Month: February 2018

Girls are empowered, but what about our boys?

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I turned the television off, my heart heavy, I just can’t anymore today…I just can’t, I just can’t see one more young man destroy the lives of others, but just because I can’t see it on the screen, I know it’s there. I go to wash the dishes and I can see our elementary school out the kitchen window. I can see my twin first-grade boys’ classes playing at recess. I see them and I pray, “Please God, protect them today,” and the prayer is for their physical bodies, but more so for their hearts.

In an age where girl power is everywhere, are we inadvertently pushing our boys to fade into the background? Is telling them girls can do anything and more than they can do, inadvertently making them ask themselves, “Then why should I try?” Is telling our husbands, brothers, sons, friends, or co-workers “move over, I can do it all, I don’t really need you” prodding them to throw in the towel and go online to somewhere they can express a warped-sense of masculinity either through pornography or “social time with” friends in an online video game where you talk about your favorite sports team one minute, and blow your friends’ head off the next on screen? Are they still getting the message that “boys shouldn’t cry” because there’s nothing to cry about they’ve had it so good for hundreds of years in this country? Do we just brush off aggression and label it as “Boys will be boys,” and let them get away with it?

My boys can be aggressive, but also VERY sensitive. They get aggressive when they don’t know how to express their feelings. As a Grief Specialist, maybe I’m a little more aware of how feelings and emotions impact someone, but I feel like it’s one of my most important roles as a “boy mom” to help them understand their feelings are OK and valid. I’m NOT an expert by all means, but sadly my boys have a bit of a handicap in the feelings department having lost their father at a very young age and having to process grief and trauma on top of sensory processing challenges, but not knowing how to verbalize it usually ended up in violent outbursts, rage and aggression. I reached out to other parents, because I knew we could not go on like this, that this aggression was not normal, and comment after comment got brushed off as “violence is normal in boys, boys will be boys.” But I WOULD NOT accept this as a truth. I saw more in my boys than just labeling them and, in fact, helping them fit into a category that’s already been prepared for them. More importantly it’s not anyone else’s responsibility but mine to make them know they are seen, they are loved and their feelings are validated, to teach them that “no” means “no” and “stop” means “stop,” and when needed, making sure consequences are in place for poor choices and disrespecting others.

There’s a dilemma here: on one hand parents today are more aware of their children’s individuality, more nurturing and involved. On the other hand the push for individuality has, I believe, has allowed so much freedom for children that they are left to navigate their feelings on their own, or, live up to social norms outlined for them in their, unmonitored “social media communities”—including YouTube where kids start at such a young age watching other kids live lives on screen. For boys, especially, I believe, this creates its own hurdle, having gratuitous violence and skewed images of femininity at the push of a button. Before technology, “boys will be boys” referred to the adventurous spirit all little boys possess. They were exposed to the reality of death at a young age as the life expectancy wasn’t as high as it is today. If they came from a hunting family, were taught how guns were to be treated. Our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers lived through devastating, destructive wars, and now, they’re just played out on a screen where new lives are always granted if the game is just re-started. I’m not willing to accept that “this is just the way kids are today.” I challenge myself to hold my boys to a higher standard. Oh boy, let me tell you it’s hard work and would be SO much easier to just get a game console or hand them access to YouTube than having a billion and one conversations about compassion, and feelings and how we treat people, especially when it seems like they’re not hearing a word I’m saying (but, they are). It would be SO much easier to just tell my boy who’s having a crying fit, “Just suck it up, there’s nothing to cry about, that didn’t hurt” and walk away. But feelings and emotions aren’t a “boy or a girl” thing, it’s a human thing, and it’s our job, first and foremost as parents, to tap into that.

It’s not that video games or nerf guns are the problem, but honing in on how they are being used and why they are being used is our job. It’s our job not to always be the cool or complacent parent when it comes to our children’s mental and physical health. Maybe I’m mean, maybe I’m squashing my boys’ freedom, but they make a bad choice on the television and watch something they’re not supposed to or I hear “oh it’s not that big of a deal, it’s just pretend” when referring to something violent they saw on a screen, they lose privilege to use the remote. They talk openly about something they saw or heard at a friend’s home, I praise them for telling me, but nix going over to that friend’s home. They shoot a friend point blank with a Nerf Gun with an obvious intent to harm (if you watch, you’ll know the difference between just fun, or pure intent for revenge and harm), sorry all guns are taken to Goodwill. They act out aggressively or use violence to make a point, you better bet they’ll get consequences and lose privileges ( read Why Boys Will Be Boys Doesn’t Work for Kids From Trauma). BUT I’ll continue to ask them how they felt, why they felt that way and give them better options—because after all, thanks to the Disney movies “Moana” and “Inside out, we know that hurt people hurt people, and  when sadness isn’t allowed anger, fear and disgust take over. I can’t and won’t do this alone, ESPECIALLY as a single mother. When I need help, I ask for help. I bring them to counseling, I have a parenting coach, I read a million books, because, darn it, I’m not willing to just accept that this is how boys are and should act.

Not only do I tell my daughter she can do whatever she puts her mind to, be it an astrophysicist, a princess, or a mom, I tell my sons (and yes, my daughter too) I believe in them. I believe they are leaders. I believe they are the good guys. I believe they are good and gentle and kind. I believe they can rise above aggression and it’s OK to ask for help and it’s OK to cry and have hurt feelings, even if it seems silly to me, it might be a really big deal to them in their little world. I believe they can stand up to bullies and not be one themselves. But they can’t figure this out on their own, they need us, their parents to guide them to become who we believe they can be. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch of imagination, and most days it feels like an uphill battle with two very energetic boys, but a battle I’m willing to fight nonetheless.

I’m not writing this to blame, make parents feel guilty. I’m not against gun-reform, I’m not against mental health reform. I’m not even against equality for women. But it’s obvious to see that MOST of the atrocities that have taken place in our schools, theaters, parks, you name it, were played out mainly by young men. I’m not trying take a political jab and I’m not writing this to claim a “side.” I’m writing this because I’m worried about our country’s boys and young men. I’m pleading for us to not forget them.

Widowed: Dating won’t fix you (because you’re not broken)

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It wasn’t even two weeks after my husband died leaving me with a newborn and twin two-year olds that the comments starting rolling in: “You’re so young, you’ll find another dad for your kids.” “You’ll find someone else,” someone even told me, “All you need is a one-night stand.”

Now, four years later, I still hear advice and promptings encouraging me to date and “find someone.” Although, the only thing that was missing, was anyone actually asking me what I wanted in my life and if I was ready or not, I didn’t give myself permission to explore that and to appease friends, and albeit my own curiosity, I signed up for the dating sites. I went on more than a dozen dates and it was all just “meh.”

Why? What was wrong with me that I just wasn’t interested in meeting someone and starting a romantic relationship? I had done a lot of hard grief-work, I had processed and reconciled my grief with my late husband, and while I miss him every day, I’m not pining after a dead man. I know he’s not coming back, I know he’s not here, and I know there’s no replacing the man that took up so much of my heart–sounds harsh, but it’s something I had to be blunt with myself about. I figured out why I felt so disconnected with the dating process and it, for the most part, had nothing to do with my late husband. I had spent SO much time and energy on processing the loss of my husband, going ALL the way back to when he was still living. Because he died from cancer, I grieved the loss of him before he even died as a little part of him faded away every day. As a cancer caregiver and then becoming a widowed parents, the last person on the “care” list was myself. I was so busy keeping everyone else alive, I didn’t realize I was fading away too. My vitality. My motivation. My love for and acceptance of myself. I was so used to being a part of a pair, that when he died, I completely lost myself. One of the most common phrases I hear from other widows and widowers is “I feel like I died too.” I said it too, I felt that too, but the truth is, I didn’t. I didn’t die, instead I got lost. I got lost in the tangled mess of cancer, death, and trying to navigate parenting on my own, throw “You should date and find another dad for your kids into the mix”…well that just threw me even further off-course.

What I’ve finally realized I had a broken heart, but I wasn’t broken. The scars left from the pain of losing my husband will always be there and no amount of moving forward would ever equate to forgetting, but the gaping wound has since healed and those scars are what remains, but they don’t define who I am. I define who I am and that’s why I deleted the dating apps, because I didn’t know who I was. So I’ll repeat, dating, one-night stands, friends with benefits, won’t fix you, because you’re not broken.

My late husband and I didn’t talk about death even when he was dying, but I do remember a moment when I was so exhausted, so poured out, so beside myself with heartache that I fell to my knees at his bedside one night, weeping into his shoulder as he held me. He told me, “Nothing around you can make you happy. I can’t make you happy. No one else can make you happy. You have to find it in yourself. You have to find it above, in God.” I know, it probably sounds like a Hallmark card, but that’s one of the final conversations I remember having with him and it’s stuck with me since. Stuck with me so much that I knew, deep inside, when I felt the itch to start dating because other widows I knew started dating, or because someone told me the Bible tells me I should find someone else, or because my friends want to set me up with someone, or just because I’m so damn tired of feeling lonely and going to be alone, that I knew that I was doing it for the wrong reasons (my own personal reasons).

Finding someone, for sure, can compliment your life, he or she can add to it abundantly, but using it as a distraction, or a band-aid to the wounds that haven’t been attended to just won’t work.  Putting the responsibility on someone else to fix you, rescue you or make you happy isn’t a fair expectation to put on him or her, and it shortchanges yourself. Rather, looking at it to fill a void or to complete something that is allegedly incomplete, might end up in more heartbreak.

There isn’t limited space in our hearts for love, if that was true, no one would have multiple children. Instead, if I allow it, my heart can expand, but it starts with loving myself. I’m not waiting for anyone to rescue me, to fix my broken life, because I refuse to believe either. I don’t need to be rescued and I’m not broken. I don’t need to be set up with yet another man, because I need to make time for myself, to get to know the woman who carried and delivered three lives, the woman who held her husband’s hand through sickness and in health ‘til death parted us. The woman who fought to see the light when darkness closed in. The woman who persists and continues to conquer the darkest days in order to be whole and healthy for not only her children and others, but for herself. If I can’t look in the mirror and see that woman, to love and accept her, I can’t expect anyone else to either. I’m not out to “find” a man, I’m finding myself, fully trusting that my future love is waiting, we just haven’t met yet. In the meantime, I’m getting to know myself.