Letting Go

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The plane begins its descent and I shift in my seat and look out the window. Nearly home. My younger daughter, sitting beside me leans her head on my shoulder and reaches for my hand, intertwining her fingers with mine. My heart does a small leap and I clasp her hand a bit tighter. She is seventeen, nearly an adult, and these moments don’t come often anymore.

We are on our way back from a college visit. She is “stressed” about making the right choice. I tell her she has choices and choices are good. There are so many places that could be right for her and she will figure it out. She nods her head but I can see in her eyes that my words are of little comfort. She will have my experiences and her Dad’s experiences and her sister’s experiences to draw from, and plenty of advice from us, from well-meaning friends and other family. But ultimately, she will have to choose.

Her eyes close and we push through the clouds. I stare out the window and try to remember the last time she held my hand to cross a street or climb the steps onto the school bus or approach a neighbor’s door at Halloween. When she was little, we held hands all the time. A small, daily act taken for granted, as so many are when our children are small. We think we’ll remember every second, then with the passage of time and all of the many activities filling our days, our memory fades and we wish we could have taken a snapshot of those moments.

When the kids were young there were always dishes to wash, laundry to be done, bills to be paid. There was work and the dog and all of the sports and activities and playdates and school and homework. In a blink, they were out the door, driving their own cars, and while there was worry, there was also relief. Time alone, time to do whatever we like. The end of being a chauffeur and the beginning of the next stage in parenting.

I have been through this once already, I think. It should be easier. Somehow, it feels a bit harder. It could be because she is the baby of the family. It could be because facing an empty nest is quite different from having one child leave home. It could be because I’m older and more aware of the time slipping away. Whatever the reason, there are mixed emotions. Excitement for her and the next chapter in her life. Anticipation of the freedom that comes with an empty nest. A bit of jealousy at the wonderful experiences that await her. But also sadness that this chapter is closing. That she is moving on and away and of course, things will never be the same. Riddled with doubt as to what the future holds and how everything will change forever.

The aircraft hits a few bumps on its way down and she shifts in her seat to look out the window. She begins to untangle her hand from mine. Don’t let go, I whisper silently to myself. I take a deep breath and swallow hard. There will be no tears. She is letting go and so am I. Don’t let go, the voice inside me pleads. But I know it’s time and while we have a few more months like this, it is inevitable.

And then, we both let go.

It’s a New Year…How about those Resolutions from the Last Year?

And so, it’s January again.  Time to take stock and look back at the New Year’s resolutions that have come and gone. While I say I’m not one to make resolutions, I did, in fact, make a small list of things I wanted to work on last year.  How’d I do? Well, let’s just say that of the six I listed in last New Year’s blog post, I probably made some minimal progress on three of them. Hey, that’s a solid half, right?!

The issue with resolutions is that, once made, we need checkpoints to assess how we’re progressing and take action when we’re not making progress. Just like at work, there are certain milestones that need to be checked off the list and progress reports, if you like, need to be turned in.  I don’t know about you, but given I have to be accountable for these kinds of activities at work, I’m not likely to hold myself to that same structure on the personal front!

How, then, do we actually resolve and take action to improve certain areas of our life? It seems trite to simply say “I plan to be a better person in 2014”, but really, that’s the heart of it all, isn’t it?  Being kinder. Less irritable. More patient. Less hurried. More giving. Less judgmental. More understanding. Less stressed.

So this year, I’m going to give myself a break from the traditional list, knowing full well that putting in place the measurements necessary to ensure success is something I just won’t take the time to do.  I resolve in 2014 only this: to be a better person, in whatever way I can be.  That means taking time to connect with those I care about, rather than getting too wrapped up in the minute details of the day. It means making sure that all my good intentions don’t remain just that…that I occasionally take action and give to that charity, spend time doing something that yields no personal return for me or simply deciding to be understanding, rather than judgmental in situations that test my patience.  It means ignoring the insufferable, materialistic social media posts that clutter my news feeds and remembering that my family values experiences over things. Maybe it’s as simple as letting that car cut in front of me without swearing to myself or giving a stranger in the grocery store a complement, just because.

I know. It sounds like a lot of rainbows and fluffy puppy talk. But sometimes I think the world could use a little more of that. And a little less of the standard “10 Ways to Improve Your Life”.

Happy New Year, everyone. Enjoy 2014, however you resolve to do so.

New Year’s Resolutions for Even the Most Non-Resolute

imagesI’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve always thought that if you really want to do something in life, make time for or accomplish something, you’ll eventually (to coin a Nike marketing phrase) just do it. There’s no time like the present and New Year’s Day or not, if you truly want to do something, you’ll do it and if not, well, maybe you don’t want it as badly as you’d originally thought. That said, there’s something about a new year, a fresh start, a clean white board, that gives one a tiny bit more motivation, that extra push to get a long languishing project moving.

In goal-setting, it’s always important to break big goals into smaller, more realistic steps and the same holds true for resolutions. You could resolve to be a better person….but specifically, how? You could resolve to be more organized, but what steps can you take to get there?

Pushing aside the notion that resolutions need to be daunting tasks that can only be thought of once a year, I’ve made a small, starting list for myself that I hope will have some impact.

1) I resolve that each time I want to curse silently – or not so silently – at an impolite or even dangerous driver on the road, I will take a deep breath and remind myself that they win when I feel stress.

2) I resolve that every time I think about calling, emailing, texting or otherwise reaching out to a friend or loved one I haven’t connected with in awhile that instead of saying I’ll do it later when I’m not busy (as if!), I will take five minutes to actually reach out or, at the very least, I will put it on the to-do list with an actual deadline so it becomes a priority.

3) I resolve to focus more and multi-task less.  The phone doesn’t need to be constantly in hand, the texts can wait and no reason to try to “save time” by responding to emails while on conference calls. Constant multi-tasking creates more stress and even more work. Better to focus on one thing at a time…unless of course it’s folding laundry while watching TV!

4) I resolve to walk past the mess and clutter in the house at least once a week without stressing out, picking it up or yelling at someone about it.  Life’s too short, right?!

5) I resolve to have books, music, writing, exercising and conversation add up to more hours each day than any time spent on social media. I’m talking to you, new Pinterest addiction!

6) I resolve to put forth energy and action for at least one cause I believe in, rather than just ranting about it or reposting rants on Facebook and Twitter. Action speaks louder than words.

Are you making any resolutions this year? Do you think it’s a useful practice. Happy New Year and all the best to you and yours in 2013!

How Do We Define Fairness in an Unfair World?

How many times have you heard your child utter the words “no fair”?  We’ve all likely uttered the phrase a few times in our own adult lives, but there’s nothing like your child looking up at you with wide, innocent eyes and calling something unfair to make you wonder just how you can explain the concept for his or her young mind. Do you simply say, “Well, life’s not fair” or do you try to differentiate between truly unjust situations and the sometimes, natural human feeling that we need to assign blame to someone or something when things don’t go exactly our way?

The concept of fairness is interesting because it seems to mean slightly different things to different people.  From a strictly semantics point of view, the dictionary defines the word fair as “free from bias, dishonesty or injustice”. Given that definition, it seems that fairness is like that old courtroom argument about obscenity: “I’ll know it when I see it.” In terms of teaching kids about fairness, I think most parents want their children to behave in a just and unbiased way, while expecting the same treatment from others. On the other hand, it makes sense to prepare them for the injustices they will surely encounter in their lives.

Fairness is a concept that is also being hotly debated in our country right now in regard to the income gap, taxes and the Occupy Wall Street movement. On one side of the debate, protesters decry the fact that 1% of the country is controlling the majority of wealth and therefore, has the most influence in elections, that by defining corporations as “people”, the Supreme Court allowed unprecedented amounts of anonymous dollars to be funneled into the political process and that Wall Street is responsible for much of the country’s economic woes. On the other side, the argument is that much of this is normal in a capitalistic, free market society, that one must only work hard to reap financial benefits and that the protesters are just jealous of those who have been successful. Ok, I admit that I may have simplified the arguments a bit, but in general, I think it points to the need to differentiate between true injustice and a feeling that if things don’t go your way, there must be someone or something to blame.

So how do we tell the difference? Following the “I’ll know when I see it” concept, I came up with a few examples that I think illustrate the difference between unfairness and “whining”. Only one of these is political; the rest will likely be relatable to any suburban parent.

1)    The fact that Mitt Romney made lots and lots of money over the years is fair (although, the ways in which Bain Capital helped him make that money, may not have been). The fact that he only paid 13.9% in taxes last year, while Americans who make far, far less than he does paid much more is patently unfair.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that our current system, which allows these tax loopholes to exist is both unfair and obscene (I know both unfairness AND obscenity when I see them!). If it’s true that in America, anyone who works hard can achieve, then why do hard-working people, putting in 5 days per week, 8 hours per day or more at jobs that pay less than $50K per year pay more tax than a multi-millionaire and struggle to make ends meet?  Not fair.

2)    If a teacher assigns a school project and clearly states that it must be neat, well-formatted and creative, in addition to having satisfactory content, then assigns a lower-than desired grade because the project is messy, hard to read or clearly demonstrates a lack of effort, that’s fair. If the teacher (assuming that this is any class other than art) assigns a lower-than desired grade because the project was not professionally (i.e. required $$ to be spent) printed and bound, artistically brilliant and showed obvious evidence of parental involvement, that’s not fair. We all know the parents who work more on the look and feel of their children’s school projects than the kids do, and a higher grade should never be assigned because some parent forked up the money to go to Kinkos or spent 40 hours helping their kid cut, paint and decorate.

3)    It’s perfectly fair that celebrities who have aged well go on TV to talk about their exercise and eating regimens and how these things have helped them stay young. It’s totally unfair for celebrities who have been constantly airbrushed and cosmetically enhanced to go on TV and talk about how well they have aged, without acknowledging the helpful and expensive tools that made it possible.

4)    It’s perfectly fair for a youth soccer team to beat another youth soccer team by a score of 10-0.  Hopefully, the winning team, after reaching, let’s say five goals, has the sportsmanship to move their players around, let defenders play offense, etc… in an attempt not to “cream” or humiliate the other team.  What’s not fair is when overly competitive coach-parents rig the system so they can stack a team, thereby creating a situation in which every game played has a similar outcome. I know that AYSO and all of those other youth sports organizations have systems in place so this doesn’t happen, but somehow, it always does.

Those are just a few examples but of course, there are a million more. And let’s be real: most of these, save the first example, are not devastating. The truly senseless injustice that abounds in the world  is even more difficult to explain to our kids – why some children suffer from absolute poverty while others have so much, why some are born into war-torn countries where they will never know a feeling of safety, while others live in peace.  These are the hardest to talk to your kids about because there is just no explanation for why some children in the world are orphaned, why some are destined to be child soldiers for an African warlord, why natural disasters or school shootings or so many other terrible things happen to innocent people.

What unfair situations make you tear your hair out?  And how do you explain them to your kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The One Thing You Should Never Give Up When You Become a Mom

As a popular post that has been making its way around Facebook proclaims, being a Mom means giving up many things, but it’s one of the most rewarding jobs you could ever have. When your children are small, it’s about giving up things like sleep, spontaneity and spending more than five minutes in the shower. In their teenage years it can mean giving up your ability to relax until you hear the car pull into the garage and when your kids are ready for college, it might mean giving up your retirement plans just to fund their tuition.

But there’s one thing you should never give up: yourself.

In a recent study of 1,300 moms, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that moms who work – either part-time or full-time – are healthier and happier. Now, I’m not about to fight the battle of working mom vs stay-at-home mom, as I truly believe that each family has to decide what works best for them, and certainly, I’ve known working moms who are miserable and stay-at-home moms who are very happy. But I think the study makes an important point about maintaining balance and a sense of self- something that working moms may find easier to do. It’s no surprise that the happiest stay-at-home moms I know are those who have something going on outside the home that is just for them whether it’s a hobby, a volunteer position or a pursuit of higher education. These moms almost always have good relationships with supportive spouses who share the parenting responsibilities, as well.

I don’t think there’s a mom out there who would argue with the idea that being a mom is their most important job. That said, as the APA study underscores, there’s a great danger in allowing your life to revolve solely around your kids.  And it turns out, this lifestyle is not only bad for you, but it wreaks havoc on your little ones, too. A recent article in the Huffington Post examined parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives and can’t let go – the so-called “helicopter” parents. Many moms think they are being great parents by doing everything for their kids and shielding them from the harsh realities of the world. While we all want to protect our children from truly bad situations, it turns out that if we shelter them from making mistakes and facing consequences, they will be ill-equipped to handle college life, job interviews and the day-to-day responsibilities of living on their own in our big, complex world.

So how do you determine if you’re sliding down this slippery slope of focusing so much on your kids that you lose yourself in the process?  I thought of a few questions that might be helpful…

1) Who was I before I had kids and who will I be when they are gone?  If you’re a working mom, you probably have an easier time with this question, as your daily life, by necessity, includes non-child related activities and your job is probably an important part of your identity.  There are plenty of stay-at-home moms who have successfully answered this question, too, finding a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction through volunteer work, classes to further their education or through hobbies that give them that important sense of self-accomplishment.  If you don’t have any of these things in your life and find that all you can think about and talk about are your kids, ask yourself: who was I before carpools, homework and diaper changes took over my life? Were you an avid reader? A passionate chef? A cyclist?  A theater-goer? You need to revisit the things that made you, YOU. After all, our most important job as parents is, ultimately, to transform our little jewels into successfully independent adults. And this depends on you letting them go — a task that will be much easier if there’s still a YOU left when they’re gone.

In addition, part of who you were pre-kids was probably a spouse or significant other and hopefully, it still is. But there are countless stories of marriages that end right after the last child moves out. Why? Because when your life revolves solely around your children, there’s no room for your relationship with your partner. Letting your relationship languish while the kids are still around means it will be difficult to pick up the pieces once they are gone. So make sure that the part of you that is separate from your mommy identity spends time with that other person who lives in your household.

2) Are you confusing your kids’ accomplishments with your own?  Social media has made it easy for the parents who live vicariously through their children to show their true colors. Facebook posts like “Johnny got straight As again!” or even worse, “WE got straight As again!” are the obvious red flags.

Now before you yell at me, I know, I know…it’s natural for us to take pleasure and satisfaction in our children’s accomplishments (and sorrow in their defeat) – that’s part of the joy (and grief) of parenting. And it’s natural to want to brag a little when your kids accomplish truly great things – I am as guilty as anyone on that count. But if you find you’re touting only your children’s activities and accomplishments as if they were your own and have nothing to say that begins with the word “I”, it’s time to ask yourself what you’ve accomplished lately that didn’t involve your child.

3) If you’re a Mom, you’re a role model…but what are you modeling?  In a previous post, I talked about the problem with the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality and why, if you want your kids to exercise for example, you need to show them that it’s important to you, too, by letting them see you sweat occasionally.  Similarly, as your child’s primary role model, day in and day out, shouldn’t you consider what behaviors you are modeling that will help your child become an interesting, successful and independent adult? Do you have a variety of interests outside of what your kids do everyday? Do they see you working, reading, attending classes, volunteering, voting, supporting causes, being interested in the world at large?  Do they see you going out with friends and most of all, your significant other, thereby modeling what good relationships look like?   It’s pretty clear that what we parents view as important has a profound impact on what our children view as important. If you have no interests outside of your children, what are you modeling for them?

4) If you do it all, how will they learn to do it for themselves?  Having a laser focus on your kids can become a problem for them, as well as you. Let’s say your child is in 6th grade and you still wake her up every morning, pick out her clothes for her, make her breakfast, pack her lunch and check her backpack to be sure she has everything she needs. Let’s say she calls from school to tell you she has forgotten an English paper and you rush over to deliver it, lest she face the teacher’s wrath or have points taken off for a late assignment. And let’s imagine that after school, when you’ve questioned her about her day, checked through her backpack to see what she has for homework and then taken her back and forth to dance or soccer or whatever her activity of choice may be, you spend the evening researching summer camps, and emailing her teachers and coaches to find out how she’s doing.

While this case study is fictional, I’m certain it’s not too far off of some real-life examples. The point is when you look at this day, you can see there is no YOU in it. More importantly, there is no opportunity for your child to learn, take responsibility and yes, fail, because after all, making mistakes in life is how we learn.

I wouldn’t give up being a mom for anything and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. But I love that it’s one of many hats I wear and that my kids know that I’m also a spouse, a friend, a reader, a writer, a marketing consultant, a student and many more things. To me, one of the greatest joys of parenthood is watching my own kids try on different hats as they evolve into independent adults with their own complex and many-faceted identities. I sure hope that if and when they become moms themselves and realize the sacrifices required, they’ll be sure not to sacrifice the one thing they shouldn’t – themselves.