Pregnancy By Proxy: The Out Of Body Experience of Open Adoption

In honor of our daughter’s 4th birthday, I am republishing some of my adoption articles. This is the third article in the series. Happy Birthday to our sweet baby girl.

wey_77b_mommykiss-225x300Believe me.  This was not what I had envisioned when I thought about pregnancy for myself.  I was more of a traditional gal—thinking that the whole baby- boarding process would actually be taking place in my own body. You know—baby bump, bloated feet, morning sickness–the whole enchilada. I certainly hadn’t considered the possibility of pregnancy being an out-of-body experience.

But when we decided on adoption, and ultimately, open adoption, that’s what it became. I can say now that I couldn’t be more grateful.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. But at the start, I thought I might just throw up my lunch.

Look; the 1st trimester is never a sure thing. It’s unpredictable, tenuous, and scary.  I should know; I had lost 4 pregnancies during those 1st 12 weeks.  And yet, here I was willingly and excitedly matched with a birth mother whose baby—no, fetus—was only the size of a pin head and looked more like a baby seahorse than anything human.

What was I doing to myself?  How would I survive the next 35 weeks just watching and hearing updates from the sidelines? The last time I checked, pregnancy was notsupposed to be a spectator sport. I often wondered how I would get through it all considering I was no longer in charge.

I tried to remain “stress-free.”  I did yoga. Took hot showers.  Went to bed early.  But my mind stayed up like a hyped-up teenager on a case of RedBull. Is she eating right? Drinking? Smoking? Resting? I hope nobody is stressing her out at work.  I’ll kill ‘em.

OK. So maybe “stress-free” wasn’t going to happen. I’d settle for not going nuts.

The one saving grace was that our birth parents, C and M (not providing full names because I want to be sensitive to their privacy), were totally relaxed and completely willing to share the process with us.  In fact, C would give me the play by play.  And what could have been unpleasant and anxiety-provoking, became, well, fun!

“You’re baby has elbows!” she wrote to me in an email. I loved that she said “your baby” – It reassured me that this was actually happening. This baby would become my child.

And I loved that she kept track of what was happening inside her body.  I savored every nugget of information—no matter how small—because it somehow connected me to this life that was soon to intertwine with mine.  C even sent me a phone video showing a remote control dancing along her belly just so I could experience what it was like to see my baby kick. She didn’t have to do it. But she did.

C invited me to become her partner in this process.  We came to care about each other.  We checked in with one another.  How was she feeling?  How was I? What were our thoughts, concerns, hopes and dreams for this child? What questions did we have for the doctor? Amazingly, and with great sensitivity, she allowed the pregnancy to become “ours” rather than just “hers.”

Of course that meant that we got all the stressful news as well.  Yippee.  There was the bleeding episode in the 10th week when we all put our feet up in sympathy and prayed for a summertime miracle. And then there was “the flu that stole Christmas” when M called us from the hospital to tell us that C had thrown up 17 times and she was now on an IV drip. Happy Holidays.

But the good always outweighed the scary.  And while my body wasn’t growing and changing, C allowed us to experience the pregnancy through her.  She invited us into her private world.

So we were there—flanked at C’s head and feet— when Tallie made her first on-screen 3D cameo.  It was week 18 and the four of us found out that we were having a little girl.  I couldn’t help it.  I kissed C right on the head. And when we couldn’t be there, since we were in Massachusetts and they were in Oklahoma, C played a CD of our voices to her belly every night and morning. “She loves when you sing to her,” she would write.  “You’re going to be the best Mom.” My heart was full. She had no idea how much that meant to me.

She even let me feed her. Does that sound strange? I don’t mean that I carted C around on a satin chaise and fed her grapes.  No.  She allowed me to send her big vats of food.  Being raised by a Jewish woman, I guess you can say I am programmed to make feasts.  It’s in our blood.  So C indulged me when I sent containers of turkey chili, roast turkey dinners and of course, chicken soup, to her home.

Being a girl who didn’t cook and who lost her mother at the tender age of 13, C didn’t know much about home-cooked meals.  So she gobbled up what I sent her, replete with yummy noises to boot, and thanked me profusely.  She told me how grateful she was. But she was the true hero.  By allowing me to nourish her she was also allowing me to nourish my future child as well. Not everyone would get that. But she did.

And when it came time to discuss the birth plan, it was decided unanimously that we would all be in the room.  She insisted on it.  And Jason was to cut the cord.  “He’s the Daddy, after all,” she said. “Besides, M would faint like a little girl if he had to do it.”

So on the day of our daughter’s birth, we all stood united in the delivery room.  And at 10:19am, we all cheered and teared up when Tallie took her first breath.

I was the first to hold this beautiful baby girl—a momentous occasion indeed.  But perhaps one of the most memorable moments came after all the doctors were gone. It was the moment that we got to introduce our baby girl to her birth mother—the one who had cared for her over the past 9 months—the one who had loved her enough to place her in our arms—and the one who made this out-of-body pregnancy one of the most precious experiences of our lives. One might think this moment would be scary. It wasn’t.  It was…beautiful. It was the moment that we became a family.  All 5 of us.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a Child & Teen Development Specialist, Professional Speaker and parenting expert often seen in national press such as on The Today Show, Good Morning America & Anderson Live.  Her adoption series won a silver award from Parenting Publications of America. She is so grateful to have been able to build her family through the amazing process of open adoption.

The Infertility Club: Shifting My Goal from Pregnancy to Adoption

In honor of my daughter’s 4th birthday, I’m republishing my adoption series.

robyn_tallie-292x300As you can probably imagine, I felt like the shoemaker’s daughter. I didn’t just work with children and families, I provided parenting tips and tactics to moms and dads around the world…all the while housing a secret that taunted and tortured me every day. I couldn’t get pregnant. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was pretty good at getting pregnant. I just couldn’t seem to stay that way.

After repeatedly bashing myself and feeling every emotion from maudlin inadequacy to stark raving anger, I decided to donate my body to science. Yes, I became a card carrying member of the ever-popular but rarely discussed “infertility club” which allows millions of women to play the role of “the willing pin cushion” in the quest to become a parent. Not that I wasn’t grateful for the possibility—it’s just challenging to keep up your enthusiasm when your hormones are fluctuating between those of a moody adolescent to those of an over-heated menopausal woman. And this was normal. Or so they said.

When you join the “infertility club” you start out thinking that there are certain thingsyou’ll have to do and certain things you’ll never do in order to get pregnant. Well, at least I did. I found myself making concessions and deals–“I’ll take the pills but I won’t do the injections” – “I’ll do the injections but I won’t do IVF.” But years get long and time gets short and well, desperation sets in. “I’ll never do injections” turns into “just make it quick” as you hand your husband a 2-inch needle, turn around and close your eyes. You’ll do anything. You don’t know if it’ll work but you’re willing to try. You have to have a baby. NOW.

Each time you think “could this be it?” And sometimes it works. And it’s a miracle. It’s exactly as it was intended to be. But other times, as in our case, it wasn’t that simple. The drugs did their job but my body played hooky. Each of my four pregnancies ended in miscarriage.

As a woman, this was unacceptable. I had the will. I had the heart. I had the parts! After years of trying not to get pregnant, this was supposed to be MY time. I was ready…and waiting.

Of course they told me that it wasn’t my fault— but you can’t help blaming yourself. I went over every place I had been, every food I ate, and everything I did over the previous weeks. Was it the sushi I ate before I knew? The 5 pound bag of potatoes I lifted at the market? The plane ride I took to my cousin’s wedding? Your head tells you “no” but your heart demands an explanation.

And with the blame game came the ridiculous claims and promises—”Next time, I’ll keep my feet up in the air. I’ll stay on my back. I’ll barely move until it’s time to push.”

I felt so alone. Pregnant women were everywhere. And babies. In the park. In the library. At the market. What angered me the most was seeing parents yell at their children—or worse yet, ignore them. I wanted to throttle them and say, “Don’t you see what you have here! You should be grateful every single day!” But I kept my mouth shut and merely grumbled under my breath. I promised myself that when I did have a child, I would cherish every moment. I would make myself remember that there are women out there willing to trade places–even on the most challenging days—just to have a turn to be called “mommy.”

I often found myself in tears but nevertheless, I carried on. I tried new things. I learned more about my body than I ever wanted to know. Temperature. Timing. Patterns.

Roadblocks came up frequently. In our case, after the doctors put me out and retrieved a total of 38 eggs during two different IVF procedures, they explained to me that something was wrong with my eggs. My husband and I tried to keep things light. We had countless jokes. Eggs Behaving Badly! Eggs Gone Wild! How would you like your eggs? Scrambled!

So we turned to the women whose eggs were pristine and in demand. Egg donors. Never heard of it? It’s very hush hush. Most people don’t talk about it. I actually felt a little naughty while interviewing them since the whole thing felt so “underground.”

Truthfully, it was kind of like online dating. What do you look like? What are your hobbies? Could I implant some of your DNA in my body so I can have a baby?

I thought, could this be our solution? Could this be the ticket to Babyville? But we kept getting tripped up. This one had already donated up to her limit. That one couldn’t get off work. This other one didn’t respond to the drugs. But we had to try again. We had to get in sync. We had to take more drugs. We needed another week, another month, another round.

Every couple has their breaking point- -when they say, “enough is enough” and they put down their needles. They throw away their pills and they take a much needed, life-altering, deep breath.

Our breath of fresh air came on April 12, 2008. It was the day our final donor told us she wasn’t going to be able to make it. It was the day we decided to stop researching new ways to get pregnant and start looking for ways to have a family. It was the day we decided to adopt.

I didn’t know exactly how it was all going to play out but I did know one thing that day. We were going to have a family. Finally, I knew for sure. And it was one of the best days of my life.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child and teen development specialist, professional speakerand parenting expert often seen in national press such as on The Today Show, Anderson Live, Good Morning America and various print media.  She won a Silver Award for this Adoption Series from Parenting Publications of America. Dr. Robyn is proud to have built her family through the amazing process of Open Adoption. The first of this adoption series is posted here.

Finally Forever: The Life-Changing Letter and Our Decision to Adopt

talliemom_sum2009-300x224It seems like only yesterday when my daughter was just a little baby. I can’t believe it! My daughter is 4 years old today.  In honor of her birthday, I am republishing this letter I wrote to my family and friends telling them that my husband and I were planning to adopt. To all those who have come to the same conclusion or to those who are contemplating it, I wanted to share this letter with all of you.

To the ones we love:

First, we want to tell you how much we’ve appreciated your kind words of encouragement and support over the last several years as we’ve gone through some very tough times. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Jason and I spoke a few weeks back about the current direction we’re taking with building our family. We said. “If one more negative thing happens on the current path we’re forging, we have to change direction.” After four miscarriages, failed IVF attempts, embryos of the likes nobody has ever seen before, countless false starts with multiple donors, a historically stellar donor who didn’t respond to the meds (which nobody had ever seen before) and now…a letter from our current donor telling us that she sadly needs to bow out, we have decided that the signs are quite obvious. I’m not supposed to get pregnant.

It was just the other day that I told Jason that I had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right and that this wasn’t going to work out. This wasn’t negativity. I have had a sixth sense about these things for the last four years– always knowing when I was going to miscarry and always knowing when something was going to be sidetracked or derailed. Jason has learned not to question it since it has proven right every time. Yesterday’s letter from our current donor did not come as a surprise when she kindly wrote that she was not going to be able to continue. Our feeling is that she likely did us the biggest favor one could ever do.

We are planning to start the adoption process. I’m writing this down for severalreasons. First, I need to just write it. There are many feelings that go along with it, and it just needs to be written down. Second, you all deserve to hear our thoughts in completion, however, to be honest, the thought of repeating ourselves multiple times doesn’t sound like the making for a great Sunday.

Third, I don’t want anyone to have a moment of sorrow, pity or “feeling sorry” for us. If you do, we would prefer that we were out of ear-shot. We want to embrace this new direction with fervor and positivity and don’t want any sadness to go along with it. While I’m not suggesting that you would feel pity for us, I know how supportive you’ve been in the past with regards to the miracle of a positive pregnancy, and I can imagine that for family members, sadness and loss might be an emotion that would cross the heart.

I’m telling you now, we’re OK. In fact, there is something very exciting about going through a process that can only end in the positive rather than rolling the dice another time.

The signs have been pointing in this direction for so long now that it’s almost embarrassing how long it’s taken for us to stop forcing the proverbial square peg into the round hole. Dad always told me “don’t force it” whenever I tried to get something to inappropriately “fit” when I was a kid. It’s the very advice that Jason remembered yesterday and repeated out loud, as if Dad were sitting with us and giving us his counsel. I believe he was there. And if he were alive today, I imagine this is what he would have said.

I’ve been asking for a sign but refusing to see them–filling in false starts and skewed plans with new donors, more drugs and more invasive procedures. It’s enough. I’ve always loved the idea of adoption; although, it scares the bajeezus out of me. I feel confident that some little souls have been waiting for us to open our eyes and our hearts so that they can be born, and we can all be mutually blessed by their love and energy our entire lives. What an honor.

I had given up my genetic tie with my children many months ago, and Jason and I just want to have a family. We feel that our loved ones who are looking over us from above have been shouting to us for years but we shut them out in favor of what we thought we should be doing and what we thought we wanted. But when it comes down to it, I don’t need to be pregnant to feel the love in my heart, and Jason doesn’t need to have fathered these children to be the best Dad these children will ever know. At this point, we need to put it in the hands of whomever is guiding us to make this decision. We feel it strongly, and we’re not going to fight it anymore.

I am excited to say that I believe now that I will be a mother in the next year. You have been so supportive of us through these very trying four years of agony. And they have been agony. They have taught me patience. They have taught me resilience. They have made me strong. Jason and I have never been more ready.

Our request at this point is that you continue to be the amazing people that you are and support us full throttle in this next journey that can only result in the very thing we’ve wanted all this Time: a baby.

So no more tears– let’s go full steam ahead. Oh yes, and you can close your mouths now. You had to know this was coming eventually.

Lots of love,

Robyn

In celebration of our daughter, Talia Paige Silverman, born February 19th, 2009, through the amazing and beautiful process of open adoption. In our hearts and lives forever, our sweet baby girl.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child development specialist, professional speaker and parenting expert who became Mom to daughter, Tallie Paige & son, Noah Stone through the miracle of open adoption. 

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Should I lie? 10 Gut-Checking Questions Parents Must Teach Their Children

lying2-276x300The first time your child lies to you can be a shock to any parent.  And while lying is part of growing up, we don’t want to encourage the behavior.  Our children need to learn right from wrong, reality from fantasy and truth from untruth.

The Powerful Word of the Month this month is Self Control– and part of self control is taking a moment to think to oneself; Is this safe? Is this fair? Will it work?  When it comes to lying, taking the time to think through both good and bad solutions can make the difference between right and wrong.

As parents, we always want our children to choose the safest, most fair and best decisions. When we are with them, we can ensure that it usually happens that way. When we aren’t, we leave it in their hands. This is why so many parents can’t sleep at nights even though we’re all so tired, right?

We must arm our children with some Powerful Questions that can help them to choose right over wrong.

(1) Is it safe? Or, perhaps for some we can teach, “If I lie, is someone likely to get hurt?” Some children will lie to protect someone– whether it’s a sibling or themselves. Sometimes when they are “sworn to secrecy” it’s not a big deal– someone is planning a special birthday party or a big surprise and they need to pretend they know nothing about it.  But other times lying about something can be unsafe. Think of the child who was told “not to tell” that a friend was planning to run away, an older sibling was throwing up after each meal or a younger sibling was climbing over a fence near a lake.  That’s when this question becomes crucial.

(2) Is it fair? This question certainly requires perspective-taking.  Clearly they are going to be more inclined to say something if it’s not fair to them.  But what about others?  Think of the child who knows that a friend is cheating off another student’s paper in class and both children involved get in trouble.  What’s fair?  Think of the child who knows that her sports team is doing something underhanded in order to get into the finals.  Is this fair?  The perspective-taking question that pairs well with this one is; if the tables were turned, would it seem fair to you?

(3) What is my gut telling me to do? When we teach our children to listen to their gut, we are providing them with a very important skill. Our bodies often tell us what our minds our try to disguise. If your child chooses right or wrong, ask them, what made you make that choice? What was your gut telling you to do? What will you do next time?

(4) Will I be able to look my parents/friend/teacher in the eye after I do it? We often know when our children are lying because they can not look us in the eye. Helping your children to understand that answering “no” to this question is a sign that they may be on the verge of making a poor choice.

(5) Could I look at myself in the mirror after I do it? This is really the crux of it, isn’t it? In fact, this is the way my own mother explained the meaning of integrity to me. If our children feel that they could not look at their own selves in the mirror after making this choice (and be proud of what they did), they should take it as a warning. Their conscience is telling them that the impending choice could bring them a feeling of regret or shame.

(6) Would I do this behavior whether someone was watching me or not? I often explain to children that the definition of good character is choosing to do the right thing whether all eyes are on you or all eyes are looking away. If your child can not answer “yes” to both scenarios, then she should probably not be doing it.

(7) Does the end justify the means? This can be a tough concept for children. After all, if they want an A on their book report and get an A on their book report that should be a good thing, right? Yes, accept when that A is achieved through dishonest means such as cheating. Sometimes, children have trouble remembering that parents actually care more about effort and character than about their children being the very best regardless of the cost or means. We must be patient and clear up this confusion so that children will choose “right” over “best” when faced with a question of integrity.

(8) Am I doing this because it is right or because it is popular? We have all heard of peer pressure. This phenomenon can happen on a variety of levels. Think of the child who argues that his friend, who clearly lost the race, crossed the finish line first. In this case, the child succumbs to the rules of friendship over the rules of fairness and integrity. We also see it when the child pretends not to like someone because his friends don’t think the person is cool. Either way, he is letting the popular thing get in the way of doing the right thing. We must teach our children not to allow popularity to cloud their judgment because in the end, the truth usually comes out.

(9) Am I being who I am or am I being who others want me to be? This question coincides with number 6. We want our children to be themselves. When they alter their thoughts, actions, appearance, or choices because others want it that way, they are doing a major disservice to themselves and others. On the one hand, they are not allowing others to get to know the real individual behind the farce. On the other hand, they are building their friendships on a lie. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, wrote, “If you live your life trying to please others, half the people will like you and half won’t. And if you live your life according to your own truth, half the people will like you and half won’t.” The underlying question it brings up is; “which half do you want as friends?”

(10) If I get caught lying, will I get in trouble? So, the lie unravels.  Everyone knows the truth.  Are their any negative consequences?  Obviously for the child who kept the “surprise party” a secret or even told her mother; “I’m going with Dad to lunch” when she really was going to set up for that party, there is no getting into trouble.  But what about the child who lies about a grade she got on a today’s quiz? Tells you she already studied for tomorrow’s test when she didn’t?  Says “I don’t know” when you ask where her big brother is when she knows he’s doing something you’ve told him not to do?  Your child likely knows that consequences would be imminent.

As we know, mistakes will happen. If we use those mistakes to help our children make better choices next time, we will be strengthening their integrity.

In the end, we are cultivating future leaders. And I imagine, as Powerful Parents, you would agree, that we want our future leaders to base their decisions on well-instilled values and principles rather than what is fast, popular, and self-serving.  These questions are part of critical thinking skills that they can apply today and for the rest of their lives.

 

 

 

Walking Your Talk: Showing Your Values Even When Your Kids Aren’t Looking

egg_hands-300x199

“Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold — but so does a hard-boiled egg.” ~Author Unknown

As parents and teachers we often zone out when we get a moment alone.  It’s normal– I do it too.  I am far from perfect, lose my temper sometimes, say the wrong thing, and sometimes hover outside of myself with folded arms and ask myself, “is that REALLY the best you can do?”  That ever happen to you?  I’m working on it– just like everyone else.

The other day I was sitting in a café working during lunch time.  A few tables away, a black woman in her 40s, sat with 7 elderly men and woman which she was clearly taking on a much anticipated outing.  She was taking care of them.  She wiped their mouths, wheeled them in their wheelchairs, asked them questions about their lives and facilitated conversation between the group.

It struck me.  We often talk about those in care-taking positions (that may not appeal to a wide audience) as being underpaid and under-appreciated.  That always bothered me.  Teachers, nurses, aides—they work very hard and do such an important job.  I know we’ve all said this before– but it’s still true as true can be.

I watched her now and again show such patience, concern and, perhaps most importantly, curiosity to these people in her care.  And I was moved to do something.  Does that sound ridiculous?  That’s OK with me.

Someone once urged me, “imagine your child by your side, holding your hand andlooking up at you even when s/he is not with you.  What lessons would you want to teach through your actions?”  That visualization really stuck with me and I call upon it often.  It’s a good one, don’t you think?

I stood up and went to the cashier at the café and asked her if I could buy a gift card.  The caretaker’s name was on a “reserved” marker on the table—“Michelene”– so I simply copied it down and signed it “From an admirer.  You are doing great work and we appreciate it!”

When she was getting everyone ready to meet their van outside, I walked over to her and said; “This is for you.  Thank you.”  I don’t think she had a clue what it was or why I was giving it to her—I had sealed it so she wasn’t put in any awkward position as she received it.  Then I sat down and resumed working.

While a $20 gift card is not much—certainly not life-changing—I figured that if my daughter or son were standing their with me, they would have learned something about my values.  When we appreciate someone, we show it.  When someone deserves some praise, we give it.  When people give of themselves, we acknowledge that we’ve noticed.   As parents and teachers, we need to live our values whether the children in our lives are watching us or not. In my opinion, and I would imagine you’d agree, that’s living an authentic life.

No fanfare needed, no thank you was necessary– she was being the everyday hero, not me.  We make these gestures not because we feel sorry for someone or want someone to tell us how “good” we are, but rather, because that person deserves it and the gesture is part of who we are and who we hope our children become.

Have you ever done something like that on a whim? I imagine you have.  It’s not about money– it can be giving time, energy, attention, praise, love, donations or thanks in any form. We’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

Heavy choices: Would you put your 7 year old on a diet?

dara-lynnweiss-300x168This morning I was on the set up for a segmenton Dara-Lynn Weiss- the mother who was made famous for publicly putting her daughter, age 7, on a diet. Her daughter’s doctor had told Dara-Lynn that her daughter was obese and was immediately put on a strict diet of limited foods and counting calories.

What would you do in the same situation? It’s a difficult choice. Clearly the doctor was concerned about the child’s health and we are all too familiar with the psychological repercussions of children, dieting and weight stereotyping.

Every parent wants their children to grow up healthy and happy. So it’s not surprising that when a parent hears their children’s weight is compromising their health, that they jump into action . But parents need to tread lightly here. Whatever you say to your children about weight and diet will provide the template for how those children will regard weight and diet for the rest of their lives. Will they see food as a delicious way to gain energy and health or will they view food as the enemy?

There are so many messages that tell children that they are not good enough the way that they are— we don’t want to convey a value judgment when it comes to food and weight, but rather, teach our children that when we eat in healthy ways, we gain the energy we need to live our best life. I believe we can change a child’s relationship with food without putting a child on a “diet” – do you?

Take a look at the segment. What do YOU think? If you were this mother, would you choose the same path or would you do something different?

 

 

 

Parents: 5 Ways for Our Children to Honor The Victims of the Sandy Hook Shooting

actofkindness_sandyhook-300x225A mother and her son, probably about 8 years old, came over to us in the parking lot of the mall the other day.

“Excuse me, I’d like to give you this.”

“What’s this for, Honey?”

“I’m giving out 26 boxes of candy as a Random Act of Kindness in honor of each of the people who died in the Sandy Hook shooting.  You’re number 14…Happy Holidays…”

It was a box with three chocolates in it.  The small strip of paper on the box read; “In honor of the lives of the 26 children and adults that were just taken from us in Connecticut, I offer you this Random Act of Kindness in hopes of bringing a smile to your face this Christmas Season.  You are number 14 and I hope you will pay it forward to someone else with another Random Act of Kindness to someone else.  Please help spread the word! #26Acts #26ActsofKindness

After last Friday’s tragic shooting in Connecticut and many tough conversations with our children, many are looking for ways to help or remember those lost on that fateful day. There are many ways to honor those who were lost in a tragedy like Sandy Hook.  While traditional ways  to help from contributing money to legitimate foundations andfunds or volunteering mental health services [call (800) 203-1234] are great for adults to feel a sense of contribution, children may also like to do something.  It gives them something concrete and age-appropriate to do which can be both a relief and a sense of pride during these confusing and sad times.

Here are some ways our children can honor those lost in the Sandy Hook shooting:

(1)  Do an act of kindness for 26 people:  In honor of each victim, your child can give out 26 items or do 26 acts of kindness that are meaningful to them.  Perhaps your children use some of their allowance to buy small boxes of candy like boy in the mall parking lot did.  Or, perhaps your children will get crafty and make bracelets, pins, stickers, or pictures that they take time to create.  Maybe your child will lend his or her services to help others in their own special way– playing the piano for a sad neighbor, collecting cans for a charity, bringing flowers to the elderly. Whatever feels meaningful to them can help them feel like they are doing something in the wake of this tragedy.

(2)  Make a snowflake: Members of Connecticut’s Parent Teacher Student Association are asking for snowflakes_sandyhook-179x300 homemade snowflakes! Let the children get creative!  The PTSA will use the snowflakes to decorate the school so that the children come back to a beautiful winter wonderland.  The children will be moving to a new school in the new year so they are asking for the snowflakes as soon as possible.  Anyone wishing to make snowflakes can send them to: Connecticut PTSA– 60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 103–Hamden, CT 06514.

(3)  Create a condolence card: If your children love to draw, cut and paint, perhaps they’d like to send a homemade card to those grieving in Sandy Hook.  The US Postal Service has added a PO Box for those who wish to send letters of condolence to the residents of Newtown. Please address mail to: Message of Condolence, PO Box 3700, Newtown, CT 06470.

(4)  Quilt or knit a blanket: Project Linus is a nonprofit that brings comfort to children in crisis.   If your child loves to quilt or knit, this can be a rewarding way to give comfort to those in need. Find out how you can get involved here.

(5)  Partial out allowance: As there are so many foundations set up—some general to help all the families and some specific to help a particular family affected by the tragedy, your children can choose where they want their money to go.  Teach your children to partial out a portion of their allowance to the charity or foundation of their choice.  Do they identify with one particular child? Some of the children were known for their beaming personalities, some for their interests and some for their talents. Allow your child to pick so that s/he feels connected to the gift. For example, a child named Noah might feel an affinity to Noah Pozner and want to donate to the Noah’s Ark of Hope Fund . in his honor. A child who loves animals might decide to donate money to a charity to help animals in animal-lover Catherine Hubbard’s name.   There are many options—and so many people who can be helped with your family’s generosity.

Whatever small way your child can help will no doubt be appreciated by the recipients.  But it will also give something back to your child who will learn that children do have the power to give, the power to love and the power to heal.

 

 

 

Parents; How to Talk to Children about the Connecticut School Shooting

press_schoolshooting-300x182We have all heard the horrific news by now. At 9:40 this morning, a masked gunman named Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook elementary school and fired a gun around 100 times. He killed 26 people, 6 adults and 20 children under the age of 8 before killing himself.

Since then it’s been hard to concentrate on anything else but this story.  As a parent of young children, it’s the unimaginable. You send your children off to school hoping that they will be happy but knowing that they will be safe.  Typical worries of a friend not being so friendly or a teacher giving a bad grade may cross our minds.  But not this.

There is no making sense of this tragedy but we do need to be ready for questions.  What do we do for and say to our children about this senseless shooting?

(1) Limit media exposure:  Conversation and information about this tragedy should come from you, not the TV.  You know your children best and can limit details as necessary.  Information on the news is for you and is not age-appropriate for a child.

(2) Underscore safety:  Ensure your children that the authorities and people in charge at their schools are doing everything possible to keep everyone safe.  Help them to understand that a school shooting in one location does not mean that there will be another one in a different location.  These incidents are thankfully very rare and your children and their friends are not at risk because this has happened. In this case, as the gunman is also dead, there is a finality to this devastating rampage.

(3) Remain calm and levelheaded: While it is natural to be upset and infuriated about the shooting, it’s important that we don’t overwhelm children with our emotions.  They need to know that we are strong and reliable if they have questions—and that we are there for them if they need to talk.  If YOU need to talk about it, call a friend or speak to a loved one.

(4) Expect some unusual behavior or feelings: Sometimes news of this sort can make the children act in different ways.  Some will become withdrawn and quiet while others may become hyper or clingy.  Ask them how they are feeling and if they would like to talk. Assure your child that they are OK and give them space to feel anyway that they do—validating their feelings as normal and natural.  Help them to expend nervous energy in productive ways without pushing them.

(5) Discuss fears: Whether you sit with them and have a conversation or use art, role playing or dolls, allow children to express their fears.  What will help them feel safer and more secure?  Fears are nothing to be embarrassed about– today or any day. Sometimes just listening and being their can assuage their fears.

(6) Do not dismiss or avoid: It’s a tough topic.  But if your children are asking about it, talk to them in an age-appropriate way.  You don’t need to go into details and if you don’t know an answer, just say you don’t know! Assure them each time that they are OK and the people in charge are working hard to keep everyone safe.  Remember, if you aren’t talking about it and they want to hear an answer, they will go to another source.  YOU need to be the source.

(7) Hug them tight:  Nothing says safety and security like being tucked into your parents’ arms.  Tell them that you love them and that you and everyone who loves and cares for them are doing everything you can to ensure their safety.

The hug, of course, is also for you.  At times, having children can feel like a really big, tough and even frustrating job.  Everyone has their moments.  But today, take time to hold your children and tell them how grateful you are to have them.  That your life is enriched by them.  That they fill your heart with the most delicious happiness and you thank goodness everyday that they are yours.

Do it.  Again and again. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

The Many Sides of Girls: From Spiderman to Princesses and Everything In Between

tallie_farm-205x300The first thing my daughter, Tallie, wanted to do this morning was go downstairs and have me read her two Spiderman stories from her brother’s new Adventures of Spiderman book he received for Hanukkah last night.  So that’s what I did.  It was from that book that I read her a good night story before bed last night (because nothing says sleep like Spidey against “Lizardman”).  She has also taken a liking to her brother’s new Hess helicopter and truck (so we got her one too that she’ll get for Hanukkah one night).

Tallie loves to climb, tickle-wrestle, play with cars, play baseball, roll in leaves, make snow angels and run.  She also loves to play dress up, play dolls, play pretend and get her nails done with Mommy.

My point is that she is beautifully complicated and multi-faceted.  She is not one-note.  And my guess is, neither is your daughter.

nature_talchar-200x300As parents we must be careful.  Society tells us that girls are meant to love princesses and pink—and some of them do—but not all of them—and for those who do, that’s not all they love.  And it’s vital to our girls’ healthy development that we nurture all sides of them.

The side that likes to pretend.  The side that likes to build.  The side that likes to do puzzles.  The side that likes to run, jump and get dirty.  And the side that likes to read about everything from superheroes to bugs (a current interest of Tallie’s) to space to princesses and whatever else perks their curiosity from one week to the next.

My point it; we can’t let society dictate what our daughters love.  We must let our girls do that.  I’m currently coaching one mom who said to me on a recent coaching call; “I’m really not a fan of swimming so I’m not all that excited about it.  But my daughter is.”  Yup.  Sometimes we are not “in” to what our daughters like.

Tallie asked me for a book on caterpillars last week— not exactly one of my top interests but we got one out from the library.  I so want my daughter to be curious, ask to learn more and have a way of delving in.  Each time she does this, she acquires knowledge.  But she also learns how to learn and how to nurture her own curiosity.  The byproduct is probably more important than the immediate learning.

It would be so easy to create a child who is a reflection of our own image.  But is that really the goal?  As parents, we are charged with the job of bringing out the best in our children—the best version of themselves that they can be rather than the most convenient version of them that we would like to see.  There is typically a difference.  And while it takes courage to open our eyes and work to help them achieve the goals that light them up inside, as parents, we can help them discover who they truly are, the gifts they can bestow on the world and the people they were always meant to become.

Girls will continue to span a beautiful and diverse continuum of what it means to be a girl.  Some will feel best enveloped in pink, frilly dresses playing with dolls and drawing rainbows.  Others will feel most at home digging in the dirt, playing sports and reading about Superman and Wonderwoman.  But my guess, is that while many will fall somewhere in between, most are destined to jump around that continuum surprising us all.  And that’s one of the best parts, isn’t it?

vet_hospital-225x300On Sunday morning, Tallie, dressed in her “Dora the Explorer” nightgown, sequestered herself in her room, playing with her “animal hospital” she helped build with her Daddy the night before. On line to be “checked out” were several horses, a tiny kitten, a goat, a sheep and an alien. At the “reception desk” was one of the new “Lottie dolls” dressed in a blue sparkly shirt and a faux fur vest while another Lottie doll, dressed in a frilly purple dance dress, played nurse to her “Dr. Tallie.”

She asked me to play with her as she got her doctor tools ready for x-rays and surgery. “Dr. Mommy,” she explained confidently, “this goat has a fwog in its fwoat.  He needs a hug and to take medicine fah 10 days.” She dispensed her pretend medicine and then carefully laid him down on her favorite soft purple blanket in her bed.  We went on to diagnose a sick pig, a dog with a broken leg and a feverish cow.  I find it fascinating what her mind comes up with while she’s engrossed in play.

After 45 minutes or so, she hugged me and smiled a huge smile. “I yuv you, Mommy. I yuv you the whole world!” To which I responded, “And I love you my sweet love…every single side of you.”

And I do.  I really do.

 

I messed up, Mom & Dad! 10 Ways to Teach Children to Embrace Their Mistakes

mistakes_photo-225x300It may seem counter-intuitive, but kids need to fall on their face a lot during childhood. It’s part of learning.

A parent got in touch with me recently and told me with some pride that she is the infamous “helicopter parent” that she’s heard me talk about on my blog and in the media. “I like being ‘there’ for my child 100% of the time. To me, that’s part of being a good parent…what kind of parent would I be if I knew they were heading for a mess up and just let it happen anyway?”

Interesting. You see, “messing up” is part of “growing up.” And an important one at that. Unless you are sensing inherent danger (when of course you would intervene), life needs to happen to a child so s/he can learn how to make good choices for his or herself—and that, when problems happen, it’s not the end of the world.

Towers made of blocks tumble. You don’t always get the straw you want. Your favorite shirt gets dirty. You say the wrong thing to your best friend. Homework and art projects may get ripped when you leave them out where your baby brother can get to them.

Life happens. You rebuild. You accept what you can not change or choose to go a different way. You apologize, take responsibility and ask for forgiveness. You clean up your mess. You take care of your stuff.

These lessons are not taught through osmosis. Reading about them in books may give you the knowledge but not the cognitive- kinesthetic- emotional connection. We learn about life through experience. The parenting aspect doesn’t come from the “saving” but rather, what happens before, during and after the mistakes happen.

When teaching your children about mistakes:

  1. Encourage healthy risk-taking: A sad sight is a child who stands on the sidelines of life because they are so afraid to try and fail. Talk to your children about taking healthy risks that push them out of their comfort zone and provide learning, fun and growth. Support them by saying things like; “The most important thing is that you try!” “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” “You’ll never know unless you try!” and “Everything you love to do began when you took a risk and tried!”
  2. Applaud the chutzpah, effort and character rather than just the result: If it’s all about the win, the A, the goal scored or the lead in the play, fear of trying certainly can follow. Instead, celebrate the courage it took to try. Applaud the effort it took to achieve. Highlight the character it took to persevere and stay focused. Say; “one thing I know about you is that when you decide on a goal, you go all the way. You stay on track and keep going until you get there—and I, for one, think that is AMAZING!”
  3. Let them know mistakes are normal and an important part of learning! Assure your children that making mistakes is OK. Most things are not done perfectly the first time—even when you’re an adult. It doesn’t mean “the end of the world” and there is no reason to be embarrassed. Ask them; what does this mistake teach you? What will you know for next time? What will you know next time that you didn’t know before? Mistakes make you wiser not lesser!
  4. Share your mistakes with them: I’m not talking about full disclosure of every bad thing you’ve done. However, you can share mistakes you made when you were young, how you handled them and what you learned from them. You can also share how these mistakes prepared you for the next time you were faced with a similar challenge or choice. Children often think their parents are perfect—we must show that we are not infallible…and that we can still be successful anyway!
  5. Apologize & show accountability in action: One of the most powerful things we can do when we make a mistake is to show our children how to be accountable for it, apologize, and do what we can to fix the problem we created. By doing so, we show our children that everyone is in charge of “cleaning up their own messes;” even adults. We demonstrate that making things better is within our power and making mistakes is not the end of the world.
  6. Teach them to look back: Young children aren’t really skilled in answering “why” questions so inquiring “why” they did something often results in the fruitless answer; “I don’t know.” Instead, ask these two “what” questions when they make a mistake: “What did you do?” (so they can claim ownership and responsibility) and “What happened when you did that?” (so they can understand cause and effect). When they can tell you what happened and how it affected them and others, they are taking the first step towards being accountable: admitting their contribution to the problem.
  7. Teach them to look forward: Children need to learn to take action when they make a mistake or contribute to a problem. The mistake isn’t the end, but rather, the beginning of the learning.  You get a bad grade on a test—>study longer, get extra help, study differently.  You break something—>apologize, ask for forgiveness, ask how you can make it better. I tell my children; “the most important part of making a mistake is cleaning up your mess once you make it…that’s what it means to have character.” Ask these two questions: “What are you going to do?” and “By when are you going to do it?” When they come up with a plan and have a date or deadline, they are more likely to stay accountable.
  8. Ensure that they have an accountability partner: Whether we are speaking about a child, a teen or an adult, people work best when they are accountable to others. You can be your children’s accountability partner or someone else they know such as an older sibling, grandparent, coach, or mentor can assume that position. Ask them; “How will your accountability partner know that you did what you said you were going to do?” They can tell, text, write, call or check something off a list when the task has been completed.
  9. Create the teachable moment if you have to do it: Many children strive to be perfect. They avoid mistakes at all costs. The older children get without making mistakes, the bigger an impact it can make when they finally do. Sometimes it’s necessary to put your children in a position of making a likely mistake so that they can experience it, rectify it and learn for themselves that mistakes are OK. We want them to make mistakes when stakes are low so they know what to do when they are older and the stakes are higher. Encourage them to try the sport they’ve never tried. Have them take a test that they are likely to fail. Once they don’t succeed, teach them to try again and point out that perfection is not the goal.
  10. Thank them for admitting their mistake and coming to you: It can be tough to admit wrongdoing—so when your children come to you with the truth, commend them for it. You are setting up an expectation on both sides that you want them to come to you when they need help or when things aren’t going right and that you will be there when they are truly in need. Sometimes you will simply need to be a coach—reflecting what they are saying, asking powerful questions and brainstorming possible solutions. Other times you will be a source of advice. Still other times, you may simply be a shoulder to cry on or a wall to bounce ideas off of—our role may not be “savior” but that doesn’t mean we don’t play a role in our children’s learning and growth. We most certainly do.

It’s vital that we don’t take over for our children—we must allow them to make their mistakes and encourage them and ensure that they clean up their messes once they make them. Even at age 2 and 3 I have taught my children how to apologize, how to make things better and how to cope when they’ve said or done something that they know is wrong. When I look at them I see two children who are learning self-reliance, integrity, accountability and courage. They are capable. They are risk-takers.  And that makes me proud.

Mistakes can be great gifts of learning so robbing our children of their ability to make them is, well, a mistake within itself. What are you teaching your children about making mistakes?