Book Reflection: Brave Parenting

Quote: What childen want most is to be known and accepted.I love books. If I ever did one of those 100 things challenges, I would have such a hard time parting with my library (clothes, who needs ‘em?). I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. I’ve probably blocked it out. That’s how much I love to read. I always have a couple of books going—one on my Kindle and at least one “real” book. As soon as I finish one, I start another. I don’t take any time to reflect on the content or sit with what I just experienced and learned.

I’m hoping to change that. Hence, here is my first “Book Reflection.” It will likely have some characteristics of a book review, but I hope it will go deeper.

A Little Background

As I’ve mentioned, I meet regularly with a small group of parents, mostly women, to promote social and emotional learning (SEL) and mindfulness in the local schools and in the broader community. At these meetings, I’ve been raving about The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali and suggesting we do a book group on it.

In November, one of the members of this group sent me an email to let me know that she wouldn’t be attending an upcoming meeting. She also sent a link to Brave Parenting: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Raising Emotionally Resilient Children. “Have you read it?” she asked. “I’ve been recommending it to my sisters/friends with younger children.”

I had not read it and promptly bought it for my Kindle. (There’s no way I can not read a book with “raising emotionally resilient children” in the sub-title.)

Less Is More

The premise of the book is that we need to let our children find their way in life and not always rescue them when they experience problems. In fact, according to author Krissy Pozatec, brave parenting is doing less:

Less is more—this is the path of brave parenting. Let’s let our kids tackle their own problems. Let’s step out of the current and rest on the bank of the river.

I’ve been a fan of the “less is more” concept related to email and belongings and work hours for a while. However, I had never thought about it in the context of parenting. As soon as I read the above quote, it made all sorts of sense. If we are constantly solving our kids’ problems, they don’t develop their internal resources to problem solve, regulate their emotions, cope with distress, and adapt to change.

Happiness vs. Emotional Health

In my book, I use the phrase “healthy and happy kids” a few times to describe the ideal scenario. By happy, I really mean able to overcome adversity (a.k.a.) resilience. Brave Parenting reminded me that perhaps a terminology change is needed. Pozatec writes:

We need to step away from the notion of constant happiness and move toward a concept of emotional health.

Indeed, ever since I attended a parlor conversation with Dr. Henry Emmons, author of The Chemistry of Joy, I have been preaching this. He noted that Americans think that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. And when we’re not, we think something is wrong. We are scared of emotions perceived as “negative.” But all emotions are part of the human experience. And there are reasons for them. For example, fear is a very important emotion that can save your life. Even sadness has a purpose.

As brave parents, we don’t rush in to “make everything okay.” Rather, we provide a space for kids to be with their beautiful range of emotions. We don’t abandon them, but let them know we hear them—and that’s it’s normal to feel sad, lonely, worried, etc.

Automatic Responses

The Conscious Parent focuses heavily on figuring out how your different egos may be impacting your parenting. Brave Parenting talks about automatic responses. Explains Pozatec:

Automatic responses are part of a parent’s emotional response system, which stems from the parent’s personal story.

When treatment focuses only on the child, we miss this crucial piece. As parents, we bring our own experiences and stories into our parenting. In fact, if we pay attention, we can learn a thing or two about ourselves by how we parent our children. (Hopefully before we do too much damage.)

I believe this is one of the reasons family therapy is crucial when treating children with emotional or behavioral problems. It’s often not the child’s problem…

Contact with Nature

I was excited to see a conclusion with the title “Contact with Nature.” Then again, considering that the author has worked with wilderness therapy, I was not surprised. I include “being in nature” as a basic need in my book and Pozatec confirms this:

Children today need to have contact with the earth: to feel a sense of connection, to push up against natural limits, to explore their senses, to process their feelings, to be with the hum of the natural world instead of the electronic world.

I say amen to that. Connecting with animals counts too. In fact, the author points out that “a walk with a dog can be deeply healing…” Let’s get our kids outside, away from their devices, and connecting with nature.

There is so much more to this book than I am able to cover here. I certainly wish I’d had this knowledge when my child was young. However, even with a 17-year-old, I can apply some of the strategies, such as not rushing in to rescue.

Read it. Reflect on it. Let it guide you to be a brave parent (or grandparent or uncle or aunt or trusted adult).

And local folks, we will likely be doing a book group on this soon. Stay tuned!

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5 Things I Learned From My Dog

Sophie the Bichon

Sophie the Bichon

My siblings and I didn’t really have pets growing up. Except once we had a cat, Pelle, named for the tail-less cat in the popular Swedish children’s book, Pelle Svanslös. He was a great cat. Independent. A hunter. He would leave for a week and return with battle scars. He also gave me a perpetual cold for four years (nowadays known as allergies).

Other than that, no pets. My sister and I dreamed of owning a Westie, but our parents wouldn’t hear of it. And I don’t blame them. Why would you add a dog in addition to five children? (Sounds stressful.) Over time, I lost all interest in ever owning a dog—or any pet, for that matter.

So, it was with great trepidation that I gave in to my eight-year-old’s plea for a puppy nine years ago. We would lose our independence. It would be like having a toddler for life. We’d have to train it… Never did I in my wildest dreams imagine how wonderful life with a dog might be. Or that I would actually learn a thing or two about life from this little creature…

1. Sometimes it’s okay to just sit and soak up the sun. When the sun is shining, Sophie finds a spot on the floor that has been heated by the sun rays. Then she just lays there. We know sunshine in small doses is good for us. (Vitamin D, anyone?) Yet, how often do we take the time to just sit in the sun and enjoy the warmth it provides?

2. You’re never too old to play. Sophie just turned nine. That’s 44 in human years. That’s older than I am! Yet, Sophie continues to play. She knows a handful of words—and ‘toy’ is one of them. About once a day, she goes to her basket, pulls out a toy, and tries to get one of us to play with her. (She loses interest after about three throws, so it’s usually pretty safe to play along.) The point is, we all need to play—for life. Play is essential for wellness. And it’s fun!

3. Daily walks make you happy. When it gets cold outside, we sometimes get a little lazy with walks. Instead, we let Sophie run around in the back yard, while we impatiently wait for her to finish her business. However, this doesn’t make Sophie as happy as a walk. She wants to scamper around the block and sniff, sniff, sniff. Say hi to friends. Walking makes me happy too. For other reasons.

4. Show your love every day. I’m pretty sure that Sophie loves every human being on this planet. She greets visitors to our home with exuberant joy (we must have missed the don’t-jump-on-people class during puppy training). Every day when I come home from work, her little face peeks out the front door glass, but by the time I enter through the back door, she’s there, ready to greet me. She doesn’t hold back.

5. If you need attention, ask for it. When we’re born, we’re pretty good at getting our needs met. We cry when we’re hungry, wet, or tired. However, over time, some of us become less assertive in expressing our needs—especially our needs for affection and quality time with loved ones. Sophie doesn’t have that problem. She is quite good at communicating when she needs some love by gently pawing our hands. (Turns out this is not desirable behavior, but we think it’s pretty cute!)

I’m glad persistence is one of our child’s primary traits. Otherwise, I’d never know the love of Sophie, the best dog in the world.

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Thanks for the Inspiration!

You cannot serve both God and money.All of us need a little inspiration from time to time—or maybe most of the time. Everything I write is inspired by something: books, conversations, experiences, articles, Facebook posts, emails, etc. We wouldn’t get far without inspiration.

So today, feeling extra thankful due to the season, I’m going to list some of the people/books/documentaries that influenced (inspired) me to start blog, write my book, and generally have shaped many of my beliefs about how I want to live in this world.

Use Money Wisely

I will start with Jesus of Nazareth and my pappa. They both had the same idea about money. Ideas such as “You cannot serve two masters—God and Money” and use money wisely. My dad wore the same pants in the 90s as he wore in the 70s. They weren’t worn out yet and still fit, so why buy new ones? JC and my dad both also emphasized giving back (10 percent) even when there wasn’t much money to spare. Our resources are really just on loan to us to use for good—and a big bank account won’t do us much good when we die.

Thanks for the inspiration to view money as something to be used sparingly for selfish purposes and generously for the common good!

Simplifying Is Sexy

When I worked in Corporate America, I spent significant time learning time management strategies. It was the only way to survive! I got really into “Getting Things Done” (or GTD) by David Allen and simplified my inbox and workflow. GTD led me to Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits. This blog opened a whole new world to me. A world where simplifying was sexy—where having less and doing less was actually desirable.  It changed my life and inspired me to create this blog.

Thanks for the inspiration to simplify everything from my inbox to my possessions.

Tread Lightly On the Planet

I read several books leading up to the creation of Simply Enough, which helped me understand just how much our actions impact the planet. It also helped me realize how much we as westerners consume compared to the rest of the world. Some of the books that stand out are Simple Prosperity, Radical Simplicity, Ready, Set, Green, and  Hot, Flat, and Crowded. I started bringing cloth bags to the grocery store, buying groceries in bulk, biking to work (more), and thinking twice before buying something out of “want” vs. “need.”

Thanks for the inspiration to reduce waste and stop buying things I don’t need.

Wanting to Change the World

A few years ago, our family experienced the negative side-effects of a mental health system driven by profits at all costs. (You can read more about it here.) This caused me to start researching psychiatry, the pharmaceutical industry, and how society contributes to kids’ mental distress, especially in the U.S. The book that started it all was Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker, which possibly saved our daughter’s life. However, I was also inspired by Get Up, Stand Up by Bruce E. Levine and a number of documentaries, including Inequality for All and A Place at the Table. (And many, many more.)

Thanks for the inspiration to stand up for children’s mental health and happiness.

P.S. My Kickstarter project is still going strong. It’s not too late to join the fun! You can get an early release ebook of “Her Lost Year” for only $10. I send regular updates to backers about the progress of the book project. I hope you’ll join us!

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It’s Happening! I’m Kickstarting “Her Lost Year”

You’ve heard me talk about my book project, Her Lost Year, for months now. (When you work on a book, it kind of takes over your life. And once you start getting close to the finish line, you just want to tell everybody about it!) Thanks for sticking with me.

Throughout the process of writing (for three years!), I have been going back and forth between thinking about indie publishing (self-publishing) and traditional publishing (getting an agent, landing a publishing contract). For now, indie publishing has won out, primarily because I feel a great sense of urgency to get the book released and into the hands of parents, educators, and concerned citizens across the country.

Her Lost Year Kickstarter Campaign

In order to complete this project—and launch a professional-quality book, I need to raise money to pay for services such as copy editing, layout, and cover art. I’ve decided to use the Kickstarter platform for this. Take a look at this video we created to promote the campaign (narrated by my daughter, Rebecka):

Visit our Kickstarter campaign website to learn more and see if you’d like to support us. There are some pretty nifty rewards (including a signed book, of course!), so make sure to check those out. If you’re not in a position to contribute financially at this time, please share the campaign on Twitter or Facebook (or wherever you hang out online!).

Thank you. You rock—a lot!

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Why We Can’t Let Campaign Fatigue Keep Us from Voting Today #Election2014

I am tired of political junk mail in my mailbox. I am tired of expensive smear campaigns by all parties for public offices at all levels. I am tired of the daily emails asking for money (I already contributed!).

However, as tired as I am, and as fed up as I am by grown women and men—leaders of our cities, counties, states, and country—campaigning like out-of-control, mean-spirited teenagers, I will still vote today. Indeed, I already filled out my absentee ballot and popped it in the mail.

Why?

Because it is my right and my duty as a citizen of the United States of America. And because I haven’t given up on social change through policy. I believe that if we get enough of the right people in public office—people who care more about their constituents than Big Money—we can make change happen.

We can raise the minimum wage. We can pass laws supporting parental leave. We can force Big Business to pay their share of taxes and take the burden off small business owners. We can overturn Citizens United and return to some resemblance of fair elections. We can prioritize student-centered public education, healthy school food, and preventative health care.

We can…

Why Politics Matter

I have an entire chapter in my forthcoming book that describes changes that must happen in politics in order to create a society optimized for mental health. The chapter is called “Establishing a Just Republic” (as opposed to our current unjust oligarchy).

Several of my beta readers struggled with this chapter. “What does politics have to do with mental health?” they wondered. So in the second draft, I added a few paragraphs to a section titled “Politics Affect Everything:”

But enough about the problems, we’re here to talk about solutions—how to optimize children’s mental health through policy changes.

“Wait, what?” you may be thinking. “What does policy changes have to do with mental health?”

Everything.

Politics affect everything in our lives. And when I say politics, I don’t mean Republican vs. Democrat or gun rights vs. gun control. Let’s move beyond that and think about politics in a larger sense—how it affects everything from our children’s education to access to holistic health care to parents’ ability to put food on the table, factors that all play a role in children’s mental health outcomes. It is impossible to avoid the topic of politics and have an honest discussion about mental health. Indeed, any book that attempts to address mental health, but ignores the politics of it is a fairytale. So stay with me!

Politics Should Serve the Common Good

I continue…

Between lobbying and campaign bashing, we have forgotten that politics is supposed to be about serving the common good—or to “promote the general welfare,” to quote the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. What would constitute “common good” as it relates to children’s mental health? Guaranteeing parental leave for all new parents. Ensuring that no child has to go hungry or worry about where they’re going to sleep tonight. Pulling families out of poverty and creating safe neighborhoods. Providing student-centered, holistic education to all children. Creating and preserving natural spaces so all children can experience unstructured play. Restructuring the mental health system to take profits out of the equation. (The list goes on…)

As we continue our discussion, keep in mind this connection between policy and our ability to optimize children’s mental health. Mental health is a social concern as much as it is an individual concern. And currently, policy is dictated by a handful of wealthy, mostly white, mostly male owners of giant corporations pursuing their individual interests—more money and power. Unless we change this structure, our politicians cannot serve the common good.

Vote for Kids’ Future Happiness

We know there are many environmental factors that impact the future happiness and emotional wellness of our children. Mothers who have to return to work soon after their child’s birth are more likely to be depressed, thus risking passing on depression to their child. Living in a food insecure household is a form of trauma—and childhood trauma can result in a host of negative physical and mental health outcomes. Our one-size-fits-all, standardized testing-based education breeds anxiety and depression in our nation’s youth. (I could go on.)

Meanwhile, a powerful Big Pharma lobby ensures that pharmaceutical companies can keep pushing medication—designed for adults—to pediatricians and psychiatrists to medicate our children off-label for symptoms of being a creative, sensitive, rambunctious, critically thinking, or kinesthetically oriented child in a society that is not designed for their emotional well-being. Rather than adapt the environment to meet the needs of all children, we adapt these children to their environment.

There are certain politicians who support healthy families and communities and there are some politicians who are more concerned with getting re-elected with Big Money. Figure out who supports healthy families—of all shapes and sizes—and vote for them today—even if you’re tired.

Because what matters more than our kids’ health and happiness?

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