I’m Not A Mom, I Can’t Understand.

“There comes some pressure in your mid-30s, and you think, ‘Am I going to have kids so I don’t miss out on something that other people really seem to love? Or is it that I really genuinely want to do this with my whole heart?’ I didn’t feel that my response was ‘yes’ to the latter. You have to really want to have kids, and neither of us did. So it’s just going to be me and Ellen and no babies — but we’re the best of friends and married life is blissful, it really is. I’ve never been happier than I am right now.” —Portia de Rossi

To have children or not to have children, a question (and pressure) that hit me like a mac truck when I turned 30. No one prepared me for the barrage of comments, assumptions, and attacks that awaited. I was also not prepared for my own painful ambivalence towards the issue.

This is not a post to  defend my decision (and my partner’s decision) to not have children.We have no need to explain how we arrived at the decision to not have children. I also feel no need to say things like, “There are a lot of ways to mother things.” I love my pets, but they are not children. I can leave them unattended for hours with no worry. I love my writing and my work, but I am not mothering them in the same way one mother’s a child.

I fully understand that the pressure to have children is not limited to those of us with partners. In fact, I’ve witnessed people become frantic when faced with a single person in their late thirties that does not have children. The expression, “Time is running out,” seems to slide out of peoples’ mouths without much consideration.

For me, the intensity around this topic turned way up when I reached thirty. I was presented with some panicked responses and some concerned responses. For the most part, the responses were well-intended. There was a period of time where my partner and I took the approach, “If it happens, it happens.” That is really no way for me to make such an important life decision. The thought, “What if it happens” kept sneaking into my mind.

My own ambivalence pushed me back into therapy. I begged my therapist to help me sort through this ambivalence around having children. I felt crazy for not desperately wanting what I was supposed to want. I love my therapist for patiently helping me arrive confidently at my current location. In my relationship with my partner, this involved a lot of honest communication about what we wanted for our lives.

To the shock, awe, and disbelief of some, this does not leave me feeling empty, purposeless, and with regret. I love children. I work with children every day. I love my nieces and nephews. I love watching my friends have children. I love the giggles and the joys these families experience. Most importantly, I love my life with my partner with all my heart.

There seem to be some themes related to parenthood.

-When I hear the phrase, “They don’t understand, they’re not parents” I think two things. One, you are correct. Two, if you want me to understand what life is like for you, please try and explain what it is like for you. I may not understand how it feels, but I can only truly understand my experiences. This leaves a lot of life for me to learn about.

-Each person/couple decides for their own reasons why they want to have children or not. It is not appropriate to assume you understand why. It is also none of your business.

-Some people/couples try desperately for years to have children. Please do not assume all people without children do not want children.

-There are a lot of ways to be parents. If you or your partner gave birth to your child that is incredible. But not every family is created that way. There are adopted families, step-families, blended families, half-siblings, foster families and more than I can list here. There is no hierarchy in terms of,”the best way to be a family.”

My philosophy: Do you love each other? Great! You’re family!

– A couple is a family even without children.

-It is not selfish to not want children. It might be the healthiest decision for the person/couple for reasons you do not know and you do not get to know. And, have you ever met a parent that wishes they had never had children?

-People who do not have children might still know how to love someone unconditionally. Do they know the kind of love a mother knows? I don’t know and neither do you. I’ve known some amazingly loving mothers and I’ve known mothers that have done horrible things to their children. Again, let us avoid making assumptions about what love is or means to an individual.

-I belong to one of the first generations where individuals/couples get to openly decide whether or not to have children. I literally had someone say to me, “You think you have a choice?” I answered, “Absolutely.” I appreciate that this is generational.

-Having children may have been the best thing that ever happened to you. I absolutely believe you and I am happy for you. I also believe that my life can be incredible without that experience.

-Yes, we are missing out on the experience of having children.  I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have children. Life is full of choices that lead down different paths.

-Some posit that I would be a conservative or have a deeper sense of purpose/faith if I had children. It was my experience working with at-risk youth that solidified my socialistic democratic orientation. Being around children makes me so liberal it’s ridiculous. I want them to have all the money and the resources. 

If you feel so inclined to remind me that I do not understand the life of a parent, I hope you are saying this because you want me to understand more about you and your life experiences and not because you want to make me feel badly about my life. I hope you are happy with your choices and I hope you wish the same for me.

“You don’t have to feel guilty or bad for loving your life exactly as it is. You are not weird, broken, or deficient as a woman for not having the desire to be a mother” –  My Therapist in 2013

A Enormous Bucket of Thanks.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you (so much) to the people that took the time last week to write a guest post for Sissy Beard. Each post, like each writer, received distinct feedback, shares, and likes. I feel incredibly privileged to have people in my life that are willing to contribute to this community. Moreover, each contributor had a unique perspective and articulated their ideas beautifully. I am lucky to know and share time with such exceptional people. 

The joy of including guest bloggers has me planning for the next round of contributors. It is so much more fun to share this platform than to do it alone. With that, I also appreciate the thoughts, suggestions, and ideas related to how I can make this blog better. Please keep the messages and comments coming. 

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend filled with good food, good love, and good laughter.

It is now time to gear up for more holiday time and I am reminded of The Muppet Christmas Carol, “It’s true, where ever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

Thank you.

So Much. Love.

Guest Post. As A Christian, I Feel Heartbroken All The Time.

Author: Una Henry

Opening Facebook is becoming more and more of a chore. The second I open it, I instantly regret it. I cringe as I read through my newsfeed. Social media has given us all instant access to a wide audience for our opinions, and the loudest opinions seem to have their origins in anger and fear.  Freedom of speech also means the freedom to think before speaking: to think about the repercussions of your thoughts; to think about the audience to whom your speaking; to think about whether your thoughts even need to be said.

I feel as though my Facebook feed is divided into two groups. The people I grew up going to church and Bible college with, and the people I’ve met since my undergraduate studies. I struggle because one group talks about how people are hurting and we need to help them, while the other oscillates between talking about nothing and talking about the things that make them angry. Sadly, it’s only a minority of Christians who seem to care about those who are hurting. In fact, supposed Christian leaders in our government are making moves to keep out those who do not share their faith.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, I watched as most of the people in my friends list changed their profile picture to reflect the French flag. However, I did not feel united in solidarity with these people, I found myself angry at their hypocrisy. I found myself angry that they cared about the deaths of people an ocean away, while ignoring the deaths of people of color in their own country. I found myself angry that if I tried to talk with them about this, I would be painted as “anti-cop”, “anti-patriotic,” or perhaps most hurtful to me, “ungodly.”

Hate is being spread throughout this country in the disguise of patriotism and faith. Therefore, when someone tries to call that hate for what it is, they are labeled as “unpatriotic” or “ungodly.” This makes fear, anger, and hate unassailable, for they stand on a foundation that cannot be questioned without defaming the character of those who dare question.

As a therapist, I understand the virtue and purpose of anger. It serves to protect us from hurt and fear. But anger is a sword. It can be used to protect or used to hurt others. It’s easy to get angry. It’s easy to stay angry. Letting go of anger; that’s a real challenge. It is a challenge to which it seems few are willing to rise.

When Jesus was asked which of the 10 commandments was the greatest he replied:

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31

It seems that people are ignoring the second by claiming the first. As if to say, “my priority is God and my faith, and as you do not share that faith, I owe you nothing.”

Be brave. Do the hard thing.  “For whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:31-46

 

 

Guest Post: Don’t Smile Until Christmas

Author: Kathy Eaton

Don’t smile until Christmas…

I am not sure where this piece of advice originated from but ask any teacher about it and they will probably laugh and say they have heard it. For a girl who grew up being able to locate her mom in a room by listening for her infectious laugh, not smiling in the classroom was an impossible option. I found that consistency and compassion are the greatest tools in my toolbox. Many students have complicated lives in and out of school that impact how they interact with their peers and teachers. Teaching that “perfect” lesson plan rarely goes as expected and the greater your connection is with your students, the smoother your ride is over the bumps.

Connecting with students is why you will see teachers helping out with after school activities, sporting events, field trips, and many other adventures. They see it as an opportunity to learn more about their students and see them outside the classroom. A teacher’s day is not over when the classroom door closes, and if you have ever sat at the dinner table with a teacher you will have evidence to support this. There is no way out, just listen!

Something that has always been special to me during my career in education are the stories that shape educators teaching philosophies. Each story is unique and I wanted to share part of mine:

While working on my Masters in Education a member of my cohort, Sarah, gave us a unique opportunity to hear Dr. Maya Angelou speak to Jackson Public School teachers at the local high school in Jackson, Michigan. Her message that evening was to inspire teachers to reach out and connect with their students. She talked about how different the life of a student could be with even just one advocate on their side. There was a point in the night where I experienced a sense of tunnel vision, her melodic voice seemed to be speaking only to me and validating why connections are so important in teaching. Dr. Angelou spoke about the challenges of educating students, many of whom had struggles at home that inhibited them from being fully present in the classroom. She said in order to be effective teachers need to find ways to connect to their students and asked each member in the audience to “be the rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.” I had read that quote from her before but hearing her speak it to an audience of educators with so much heart and compassion was inspirational. To this day, her message is a cornerstone of my teaching philosophy.

Teachers open their classroom door to a number of students each and every day. They can see who is having a rough day, who may need extra help, and what lesson may not be going as well as planned and needs to be adjusted in the moment! We have an education system that puts a lot of emphasis on test scores even though teaching is so much more. So, next time you see a news story about test scores, remember that is just one number on one day of a student’s life; the whole story happens on the other 179, or more, of the school year.

Now you know the whole story behind why the “don’t smile until Christmas” advice was not an option for me…I was following the inspirational message from Dr. Angelou to “be the rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” Be kind, hug a teacher (ask permission first!)

“Great teachers empathize with kids, respect them, and believe that each one has something special that can be built upon.” Ann Lieberman

“When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.” Dalai Lama

Guest Blog: There Are A Million Ways To Be A Good Mother

“The most important thing she’d learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one” – Jill Churchill

Author: The Word Contessa

I don’t profess to be a perfect mom, but I raised 4 great kids. I am proud of their individuality. Each is unique, but it’s the common qualities they share that are my validation I didn’t screw them up too much. I was a secondary teacher for 37 years and dedicated my professional life to kids…mine, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of others. And guess what? The ones I really like, the ones I click with? Teenagers!

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from my youngest child and only daughter. She said, “Mom, my friends like to talk to you. You just know what to say”. So, I’ll take that.

While there is an awful lot to share with young moms about those early years of surviving momhood with toddlers and early schoolers, the years that come into focus for me are the years with middle schoolers and high schoolers. Those teen years are when kids try to figure things out about themselves and their world. I considered myself extremely fortunate to be IN my kids’ world because I was at their school. That gave me exposure and access most parents don’t have. In fact, the time from my oldest’s first year of middle school to my youngest’s final year of high school spanned 16 years. I guess it’s a good thing I LIKED those years and that age group.

I read someone else’s description of age 9 as the “halftime” of raising kids. The “second half” certainly has its own challenges and joys and it brings an awareness that the clock is ticking toward the end of your daily in-the-same-house parenting role. It is a time of helping your kids establish a self-worth and self-direction that will live in them forever.

These are some of my “rules” for sharing life with teen kids… observations/rules/advice for parents of kids in their teen years.

  1. Say “yes” whenever you can. There are plenty of inevitable “no’s”, but try to make your default “yes…yes, you can; yes, I will”.
  2. Never mock your kids or make jokes and tell stories at their expense. Seriously. Even if they laugh, it tears off a little bit of their self-esteem and makes them trust you a little less.
  3. Teach kids that sometimes you just have to do what you just have to do. You do, they do, everybody does.
  4. Let their friends come over. Even if your house is messy or you have your pajamas on. They don’t care.
  5. Feed ‘em. And their friends.
  6. Fight the urge to think your child’s academic or athletic accomplishments (or lack of) are about you. They aren’t.
  7. Know when a “thing” really matters to your kids, even if it stretches the budget a little.
  8. Remind them girls are just different than boys. And boys are just different than girls. It helps them figure it out. And they have a ton to figure out in this department.
  9. Car conversations can be a bit easier because you aren’t face-to-face. But try not to grill them every time you get them alone. They won’t want to go with you.
  10. No matter how many or how few kids you have, each one needs to know that sometimes they come first…and sometimes they don’t. NOBODY is first all the time
  11. It never hurts or costs anything to be kind. Lots of kids have a much tougher life than your kids do. Teach them to never make it harder for their classmates.
  12. It’s always easier to give tasks and responsibilities to the older kids. Don’t rob the younger ones of the chance for accomplishment and to feel your trust.
  13. Be sure they know, “I am always on your side!” If it’s important to them, it should be important to you.
  14. The teacher isn’t always right.
  15. You can think anything you want, but you cannot SAY anything you want.
  16. It won’t hurt or won’t last forever. Really.
  17. You love them. You’re proud of them. Say it to them. Show it to them.

“She always allowed each of her children to form into who they would become while finding the exact mixture of loving intervention and the ability to stand back and watch it happen” – The Word Contessa’s Son

Guest Post! Don’t Fret Yet: The Planet Isn’t Actually Shrinking

Author: Jared Sipes

“The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know.” – Socrates

In 2005, I was barely into my 21st year of life. I didn’t know anything about the world I lived in, outside of a mild beginning of interest in U.S. politics. And then I made my first trip outside of the U.S. Germany, to be exact. When making plans with the person I was going to visit, they also mentioned a visit to Prague. I told a coworker, who said, “Oh, the Czech Republic, huh? Cool!” I agreed, “yeah, definitely!” What I didn’t admit, was that I had never even heard of the Czech Republic before. I was a product of a small-town public school that didn’t put much stock in teaching kids about the world and focused more time on practical things and when it came to social sciences, tended to focus more on the American side of things, and I was never curious enough to seek out any additional information. I thought I didn’t need to. I thought it didn’t matter.

Before I go bandying about throwing around superlatives about the life-changing experience that travel to a foreign country can be (and which likely everyone has heard before), I will say this: it is not necessary to travel to learn about the differences and similarities in the world around us. I’m personally never one to berate those who don’t have a passport or don’t express interest in international travel. It’s expensive! It’s overwhelming! It’s different! But it’s not that different, really. And this is why informing yourself and having a global perspective of your life is important.

Let’s look at the concept of Globalization, which by definition is “a process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology.” What this means to you, Ordinary Citizen, is that we as a planet are growing closer by the day, so why not try to understand that world a bit more, especially when it is easier now than it has ever been in history? You can find newspapers, magazine articles, and blogs from around the world detailing every bit of news everywhere – and just like travel, it can be overwhelming.

However, knowing these things, knowing about other countries, cultures, political systems, and societies, not only can make you a better person, it makes you a better global citizen. If you seek information on your own, you’re less likely to rely upon an “article a friend posted on Facebook” and can instead fight misinformation, and offer a different perspective from those who may not have thought otherwise.

I know this is a lot to ask, and it’s hard for a lot of people to relate to people, places, and things that they consider to be “foreign” – but I have a feeling (and maybe a bit of knowledge from my own personal experience) – that the more you dig around, the more you understand, the more you’ll see that we’re all not so different after all, and you’d be surprised how much better it feels to be able to relate to someone else’s experience, rather than point out our differences.

We go on and on about our differences. But, you know, our differences are less important than our similarities. People have a lot in common with one another, whether they see that or not.” – William Hall

Guest Post! It Is All Gray: Debating On Social Media.

Author: Bryan Worthington

“We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” – Jimmy Carter

Have you ever gotten into an argument or had a strong reaction to world or personal events? No? You may not be a human, go make a doctor’s appointment.

For those who have had a strong emotional reaction to comments or posts made by a friend, relative, or a forgotten Facebook acquaintance, I want you to try something: step back. Not literally (though that may be needed in some cases), but try to view the situation from different perspective.

It seems like everybody knows that his or her opinion is absolutely and unquestionably right and when someone challenges our idea of what is right, we have to tell them why they are wrong, right? Everything is either right or wrong and somebody needs to win. What if, no matter how black or white something looks to you, it’s actually a shade of gray based on a person’s upbringing, religion, socioeconomic status, race, or any number of factors that you know nothing about.

What if, instead of having a reactive response of yelling and trying to make that person think the way you think, you slowed down, validated their perspective, and responded with compassion?

Over the past couple of weeks, a lot of people have posted their opinion on social media regarding world events. Some of these points of view are helpful and some are hurtful. It is hard to be compassionate to someone saying hurtful things, but this is when it is most important. I mostly let posts on social media slide, but after seeing meme after meme perpetuating the same hurtful information, I could no longer remain silent. I immediately thought of things to say that would hurt or shame the other party. I wasn’t going to open up on facebook and lose an argument.

But then:

1.) I slowed down – I remembered that I was not responding to a bad person, I was responding to an opinion that differed from mine.

2.) I validated their response – This person was not necessarily wrong, I was not necessarily right. I found the common ground of our disagreement and worked from there.

3.) I responded with compassion – It is hard to get into a name-calling fight with someone who is being kind. It is also more likely that the other person will listen to what you have to say.

Being compassionate and kind to someone’s point of view does not mean you agree with them. You have to remember that they are coming from a place of strong belief and experienced life. Even members of the same family, where it would seem people would share perspectives, often do not.

Most of the time your best bet is to mind your own business. It’s almost never about you, anyway. Ask yourself if it’s worth it to engage? Which issues are worth it to engage (e.g. racism, misogyny, homophobia, but this list is not exhaustive)? I have an obligation to be mindful that as a heterosexual white man, I have privileges and a platform that must be used to promote social justice. How can I engage while respecting their perspective? If you can’t let it slide because you feel you have a moral obligation to respond, try to be kind in your engagement.

“Luke, you are going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view” – Obi Wan Kenobi

 

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

I typically don’t post on the weekends but I feel and overwhelming need to do so in light of the events of the past week.

In response to all the people that say “Do your research!” regarding refugees, ISIS, and other tragic world events. I’m assuming this statement suggests that if I read whatever it is you’re reading, I will agree that being fearful (or “proactive” or “protective of my country”) is the correct course of action. I strongly disagree. 

I refuse to remain silent on these matters. History has a way of repeating itself and the current cultural narrative related to Muslims scares the shit out of me.

A friend of mine posted this on social media and it gave me pause:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

What’s Up With That Kid?

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Once upon a time, I worked with at-risk youth and their families. Before this experience, I was naïve to the suffering of children in my own community. Working with these incredibly resilient families tore me from my ignorance and thrust me into the daily trenches.

This is not an explicit call to action but if you feel persuaded to support at risk families in your community, I encourage you do so.

I want to address the attitude some adults hold regarding children that demonstrate “poor social skills.” If you remember, Tell Me About Your Mother, we talked about how children will do whatever it takes to get the attention of their parents because they need to do so to survive.

Kids need their parents to regulate their emotions. The developing brain renders children incapable of saying “Hey I need your attention to thrive and make sense of my world.” They are only capable of communicating their needs by demanding your attention through their behavior. They do this with the hopes that you will comfort them or at the least acknowledge them.

Let Me Provide You An Example

I would like you to imagine, for a moment, that a young girl lives in a home with an overworked and exhausted mother (or father). The young girl goes to her mother for affection and attention and is brushed aside. The mother is exhausted from trying to manage on limited finances and maintain a household. She does not have the attention to give.

The young girl still needs attention and now tries a different strategy. Maybe the young girl remembers that the last time she made a mess or cried she was able to get her mother’s attention. “Aha” the young girl thinks. The young girl starts to cry and the mother comes to her. Maybe after awhile the mother learns that her daughter is “just dramatic” and does not need attention every time she cries. The young child still needing attention and affection now has to try a different strategy. Maybe the young girl throws a tantrum and is inconsolable (remember she needs a parent to regulate her emotions). Maybe mom responds negatively but negative attention is still acknowledgement.

Imagine it goes on this way for years. 

Now imagine that the same young girl goes to school. The young girl learned through interactions at home that if I cry, scream, and tantrum I will get attention. The young girl may use these learned skills in the school environment.

Is this child acting out? No, this child has adapted to her environment to get her basic human needs met. The child does not know that she does not need to act that way with all adults. How could she know? Some children learn that they do not need to act that way in school or with every adult (or peer). This usually happens by way of a compassionate and patient teacher or school counselor. Other children may not adapt as quickly and as easily in the academic environment. Imagine how confusing this is for the child.

The mother in this story is not a villain. She is overworked and exhausted. She is spread too thin with too little support. The teacher in this story is not a villain if she loses her patience and struggles with compassion. She is also overworked with thirty kids that have thirty different needs staring at her every day.

What is the solution: Support, Education, Patience, and Compassion.

Is the situation hopeless? No, although it feels that way. We can do better. We must be patient and compassionate with ourselves. We need to do a better job of supporting all families.

This example does not attempt to capture children struggling with developmental disabilities or any other social impairments/challenges.

Parents and their children can benefit greatly from professional support (e.g., therapist, psychologist, school social worker, pediatrician, occupational therapist) to learn healthier interpersonal skills. This does not mean you are a bad parent, it just means you need support. 

Love.

“Every child deserves to be born wanted and loved”

Next Week Is Going To Be Incredible.

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
Kurt Vonnegut

Let me share with you my excitement! Next week, in honor of Thanksgiving, I am opening this platform to different voices. I invited (and begged in some cases) some of my favorite folks to share their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives on a topic of their choosing (or my suggestion given their expertise).

This is thrilling for a few reasons. I can only see the world from my eyes and I can only speak from my perspective. That being said, I operate best in a community setting where people share a variety of viewpoints. In the short time I’ve been writing these posts, I have enjoyed some of the greatest and most challenging conversations of my adult life. It is my hope that the guest bloggers will also be treated with the same engagement.

In blog terms, Sissy Beard has 300 regular followers from various social media sites and a reach of 1500 – 2000 a week (these are analytics provided by WordPress and Facebook). That is by no means a lot in blog speak. It’s a cozy community that I am falling in love with more and more all the time.

Let me invite you to share in the experience of my guest bloggers. I promise you, it will be a treat for your lovely hearts and ears.

Thank you.

Love.