Parenting is a Competition?

I’ve never enjoyed participating in competitive sports. Too much aggression and intensity. Too many extremes. Win or lose. No in between. I thrive in the balanced calm of the “in between”, so I didn’t quite fit in with competitive sports.

Cut to a clip of Breakfast Club, when Andy, the Jock, is impersonating his father, shouting at him to “WIN! WIN! WIN! We don’t tolerate losers in this family!” This is my vision of competitive sports. Of course, all of my views can be captured with a John Hughes film clip. Isn’t this true of every Gen Xer?!

I digress. Another quirk of a Gen Xer.

Parenting seems to be a new form of competitive sport. We’ve all seen the term “Mommy War”, yet this phenomenon is sometimes too broad. Too impersonal. As a competition, some parents get into personal debates about who is being a better parent. It becomes more specific than “working mom” versus “stay at home mom (SAHM)”, to members of these categories comparing specific behaviors and mantras. For example, I’ve seen various SAHMs debating about the use of electronic devices with their kids, not in a supportive “here’s how I do it, how about you?” manner, but more of a “this is what I do and it’s best and no one can tell me different and if you don’t do what I do you are wrong!” manner.

Sure, maybe I’m embellishing the drama a bit. But that’s what makes me view it more as a personal competition than a broad war.

We’ve also seen some of this competition play out in the media. Case in point, Gwyneth Paltrow. She made the controversial statement that 9-5 working moms have it easier than working actors. Seriously. Mackenzie Dawson, a working mom, used satire to deal with this statement in an open letter to Gwyneth. Several weeks ago, another mom posted a picture of her children engrossed in electronics, calling it her “Rock-Bottom Mom Moment.” Browsing through the comments, it becomes clear that many moms have moments like this and many would not consider any of these moments to be “rock bottom.”

It’s disheartening to me that many moms (and dads) feel the need to engage in a competition. That they feel the need to explain their behavior to others who they fear may quickly judge them for their sub-par parenting. Or, in the case of Gwyneth, a mom feels she needs to compare herself to other moms to gain some sort of sympathy or inclusion in the mom-club. It’s very strange that some parents engage in the comparing and competing and one-upping.

My first thought with all of this is “does ANY parent really have that much time and energy to spend engaged in this type of behavior?” And for those who do, what is the motivation for this? What is the goal? Are these parents fixated on the notion of the “perfect” mom, dad, caregiver?

Newsflash – the ideal of the “perfect mom” is just that, an ideal. It does not exist. There is no such thing as a perfect anything, including (and especially) parenting. Yet, clearly some parents are striving for the medal of perfection. They seem focused on sharing moments that seem oddly unattainable or even desirable. Even if giving your kids iPads to distract them truly is a low point in your parenting world, why broadcast it that way? It drips of competition, as if to say, “if this is your usual, than I feel sorry for you because this never happens to me, it’s a last resort.” It’s these types of images and moments that perpetuate the competition.  These parents may or may not be striving for perfection at all times, but they certainly seem to be engaging in a competition. It’s quite amusing and sad all at once.

Luckily there are more and more parents who are not engaging in this competition. Those parents with strong senses of humor and no hidden agenda, who share tips and provide support. They are the ones who don’t judge another parent’s style, but rather watch to see if they can learn something new. To me, these parents embrace the imperfections of parenting and tend to be lighter and more inclusive about the whole thing. It’s refreshing. Those are the parents I gravitate toward.

When did parenting become a competitive sport? I, for one, have decided to watch from afar, with no intention of getting on the field to “WIN!” Thankfully, I’m in good company out here.

Words – A Poem

Words

Beautiful, artistic, intrinsic words
Written, spoken, sung, read
Any and every way

I crave these words
Each word enters my being
Sparks memories
Sparks emotions
Sparks points on my body
I am understood

Words envelop me
Surround me
Comfort me

I rely on words
Simple letters coming together
Creating complicated significance
Touching and digging
Caressing and soothing
Changing my mood instantly

Words are my identity
Words are my voice
My value, my outlet

Words set to music
Lyrics, with melody
More senses involved
Words flood over me
Like a calm, intense wave
Power, emotion
The words mean so much more

Words are magic
Crafting life
Altering existence
Shifting meaning
Igniting an array of senses
With every new captor

I enclose my life in words
Crave the meaning of them all
Play with new combinations
Wait for the response from my senses
Delight in the power and peace they bring

Words
How expressive they make me
And connect me to life

Observations from a (Former) Sugar Addict

Food. Much of my life has involved a strange, complicated relationship with food. Mostly foods that are sweet.

It has been over 7 years since I was instructed to drastically changed my diet. Medical doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, and nutritionists all agreed that my diet was a huge contributing factor to my many health and emotional issues. I’ve had to break off my relationship with unhealthy (aka, crappy) food. Mostly, it was sugar, in all of its forms, that I had to kick to the curb.

Like anyone struggling with an addiction, these past 7 years have been filled with long stretches of sugar-free dedication, followed by an occasional binge of anything sweet I could find. Thankfully, as the years wore on, my cravings and binges became less and less. Now, they are all but gone. I barely crave. When I am presented with something sweet, like during the holidays, I am able to have some small tastes of those items that are worth it to me (like natural pumpkin or sweet potato pie, with natural vanilla ice cream) and I’m satisfied. Those overdone confections of too-bright icing with dozens of edible sugar shapes, in addition to sprinkles, icing flowers, powdered sugar, and glazed sugar? My stomach and mind has rejected them so completely that they have no effect on me at all. I even got a little queasy writing this sentence. Success!

Now that I feel solid in my sugar recovery, I am very aware of just how pervasive sugary foods are  in our culture. We are surrounded by a sweet overload.

The biggest offense is how the food industry has recreated sugar in 947 ways, give or take. Natural sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), glucose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, saccharin, stevia, aspertame, xylitol, sucralose, and others.

Don’t be fooled by HFCS, which, to me, is the worst offender. Sure, some will say it’s “natural” since it is a form of sugar made from corn. Yet, the process used, and the corn produced, is anything but natural. Unfortunately, HFCS is in many MANY things. The good news is that some top brands have become wise to the negatives of HFCS and are going back to using the real thing – sugar. Kudos to them.

Do we really need all these versions of creating a sweet taste? Of course not. It’s become all about achieving the sweet (albeit, fake sweet) with as few negative side effects as possible. The most crucial side effect is calories. Develop something sweet with no calories = WHOO HOO! The problem, of course, is that while there may not be calories, there are chemicals. Chemicals that most likely have long-term side effects that we aren’t fully aware of yet.

I will gladly consume a few bites of real sugar, calories and all, than consume any fake sugar with questionable chemicals.

Another trend I’ve seen lately is the food industry taking a healthy item, adding the fake stuff, and trying to pass it off as healthier than it actually is.

Case in point – Greek yogurt.

When I changed my diet 7 years ago, my nutritionist recommended Greek yogurt. Back then, I had to go to search the dairy section for this rare form of yogurt. Most often, I had to go to several stores. Only one brand existed, and it was not in the yogurt section. It was plain, it was authentic, and it only had a little real sugar added.

Now, Greek yogurt is everywhere and every brand has their own version. This is seemingly a good thing, as Greek yogurt is very healthy with a ton of protein and little fat. Yet, unfortunately, many brands translate the real thing into a fake-sugar overload version that is far from authentic.

Just take a look at the labels. Most of the new versions are loaded with HFCS, or some other version of fake sugar. The ones with “fruit” are the worst. It’s rare that the fruit is real; it’s more likely a version of fruit jam with many other unnatural flavors and artificial colors. Neon colors. Blueberry flavored anything should be a purply-blue color; not a neon, never to be found in nature, bright blue. Just sayin’.

Thankfully the original brand that was the only one years ago is still there and that’s the one I buy. There are vanilla and honey versions (naturally flavored, with nothing else) which Mia likes too. She (and I) also like to take real fruit and mix it in ourselves. This brand does tend to still be tucked at the end of the dairy case, overshadowed by the bright colors and clever marketing of the other brands.

Sugar is a real addictive substance. Some people have said that cutting back on sugar is incredibly difficult, perhaps more so than quitting smoking. I would agree with this statement. Sweet substances are everywhere. For some reason, American culture doesn’t just like things sweet, we need them to be SWEET TO THE EXTREME. Our culture of excess. I used to drink soda (never diet; the HFCS version), buy a big gulp, and bask in the coating of sweetness in my mouth. Did you ever notice that it actually does coat your mouth? That you can still taste the soda on your tongue long after you took a sip? I used to like this; now, I realize this is not a good thing at all.

As I cut back, I would take a sip of soda and feel overwhelmed with the sweetness. It was a sort of strange tingling sensation that my mouth and stomach immediately rejected. Seriously, when you begin to cut out sugar, especially the fake stuff, your body adjusts. You don’t need as much sugar to get a sweet satisfaction. Thank goodness.

I am now at peace with my relationship with sugar. I have overcome my addiction. I am no longer tempted by the colors, the icing, or even the sprinkles.

Related Pieces:

Dear Food, We Need to Talk

Oh Sugar, How I Love (HATE!) You

Namasté and the Lotus Flower

If you have ever taken a yoga or meditation class, you most certainly have heard the term Namasté. It is often used as a greeting, a farewell, or both. It’s traditionally accompanied by a slight bow, with both hands pressed together in front of your chest, with your thumbs pointing to your heart. It’s a powerful gesture with deep meaning. However, some people toss it around flippantly, without fully knowing the powerful meaning.

Here’s what it means: “I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one.”

An intense meaning for one word.

Namasté is used in Hindu and Buddhist practices. Buddhism embraces yoga and meditation practices as a way to achieve enlightenment and perhaps nirvana.  Some Buddhists believe that nirvana can only be achieved in death. So full enlightenment becomes the goal. Enlightenment involves learning how to rise above the suffering of the world to be one with the beauty of the universe.

The Lotus Flower is a stunningly beautiful flower that grows in muddy waters. It has a long root that extends through the water to anchor in the muddy pond’s floor. This flower emerges from the muck around it and shines. A gorgeous light among the darkness. In Buddhism, this flower symbolizes the journey a person takes to rise and bloom among the mud and achieve enlightenment.

In Buddhism, all humans are born among suffering. Suffering is an essential aspect of all human experiences. It is through suffering that we learn what is important. It is how we gain strength and knowledge in who we are. The goal of enlightenment is to make sense of the suffering, let go of its hold upon us, and become one with the truth and peace that is the true representation of the universe.

Clearly these two concepts are related. They are the most prominent symbols of Buddhism. One a greeting, the other a gorgeous flower. Both powerful in their beauty, simplicity, and meaning.

I have been connecting so deeply with these concepts lately. Having studied Buddhism and practiced yoga and meditation for years, I have always felt such a strong connection to the universe. I feel the most alive among nature. To look up at the stars, gaze at waves crashing, feel the air and sunshine on my face. A beautiful flower blooming.

It is remarkable that a wondrous flower can bloom within muddy waters. For a lotus flower to burst among the obstacles around it. For it to dig deep to find the nourishment it needs to thrive.

It reminds me of the first small flowers of spring. Those purple and yellow buds that pop above the slowly melting snow to prove that the earth is not going to be asleep forever. The cold, dark winter does have an end.

These are the ways the universe speaks to me. These are the divine.

I am open to the divine in all that is around me. I am open to the divine that is within me. If a lotus flower can maintain its gorgeous color among the muddy darkness, there is hope for all of us. For us to fight through the suffering and rise our faces to the sunshine.

I will continue to embrace these concepts in all aspects of my life. Remind myself of the lotus flower when there are obstacles or struggles in my way. Continue to grow and blossom within the universe. I will embrace the meaning of Namasté with every person I meet. We are all part of the divine universe. We are all on our own journey toward enlightenment.

The Power of the Mask

I recently wrote my thoughts on the courage of Dylan Farrow. Now, some thoughts on the response from Woody Allen.

Often times in situations like this, when the details are vague and the “facts” are not in abundance, popular opinion tends to side with the more dominant person. Often this is a man. Or a celebrity. Woody Allen is both. Many members of our culture, short of definitive proof (what exactly that “proof” could be is a mystery), has sided with him. He’s a decorated celebrity. He’s humorous and self-deprecating. He’s worked with many Hollywood icons who admire and respect him.

There’s just no way he could do something so horrific.

I truly believe that the vast majority of us know this statement to be utter bullshit, even if some are unwilling to voice it. Please. Anyone is capable of this horror, regardless of how many major female celebrities he’s cast in his films.

Our culture tends to have difficulty looking past a person’s public facade to even imagine that there could be more going on. Is everyone that naive to think even public figures potentially don’t have some scary skeletons lurking in the shadows? Could it be possible that Woody displays to the public only what he wants us to see? That he may be wearing a mask?

My hope is that those supporters of Woody Allen would read Dylan’s account and Woody’s account side by side, with the eye of a family therapist. Or maybe you have a therapist friend that could read along with you. Those of us trained in the field hear stories like Dylan’s on a daily (if not hourly) basis. Victims paint a picture that echoes Dylan’s. They describe their perpetrator as she did. The bonus in this case is that now we have Woody’s own words. As a therapist, it is a rare gift of insight into the mind of this man. And as a therapist, he may as well have written “I am guilty of all that Dylan claims I am”. He may have been thinking he was writing a glowing defense of himself and a stark incrimination of Mia and even Dylan, but to me, it had the exact opposite effect.

This is a text book case of a narcissistic, sociopath with delusional thinking. He is an expert in deflecting any blame or ownership in any aspect of his daughter’s life. He works very hard at playing the victim. He is clearly manipulating his readers and supporters to feel pity for him. Playing on the emotions he knows his supporters feel about him.

If he were to enter my therapeutic office and vocalize this monologue, I would look him directly in the eye and say “So what role did you play in all of this?”

My guess would be that he would be unable to answer. He would think he already did answer my question and recite more of his nonsense. Perpetrators such as him have an incredibly difficult time taking accountability for any aspect of their life as it pertains to parenting or anyone outside of themselves. Those who are working toward recovery and healing can only do so if they are able to begin to chip through the thick wall of narcissism and lack of empathy. To take off the mask that does not allow any emotion in or out.

Based on Woody’s letter, it seems he has no intention of beginning to chip away at that wall. My guess is that he has no idea it is even there. If he did, he never would have went public with a letter like this. Because to professionals in the field, and to survivors of sexual abuse, all we see when we read this letter is that wall. That mask. And we know the absolute truth that exists behind it.

My hope is that one day soon, Woody’s supporters would be able to look past his directorial accolades and see the mask he has been wearing his entire life.

This Should Not Be a Debate

Several years ago, when I was a young(er) Social Work student, I read The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller. It’s required reading for any clinical social work student, or at least it should be. It’s a remarkable classic text which explores the resilience of a child who suffers abuse. It’s beautiful in its prose and in its clinical implications.

The take home message – for any child who survives abuse, the negative consequences are severe and far reaching – extending well into adulthood and parenting – unless intense steps are taken to address and heal these emotional wounds. Children are resilient indeed, yet they also need to heal the wounds they endured.

This leads me to the story of Dylan Farrow. A courageous woman who is absolutely resilient. Her story is heartbreaking and important. A story so many young women (and men) can relate to.

No doubt there is a ton of press surrounding her story. Woody Allen is a celebrity after all. News coverage is expected. What is not as expected is the debate that has been sparked.

It’s disturbing to read endless accounts from outsiders in the tone of “he said, she said.” Friends and fellow celebrities speaking out in favor of Woody Allen. Saying things like “he’s a nice guy, respected, quiet … a good director, professional.” None of this matters at all with regard to his relationship to Dylan. What does Woody Allen’s professionalism have to do with the horror Dylan experienced? None of them or anyone else was in the room with Woody and Dylan. None of them can even begin to explain their dynamic at all. Nor should they even try.

There ensues the debate. If Woody Allen is such a wonderful director, how on earth could he be capable of such a terrible act? People have resorted to questioning the reality of Dylan. Debating who is “right” and who is “wrong.” No one has a right to debate the validity of Dylan’s story. No one. Each of us as individuals are the keepers of our own stories. For her to expose this experience to the world takes an enormous amount of courage. She is sharing an intense secret that she has been living with her entire life. She has lived in a prison of her memories. Her exposure must have been an incredibly liberating moment. For anyone to question her or deny her experience is disrespectful and awful.

Another valid point, even the most seemingly charming, nice people are capable of being monsters behind closed doors. Being nice or respected does not exempt you from having your own secret demons. So often when a sexual abuser is caught, news footage will show dumbfounded neighbors saying things like “He was such a nice guy. Kept to himself. Quiet. I had no idea.” This is not a coincidence. Perpetrators are masters of manipulation and acting. Putting on a nice face is the easy part. Being charming to the victims and the broader world is a vital facade. Once alone with a victim, the mask comes off and the monster returns.

No one can underestimate the power of secrecy, intimidation, manipulation, and fear that exists in this type of dynamic. An adult father and a very young girl. We cannot deny or even debate any aspect of this experience.

There is some good in the over exposure of this story – it is getting a lot of people talking about sexual abuse. That’s huge. Raising awareness and allowing victims tell their stories is remarkable. Countless victims hide in the shadows of their horrific reality. Many will never share their story. Secrecy, shame, and fear are real and powerful. Silence can feel safer. With Dylan speaking out, other victims may choose to come forward. We cannot underestimate that power.

The Social Media Connection

Good friends are like stars. You may not always see them, but you know they are always there. ~ Unknown

Social Media isn’t always viewed in a favorable way. Some people believe that it has created more selfish, narcissistic people. While this is true for some frequent users of Facebook and Instagram (those who may have a slight selfie-addiction), I don’t believe this to be true for everyone. In fact, I have a complete admiration for the development and use of Social Media.

Social Media has allowed me to connect with supportive people in ways that would be impossible otherwise.

Old friendships from elementary school, high school, and college have been reestablished. New friendships have been cultivated through shared interests and struggles. Current friendships are simply enhanced. I would never be able to reconnect with as many childhood friends if it weren’t for Facebook. Some current friendships would not be as fruitful and entertaining without Facebook and Instagram. Many of my close friends live hundreds of miles away. Seeing their pictures and reading what they are doing helps us stay connected.

I’ve been able to form new relationships with a variety of friends with the help of Social Media. The support and love I have felt with these relationships is so life-affirming. Of course the ideal situation would be to share a meal with a friend and discuss our thoughts and feelings face to face. Yet, this is certainly not always realistic. Getting a message from one of these friends can be just enough to make me smile and feel supported.

Yes, more often than not, many people on Social Media (especially Facebook) tend to share lighthearted posts and jokes. I appreciate these posts as well and often laugh along. I also post innocuous and potentially mundane information about myself and my life that really means nothing to anyone but me.

We’ve all done it.

Yet, I truly appreciate how Social Media allows us to share important social justice issues. Raising awareness and spreading hope are essential aspects of who I am professionally and personally. Trauma, feminism, homelessness, substance use, HIV/AIDS … these are some of the topics I write about and share about. Social Media allows us to pull out our metaphorical soap box and inform others of a cause we are passionate about. 

Sometimes these posts spark a hearty debate (or even a spirited FB war), which I relish. We learn by discussion. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or share my views. Sometimes it’s important to agree to disagree. Various sides to an argument may be valid. Being exposed to many different view points is helpful in opening all of our minds.

The best part is when we can combine a difficult topic with some humor and cynicism. Because, really, humor is always a welcome addition to any debate. Thankfully most, if not all, of my friends have a well-developed sense of humor. Many of them make me laugh several times a day. This is a major bonus.

I am truly grateful for all the support and friendships I have through Social Media. It’s such a valuable source of stress relief, humor, and connection.

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. ~ Albert Camus

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