I also found complaints on websites about him and how he had defrauded a charity.) This was the same guy. He had catfished me. Again.

For those lucky enough to not know what catfishing is, the definition I found online is “lure (someone) into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona.” That pretty much sums it up. This time I didn’t let him get away without giving him a piece of my mind. We had never met in person before so he didn’t know he was caught. (Who was the fish now??) I told him he looked nothing like his picture and he gave some lame excuse like “My kids don’t know I’m dating, so I use a different picture.” I spent the next twenty minutes trying to see if I could get him to be honest with me. I was actually kind of fascinated to hear from this supposed good member of the church. The funny thing is that even after I outed him, he still wanted to go out again. I laughed and told him I had no interest in someone who has no integrity. He later emailed another lame excuse and apology.

Which brings me to my third tip: If you’re looking at online profiles and you see only one picture and it looks professional, keep moving. Or better yet, report that person to the site. He or she is most likely catfishing. And if you do agree to date someone, if you don’t know them outside of the online realm, meet them in a public place the first time. Don’t invite someone to your home unless you can vouch for them some other way, like they’re in your friend’s ward, or dated someone you know, etc.

However you meet someone, you’ll find that many people carry some fairly heavy duty baggage. I’m not saying that’s only us divorced folks. It makes sense that these exist in married people as well, but we don’t often hear about their problems because we have no need to. I’ve met men with sex addictions, porn addictions, and drug/alcohol addictions. These are some pretty serious issues that cannot be disregarded when you’re looking for a potential mate. Thankfully, most people are fairly open about these issues so you can make decisions with all of the information.

I’m not saying don’t date people with these addictions. Some are in recovery and have been clean for a long time. Others are still actively engaging in them. This is where you have to use logic and the Spirit to guide you. I would not date someone who is actively using anything. I am also extremely cautious of men who are in recovery, especially because I have young children in my home. I cannot risk exposing them to use of any substances and the effects they bring. For example, I dated a fellow once that had a DUI not many months previously and was now required to blow into a breathalyzer in his vehicle before he could drive anywhere. That was an interesting date. If I didn’t have children, I might consider taking that kind of challenge on. With children, it’s a nonstarter. There are too many risks inherent there. So my tip would be: Stay emotionally detached long enough to know what this potential partner is dealing with. Do not allow emotion to cloud your judgment. Then once you have gathered the important information, use logic and the Spirit. If you have a history of dating someone with addictions, is it really a good idea to take it on?

If you happen to have your own addiction, please share this at the appropriate time, before you become emotionally involved and might be tempted to hide it. If you don’t want to share, stop dating the person. It’s not fair to get involved with someone who doesn’t have a complete picture of you. This also applies to major mental or physical illness, extreme debt, or any other big challenge you’re dealing with.

Last tip. Have fun. As my counselor told me when I expressed anxiety because I had met a good guy and was worried about being hurt, “Don’t catastrophize! Just take it one date at a time.” Yes, there is a lot to be cautious about. There are a lot of potential potholes, but this is also a chance to get out and have fun! Go to dances and get out on the dance floor with your buddies and don’t worry about whether you dance the slow dances. Go to activities, play games, socialize, and make new friends of both sexes. You need friends. They are more important than who you’re currently dating.

Don’t share your whole life story including your divorce nightmare on your first date. Be light. Be yourself. Don’t worry about where the date will take you. Be a good listener. Observe. Be discerning. Say a little prayer before you go out and after you get home. Keep the Lord with you and have a positive attitude and you’ll survive the post-divorce dating jungle and even have some fun along the way.

(Also published on Meridian Magazine at https://ldsmag.com/a-survival-guide-to-dating-after-divorce/ )

How I Turned a Difficult Child Around by Turning Myself Around

For those of you that know me, you know that I’ve been trying, and mostly failing, to ‘fix’ a tough kid for quite some time. For many years now, one of my daughters has been calling me names, having major temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her own way, bullying her sisters, hitting me, biting me, occasionally threatening me with a knife, and for a while was telling me she wanted to kill me. The death threats were so frequent that I began thinking about Princess Bride-“I’ll most likely kill you in the morning,” the Dread Pirate Roberts would tell Wesley every night-whenever she would make them. They were mostly amusing because she was pretty young. I don’t think I would have been laughing if she was 16.

Like any good (and desperate) parent, I began looking for help. I went to classes about dealing with “strong willed” children. I read books recommended to me by the instructors of the class, books recommended by special ed teachers, and other books that sounded like they would apply to my situation. I started her in counseling. I was in counseling. I finally took her to be psychologically tested. Intermittent Explosive Disorder was what they diagnosed her with. That’s right. IED. Seemed appropriate. After all, she would often go off like an Improvised Explosive Device.

So now I had a diagnosis and recommendations. They included family counseling. Already doing that. Getting her into sports or other activities she likes to help her boost her self-esteem. Check. And a few other things I can’t remember off the bat, but I did them all. Things continued to escalate. In case you don’t know, I’m a single mom of three daughters ages 7, 8, and almost 10. Things get a bit hairy around the house on the best of days. When she would ‘explode’ things got downright scary.

To give you a picture of what things were like, things would usually heat up in the mornings. For whatever reason “A” (I’ll call her A because all of my girls’ names start with an A) would refuse to get dressed, eat breakfast, or whatever. I would insist. She would yell at me. I would yell back at her. She would then lunge at me or run away and I would chase her down and make her do whatever it was she wasn’t doing. I would inevitably get called a name, a sister would most likely get screamed at, and maybe hit by her, and once I got her out the door for school, I would spend 30 minutes crying or tearing my hair out because of how miserable the morning was.
One low point came when I told A she couldn’t take her phone to school the next day. She yelled at me and I yelled back. She yelled some more. I told her the windows were open and the neighbors would hear us. Didn’t matter. The yelling continued. On this occasion it was mostly her. Everyone calms down and gets ready for bed. About 30 minutes later, there’s pounding at the front door. It’s the police. My first thought is there’s a criminal on the loose and they’re warning the neighborhood. Nope. Somebody called in a domestic disturbance because they thought a man was yelling at a woman. Not sure who the man in the scenario was supposed to be. They saw that I was fine. Talked to A for a few minutes and then left. That night was also memorable because it was my birthday. (That’s one of the reasons I’m determined to go to Maui for my birthday this year. I need a re-do!)

After we started on a second counselor and things were still not improving, I decided to go the medication route. The counselor wholeheartedly agreed. I took A to a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. She recommended genetic testing, which we did. It revealed a few things such as the fact that A is kind of opposite of ADHD. She gets hyper focused on things. I can see that because she obsesses about something new about every week. She had a few other things going on that gave the PNP enough info that she was able to give a somewhat tepid recommendation for a medication. I said “Let’s try it!” Anything was welcome at this point. So we started her on a low dose.

Right around this time, I posted on Facebook asking friends what they did to not take things their children said in anger personally. (Part of my problem was that I have a history of being verbally abused by a few people in my past, which mostly included being called names. This would make it very difficult for me to handle it when A called me names. I was seeing a counselor to help me deal with this, but it was still a huge problem for me.)

There were some great responses to my Facebook post. One was to read a book called ‘The Anatomy of Peace’ by The Arbinger Institute. This was a fabulous book that teaches you how to see other people as people and not just impediments. Another friend recommended an article on www.ahaparenting.com entitled ‘Getting Strong-Willed Kids to Cooperate without Punishment.’ There was quite a bit of good information in this article and the author, Dr. Laura Markham, recommended her book ‘Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids,’ for more information. I wanted more information! So I ordered the book.

That book was a game changer. I read it and began implementing her recommendations and the drama in the house has gone down significantly! So much so that I backed A off of her medication (which had never been up to a therapeutic dose and so probably wasn’t making a difference) and when I told the PNP what I was doing with A and why, she told me that most parents take years or never get to the point where I was at with my parenting and that I should teach seminars because I explained it so well. I showed her the book. She recommended that we back A off of the medication and see how it goes. She told me that medication is a last ditch effort and that what I was doing was far superior. Yay me!

So what am I doing? Well, I changed my parenting radically. The book talks about ‘The Three Big Ideas.’ I call them the three Cs. I’m going to lay them out for you and explain how they helped me. I am also going to vlog about this for those that like video. But I highly recommend that you buy and read the book. Mark it up, take notes. Make it your parenting bible. (And no, I don’t get a cut of the sales or anything. I just love the book and want everyone to have the success I’ve had!)

You can buy it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Peaceful-Parent-Happy-Kids-Connecting/dp/0399160280/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1517693098&sr=8-1&keywords=peaceful+parent+happy+kids

The Three C’s
The first C is Calm. Or Regulating Yourself. This means that when we are parenting, we stay calm because we regulate our own emotions. Kids will push our buttons. They are particularly skilled and qualified to do this. As Dr. Markham says, if you have buttons that are being pushed you need to excavate them. You need to develop mindfulness. This means being able to feel an emotion without acting on it. Not only does this allow us to keep things from escalating when kids misbehave, but it also models to our children how to handle their emotions.

There is a lot of great specific advice in the book on how to learn to regulate your emotions. Like not taking action when you’re triggered. And nurturing ourselves. We all come into parenting with childhood issues. We need to notice when we’re triggered and why. We need to talk ourselves through those emotions instead of acting on them.

As I mentioned, I was being triggered by A calling me names. The book taught me not to take that personally as it had nothing to do with me. It was A’s way of showing that she wasn’t getting some need met. I learned to stay calm when she exploded and to walk away when I couldn’t stay calm. I did a lot of inner work on myself and addressed some old childhood issues that came popping up. I began nurturing myself. The book says, “You deserve all the tenderness you would shower on a newborn baby. Giving that love to ourselves transforms our parenting—and our lives.” In other words, we need to parent ourselves. If we didn’t feel unconditional love growing up, we need to offer that love to ourselves now.

Another great point Dr. Markham makes is that every decision we make in life is based on love or fear. We need to make every decision—especially parenting decision—from love. Love for ourselves and love for our kids.

So I now stay calm most of the time when A explodes. I mess up occasionally like we all do, but I apologize, forgive myself and move on. The calmness keeps things from escalating. A temper tantrum that would’ve lasted 10 minutes and included yelling and maybe getting physical, now lasts less than a minute and doesn’t include me yelling or anyone getting physical. (She still yells, but I allow her to get it off her chest and she gets over it quickly and moves on.)

The second C is Connection. This means that you are connecting with your child on a meaningful basis daily so that she knows that you love her unconditionally, big emotions and all. The idea behind this is that if your child knows that you adore her and think the world of her, she will want to behave. She will want to please you, emulate you, and be close to you. If you think about it, don’t we all want that? Don’t we all deserve and yearn to have someone that loves us no matter what and believes that we are the greatest thing since sliced bread?
(I feel like the parent that this book helps us to become is the ideal parent that any of us would have loved to have! For those who watch ‘This is Us,’ this parent resembles Jack. As you read about the three C’s you can picture a loving, kind, helpful, supportive parent that rarely loses their cool and is always there with a kind word and gentle course correction. Maybe some of you had that or are already intuitively that kind of parent. If so, congratulations! If not, we can do our best to give that gift to our own kids.)

One of the best ways to connect with our kids is through what Dr. Markham calls Special Time. This is where you spend 15 minutes of one-on-one time with your child doing what they want to do. You turn off your phone and focus solely on this child. Play is a great way to spend this time. This lets the child know that they are important to you and gives them a chance to express themselves to you. This is a great bonding time and something children hunger for. I started doing this with all three of my girls, though they usually get 10 minutes since there are three of them and time is usually short.

Another way to connect is through frequent hugs. My youngest child used to sing “Four hugs a day, that’s the minimum,” in kindergarten. I found out from reading this book that there was a study which showed that people need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day to thrive. So I make sure I am hugging them as often as I can. They love it. And I love it. It’s a win-win. Often when A begins a meltdown, I will grab her and put her on my lap and hug her. This will usually get a positive response. One of the things the book mentions is that when kids ‘misbehave’ it’s because they are not feeling connected to you.

The Third C is Coaching, not Controlling. If you’ve ever read any parenting books where they break down parenting style into four types, you’ve heard of Neglectful, Authoritarian, Permissive, and Authoritative. Dr. Markham points out that Authoritative is the best way. Or as she calls it ‘loving guidance.’ This means not trying to make your children behave. That includes not using punishment.

It’s a hard concept, but one that totally rings true to me. As your children get bigger, you can no longer pick them up and carry them into timeout. (Unless you want to risk injuring yourself or your kid.) The more you try to punish, the bigger the stick you need. Or if you’re using rewards, the bigger the carrot. Coaching, on the other hand, allows you to set empathetic limits. If you are staying calm and connected, the child will want to behave for you. They are motivated to please you. This motivation comes from the inside rather than from an external force (i.e. you) making them do something.

There is a section in the book that lists all of the reasons that punishment doesn’t work, and actually makes the child less likely to behave. One thing that punishment ignores is that children are ‘misbehaving’ because they aren’t getting something they need (like connection with you), or they are feeling some big scary emotions they don’t know how to deal with. The book teaches how to ‘emotion coach’ our kids. This allows us to help them deal with their emotions so they can regulate themselves instead of continuing to act out. Regulating their emotions is a big step towards having emotional intelligence, or resilience, which is the foundation that will help your child succeed in life. (The book spends a lot of time on emotional intelligence and how to teach it to our children.)

So if we emotion coach our children instead of punishing them, we teach them to regulate themselves over the long run. This makes them easier to parent. I find this to really apply to difficult kids. A does much better when I allow her a lot of latitude. I give her as much control over her life as I can. When she acts out, I help her deal with her emotions. I do this in a few ways. The book goes into detail on emotion coaching, but a few ways are: helping your child giggle or cry. Both allow her to release a lot of tension. Giggling can be done with playful roughhousing, tickling, etc. Helping her to get past her anger to tears can be done by holding the child and looking at her with empathy while setting limits. (I really recommend reading about this in detail in the book.)

Tears release stress. Seven minutes of crying reduces stress by 40 percent. I can attest to this from my own experience! Usually you can catch your kid early enough to produce giggles, but if they’re too rigid and unable to work with you at all, tears may be the best way to release the built up emotions. Either way, once the child has released the big emotions, they are done with misbehaving and ready to get back on an even keel.

I give A special time, lots of hugs, stay calm most of the time, and do my best to coach her through her tantrums. As you might have noticed, these actions were all taken by me to change my own behavior. I didn’t try to change A. I can’t change another person in a meaningful way. I can only change myself. Once I learned to regulate my own emotions and stay calm (probably the hardest C for me) things changed dramatically. A still has tantrums from time to time, but they are much less frequent and don’t escalate. We also have a closer relationship and a more peaceful home. (As peaceful as a home can be that has three children!)

This kind of parenting is a lot of work and takes a lot of time, but it is well worth it! After all, parenting is the most important thing we will do in this life. Its effects have eternal ramifications. And they affect the here and now. Not only are we raising children to become healthy, happy, self-fulfilled adults, but we are creating a happy, peaceful home now.

I hope you took something away from this and will pick up the book and give this method a try.
A

(Also Published on Meridian Magazine a https://ldsmag.com/how-i-turned-a-difficult-child-around-by-turning-myself-around/)

Here is my vlog on The Three Cs: