Photo Credit: Japan Experna
I have used swear words for much of my adult life. I grew up in a culture where swearing was normal and common in conversation. Then I moved across the county to an area that had a very different vibe. One of my first impressions was: “No one here drinks or swears.” Now I know that is not true. It just wasn’t flaunted in the way to which I was accustomed.
I started reeling in my potty mouth because I felt I was coming on too strong. However, I learned over time that many adults in my new locale swore. They just did it privately or with certain people. Still, this experience prompted me to look at how I used language and to fine tune my filter.
Once I had children, I tightened things even further. Before I go on, I want to say I have plenty of friends who swear in front of their kids. I am not judging that. Every home has its own rhythm, and there are many ways to approach a subject. I am reflecting on my own journey.
Part of my decision to abstain from swearing in front of my kids as much as possible came from the fact that I tend to be an all or nothing person. I find it hard to moderate things. If I am going to swear, I am not holding back. Another aspect of this had to do with where to draw the lines. As the mom, I have the ability to shape the culture in my home, and while I want kids to express feelings, I also want them to be thoughtful about how to do it most effectively. Swear words are great because they put a fine point on things like nothing else. That power is undeniable. And because of that, I decided instead of not allowing certain words, I would categorize them as power words and establish some ground rules around them.
Power words for me are more than swears. Power words are anything, good or bad, that merit caution and thought.
On the negative side, this includes name calling (i.e. stupid, idiot, jerk) or overly dramatic statements. Hearing something like “I hate this show” gives me pause. When one of my kids says “hate,” we talk about it. They aren’t in trouble, but we explore the meaning of the word and think on if it’s the best choice for that situation. Sometimes it is. Often it isn’t.
A positive that comes from this attention to speech is that when emotions run hot in our house (and they do get hot), for the most part, we don’t call each other names or throw around negative power words. It’s not a perfect system, but when things break down, we take time to sort it out and find better language to communicate what is really going on.
On the other hand, I don’t leave my kids in a bubble. On a hike with my son, I taught him all the core swear words and their meanings. He’s going to hear them around, and many he already had and just didn’t understand. This subversive lesson was hand in hand with a discussion on the appropriate time and place to use them, if at all, with the caution to not use words of which you don’t know the meaning. A year or two later, after one particularly rough day at middle school involving some nasty behavior from another student, I pulled out some particular swears to sum up the situation. My son paused and said, “Yes, Mom! That’s exactly what it’s like. It’s a **bleepity bleep**.” We then had a conversation about the meat of the issue. It’s not that we can’t use these words, but I never want those words to be all that there is.
Plus, these power word conversations have been a bridge to addressing more racially and sexually charged language with my kids. It gives us a framework. When I started this process ten years ago, I did not envision the open hostility expressed daily in current American society. I think these lessons on power words are even more important now, as much for me as for my kids. I don’t know if I am preparing my children appropriately, but at least between us, we can talk (and swear) with thought and purpose.
Do you swear in front of your children? How does swearing work in your culture?
This is an original post written for World Moms Network by Tara B.
My oldest child just started middle school, which in the United States generally means sixth through eighth grade, or the years between elementary school and high school. Middle school has a tough reputation. It’s a time of huge change in every way possible. Kids go from being in one classroom pretty much all day to moving from class to class and managing multiple teachers’ expectations. They are also surrounded by many new faces from several different elementary schools that are blending together for the first time. Students are in every different phase of personal, physical, and emotional development. It’s the wild west of adolescence.
There’s lots to absorb and get used to, and the first week for my son encompassed a little bit of all of it – the good, the bad, the ugly. At one point he said to me, “No matter what you do, middle school happens to you .”
In the process of watching and listening to my son’s experiences, it’s hard not to go back to those days in my head. Each up and down that he experiences reminds me of something from my past. He will even ask sometimes if a particular situation ever happened to me, and of course, I always have a story to share. And as we swap stories, those old feelings come roaring back to the surface.
As parents, we want to spare our children the harsh moments we experienced and exalt them into the glorious ones, but life doesn’t work that way.
One evening, I was attempting to encourage my son to try getting to know his new classmates even if it feels awkward, and I asked my husband for backup. I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. My husband was talking about when he went to college. It was a huge school in a new city, and he didn’t know anyone. He decided to go to a freshmen welcome party at a different dorm. Looking around, he noticed a guy wearing a concert t-shirt for a band he also liked. My husband decided to go up to the guy and comment on the shirt to start a conversation. The two got to talking, and they decided to hang out. T-shirt guy took my husband to his dorm to meet some friends. One of those friends was me. We became pals, a year later we started dating, and the rest is history. We went to a huge school, lived nowhere near each other, and studied completely different things. Looking back, if my husband hadn’t created an opportunity over a t-shirt, we easily could have never met.
I like to think that this talk gave my son some perspective. It sure gave me some. As much as I don’t like seeing my kids uncomfortable or struggling, it’s so central to growing up. Learning to be comfortable in your own skin through trial and error is essential. It’s not just that middle school happens to you. Life happens to you, and it’s up to each us to face it on our own two feet.
I am glad to say middle school isn’t all bad, and my son is opening up a little more all the time. In fact, by sharing about himself, he learned that he had common ground with someone he had previously had difficulties with. I don’t believe that things will be rosy all the time or that every new face will become a friend, but at least one can always start again. It just takes walking up to someone and saying “hello.”
How do your children cope with new places and people? Has a simple “hello” ever changed your life?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. of the United States. Photo credit: University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
We are approaching summer in my part of the world, which means prime hiking season! I hike with my two boys all year round, but I love this time of year when things are a bit less wet. We live along the Cascade Mountain Range, so there is no shortage of amazing vistas and gorgeous forests to explore. I have been hiking with my kids since they were babies, most often on my own. My sons are now elementary school age, and while some things have gotten easier over the years, some have not. Endurance and motivation are continual challenges.
All of those lovely photos on social media usually have some rough backstory moments. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so we keep at it.
Today I share some tips on planning a hike and keeping little feet moving along the path.
Choosing a Trail – It’s important to start any journey with a clear plan. Map out where you will go. Depending on where you live, there are often trail websites as well as guide books available that will tell you which are good hikes for kids and when is the best time of year to go. Take into consideration the drive as well as hike length and elevation gain. Are you considering a hike to a destination such as a waterfall or lake, or do you want a no-pressure meander in the forest? Find out if there is a bathroom at the trailhead. And if you do pick a hike with water features, have a plan for when your kids get wet, because they always do.
Safety – Once you have some ideas, make sure to check weather and trail conditions online or with the closest ranger station. Provided the trail looks good and you have any required permits, you can start gearing up. Make sure to pack the 10 essentials plus extra clothes, food, drinks, books, games, and toys for the car. If you are heading to a trail that will be near any ridge, look out, or peak, have a plan to keep little ones safe. I always liked to bring a special blanket that we called the safety mat. When we were in situations where the kids needed to stay put, I brought out the safety mat and they knew there was no leaving the blanket. You may even offer stickers or other rewards for following safety protocol. Lastly, whether you go solo with kids or with friends, have another adult who is not on the hike as your check in buddy. Let them know where you are going, when you plan to return, when you will call to check in, and where they should call if you don’t.
The Drive – Hopefully your kiddos enjoy all those goodies you packed and let you focus on the road. I always keep an eye out on the drive for fun places to stop for a meal or a treat on the way home. I keep it under wraps, but there comes a point on a longer hike when saying “let’s just get to the car, and we can go get ice cream” helps a ton.
Hiking Goals – If your kids have a concept of distance or elevation, talk to them about what you are doing. Give everyone a map if available. Or better yet, give them pencil and a little notebook and have them draw the trail with noticeable landmarks. Consider having them take photographs along the way. My kids LOVE having a camera to carry and will take tons of photos. If the kids are younger, consider picking a favorite tv or book character to pretend to be and act out an adventure on the hike. My boys loved Thomas the Tank Engine, so we’d pretend to be the engines on the narrow-gauge line up on the mountains. If your kids are older, try geocaching, because everyone loves treasure hunting.
Bribery – There is no other way to put it. I bribe my kids. If the drive is super long, they get to play extra video games in the car for being good sports and coming along. I pack treats along with all the healthy stuff. In the photo above, my boys are shown on a mountain peak. Leading up to that moment, my youngest was beginning to bonk at the site of the final climb. I let him know if he made it to the top, he could eat all the cookies before his lunch. He was thrilled, and as the photo shows, we made it. Maybe video games and cookies aren’t going to work for you, but there is something special you can do to reward all that effort.
The last piece of advice I will offer is to always know that at any time you may need to bail.
Maybe it happens on the drive or on the trail, but set a clear expectation with yourself that it will be whatever it will be, which may mean only a few feet down the path. But the more you get your kids out on the trail, the more accustomed to the work they become. And before you know it, you are on top of a mountain having the cookie party of a lifetime!
Do you explore the outdoors with your children? What tips do you have on keeping them safe and moving?
This has been an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. Photo credit to the author.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Melissa Clark, an amazing woman who organized an initiative called Project Love around the holidays. Driving through the valley in which she lives, Melissa spotted a campfire from a homeless enclave. Seeing folks struggling to stay warm on such a cold winter day moved Melissa in a very personal way. You see, not too long ago, Melissa herself was homeless and struggling with substance abuse.
I connected with Melissa through her current home, Acres of Diamonds , in Duvall, Washington, USA. AOD is a faith-based non-profit that provides housing, life coaching, and a variety of support services to homeless women and their children affected by domestic abuse, substance abuse, and mental health problems. AOD provides more than just temporary shelter. The residents at AOD join a program to break the cycles that keep them from self-sufficiency.
The goal for the residents is to achieve complete independence via graduating out of the residence and supporting themselves and their children on their own while making meaningful contributions to society.
At the time of our talk, Melissa had been at AOD and sober for 9 months. Her 7-year-old son was living with her, and she found employment at a local pizza shop. Melissa shared that she finally feels safe, secure, and loved. When she saw that homeless person’s campfire on her drive home, though, she remembered a different time in her life. The cold, the helplessness, and the spiritual battles all came to mind, and she felt God spoke to her heart in that moment to take action. But before she put plans in motion, she thought it best to honor the individuals she was trying to help by figuring out just what they needed. She and a friend visited some of the homeless folks in the community, invited them to lunch at McDonald’s, and asked them directly what they could use.
From there, the two friends put together a PowerPoint presentation for their church and pitched the idea to create care packages to deliver to the local homeless population. These efforts, titled Project Love, in partnership with an event at a local gym, resulted in huge numbers of clothing, toiletries, coats, sleeping bags, and other essentials getting directly into the hands of those forgotten members of the community.
Furthermore, Melissa, along with her son and an escort for safety, delivered packages to the homeless on Christmas Eve. Since then, she has also secured a standing gift card at the local bike shop for any homeless persons who come in needing repairs and provided a pair of insulated boots to a homeless veteran, who thanked her with tears in his eyes. She hopes to organize donation drives at least twice per year.
Melissa feels it is her ministry to show love and understanding without judgement to the homeless. Her goal is to let these people know that she sees their humanity by taking the time to listen to their stories and helping them get what they need to make it through the seasons. She views it as her duty to share the love and security she has received with others still struggling to break the cycle of homelessness. Whether she gets a person a warm meal or gifts them new gloves, she plans to keep taking steps to lift up those around her.
Talking with Melissa inspired me. I admire her ability to celebrate her own milestones while not placing value judgements on those still farther back on the path.
I admire the example she is setting for her son on overcoming obstacles to build a better future for oneself while still showing compassion for others. And I admire her willingness to look another human being in the eye and ask, “Are you ok? What can I do to help?” We live in such contentious times right now in America. People are struggling to find common ground, and they are lashing out at each other daily. Hearing Melissa’s story reminded me how simple gestures towards those around us make a huge impact and prompted me to consider what more I can be doing to help people in my community.
Melissa’s journey to sobriety and self-sufficiency is a testament to her strength, but her generosity shows her outstanding character. It’s not about how much you have, but how much you are willing to give to help those around you. And sometimes paying it forward doesn’t have to cost a thing. After all, love is free.
Who inspires you in your community?
This has been an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. Picture used with the permission of Melissa Clark.
I have relationships on the brain. I think many Americans do. In the aftermath of a highly contentious election, I observe people from all sides publicly and privately sorting through the complex ways this political cycle has affected their relationships. It got me thinking further about the mindset I bring to my own interactions.
As a child, I was incredibly sensitive with an overwhelming need to be liked and included. I would often take things personally and want to find the path to acceptance with everybody. Through the years, I learned that we are drawn naturally into friendships with some people, and less so with others. I also learned that there are people who most likely will never be your friend. The key to that sentence is “most likely.”
There was a time when the open-ended implications of “most likely” would stress me out. I like things tidy and compartmentalized. If it isn’t working, I want closure. I prefer to know where I stand with someone. However, relationships are a two-way street, and I can only drive the car in my lane. Plus my need for definitive boundaries does not supersede the natural fluidity of relationships over time nor does it allow room for change. Real life relationships are layered, and two people may connect on one level but completely miss on another. And the more time people have together, the more intricate it can become.
These days, I am finding freedom in allowing relationships to come and go, wax and wane, without feeling the need to define the who/what/why. There are friends whom I cherish that I haven’t seen in years, and there are people whom I would love to get to know better. I am always intending to schedule time with these folks, yet life gets in the way. Putting in effort is important, but I am accepting that just because things aren’t happening now doesn’t mean they won’t happen again someday.
Then there are the people with whom I share messy and contentious experiences, and we aren’t as close as we once were. There are also those I intentionally walked away from to escape toxicity. These packed the biggest punch for me personally, and I still mourn each break.
Rather than beating myself up or blaming someone else, though, I am recognizing that there are seasons to all relationships that don’t have to have a definitive beginning or end. I want to allow the distance, the dissonance, or the lost time to be what it is and doors to remain open for whatever the future holds while I try to grow from each experience and gain new perspective.
This really hit home for me after touching base with someone with whom I share a tumultuous history. We have had moments when I think there will be no reconnection, and then life circumstances come along to bring us back together in a meaningful way. It seems new phases bring possibilities for relationships to be reborn or evolve. Not all will, of course, but you never know.
This may sound incredibly obvious to most, but it takes practice for me, especially as I watch things play out for my children. I have seen friends come in and out of their lives, and I have witnessed situations that make me hurt for them. We have discussed how it’s OK to have different seasons for their relationships. Maybe connections need time to be rekindled, or maybe things will always have a hard limit because that is the healthiest choice. But there have been some rocky starts that have turned into great relationships as all parties have matured, and a big part of this is due to the forgiving nature of children and the willingness to start again.
In the effort to build up a child who has suffered a broken friendship, it seems easiest to say ,“It’s their loss”, or, “Who needs them?” Sometimes, we as adults do this too. But the reality is that paths often cross again. Maybe nothing will bear fruit, but what if it does? If we are open to new beginnings or willing to go back to old conversations with a fresh perspective, perhaps those relationships can grow again. And if they don’t, we can allow things to play out without cynicism knowing spring will come again someday with someone else.
How do you navigate changing relationships in your life? How do you help your children do the same?
This has been an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. Photo credit: Chalky Lives. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
The first time I met my future mother-in-law, she insisted on taking me shopping. She raised two sons and was hungry for female companionship. I worried about disappointing her because I am not a shopper. Department stores stress me out. I very much dislike wading through racks of fancy clothes. I rarely carry a purse, and I don’t want to go anywhere near a fragrance counter. I recognize that this is a silly, first world problem, but my mother-in-law, while frugal, loved shopping. Wanting to make a good impression, I went with her. She bought me clothing, which I accepted as graciously as I could.
Soon afterward, my husband and I moved across the country and started a family. My mother-in-law always remained involved. She visited, sent care packages, and supported us in so many ways. She encouraged me and would occasionally offer gifts that sparkled. I always appreciated her tokens, whether they were to my taste or not. I knew it was her way of female bonding.
Earlier this year after a stroke, she learned that she had advanced cancer. She made the decision to move to our area for her care, so she could spend as much time with us as possible. As we talked about goal setting for physical therapy, she kept coming back to one thing. She wanted to go to Macy’s on her own.
Let me back up a little. Many years prior, her eyesight deteriorated through macular degeneration. No longer able to drive, she relied on her husband to take her to Macy’s, often not on her terms. When she moved, she wanted to reach the point where she could hire a car and go on her own. We offered to take her, but she declined. There were so many decisions to be made about doctors, living arrangements and finances that she was unsure about, but what she was crystal clear about was the idea of going to Macy’s and looking at blouses for long as she wished without family poking around her. Macy’s became the ultimate symbol of her will to recover. Unfortunately, this outing never happened.
When she passed away, I offered to pick out the clothing for her burial. I didn’t want to select something from her limited wardrobe, so I pulled myself together and did what she wished she could do. On Halloween morning, I stood outside Macy’s in the pouring rain waiting for the doors to open. I had so many emotions running through me, and I held a warm cup of tea to steady myself. A man dressed as a banana came to unlock the door. I took that as a good omen. I was the first person in, and I walked past an army of smiling, eager sales clerks. I didn’t think I could get through explaining to them what I was looking for, so I decided to go it alone.
At first I looked for a dress, thinking I’d find something in the color she wore to my wedding which suited her so well. I walked section by section, and saw how much there was to sort through. I started to feel overwhelmed. I wanted it to be perfect, but everything felt flashy and loud. Nothing seemed like her. I worried that I was in over my head.
I took a deep breath.
She liked a touch of femininity, but she was sensible – a college professor and savvy investor. A dress was the wrong way to go. I needed a sweater and pants. I came upon a pretty cream sweater embossed with a floral pattern. It was simple yet elegant. I found black pants to go with it. Feeling emboldened, I moved to the jewelry area and picked out a pearl necklace. Lastly, I hit the shoe department. I really struggle in shoe departments, but I pushed on and decided on a pair of black flats. After rounding out the other needed items, I checked out and was on my way.
My mother-in-law was laid to rest on a beautiful, sunny fall morning. The service was intimate and heartfelt, and I think she would have enjoyed the lovely yet not ostentatious flowers. I hope she would have approved of my choice of attire. As for Macy’s, I plan to stop in now and then, wander around, think about my mother-in-law, and enjoy the sparkle. And if I do ever need to pick out a handbag, I trust that she will guide me to the perfect purchase.
Do you have a mother-in-law? What types of things do you do together to bond?
This has been an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. Photo credit: Diariocritico de Venezuela. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.