Choices. It’s an oft heard word in the realm of child hood development. Give you child choices. And it’s true, you should. You child has so little control or power over anything that happens in their lives that allowing them to have or make choices from time to time can be a powerful boost to their self-esteem and sense of worth. They are told when to play, when to stop playing, when to bathe, when to eat, when to go to bed, when it’s time run an errand, when it’s time to go to school when it’s time to leave school and the list goes on and on and on and on. In most scenarios, they need to be told what, how and when to do something because you are the grown up and they have no self regulation. So much pressure to constantly do what other, larger people tell them to do can create a volatile situation in their emotional system. But what if you could take some of that vim and vinegar out of their system by simply allowing them choices each day?
You’re Doing it Wrong
I can hear many of you now, “But I give them choices and they never decided and it always backfires…” Guess what? You’re doing choices wrong. I used to do it wrong too. When I first started working with children I didn’t understand the power of choice and I made mistakes, a lot of them. Now I have the wisdom of a lot of years in the classroom, a lot of books read, a lot of continuing education courses take and a lot of experience with small children. You may be thinking, “There’s a right and wrong way to give choices?” Yup. There is. If you have read this far and are thinking, “Children should do what they’re told because I am the grown up. End of Story.” then this post is may not be for you, although I encourage you to read it anyway.
The number one thing you need to know about giving a child a choice is that it needs to be realistic. Sounds simple, no? Yet giving children unrealistic choices is one of the biggest parenting faux pas done daily. If you tell your child to put their coat on or they are not going to school today then you have just screwed yourself. Are you truly willing to keep them home for the day because they refused to put a coat on? My absolute favorite is when parents threaten that Santa wont come if their child doesn’t listen. Really? Are you really going to follow through with no presents on Christmas morning? I consider myself a tough cookie mom and even I won’t go that far. Parents, you cannot present an option to your child that you are not 100% willing to follow through on because the second you don’t follow through, they have your number. If you threaten to turn the car around if they continue bickering in the back seat then you better turn that car around should another argument begin. If you say you are leaving the store is they keep whining about the cookies you won’t by, then you better be prepared to leave a cart full of groceries and walk out. Each time you don’t follow through with a “threat” your child logs that in their brain. If you repeatedly do it, they know you are full of bluff and have no reason to believe you, which does nothing but spell trouble for you.
Providing a child with too many choices is overwhelming. As much as possible limit their options to two and no more than three choices. Asking a 4 year old what they want for snack is akin to opening Pandora’s box. Instead say, for snack today you can have a yogurt with fruit, or crackers and cheese which would you like? Once the choices have been given that’s it, no negotiating. If they whine and plead and throw a tantrum, let them, Once again if you give in they will smell blood and know they can pull that same trick over and over and over. A a few tantrums in the beginning is much better than a life time of stress because you taught your child they can walk all over you.
Just to clarify, this is not the same as using food for reward/punishments’ which should NEVER be done, this is saying these are your options, if you are hungry and want a snack then you will choose one. Same goes for choosing anything else, clothing, toy to take to grandmas, or a book to read at bedtime. If a matter is time conscious, such as getting dressed in the morning then set a timer and let your child know that they have until the timer goes off to make their decision, otherwise you will be the one choosing.
Pick Your Battles
Simple advice but true. Not everything needs to be done an exact way. Let go of some of your need for control. If he wants to wear red plaid shorts and a lime green shirt to school, let him. Who really cares? Plus you are giving your child the opportunity to express himself creatively. If she wants to play the trumpet instead of the flute then support her and buy yourself some earplugs for the first year or two! Some nights let them pick their own dinner, some days let them watch the extra TV show. By allowing them these small bits of choice and power their need to exert full control will relax. A child’s reaction to feeling no control is a tantrum. Think about how you feel when your boss dumps task after task on your plate with little to no input from you… it feels pretty lousy doesn’t it?
By no means should tantrums be accepted as OK behavior, but they ARE normal. Do not get mad at them for having one. Stay as calm as possible and ignore them. It will stop. I promise. Through a tantrum a child is trying to gain your attention. At this point they don’t care if it is negative or positive. DO NOT FEED THE ATTENTION MONSTER. When it is over you can talk to them about their strong emotions and brainstorm together better ways to handle it. If they are being destructive or harmful then say in a firm tone that even though they are mad “hitting, throwing, kicking etc.” is not acceptable.
To sum it all up, this is what parents need to remeber:
Being a mom involves experiencing a lot of stress. It’s part of the sign-on package that unfortunately doesn’t come with very good pay or health benefits. As moms we have to find our own little guilty pleasures and mini retreats and stress relievers. I am going to share 10 of mine in hopes that they may offer some release and enjoyment to all the other moms out there.
Top of my list is my mini oil diffuser and my Natrogix natural oils. First, I love its lotus shape; it fits beautifully in my office/library by the window with all my plants. It’s not overly powerful, but it works great in a small space, and I am typically sitting by the window when I write. Natrogix oils smell fantastic and come in so many great scents. Today I mixed lavender and lemon to entice those summery outdoor vibes. I have a second diffuser in my bedroom, and I also use oils at bedtime. Both of these items can be found on Amazon, but if you have access to a local small business that sells products like this, I recommend buying there!
These little guys are a lifesaver on mornings after sleepless nights or when you just didn’t get enough sleep because your kid decided that 3 AM was a great time to get up, turn all the lights on and watch TV a volume of 1,000. I was skeptical at first, but there were so many good reviews I decided to try them. First, they feel amazing. They are cool and refreshing, and if nothing else will help you wake up. Second, they truly work! They can be a little slippery when first applying so you may need to hold them in place for a few moments to get them to stick and you will also look like an odd sea creature while you wear them, but if it’s only your little monsters and spouse seeing you, who cares?
This stuff is awesome! If you are a peanut butter fiend like I am but don’t want all the extra fat in baking and smoothies get yourself some powdered peanut butter. I mainly use it to make banana smoothies. My recipe is a frozen banana, PB powder, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, agave, almond milk and vanilla protein powder. I also freeze bananas, add a little bit of milk and the aforementioned spices, I even add a little cayanne sometimes, and mix it int he blender. It makes an ice cream like treat that will have you forgetting that other stuff in your freezer.
Let me start by telling you that I hate perfume, no really I do. I am allergic to many, they make my eyes itchy and my throat close up. A co-worker gave these to our team as a Christmas gift and I LOVE THEM. They roll on, are extremely subtle and don’t have that over powering chemical scent I feel most perfumes have. Dab a little on your wrists, collarbone and behind the years and you will smell fresh as a Daisy, or in this case as fresh as exotic fruit, fresh amber or powdery floral. You can check out their website here.
I am obsessed with these. I first bought them on a whim because they were on sale and I thought, why not? Now I buy them every week at the grocery store. I am even eating one now as I type this. They are great for a person like me who doesn’t like to eat too much at the start of the day, or when you need a little sweet snack that is still healthy. The best part is because they are healthy your kids are less likely to eat them all leaving you with an empty box in the pantry! I purchase mine at Giant from the Natural Food aisle.
I am a tea tree oil junkie, and this, in my opinion, is the best. I use it as part of my skincare regime at night. If you have never used tea tree oil before, go slowly at first, or you can make your face red and burning with over use. I recommend to start you only apply once every other day to build up a tolerance. Make sure you are using 100% oil as well. Once your skin has grown accustomed to it, you will feel and see how smooth and fresh it makes your skin feel. It is also great to mix in with your shampoo or conditioner if you have an itchy scalp. Just a few drops will do.
I know, it’s seltzer water, but I absolutely love this flavor. I drink a lot of seltzer, I have never liked soda and juice is way too many calories and it’s not socially acceptable to drink wine all day so if I am not drinking regular water, I am usually having seltzer. I buy a handful of this flavor every week. It doesn’t have that artificial sweetener taste and it is sodium free.
While we are on the drink kick…. Typically I am a red wine or gin martini kind of girl, but my partner’s oldest son gave us this bottle of port, knowing his dad likes port, for Christmas, and I am fully on board the port train. This is the perfect way to unwind when you have the kind of day that where your son asks for a Strawberry Poptart; you repeat back to him “You want a strawberry Poptart?” because you know due to his ADHD he often says things or ask for something and then 5 seconds later looks at you like your crazy for giving you the item he just asked for. He replies yes, so you make said Poptart and give it to him. Ten minutes later you walk into the TV room to see two bites taken out of the Poptart when you ask why he tells you he doesn’t like this strawberry kind, he wanted the other strawberry kind (what other strawberry kind? we’ve never had another other strawberry kind!) and asks if you can take the strawberry filling out of the strawberry Poptart that he asked for. This port is perfect for that kind of day.
I have been using this product since high school. It is what you might call my “Old Face-full,” OK, I know that was the ultimate cheesy joke. I love this stuff; it uses natural exfoliators, so no plastic beads junk up the water system, and it keeps my skin clean and fresh looking. I use it every time I shower. St. Ives is one of my favorite companies for bath and beauty products, and I have several of their offerings around the house.
My last indulgence is glasses from Zenni Optical. I have more than a few. I have more than are even pictured here. They offer a wide range of colors, styles, and materials at a cost-effective price. I have a pretty strong prescription and astigmatism, and I have never had a problem with any pair. I use my glasses as part of my outfit, I have worn glasses since I was ten, so I do not feel myself without them on. In addition to standard eyeglasses, I also own three pairs of Sunglasses made by Zenni. The only time I take them off, besides sleeping, is when I am performing in a theatrical production, or they don’t match my Halloween costume! If you love glasses as much as I do or just need a new pair check out their site here.
*I have not been paid nor am I being compensated in anyway for mentioning any of these products. These are my personal opinions.
Your kid will not starve themselves, I promise. Parents concerned about their child’s eating habits is probably the number one concern I have heard in my 14 years of teaching early childhood. Parents surveyed once their children are older reflect that worrying about what their child ate was among the top three things on which they wish they focused less.
As adults, we have this lovely ability to eat emotionally. Got a new job? Let’s celebrate with tacos and margaritas until we’re so stuffed we can’t even move. Your boyfriend broke up with you? You have the right to gorge yourself on chocolate cake and ice cream. Have your children stressed you to the point of no return? Time to break out the Girl Scout cookies and wine. It’s what we do. Happy, Sad, Stressed we reward or comfort ourselves with food. Children do not have that emotional attachment to food yet; therefore, we don’t need to worry about them over or under eating. They eat when they are hungry. That’s it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, children can most definitely learn poor eating habits, and when we, as adults, use food as a constant reward or punishment, we are sowing the seeds of emotional eating. Food should be food. Food can be fun and engaging, but it is food, something our body needs to survive. If your child is presented with multiple options consistently, they will be more likely to try new things. When we, as parents, worry that Billy doesn’t like anything other than chicken nuggets and fruit snacks, and hence only feed him that, we are depriving him of the opportunity to grow emotionally and physically. I have seen it so often; a child brings the same lunch every day because mom or dad believes their child will go hungry unless they send the same five things known to be approved by their 4-year-old. Guess what? They won’t. If your child refuses to eat the food given to them, yes, they may be a little hungry. But they will remember what it feels like, that maybe they were a little grumpy or tired and after a few times of that feeling they will eat. They will not starve. They are not biologically nor evolutionary designed to allows themselves to.
Here is where the fun science stuff comes in! Metaphorically raise your hand if you have a picky eater at home… right, most of us have or do. I have one now, and I know the struggle. Now, what if I told you there is an evolutionary-based reason for this, would you feel better? Young children, specifically between the ages of 3-6, are designed to be picky eaters, so they don’t poison themselves. Back in the early human days of hunting and gathering, young children were often left unattended. They would wander and play with other kids, and to make sure the human race didn’t kill itself off, evolution made young children extremely wary of unknown foods. Hence, the creation of the modern-day picky eater.
No one likes to see their child upset, but when we regularly give in to the whining and demands and make them mac and cheese for the 4th straight night in a row, we are allowing them to be in control, and we’re the adults, that’s kind of our job. I get it, I’ve been there, I’ve capitulated too, it’s human. But the key is to make giving in the exception, not the rule. I had the battle of breakfast myself today. My nine-year-old wanted frozen french toast sticks with syrup and powdered sugar. I am okay with that; he’s a mostly healthy and adventurous eater. The problem was, he wanted to take that sticky and messy meal to sit in the basement and watch TV. I said no. I explained that the meal was too messy to eat down there, and the tirade began. I don’t trust him, and I never let him do anything, I am so unfair. I calmly stated, again, why he was not allowed to eat such a messy meal over the carpeted floor and said what would be unfair is not to allow him to eat at all. He stormed away, saying that since I wouldn’t let him eat, he was going to the basement. Not what I said, kid, but okay.
Fifteen minutes later, he contritely came upstairs and politely asked if he could have breakfast. See, it works. I didn’t enjoy it, it raised my stress levels, and I had yet to imbibe the delicious smelling coffee sitting out on our coffee bar calling to me. But, he was used to my consistency and knew it was a losing battle to push. My younger one could live on fruit and candy, and he’d be happy. That’s not sustainable, of course, but he is in the picky phase. So I keep the house stocked with the healthy things I know he likes: oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, grilled chicken, cheese, and granola bars. I also make new and non-favorites regularly and place them on his plate. When dealing with a picky eater, you should always make sure they have at least one thing on their plate that you know they like. That way they are guaranteed to eat something. Then consistently and methodically keep trying the unliked foods and encouraging one bite. That’s it—one bite.
Don’t ever force them to finish the whole plate; this is another way to create an unhealthy relationship with food. If they say they are full, then they are full. They will not starve themselves. If you served them their usual portion of chicken nuggets and they say they are not hungry, okay. Since you know your child likes chicken nuggets, let them know if they are hungry later, they will be having the nuggets before they have something else. I currently have 2/3 of a requested hot dog sitting in limbo.
In the end, you know your child best, and you have to do what you feels right for your kid. When parents come to me with this concern, I impart a cliff notes version of the above, and I ask them to speak to their pediatrician. If your child’s doctor is not concerned with their eating habits or weight, then realistically, neither should you. We all want happy, healthy children, and concern about their nutrition is valid.
Food should be enjoyable. We should certainly find times to celebrate our triumphs and share our sorrows over a meal. A staple in every major holiday is the food. So celebrate the diverse options we have in this world. Enjoy the night out with friend’s just because. I simply ask you to consider the science behind children and their eating and the benefits of creating a healthy relationship between your child and food as young as you can. You will make it through, and they won’t starve. Promise.
No. A resounding no. Nothing is a more perfect and essential garment than a maxi dress with pockets. Done. I could end the post here. Of course, I am not going to because I feel the desire, not the need, to expound on why dresses with pockets are a must. If it needs explaining, then this post probably is not for you.
First, where else will I put all the lovely things my children and students give me throughout the day? A hundred tiny pieces of white paper my son handed me saying they were diamonds for Valentine’s Day, glad I have a pocket. The 37th pipe cleaner bracelet one of my students has made me? In the pocket, it goes; I love my students, but even I have difficulty keeping up the excitement after the 10th bracelet in a row. Snotty tissue, you guessed it, in the pocket. Every single damn Lego you find because they are never actually in the Lego container, viola! Pocket. Pockets are one of the most essential tools when interacting with younger kids.
Second, pockets are perfect for the socially awkward adult that I am. I have no problem talking to kids all day but put me in a social situation where I am expected to speak to adults, and I have no idea what to do with my hands. Even worse, are one on ones where there is no one to get me out of the conversation I do not want to be having. For example, when the woman in front of me at Panera Bread turned around to exclaim to me that nobody should eat the food here because it causes cancer, hands in the pockets. Or, how about when my co-worker started telling me about the problem she has been having with her vagina. Perfect. Pocket. Situation. Or, what about when checking out at the grocery store and the woman scanning my items was talking to the cashier the next station over about her nail fungus? Put ’em in the pockets.
Third, pockets are everywhere in our life because they are functional. You have pockets in your car door, and on the back of the seats, I am not currently utilizing any of these pockets, but it makes me happy to know they are there. Purses and backpacks have pockets because it makes finding things easier. I love pockets so much that when my mom made me a themed bag as a gift for a theatrical production, I was in, I gave it back and asked for her to add a pocket (which she did, thanks Mom!) Cabinets are basically pockets for your kitchen, I mean where would you put all your stuff if your kitchen didn’t have pockets? As a side note, I decided on the spot that I will hence force refer to cabinets at kitchen pockets.
Now perhaps you are not pocket dependent like I am, and if so, I probably am falling flat on my face as I describe the importance of pockets to you. But, if you love dresses with pockets as much as I do, I know you’re standing beside me in perfect pocket solidarity. I love dresses with pockets so much that I am wearing one right now as I write this. This spring, I have systematically started to replace every dress I own with one with pockets. I have been known to squeal with glee when I discover a dress I like has them; at times, that is the only impetus I need to purchase the aforementioned dress. When I am wearing a dress with pockets, I lord it around the house like a queen in her castle; somehow, they make me feel instantly better. Pockets provide a sense of security. Whether it’s a place to put things, hide my hands or for comfort, I need pockets in my life. I cannot always hide from the world, but I can slide my hands into those delicious pockets concealing at least a part of me; for that alone, I will always love a dress with pockets.
I embarked on the terrifying journey of applying to grad school 5 years after I left undergrad. My constant thought was, “Can I do this?” Not only was the idea of applying to grad school daunting, but I had completely switched career paths.
I grew up watching old musicals with my mother and my grandfather. My grandfather used to play Judy Garland on our drives to his house in Florida, and it was love at first sound. He used to say that he went to high school with her, which I passionately believed until later in life when, I found out he never went past the eighth grade. I bragged about this to my fellow second and third grade friends who had no idea who she was. I was the only ten-year-old I knew who could sing “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart!” from memory, or really who sang it at all.
With my mom, it was Funny Girl, Hello Dolly, and Oklahoma! At 13, I was pretending to be Fanny Brice in my bedroom. Barbra Streisand was my idol, and I knew I was born to perform. And not just perform, but to perform on Broadway. I was going to be a star. I wanted to sing “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” from Oklahoma in my 6th grade talent show. They told my mother I needed to choose a different song because it was inappropriate. Seriously? It’s Rodgers and Hammerstein. For my 14th birthday, my mother took me to NYC to see Glen Close in Sunset Boulevard. It was Game Over. The final nail in the destiny coffin. Broadway star I would be. Norma Desmond is still one of my dream roles. Twenty-five years later, I’m finally almost old enough to play her… almost.
Life had different plans. I got married at the ripe old age of 26 (already way late in the acting game) and moved to Japan for a year to save up and teach English. Towards the end of that year, the CEO of the English school I worked for stole all the company’s money. While I got a heartfelt apology from the company, I did not get paid for my last two months of work. Since the company was supposed to be paying for my apartment, I was now being evicted because they also, hadn’t paid my rent for two months. I was forced to purchase last-minute airfare to the states. Between not being paid, having to dip into savings to pay my bills back in America, purchasing a costly flight ticket, and needing a place to rent, which required a down payment, almost $10,000 in savings were gone. So, instead of landing in New York ready to begin my struggling actor attempt, I arrived in D.C. as a reading instructor in D.C. public schools. From there, I transitioned to an assistant preschool teacher.
During my first two years in that position, I decided to commit to education as a career. I’d always enjoyed being around children and had worked with them in a multitude of settings, church, girl scouts, babysitting, to name a few. I seemed to be good at it, and I enjoyed it. The kids made me laugh and smile, it was a good feeling. The more I learned about child development, the more I became hooked. Who knew so much learning and development occurred between birth and age 5? Well, I mean the experts knew, but I didn’t, and I found it fascinating. The question I posed to myself was, “So, now what?” I hadn’t given up my dream of acting yet, D.C. has a vibrant theater community, and I was still performing. Since I needed to maintain a full-time job due to having lost all my savings, I didn’t have the time to pursue acting on a professional level right now. I had to make one of the most difficult choices I have ever made, and that was not to no longer pursue acting as a career. After a few months of indecision, I applied to grad school.
When you’ve grown up knowing you were only going to do one thing and life throws a curve-ball straight to your head and makes you see stars, you have to come to and make a decision. Once I made the choice and became accepted to school, the idea was no longer scary or painful. Two months into school, I became pregnant. It wasn’t wholly unplanned; since I was no longer going to auditions why not peruse my other dream, becoming a mom. I just didn’t think it would happen that fast. As my due date approached, I worked ahead and informed my professors. The day my son was born, about a week and a half before the semester ended, I submitted my final project hooked up to IV’s and in the delivery room. I am nothing, if not dedicated, to my work. I had a few weeks of new mom bliss (Ha! Mesh maternity underwear, ice packs for my vagina, and nipples so cracked and sore from nursing I had to get $80 prescription-strength cream) and then it was time to go back to school. Fortunately, I was earning my degree online from a brick and mortar university; that’s campus, to this day, I have never stepped foot on. I fit assignments in between nursing and naps and diaper changes. When it came time to begin work on my thesis, I would leave the house. I was back at work by this point and could often be found on my lunch break at the Starbucks on N.W. D Street and Indiana Ave in D.C. doing research. In the evenings and on the weekends, if my husband of the time was home (he was taking pre-med classes), I would head to our local Starbucks, sometimes for hours at a time. On my walk over there, my anxiety would kick in, wondering if someone would be at one of two favorite tables. If someone was at my table, yes, my table, I couldn’t concentrate or get any real work done.
I would sit where I could see the coveted spot and watch like a furtive hawk so I could sweep and claim the table once vacated. These days that anxiety is channeled towards my weekly trip out of the house to the grocery store. I go early every Friday morning, re-stock day, and panic prior to my arrival. What if they don’t have toilet paper again? What if there are out of the flavor of Hot Pockets my son obsesses over? Can there please be my favorite brand of seltzer water?? And don’t even get me started over the lack of frozen French toast sticks…. It’s not fun.
I pushed on through anxiety, countless hours of research and writing, and re-writing, and finally, two years after I started, I graduated with a 4.0. Going back to school was one of the greatest things I have done for myself. I still perform regularly, although corona-virus has put that temporarily on hold, but now, I do it solely for me. I may not have made it to Broadway, and honestly, I still hold out hope, but I have become a pretty big deal in my own way, and for that, I couldn’t be prouder of myself.
From top to bottom: Your’e a Good Man Charlie Brown 2019, Damn Yankees 2018, How the Grinch Stole Christmas 2017.
Today marks the 6th week since my personal quarantine started and I have learned quite a bit about myself in that time, I imagine you have too. I am lucky because I have not been completely alone. I own a house with my partner so I have adult contact daily, which is important when I happened to be quarantined most days alone with my two boys ages 9 and 6. Additionally his two youngest children (12 and 14) are here part time so more human interaction there. Overall, I have to admit I’ve managed this well. I started thinking about where this journey to no where has taken me and this is what I learned.
1. I CAN live without Target. It’s true. I haven’t shriveled up and died due to lack of Target. I went in the day I was furloughed to pick up some items to entertain my children and I have been inside Target exactly once to purchase my favorite brand of razors, David’s, and a few other household and bath items my grocery store doesn’t carry. Huh. Who knew I could go so long?
2. I am perfectly happy not interacting with society on a daily basis. I have always been a loner and introvert, more comfortable with children than adults, but even I thought I’d crack after 6 weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my close friends and my students. I miss my twice monthly karaoke outings and I am bummed I haven’t seen my sister’s new puppy in person yet. I talk to the people close to me on a regular basis but otherwise, I think I could be a hermit if required.
3. I like cooking. Not only have I learned to like cooking, turns out I’m pretty dam good at it. It was never something I enjoyed and usually found it to be a mind numbing task trying to keep track of all the ingredients, measurements when I was supposed to add this or add that. Something would usually burn, an ingredient was almost always forgotten or left out and that 30 minute weeknight recipe? Ha! We’ll eat in about an hour and a half. During quarantine I have had time to cook and little by little I mostly stopped using recipes. I may look up ideas for inspiration or guidance but I can actually create on my own and, if I may brag, 9/10 times is tastes great!
4. I am not as patient or creative with my kids as I thought I would be. The first few weeks I was super teacher-mom. I had daily activities in art, science, cognitive skills…. then homeschooling started and since I have to practically drag my children to the computer to do work it seems my Mary Poppins desire blew away on the wind. My bag is still filled with everything imaginable so hopefully one day soon the magic will come back to me, spoon full of sugar and all!
5. Daily mediation and Yoga have become essential to me. Again, these are things I have always enjoyed but never seemed to have the time for before. Yoga and meditation help me wake up in the morning and a few simple stretches can diffuse so much stress. One of my favorite techniques is to sit with my eyes closed and listen to what’s going on around. Presuming it’s not the screams of my children having a fight in the basement, it is a very peaceful exercise.
This has been a stressful time for all of us, no doubt, but I hope you have been able to find your own little silver lining and time for self reflection too. Things are still uncertain, but hang on, we’ve got this.
I know this post may upset or offend some people, so I will state from the start that it is not my intention. My goal is to break gender discrepancies that society adheres to and to discuss unintentional things we do to drive those stereotypes home to our children.
First, allow me to give you a little background on myself and this subject. I spent a year of grad school researching and writing a thesis paper on the development of the gender schema in children. It’s long and wordy and highly researched and runs about 60 pages, so I won’t subject you to all that, the point is I know this subject intimately. It is near and dear to me.
Did you know that before the 1940’s it was often suggested by clothing retailers and newsprint that boys wear pink and girls were blue? These two colors showed up well in print ads. We could be having a totally different conversation today if people stuck with that. Before that in the 1920s most babies wore neutral colors, girls AND boys often wore dresses up until about 7 and had long hair (gasp). Only 80 years ago is when all this nonsense about a girl color and a boy color really took off, and the American society latched on to it and went running. I always say to my students, and my two boys, “Colors are for everyone.” Then I go on to blow their minds and say pink is actually NOT one of my favorite colors (unless it is neon pink, I mean I am a product of the ’80s). If you want to read more about the evolution of clothing colors, please click on the link posted at the bottom.
Now let us delve into pants and dresses. Most of us do not bat an eye when we see a woman wearing pants. Yet again, only 100 years ago, it was taboo. Women who wore trousers were scandalous or considered perverted. They were also required to wear corsets and a lot of other bullshit gear, but I won’t rant on that, at least not today. Currently, I am wearing leggings, an oversize t-shirt, and using an exercise ball as a chair. Not precisely super feminine, but again what defines feminine has changed and much for the better. Besides, my Disney Belle leggings are really cozy.
However, a boy in a dress that is still a BIG no-no to most people in western culture. Allow me to state I am not suggesting you run out and buy dresses for your son; unless he wants to wear them, and then I totally support you being the awesome parent that encourages him to be who he is. Here’s the thing, most preschool boys (and having been a preschool teacher well over a decade I can tell you they will) put on a dress while playing at some point. I’ve had little boys who would walk into the classroom, and the first thing they would do is head to the dress-up bin and put on their favorite dress for the day. Children like to mimic what they see. Maybe mom wears a lot of dresses, when teaching, I can often be seen wearing a long maxi dress. Or perhaps they just think it’s fun and pretty like the girls do. I am raising two boys during the rise of Frozen, dresses happen. Dolls happen too by the way; embrace it, studies show that boys that play with dolls grow up to be more attentive fathers. No proof or research points to a boy being gay or transgender because he wore a dress or played with dolls when young. If your child is LGBT, you can’t change that, so love the shit out of them and support them through life; even with loving parents, it is still a hard path. Would you tell your daughter to stop wearing pants and pretending to be an engineer? Nope, probably not. Extend the same to our boys.
Our culture tells boys to “Man up” “Don’t be so sensitive” “Don’t cry” or my personal favorite “Stop acting like a girl,” implicitly implying to our boys and girls, that girls are bad and weak. Our language has so much power, even if we do not mean to be derogatory, we can do a lot of damage with words. The old “Sticks and Stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is frankly, bullshit. Take it from someone who was in an emotionally abusive relationship at one point in college, words can destroy you. When boys are to hold in their emotions because it is weak to do otherwise, we are sending them a message that their feelings don’t matter and that real men are tough and don’t feel things. Some of the manliest men I know I have seen cry. We are doing our boys a disservice by shutting down their emotions. Emotions are human, not gender-specific. Hey, there’s a new phrase! “Feelings don’t have gender.”
For our girls, we need to stop telling them they are pretty all the time or how cute their outfit is. Sure, a lot girls like to hear that, but when you hear to it too often, especially when you are young, you start to believe your looks define you. Studies have shown that the majority of greetings young girls receive by their teachers as they enter the classroom are related to their looks. At the same time, boys, are much more likely to be greeted along the lines of “Hey, how are you today?” The problem is we think we are just giving a compliment. Compliments are lovely and necessary exchanges; they make us feel good to both give and receive, so give them. However, I challenge you next time you see your niece, stepdaughter, neighbor, or student pay attention to what you say. Is the first thing out of your mouth about their appearance? One of the most unintentionally damaging things I ever heard was done by a father to his daughter. A dad came in to pick up his 3-year-old daughter from my classroom. She pulled out a picture she had drawn and said, “I made a picture of Mommy!” You could see how proud she was. He looked at the picture, and incredulously said, “That’s Mommy?” and laughed, he continued to say, “That must be Mommy without her makeup on.” The message that was sent to this young girl was: 1) Your picture is so bad I can’t even tell what it is 2) Because it’s so bad and you say it’s Mommy that means women are only attractive with makeup on. I know for a fact he did not intend to send that message, but he did. Words have power.
We do not need to force children into cross-gender roles or out of gender-typical roles. We simply need to let them be who they are. Gender Roles Need Not Apply Here is the message we want to send. You are a boy who loves to cook and garden, awesome those are great skills to have. You are a girl who wants to become an astronaut, you will be great at the because astronauts must work hard. You are a boy who wants to be a dancer, that’s amazing you have to be really strong to become a dancer. You are a girl who wants to run her own business, that means you must be really good at math! See where I am going?
Studies show that gender roles are becoming more neutral in the household. Our world is changing, and that’s good! I know in my house it is pretty much 50/50. He cooks, he cleans, and he does his own laundry. I enjoy doing the yard work and can often be found with a tool in my hand attempting some minor household project. Credit is due however, for the brand-new toilet he installed in our downstairs bathroom, way beyond my pay-grade. The point is there is no right or wrong way to be a male or female. My guy can be one of the manliest guys, by standard definition, you have ever met. I mean, he wore a Punisher shirt to work today, and yet I met him while performing in a musical theater production together (he’s really talented too!).
It is hard to navigate the waters of parenting. We have friends, co-workers, relatives (and bloggers) telling us how to do everything. Find your own path. Here is my final anecdote. When my older son was in the EXCEEDINGLY early stages of potty training (yes, the kids from that previous post), he wanted Disney Princess underwear. I can tell you that 6 years ago, they did not make that for boys, I still do not think they do. Instead, I bought iron-on decals from Etsy, a pack of white briefs, and I made them. He was delighted (not that it helped!) The moral is, listen to your kid, love what they love, support them, and be their number one fan. I mean, I am a nerdy, book-loving, Harry Potter and musical theater geek that can often be heard to say “Yay! Sportsball!” and I let my son play baseball. But guess what, he loves Broadway too.
Have you ever cried because someone wouldn’t poop in a toilet? I am guessing that the answer for the average person is no. If your answer happens to be yes, then I honestly hope your experience was nothing like mine. I hope you have never lost all hope and sat on the floor of your bathroom and cried hysterically over someone not pooping.
My oldest son is a brilliant, funny, silly, athletic boy who loves all things reptile. People who have met him in the last few years never believe me when I tell stories of what he was like from ages 3-6. They think I am exaggerating and dramatic, and I know there have been a few people who just thought I outright made this shit up, no pun intended. But I can guarantee you it was real. I lived three years of potty-training hell and not to be glib about it, those were some of the darkest and most stressful years of my life.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the story, let’s talk about potty-training one of the hottest parenting topics. EVERYBODY has an opinion on potty-training these days, and there are a lot of views to be had on the subject. One doesn’t even need to be a parent or early childhood teacher to tout their opinion. I know people with no potty-training experience whatsoever who loved to make comments when I was going through this ordeal. But here is the thing, every child is different. Like other developmental skills, potty-training is not going to happen at the same time for everyone, there is no one size fits all approach. Now, this is the part that really gets under my skin, parent shaming. No one has the right to shame a parent because their child is not potty trained. No one gets to judge those parents or that child. Also, the parent whose kid happens to potty train so cooperatively before 3 is not a genius or a super parent who gets to lord it over other kids and their parents. Their kid is not smarter or better than the kid who doesn’t make it there until later.
You should, by all means, be proud of your potty-trained child. PLEASE be proud. BE happy, be excited, enjoy life. I give you license (not that you need my permission) to jump up and down, pop a bottle of champagne, and celebrate. It’s a significant accomplishment. Just don’t use that accomplishment as a means to think that you or your child is better than anyone else. I will step down off my soapbox now.
The average age for a typically developed child is around 27-40 months. First off, that is a big range. Also read that first part again, go ahead, I’ll wait. Typically Developed are the keywords. Turns out, mine wasn’t ready nor typically developed. Question is how do you know if your child is ready? You look for the signs of readiness. The Mayo Clinic sites these (and I agree with them which is why I posted them)
Is your child ready? Ask yourself:
Can your child walk to and sit on a toilet?
Can your child pull down his or her pants and pull them up again?
Can your child stay dry for up to two hours?
Can your child understand and follow basic directions?
Can your child communicate when he or she needs to go?
Does your child seem interested in using the toilet or wearing “big-kid” underwear?
*During this process, we threw both those things in his direction.
I presented all this background knowledge so that my story makes more sense. So, after much ado, here we go. As mentioned in a previous post, my second son was born exactly two weeks after my oldest turned 3. MAJOR CHANGE in his life. Huge, wrecking ball, gorillas in the camp style change. We didn’t know at the time that he would be diagnosed with anxiety a little bit down the line. We knew he had Sensory Processing Disorder. He had been seeing an occupational therapist and a speech therapist for about a year. The anxiety was a curveball we weren’t expecting.
Until the age of three, his therapy was free through the Infant and Toddler program in the state of Illinois. After three, we became private pay for the OT, and we could not afford it at the time, so we decided to drop it and do as much as we could at home. Our income consisted of my meager salary as a pre-K teacher in a suburb outside the city and a living stipend received by my husband at the time who was in school.
The concept of potty training had been introduced but wasn’t going anywhere fast and then BAM! Regression took hold. He refused anything and everything with the potty. Ok, it’s cool, he’s barely three and has a newborn in the house. We’ll pause for now. Only the pause became almost 3 years of terror. This is where it gets rough, so hold on…
When the regression wouldn’t budge, and he was approaching four, we decided he needed help outside what we could do. The pediatrician had no helpful advice, so we took him to a multi-discipline therapy office. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to pull out the calculator and start adding up the dollars. For the next year, he visited this office, during which he received the diagnosis of anxiety coupled with his SPD. I don’t remember how often he went, but I believe it was twice a month. These visits were roughly $150 apiece. No insurance accepted, but they were good, and it was convenient to my work. So after about 10 months of bi-weekly visits, our price tag is at $3,000. The good news was that this $3,000 achieved peeing in the potty and little to no more accidents in that realm. The poop…. Well, we are about to reach a new level.
I am going to pause for a moment so you can try to understand what was going on inside this little four-year-old body and mind. Life was confusing, new brother, and less mommy time. He feared the toilet, common among young children, especially those loud flushes. Lastly, because of the SPD, he could not make sense of the urge to go. His brain was literally unable to process the message from his body that he needed to pee. On top of that, he is dealing with anxiety. I have anxiety, and I can barely handle it at times, and I am almost 40. That’s a lot to have to deal with at 4.
Now that we have fully trained in pee, we were told no more pull-ups during the day. This would be fine except he would not poop in a toilet, nor did he wait until the evening when his sleep pull-up was on to go. He would simply poop in his pants. Usually, several times a day. That meant several changes of clothing each day. Because his bladder would also often release, he would be in urine-soaked pants as well. Most of the underwear couldn’t be saved. I estimate I spent roughly $500 on underwear during this phase. New total $3,500
The anxiety created two outcomes; he would be playing and wouldn’t tell me he had gone resulting in poop being caked all over his legs and bottom, or if we were out in public, he would hide from me. Now my anxiety took over. I would turn around in Target or the park, and he would be gone. My heart jumped into my throat every time. To make it worse, I couldn’t just run all overlooking for him, I had a baby with me. If you do not know what it is like to be afraid and feel fear every time you take your small child out in public, then I genuinely hope you never do.
The multiple accidents meant that in addition to carrying the standard supplies I needed for a baby while out, I had to carry at least 2 pairs of pants and underwear for him plus extra wipes. I changed my son’s poop-filled undies and pants pretty much anywhere you can imagine, and none of them were pleasant. At 4, he was way too big for a changing table, and even if he could fit up there, how humiliating for him. I’d find the most private place I could, always grateful when a public restroom was nearby, and I would kneel on the floor as he stood so I could clean him. Each time I would gently talk to him about using the potty to poop just like he did to pee. But no change happened.
The frustration for me was mounting. I loved this child so much, but how much more was I expected to take? I often cried when I was in private. I spent hours furiously searching the internet for other moms like me. Those searches usually found those individuals who thought they were the gods of potty training, making me believe I was a terrible failure, and something was incredibly wrong with my son. I seemed to be alone in this battle. I could not find another mom who really got what I was going through. Looking back, I know this isn’t true; but at the time, my heart was bleeding.
Just after he turned 5, and was still not pooping in the potty, we left Chicago and came to Maryland. He was supposed to start Kindergarten in the fall, but he wasn’t fully potty-trained, and the move regressed him again. The accidents became more frequent. There was no way in good conscious I could put this struggling boy in the public-school system yet. I had secured a job at a childcare center as an Assistant Director, and in the fall, he would begin there and do another year of Pre-K. So now we add $7,500 to the total bringing us to $11,000.
I want to thank the amazing, loving, caring Pre-K teachers he had at both schools who never made him feel ashamed, helped protect his privacy, and loved him through those two years. Each and every one of you is amazing.
Once in Maryland, I immediately sought out a therapist, and he still sees this amazing woman. Originally it was not covered under the insurance we had, so now we tack on another $600 until insurance kicked in. So, $11,600. His new therapist got him, she still gets him, and she has been the single most influential person in this ordeal. Because of his ridiculously high IQ, normal prizes and incentives didn’t work for him. You couldn’t use reverse psychology (which is mostly how his brother was trained, him never one to lose a challenge), my older son needed more. Finally, he started to go on the potty once in a while. Dare my heart to believe this was happening? Now his therapist suggested a big prize, what was the thing he most loved in the world. His answer to her was Disney World. So even though it had been less than a year since we took a trip there, that became the incentive. I did not care at this point. I did not care that we had just had a vacation there less than a year ago. I made a huge colorful chart with Disney stickers on it, and 100 spaces clearly labeled and hung it on his door. If he pooped in the potty 100 times, we would go. And he did. So we did. Total now $14,000.
Thinking about all of this now and writing it down, for the first time, is cathartic. I’ve tried to talk to people about it, but I find most people don’t get how truly horrible this was for me. My heart still beats a little bit faster. I still feel the anguish of that poor mom dreading a trip to Target, the mom who struggled to find swim diapers that fit so he could play in the water and the one crying her heart out sitting on a bathroom floor. My son caught me one time, I thought he had gone back to his room to play, but he must have heard me and came back. He asked, very quietly, “Why are you crying, Mommy?” I looked at him, and as calmly as I could, I said, “Because you won’t poop in the potty.” He gave me a hug and went back to playing. From time to time, he will say, “Hey Mom, remember that time you cried because I wouldn’t poop in the potty?” I typically smile and say something like, “I do, I was very frustrated, but now it’s no big deal!” but inside, I am thinking, “Yes sweetheart, I do, I cried so many times. I thought I was worthless and failing you, and I stressed beyond belief on a daily basis, but I loved you so much, which is why I did what I did and went through all of it”.
He is the most amazing child, who now, like a proper nine-year-old, drives me nuts for ordinary things. I hate that his journey and mine had to be what it was, but he is happy and healthy. I have finally been able to tell someone, you, about what I went through, maybe one day I’ll even be able to laugh about it… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.