Posts Tagged ‘behavior’

The Blame Game

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
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I’ve been told by numerous people on numerous occasions that I apologize too much.

My first response to their words is usually “I’m sorry,” which is just proof of what I’ve always known: my mouth often engages before my brain does.

But, to be honest, I’ve never understood their concern.  Many times, I’m simply conveying sympathy – as in “I’m sorry you are having to deal john burroughs quotewith this situation.”

At other times, I’m admitting my imperfections and mistakes.

That’s how I was raised.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents never engaged in guilt parenting. They did, however, set expectations that my brother and I understood consequences and accepted responsibility for our words and actions.

I’ve held on to a memory of my mother complaining about an individual for whom she held very little respect.  “There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes,” Mom said. “Everyone makes mistakes.  But you are likely to create more problems when you don’t  take responsibility for your mistakes.”

Of everything my mom has said, those words have probably had the greatest impact.

I’ve lived by them, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that I have a difficult time understanding people who never take responsibility for their mistakes.

Sometimes, though, I do feel as though I should apologize for those feelings., especially because I’m a social worker who shouldn’t judge others.

I work for an absolutely wonderful organization with a mission to reduce poverty and advocate for people who are struggling. The stories my co-workers and I hear on a daily basis are often heart-breaking. Life is unfair, and we serve people who generally draw the short straw.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an elderly woman apologize for even walking through our doors or listened to individuals who have nowhere to go because they have aged out of the social service system after being abandoned by parents who were abusive or addicts or simply had no interest in their children.  We see people with no support system and few resources who are doing their best to live  one day to the next and to contribute what they can.

Just last week, I was handed an envelope with a dollar bill, a few nickels and a handful of pennies. It was given to us by a gentleman who had received hygiene and cleaning supplies from our  personal care closet. He couldn’t give much, but he gave something.

Unfortunately, we also see people who take no responsibility for their situation and instead want to blame others.

Sometimes they blame their employer for firing them, Sometimes they blame a diagnosis of anger management issues for losing their temper at work and therefore losing their job. And sometimes, they blame staff at my organization for disrespecting them when we  ask about changes they might make to improve their circumstances.

My co-workers and I get frustrated with such individuals – not because they are angry with us but because, for some reason, they think admitting to mistakes is a weakness rather than a strength.

We try to change their perspective, but we often fail.  Despite that, we won’t give up on anyone who walks through our doors. Our personal support systems never gave up on us, never allowed us to sell ourselves short and, most importantly, taught us the importance of both accepting responsibility and learning from our mistakes.

I want to provide those same gifts to others, especially my own children, who I  hope will someday appreciate them.

In the meantime, I will never apologize for my belief that we can only move forward when we accept all of the missteps we’ve made and decide to take steps in a different direction instead.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Wednesday, October 8, 2014
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I admit it.

I’m not overly engaged in my children’s education.

To be honest, I’m not very engaged at all.

If you want to say that makes me a horrible parent, feel free. If you want to silently judge me, feel free to do that too.

But here’s the deal: no one but my husband and I are the parents of my children. No one but my husband and I have worried about our children since before they were born, witnessed all of their imperfections and would give our lives for theirs in a heartbeat.

In other words, I’ve reached that point in my life when I’ve realized that being an imperfect parent in the eyes of other adults is much healthier than attempting to be the wrong parent in the eyes of my kids.

And the last thing my children need is my interference in their education. They know my expectations and they know their capabilities, and they’ve done fine in school without me.

Since the time they were in first grade, my children have rarely asked for help with their homework, and I rarely know when they have a test. We’ve had an occasional bump in the road, but compared to stories I’ve heard from other parents, my children are doing just fine in school.

I like to think they are extremely conscientious kids who have a great deal of initiative, but the truth is they learned a long time ago that doing their school work independently was less torturous than dealing with a mom who would obsess over every paper they turned in and every grade they received.

My husband, who never worried much bout grades during his own education and, in most people’s eyes, has been much more successful professionally than I have been, is completely on board with our family’s “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy.

The only time I’m supposed to ask about school performance is when I get an interim or quarterly report card, and the only time my children are expected to tell me about their grades is when the either get straight A’s or are giving me an explanation for anything less.

I used to think my rather laissez faire attitude about their education was great preparation for college, when they really will be completely responsible for ensuring they study and meet deadlines

Then, last month, I had a rude awakening.

My daughter was complaining that she didn’t like her West Virginia studies class. Initially, I thought she was complaining about the subject matter. But the more I listened to her, the more I realized that she simply didn’t like having to actually study to get the grade she wanted.

School has always come easy to her, and the real reason I’ve never really provided much help has little to do with her or her brother’s motivation and more to do with their abilities.

Not to brag, but I have smart kids.

Let me rephrase that.

My kids are a great deal smarter than I am or every was.

They don’t ask for my help with their class work because I can’t really provide any insight or input that exceeds their capabilities or academic capacity.

On the rare occasion when they’ve actually asked for my input, I have more questions than answers, which they find extremely annoying.

And, on the rare occasion when I feel that I have to provide input in order to earn my “good parent” badge, I been completely ineffective.

But what I can do is regularly challenge them to think for themselves, question the status quo and keep an open mind.

As long as they both do that, I’ll remain comfortable with my less than stellar performance as a parent in the eyes of others.

And as long as long as my children don’t tell me they have a problem with that, then I’m certainly not going to ask.

 

Wasted

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
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As a band mom, I experience high school football from a different perspective than most people.wasted

First, I never actually get to see a home game. I only have a sense of what’s happening based on the roar of the crowd. That’s because I’m too busy serving up nachos and Mountain Dew to even get a glimpse of the game.

On the flip side, I get some insight into the secret lives of teenagers.

That’s because, with the exception of my children’s friends, no one pays the least bit of attention to the middle-aged woman taking their food orders and their money.

I’m grateful that I often witness generosity. Many teens are more than willing to hand money to the stranger ahead of them in line who bought more food than he/she could afford. They are also inclined to throw their extra change into the band boosters donation bucket.

While I’m impressed with these gestures, I also wonder if they even value the money they are so willing giving to others.

I’m not just being cynical.

That’s because, as a band mom, I’m generally one of the last people to leave the football stadium. Band boosters are responsible for cleaning the mess people leave behind, and we are often there long after the last of the fans are gone. What they leave behind isn’t pretty. To quote another band parent after the homecoming game last Friday night “people are complete slobs.”

While I agreed with her, I was struck by another thought. “People are so wasteful.”

I’ve been shocked at the dozens of nearly full bottles of blue and red Gatorade ($2.00 each at the concession stand) that were left in the women’s bathroom.  Pizza, hot dogs and nachos are left half eaten in the stands, and the trash cans also overflow with the same.

My parents never told me I had to eat everything on my plate because there were starving children in Africa, but they did expect that I wouldn’t waste food.  If you didn’t plan to eat something, you didn’t put it on your plate and you certainly didn’t buy it.  And if your eyes were bigger than your stomach, you packed up the food and took it home for later.

Maybe I’m getting old and maybe my memory is faulty, but I certainly don’t remember people wasting food like they do now, especially in a time when food insecurity has been in the spotlight.

Volunteer backpack organizations are constantly seeking donations so they can send food home with low-income children. Food pantries often run low on staples and many churches offer meals for those who can’t afford them.

And yet people at high school football games seem to buy food only to throw it away as though it has no value.

A part of me wonders if any hungry children attend those games and look with disbelief at all the waste. Another part of me recognizes that most hungry children probably can’t afford the price for a high school football game, not to mention the transportation to and from it. They certainly aren’t among the teens who hand me $20 and even $50 bills on a Friday night with the knowledge they will go home to a refrigerator full of food.

Many kind-hearted, caring people go out of their way to ensure others don’t go hungry, but we are somehow failing to address the other side of the same coin: waste and greed.

My children have been asked to participate in countless food drives, but I’m not sure they’ve ever been taught the actual value of food.

And while I’m trying to follow in my parents footsteps and  teach that food is a resource just like money and our environment, I fear all I’ve done is to teach my children to enjoy food and that my efforts are, well, wasted.

Schedule, What Schedule?

Friday, September 26, 2014
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Am I the only one who was delusional about babies and routines? When I was pregnant, I imagined my maternity leave on a daily schedule. Every day would have set walks, playtime, naptime and feeding times. Every night would have a set bedtime. I thought I would have time every day to cook dinner and get some things done around the house. I even thought I might tackle some of my long put-off projects and personal goals.

I quickly learned that newborns have a schedule of their own. I’m now learning that it will be a while before I can expect AJ to be on a schedule at all. And my hopes of completing those projects gathering dust in my house and brain? I now call it a successful day if I have time to unload the dishwasher.

AJ was eating every three hours almost on the dot for about two weeks. Then she had a growth spurt, and would go an hour and twenty-two minutes and need fed again, then it would be three hours and fifty-two minutes, and so on, driving my structured-minded-self crazy. Now the times she eats differ day to day.

Some days she sleeps almost all day, while others she doesn’t nap at all. We will have three or four days of almost no crying, and then a whole day is spent in tears.

If I wake up wanting to go somewhere by 11, I’m lucky if I can get us there by 2. There is always a diaper blowout, unscheduled feeding or random cry that puts a kink in my plans.

We are currently trying to set a bedtime, which has gone about as well as everything else I’ve tried to do on a schedule.

I thought I was the only one struggling with this until the topic came up while catching up with a friend. We realized we were both going through the same thing. Although I feel for every mom struggling with this, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

I know eventually AJ will get on a schedule. It will be when she’s ready, not when I am. So for now I’ve decided to (try to) embrace the spontaneity of each day.

I’m learning new things every day as a mom, flexibility being the latest.

A Messy Situation

Wednesday, September 24, 2014
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I absolutely despise the phrase “I told you so.”

But then, I can’t imagine anyone actually likes hearing words that generally follow a bad decision, a poor choice or some unfortunate situation.

Sometimes, even when they remain unspoken, I know I deserve to hear them.

And sometimes, I am saying them to myself.

Now that I have two teenagers living under my roof, I find myself saying those words to myself over and over again, just as a friend warned me years ago.

At the time, one of my many job responsibilities was teaching adolescent development and parenting. I thought I was an expert as I spouted facts about concrete versus abstract thinking, risky behavior and setting boundaries.

In reality, all I knew was what I had read and what I had been taught, neither of which can replace genuine experience when it comes to human behavior or raising kids.

A friend tried to point this out to me when my son was just a toddler. I had been quoted in a newspaper article about carefully picking battles with teenagers. I specifically told parents not to waste time and energy fighting over messy bedrooms as teenagers should be allowed to be in control of some parts of their lives, including personal space.

“You are going to look back at that article some day and laugh at yourself,” my friend said.

I told her I wouldn’t.

I was wrong.

When my son turned 13 and his bedroom began to resemble destruction left in wake of a tornado, he came up with his own solution to my constant griping. He asked if he could move into the bedroom in the basement, which we already called the kid cave. His dad and I agreed, and I thought the bedroom battle was resolved.

I was wrong again.

My daughter, who once took pride in keeping her room neat and organized, has apparently been taking notes from her brother. As her room grows messier and more chaotic by the day and the contents of her room are now spilling out into the hallway, my complaints have grown louder and more frequent. They’ve also fallen on deaf ears.

Even as I tell myself I am fortunate to be battling with my daughter over such a minor issue, I am also aware that I’m not following my own naive yet somehow sensible advice: pick your battles so you have the time and energy to deal with the major issues.

Since I haven’t listened,  the battle is starting to wear me down. I have also become convinced that my daughter is simply laying the groundwork to take over the basement as soon as her brother graduates from high school.

I’m telling myself that will never happen, but something tells me I may also be wrong.

Which means I will once again be telling myself “I told you so.”

Career Counseling

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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I have two teenagers in my house, which means two people question my intelligence on a daily basis.

The years are long gone when my children thought I could bestow gems of great wisdom upon them or provide an answer that would make all things right again.

Their desire for my input has changed so much in the past few years that now I’m almost grateful when they ask me for anything but money.

And when they actually do seek my opinion, I want my words to be meaningful and memorable.

Unfortunately, that isn’t working out for me.

Take, for example, the other evening when my daughter asked me what career she should choose. Her question was preceded with an explanation that a few of her I eighth grade comrades have already decided. One, she told me, wants a job like Penelope’s on the television show Criminal Minds.

I was briefly distracted from the conversation by the thought that such role models as Penelope didn’t exist when I was growing up, and I wished I had known about that career option. But my distraction didn’t last long as I was drawn back into the conversation by Kendall’s insistence that I provide some clear career advice.

The best I could give her was, “Find something you love to do.”

That answer is one of the many reasons my children constantly question my intelligence. It’s the kind of answer that teenagers would consider “lame” if they actually used that word anymore.

And so, my daughter persisted.

“No, really Mom,” she said. “What should I be?”

I couldn’t give her a better answer.

Just that day I had been sitting in my office with my board chair discussing various issues related to my work for a non-profit, social service agency. I had launched into yet another passionate commentary about how to better help the people for whom we provide services while she listened attentively. When I was finally silent she said, “You are one of the lucky ones.”

Apparently, I had a confused look on my face because she added, “You have a job in which your values, your beliefs and your spirituality are all part of what you do every day. Few people are as lucky,”

She then told me about a former youth group leader at her church whose profession was building bombs.

“He lived in a perpetual state of conflict,” she said. “But he had to feed his family.”

I appreciated her comments. I didn’t mention that most of the jobs I’ve had could barely feed my family and that I’m extremely fortunate to have a husband who also works. Instead, I thought about the strange and twisted path that has become my career. I didn’t even know that the work I do was a career option when I was my daughter’s age. But somehow, through a series of both personal decisions and life events, I have landed where I am.

And I couldn’t be happier.

And that’s also why I couldn’t provide my daughter with a better response to what kind of career she should pursue. I don’t know how relevant my, or any other person’, input should be. She has so many choices to make and so make events to still experience.

What I really wanted to say was “Get an education in a field that interests you and  experience life as much as you possibly can. If you do both, your career will fall into place. Even if you don’t always have a job you love, you’ll have the foundation for an amazing life.”

I would have said that to her, but I know she would have  given me  a classic Kendall look that can only be defined as a mix of pity and frustration.

And so, all I could do was repeat what I had already told her  - make a decision based on her own interests and skills.

She still wasn’t satisfied with my answer, but I knew that giving her a list of professions wasn’t really going to help.

I also knew that someday she’ll recognize that maybe, just maybe, her mother was smarter than she once thought.

Late nights (part 2)

Friday, September 5, 2014
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I actually looked up the definition of tired in the dictionary. My thought was, “I don’t think tired accurately describes what I’m feeling right now; what does good old Merriam-Webster have to say about it?” The first definition for tired reads, “Feeling a need to rest or sleep.” That’s the kind of tired I felt pre-baby.

Another definition reads, “Drained of strength and energy: fatigued often to the point of exhaustion.” YES – that’s the kind of tired I am now. Drained of strength and energy.

I reread my post Late nights (part 1) before I started on this one. I was definitely losing sleep then, but there are several significant differences to pre- and post- baby sleep loss.

Before when I was awake, I didn’t have to be alert. Even if my mind was racing, I could lie there in half-consciousness and slowly fall back asleep. Now, when I am awake I have to be alert. Diaper changes, feedings, carrying, soothing and sometimes cleaning up messes require attentiveness and energy. It’s not like getting on Facebook or reading a book if you can’t sleep; it’s hard work.

Before when I wasn’t sleeping, I knew eventually I would be able to catch up on my sleep. I could take a nap the next day, or by the next night I would be so tired I would fall asleep despite being uncomfortable. Now, I have to be up every few hours despite how tired I am, and it is non-stop. There is no catch-up night where I can sleep for a solid eight hours.

Newborns need to eat at least every three to four hours. That’s measured from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of another. In the first week, AJ ate every one and half to two hours and each feeding took about 30 to 45 minutes. And she never went immediately back to sleep when she was done. That doesn’t leave much room for momma to catch any sleep.

When she did sleep, I could not. My mind was full of worries (and frankly will always be). Is she breathing? What does that noise mean? And so on.

Full of those worries, every time she makes a peep, I wake up. Often, she will fuss until Chris or I pick her up and hold her; our arms are her favorite sleeping spot. They say you cannot spoil a baby by picking her up to stop a cry; but if you can, we are getting close.

While I have not slept for more than a three-hour stretch since AJ was born, the good news is it has already gotten better. We have some bad nights and some good nights, but she normally goes about three hours between feedings now and eats much quicker. And I am a tiny bit more relaxed, so I’m able to fall asleep if she is asleep. Chris is always willing to stay up with her if she is crying or fussy, even when he has to work the next day. We are both slowly adjusting to life with less sleep.

I’ve heard tales of babies sleeping six hours at a time when they are a few months old. Six hours of uninterrupted sleep would be a dream come true. I know we’ll get there eventually, but for now pass the coffee.

The Bright Side of Sibling Struggles

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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If I were a great parent, I would have taken appropriate action when my son told my daughter to shut up. I didn’t take any action, which means I’m not a great parent or a very good referee.

The problem is that my ability to see shades of grey is magnified when it comes to my children.siblings

I didn’t like my son saying “shut up,” but I also knew that “please be quiet,” wouldn’t have gotten him anywhere. And where he wanted to go was away from his sister’s loud and persistent singing.

Don’t get me wrong.

My daughter is a wonderful singer. She was born singing. When she started daycare, the teachers said they always knew where Kendall was because they simply followed her song.

Not much has changed over the past decade, which is exactly why Shep reached his limit and  yelled “shut up.”

His sister, on the other hand, had every reason to be belting songs at the top of her lungs. She  has an audition for a musical  on Saturday and she was trying out every piece of music she thought would be appropriate.

Since I understood both of them,  I couldn’t take sides. What I could do was  sympathize with both of them, and that’s the path I chose to take.

It may not have been the direction for which parenting experts advocate, and it certainly didn’t do much for creating peace in my house. But I like to think it provided my children with a glimpse of the real world.

In the real world, people have different priorities, and sometimes those priorities conflict. We have to figure out a way to live together anyway.

In the real world, we know that music  may touch the soul, but the same tune affects everyone differently. We have to let others dance to their own beat just as we dance to ours.

And in the real world, maintaining general happiness in life requires deciding when to fight for what you want and when to walk away. The best decisions are the ones that take into account the perspective of others.

I may not have given my children the gift of having the world’s most wise or  patient mother, but I did give my kids what I consider one of the world’s greatest gifts.  I gave them a sibling with whom they have many of the same conflicts they will soon have to face with roommates, co-workers, spouses and maybe even their own children.

And I also like to think that someday, in the distant future, they might  actually appreciate that gift.

All the Cries

Friday, August 29, 2014
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Babies cry. Everyone knows this. Baby cries have never bothered me. Not on an airplane, not at the grocery store, not in a restaurant. I hardly notice a baby crying unless it’s in a very silent place (like church). When I do notice, it doesn’t annoy or upset me; I feel more for the parent trying to console his or her baby than anything else.

So I’d say I was significantly unprepared for how much I would be affected by my own baby crying. Her cries break my heart. I can hear her from anywhere in the house. If I’m sleeping, and she so much as makes a little coo, I wake up. And can’t go back to sleep, even if I’ve just fed her and it’s dad’s turn to soothe her. My mind races: Does she need me? What’s wrong? What does she need? I guess it’s that motherly instinct kicking in. One whimper and my senses shoot to attention, ready to meet her every need (if I can figure it out).

The baby books say you’ll be able to decipher your baby’s cries and respond based on what they need. Only in the last couple days have I started to notice different patterns of crying and sometimes been able to soothe her by meeting the need of her cry.

A single ‘wah’ is a cry not to be taken seriously; it comes out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly. I try not to let this cry bother me.

‘Ack, ack, ack’ is her tired cry. When she starts crying like this, I’ve learned it’s best to just hold her in my arms and be quiet and still. Eventually, she’ll doze off.

‘WaUH, waUH, waUH’ is her hungry cry; feed immediately or face the consequences.

‘Grunt wah, grunt wah’ means it’s time for a diaper change. But don’t change immediately; the grunts tend to come back after five minutes of silence.

‘Sob sob, whimper whimper.’ That’s her…oh wait, that’s ME crying. Hormones, exhaustion, hunger, not being able to figure out what your baby needs…there are many reasons new moms cry.

‘WAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH AHHHHHH WAHHHHHHHH’ is the worst cry of all, impossible to interpret and inconsolable. It’s this cry that makes me shed my own tears and hurts my heart the most. This cry comes at any time and lasts for a long time. Earlier this week, it lasted for three hours. I’ve tried everything I know to console her, and nothing works. I dread this cry. When she cries this way, my emotions range from sad to frustrated to desperate to sad again.

At her two-week checkup this week, the doctor said AJ has the symptoms of acid reflux. This may be why she has the terrible cries. I had acid reflux while I was pregnant, and it made me want to scream for hours on end too. I’m following various instructions to try to soothe her reflux. I also was given the go ahead to give her a pacifier, which has worked wonders.

Soothing her reflux may help, but the fact of the matter is, babies cry. Sometimes they cry for what seems like no reason. I won’t always know why she’s crying or be able to soothe her. I know this, like everything, is a phase, and we will get through it together. Holding her and comforting her is the best thing I can do, even if it doesn’t stop her crying. As I’m sure any mom knows, hearing your own child cry is worlds different than hearing a stranger’s baby cry.

And on that note, I better wrap this up…I think I hear a hunger cry starting.

Poop, Spit Up and Tears – Baby’s First Week

Friday, August 22, 2014
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Taking a cue from news anchor Savannah Guthrie and sharing my no-makeup hospital photo

Taking a cue from news anchor Savannah Guthrie and sharing my no-makeup hospital photo

“Come watch how funny this is!” I said to my brother as little AJ grimaced. Squirt. Time for a diaper change. I took her over to the beautifully set changing table and began to take off her diaper. As I went to make the switch between dirty diaper and clean, SQUIRTTTT, out came another round. All over her new, white Pottery Barn changing pad, diaper caddy and changing table runner. All over her diaper pail. All over the carpet. All over me (brother was thankfully spared). We could barely contain our laughter. Looks like the joke was on me.

And so goes many similar moments in the first days of AJ’s life. My husband Chris and I have laughed often, slept little and loved more than words. Both AJ and I have shed tears. I’ve only been projected pooped on once twice.

My labor and delivery was quick and relatively routine. The nurses and staff at CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital are amazing and I owe them and my doctors a huge thank you. I would never have made it through without their caring and generosity.

I got the epidural I swore I would not get. I only realized after it was all over that I had a notion in the back of my mind that getting an epidural would be “taking the easy way out.” Trust me – there is NO easy way to birth a baby. After everything was said and done, I felt like a superhero at the end of a movie – beat up, barely alive, but I had just saved the world.

The first night at the hospital was by far the hardest. AJ cried almost all night and the only way to soothe her was to nurse, which neither of us knew how to do yet. She would only come close to sleeping while in my or Chris’s arms (still the case some nights). Come Wednesday morning, we were more than ready to get out of the hospital, go home and start our new life.

Nursing was difficult and frustrating to start. I could not have done it without the help of the lactation specialist at Women and Children’s. It’s still a heavy responsibility to bear, being the only one that can feed your child, but it gets significantly easier with each feed.

I wouldn’t dare say we’ve formed a schedule yet, but we have started to get into a semi-routine of feeding, cuddling, napping and trying to take care of ourselves. She feeds every two to three hours throughout the day and night, some days more regular than others. Diaper changes are almost constant, and we’ve learned that diapers need changed with speed similar to a NASCAR pit stop to avoid a mess on the changing table or ourselves. Sometimes she sleeps soundly in her bassinet, other times we stay up holding her in her rocking chair. Spit up has become my clothing’s constant accessory.

Although we’ve learned more about parenting in the last week and half than I could imagine, this is only the beginning. When she cries, we don’t always know how to soothe her. We don’t know if we are doing things the “right” way. But we are trying our hardest, and we love her more than we thought possible. Chris goes back to work on Monday, and I don’t know what I will do without him. I’ll face an entire new set of challenges taking care of her alone during the day. I do know I will cherish the first two weeks of AJ’s life for as long as I live; a time when the three of us had no obligations other than each other, when we began to learn to be a family.