Saturday, March 4, 2017

Don't Change...

"Don't change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you."

A friend posted a graphic of this quote on her facebook wall. In a days time hundreds of people had "liked" it, and a few hundred had taken the time to share it on their own walls. It's not uncommon to hear adults talking about living authentically, discovering and following their dreams and passions, and not changing to please other people. There are blogs, books, life coaches and therapists available as resources, ready and willing to take your money in exchange for helping you live more authentically, and to support you in rediscovering what brings you joy and leaves you feeling fulfilled.

How it is that we are in our 30's or 40's or beyond and we don't have a clue what it is we want to do with our lives or who we really are or why we feel out of balance, discouraged and out of touch with ourselves? Why do we need outside help in order to discover what was inside of us all along? The answer can be found in how we were treated by adults when we were children.

When you were a child were you treated with respect and unconditional love? Or were you molded to be the person your parents wanted you to be? Were your passions encouraged or frowned upon? When you were in school were the things that brought you joy emphasized? Did your teachers recognize who you were and what you were good at and did they support you in developing those talents that were uniquely your own?

In school children are told to sit still, be quiet and learn what is required, when who they are is laughter and jokes, dancing and singing,  drawing and painting, video games and technology, and so many variations and combinations of personalities and passions. Parents send their children the very clear message that love and approval must be earned with chores, completed homework, and "good behavior." If a child fails to earn that love they are sent away to sit in time out until they apologize for being who they are, or at least who they were in that moment of transgression. In so many ways, none of them insignificant to the child, children are bombarded with messages to be good, do what they are told, make mommy happy, make good choices (which really means to make the only choice that is considered the right choice by the adult in the situation), get good grades, be nice, be quiet, and to take who they really are and squash that wonderful amazing person into a little tiny corner inside, while they show the world the person that the adults around them demand that they be in order to be lovable.

Think about it: most parenting books focus on how to get a child to change their behavior, offering rewards or punishments based on a child's ability and willingness to modify who they are to fit parental expectations and requirements. Parenting books are purchased because parents want to control their children, change a child's behavior, change their child's sleep patters, get a child to complete their (often boring, irrelevant, too hard or too easy) homework without complaining, or do more chores around the house with less nagging and effort on the part of the parent. Parenting books are written to meet the desires of the parents, who want parenting to be easier, they are not written to meet the needs of children. Generally these books aren't written to show parents how to support their children in blossoming into the amazing person they were born to be, and they generally do the opposite, they instruct parents in how to create children who will some day be 40 and have no clue what it is they love to do. Children who will see a quote on facebook that says, "Don't change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you," and the words will speak to that part of them that was squashed down and hidden away 30 plus years before. Chances are as much as a small voice inside of then says, "Yes, that!" Another small voice will be saying, "But what if I show the world who I am and no one loves the real me?" And that small voice is the child who was shut down, who learned to do what they were told and to be who they were supposed to be,so that they were worthy of love, the child who was told that drawing, dancing, taking apart a motor, or playing a video game was a waste of time. That is the voice of the child who became an expert at being who the adults in their life wanted them to be so that they didn't get in trouble and they didn't disappoint. Or maybe they did get in trouble and they did disappoint. Perhaps they were labeled a problem child, strong willed, or perhaps even given a diagnosis and medication to make them be who their parents or the school system wanted them to be. Maybe they lived their childhood feeling ashamed, angry, or misunderstood.

"Don't change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you."
Imagine saying this to a child, every child. Imagine living this ideal as a parent, being the right person who loves the "real you" inside your child. When we are feeling frustrated, disappointed, or angry with a child it might help to step back, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves what it is we are expecting of the child, and to consider that our expectation might not be in line with that very real child who just wants to be loved for who they are.

Originally published at With The Family, March 3, 2012.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Do Not Stay Silent

Speak up, reach out, check in. 

Please, let your friends and family know that they are not alone, particularly this week when the world may be feeling dark, hurt-filled, and more dangerous than it did a few days ago.

Monday, June 13, 2016


Do what ever you can, what ever it takes, 
to help heal our country 
so that our children, and our adults, 
feel safe and are safe. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Capable Kids

"Nine-year-old Hilde Kate Lysiak is the sole journalist of Orange Street News, 
the only publication devoted exclusively to covering the events of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania (population 5,000). 
Hilde’s favorite beat to report on is crime, and she’s written extensively about vandalism, drug use, and harassment in Selinsgrove. 
Regular Orange Street News readers know that Hilde often covers serious subject matter that might seem incongruous with her age, 
but when the nine-year-old was the first reporter on the scene of a murder in Selinsgrove last weekend, 
some local residents were scandalized."
Read more Here.

Some kids like to play with dolls and have tea parties, some kids like to play soccer, some kids like to paint pictures, some kids like to play computer games, some kids like to climb trees, some kids like to report the news. Most kids like to do a bunch of different things. They may or may not end up sticking with some things, they may find something they love doing so much that it remains a passion for the rest of their life.
Our job, as parents, as adults, is not to tell kids what they should want to do, what they want to explore, or how they should be doing what they want to do; our role is that of a facilitator, cheerleader, and mentor. We can expose our children to a wide variety of experiences and opportunities, but we must follow their lead when it comes to what and how they want to take advantage of or explore those opportunities. Our job as a community, society, or world, is to support kids in doing what they are capable of doing, while accepting that different children are ready to do things at different times, while understanding that children's interests and abilities are unique and individual. When I was a kid my dad ran a summer camp with a huge swimming pool. Because I was there all summer, and I loved to swim, I was able to take advantage of the swimming lessons offered to campers. I quickly worked my way up through the levels, until I was told that I could go to the next level because I had to be twelve. It was disappointing, and frustrating. I couldn't take lessons and keep moving up. That was it for me. I didn't go back and pick up where I left off when I was old enough, I didn't keep swimming as anything other than something I did with friends and family. I didn't become a swim instructor when I was older, or a life guard. Now I don't even own a swimming suit that fits and the only stroke I can do with any sort of proficiency is the side stroke, though it's been years since I tried, so who knows. How might things have been different if I hadn't been told I was too young? Who would I be today if I had been encouraged to keep swimming? There's no way to know, but I do know that I stopped doing something I enjoyed because I didn't have support from the adults in my life. I hope that you will join me in striving to support kids in following their interests, rather than discouraging them from finding out how much they can accomplish and how capable they are.

"Who am I being that my children's eyes are not shining?"
- Benjamin Zander, from his TED Talk that you can watch HERE.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Project Dawn: The New Barbie Bodies

It’s true, I am one of those moms who never let her kids have Barbies. There were many reasons for that, for example: I’d never had Barbies growing up, I’d had The Sunshine Family, and so my kids didn’t have Barbies, they had The Loving Family. Barbie really wasn’t my style, I’ve always been rather rectangular in shape, no waist to speak of, and wearing high heels has never been my thing. As a parent I rebelled against toys with tiny parts, like the shoes that fit on Barbie’s permanently disfigured feet. And yes, I didn’t want my kids growing up thinking Barbie’s body was humanly possible, because we all know it isn’t. 

Yesterday the earth shifted on its axis. My oldest child posted a link to an article about the new Barbies on facebook and tagged me in the comments. Ever skeptical, I read the article, clicked a link to read another article, clicked on a video, and there I went down the rabbit hole. 

I have a petite child, a curvy child, and one who is still growing toward being a tall child. My kids have had their hair dyed a bright variety of colors. My kids love fashion in a way I never did. What a crazy day when Barbie has dolls that represented my kids! And not just my kids, but all sorts of other kids who look nothing like my kids. I’ll admit it, I thought it was awesome. My nineteen year old daughter asked if I’d buy her her first Barbie. The idea of a doll that resembled her was cool enough that she wanted one. She felt seen and represented. 

Isn’t that what we all want, in the media, in the world around us? To feel seen and represented? 

As it happens, yesterday, I also came across an article about Lego unveiling a figure that uses a wheelchair. I was reminded of how important it is for children to see themselves represented in the world around them, and that includes in the toys they play with. 

If a child who uses a wheelchair has a toy that represents them, it enables them to express and explore their life experience through play. It also helps them feel seen and validated. If a child has a friend, or sibling, who uses a wheelchair having a toy that represents their friend is also meaningful. 

Children want to look at a toy be able to say "It's just like me!" The "it's just like me!" feeling is particularly important to kids who rarely see themselves represented in the media or in available toys. And, as it turns out, there is an organization, Toy Like Me, that is working toward a better cultural representation of disabled kids world wide. 

You may not be a fan of Barbie, and you may hate stepping on Legos when you walk across a room in the dark, but I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the fact that more kids are seeing themselves represented in the world, even as we work toward expanding the options so that every child can have a toy that brings a smile to their face as they say, “It’s just like me!”

Friday, June 12, 2015

I See Gender

When it comes to racism and prejudice, there are many essays and articles that have explained why saying “I don’t see color” is not a particularly helpful way to express that you feel you are an ally, well informed, and accepting of all people. 

In fact, Having A Color Blind Approach to Racism is Actually Racist:
“Instead of being color blind, allow yourself to acknowledge the fact that racism is still a problem that hurts a lot of people in a lot of different ways. Some acts of racism are violent and obvious, others are more subtle and even unintentional. If you want to really be an ally for people who experience racism, listen to them. That’s all you have to do: Listen.”

If you think that being color blind or “not seeing color” is a good thing then I strongly encourage you to read the above article in its entirety. 

O.K. so now hopefully we’re all on the same page about racism and how it’s a bad thing. Hopefully you get that until the world is actually a safe place for people of all colors we need to keep seeing color so that we can be part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem. 

Now, using that as a point of reference, we are going to talk about gender identity. 

Lately there has been an uptick in the number of articles and conversations relating to transgender people and issues in my facebook feed. That’s awesome! 

What’s not so awesome is the lack of respect and compassion that creeps into the conversations from people who think they are intelligent, compassionate, respectful, and/or allies. What’s not so awesome is people who make excuses or who try to make light of their snark with statements such as: 

I was just joking
I respect you as a human but….
I’m old
I don’t care what gender people are (as in “I don’t see gender”)

People try to dismiss the importance of discussing gender identity with comments such as “Why can’t we just all be humans and accept each other as we are? We don’t need all these Labels.” 

As long as half of all transgender people are attempting suicide, and as long as transgender children are been abused, teenagers are being kicked out of their homes, people are being assaulted and murdered, and hate crimes are happening - and all of these things are happening because of gender identity and gender expression - then no, we cannot all just be humans without labels. When people are dying because of who they are then it is not o.k. for you to belittle them or make sarcastic comments about them. It is not o.k. for you to say “I respect you as a human but I don’t care about your gender identity.”  As long as there are people in the world who comment on a 15 year old kid’s YouTube channel and tell them they should be shot because they identify as genderfluid, you should care. 

While you are treating gender identity labels as designer tags that are amusing, confusing, or annoying, while you are making comments about people “just wanting to feel special”, while you are hiding behind your facebook persona, using your age as an excuse, and treating gender identity as the latest fad, people are dying. 

Until the world is actually a safe place for people of all genders we need to keep seeing gender so that we can be part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem. You need to be part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem. You need to be respectful of people without the “but,” without snark, hashtags, or excuses.


Your Understanding of Gender May Be Wrong. Here’s Why.

Gender Spectrum offers resources to empower your relationships, work, and interactions with youth and children. From how-to guides, to respected research, to sample training materials, we provide you with the tools necessary to create gender inclusive environments in your homes, offices, and communities.  

Pronouns are Important
Two years ago I wrote a blog post over at With The Family titled "If It's Important to You, It's Important To Me." That's what I want, I want to know that this topic that is important to me and my family is important to those who say they are my friend, are my relatives, or who say they care about me. And that's really what I'm trying to express about pronoun usage: when talking to or about a non-binary person, when you use the pronouns they have asked you to use it shows them that who they are is important to you. 

Vi Hart’s video on Gender