The root of bullying is shame

dr shefaliBy Dr. Shefali Tsabary, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of #EndShame. Reposted with permission.

There is a new “discipline” fad going around: Your kid does something “bad” — you post it on the Internet. You put a sign around their neck that defines their “crime” for all the world to see. After all, when they win trophies, we do the same, don’t we?

The Internet has taken on the form of the public shaming square. The belief is that communal shaming is far more powerful than shaming on a one-on-one basis.

The tragedy here is that responses have been “high-fives” applauding the parents for being brave to put their children’s limitations out there.

This doesn’t surprise me, given that millions just don’t know what to do when their kids’ behavior goes awry. Desperate, many are willing to try just about anything, which accounts for the popularity of many of these latest “discipline” fads.

Parents truly believe that this sort of public shaming will leave a long-lasting impact on their children, ensuring that they will never engage in negative behaviors again. Little do they realize that these reactions do little to create the introspection necessary to limit negative behaviors and all to do with creating shame, which is the true driver behind them.

When we enforce discipline on our children, we are punishing them. We may not like to admit this, but these actions in the name of “discipline” are highly punitive — not just obvious ones but also our passive-aggressive ones.

Any “discipline” that is enforced by an action that the parent does to the child is punitive on some level. It is the opposite of allowing consequences to teach our children. And our children know there is something desperately askew in this method.

Children resent being punished, on a public level or on a subtle level — resent us for punishing them. To punish only develops shame, which transforms into hostility, while further into the teens can lead to serious acting-out. In contrast, allowing natural consequences to teach a child develops self-discipline, which is what we want in our children.

Enforced discipline does the exact opposite of developing self-discipline in our children. Punishment undercuts the teaching power of natural consequences.

Oh, it’s certainly true that you can bully kids into good behavior. And not just kids. Husbands and wives, bosses at work and some of higher rank in the armed forces have long bullied to get the results they want.

The fact is, bullying works — for a time. Then it boomerangs.

When we bully someone into conforming, we might well destroy what may be the last shreds of self-worth the individual has. Because it’s only from a low sense of their worth that any child engages in bullying another child — just as this is the only reason a parent bullies their own child, a spouse bullies their spouse or a superior bullies someone of lower rank in the forces…a topic we’re increasingly hearing about in the media.

While people can be bullied into behaving a certain way for a time, human beings only live a lifetime as good people doing good things for others when they feel good themselves. Feeling good begets doing good.

It’s long been believed that humans are fundamentally flawed and that they need to be forced into doing good. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We come into the world as wonderful individuals whose greatest joy comes from bringing joy to others.

Think about a time when you felt really great. Perhaps you just fell in love, or got a new job you really wanted, or got a promotion. Doesn’t the grass look greener, the sky bluer? Doesn’t it make you want to share your happiness with the world?

Sadly, through home life, school and society in general, we soon learn not to feel too good about ourselves. The less we feel great, the more we exhibit behavior toward others that’s not all that great.

So how do you bring about a change of heart?

We change the focus.

The focus till now has always been on the child. People want to know how to get their children to “behave differently.” This is where I believe we miss the point.

In my own life, I put the focus on myself. As a clinical psychologist who sees many parents and their children, whenever my daughter exhibits less than desirable behavior, I ask what this is saying about me as a parent.

Children are a mirror of our own unresolved issues. So if a child bullies, that child’s needs are in some way going unmet. No child who feels delightful within themselves — whose emotional needs are being met because they feel truly “heard” by the parent — bullies like this.

The bullying is the child’s scream for help, not for punishment, and certainly not for shaming.

Once you realize that a low sense of self-worth — stemming from not truly feeling valued by and connected to the parent — is at the root of the bullying, to lower how good the child feels about herself even more by shaming her could boomerang in a terrible way. How would the parent feel if the child no longer felt their life was worth living?

What we need to address as parents are:

  • Where am I, as the parent, failing to connect with my child?
  • What in the child longs to be recognized but is being ignored?
  • How can I help mitigate the feelings of inferiority and shame that my child experiences?
  • And most importantly, how am I projecting my own internal shame onto my child?

Unless we begin to turn the spotlight within and ask these difficult but essential questions, our children will live in the legacy of shame which will continue into future generations. And the epidemic of bullying will continue to soar.

Stay involved in your child’s school life

By Michelle Calfee, an Ed.D. student at Carson Newman University

1361797_student_1I have worked in education for 15 years, and I have seen many different situations with students who go to school outside the home which makes often desired to do home or online schooling, visit Schooling Online programs which are well reviewed by parents and students.

There are students who go home to parents who ask how their day was and have a genuine interest in their day at school. There are many active parents who volunteer at the school, participate in the PTA, discuss their child’s progress with teachers and ask questions of their child about school.

On the flip side, I have heard kids say, “My parents don’t care.” In many cases, these students often do not achieve at high academic levels and have a low self-esteem. During the years that I have been in education, students who have little parental involvement often have a low esteem and are hesitant to try when the work seems too hard. Many of these students act out in class, cause disruptions, are less likely to complete their work, and do not follow expectations or rules. If you want your daughter to receive the best education available, then you should consider enrolling her into this all girls catholic school.

As a parent myself, I know that my involvement in my son’s education had a direct impact on his academic achievement and his self-esteem. My son is now 20 years old, and looking back at my involvement in his education, I realize there is still more I could have done to be active.

At the age of 4 when Austin was in k-8 public charter school, he began playing sports. I attended every game, and we talked about every game on the way home. When he started school, we added things about school to our conversation. We discussed what he did at school, what he learned, how his friends were, how his teacher was and anything else that happened during his school day. I was an active parent in his early years.

As Austin started middle school and high school, I was not as active as when he was younger. Every day I asked Austin, “How was your day?” He always answered, “Fine.” As he grew older, I often settled for that answer and didn’t inquire as much as I should have.

After looking at all of research about the importance of parental involvement, I know now what I could have done more of when he was in middle and high school. During his middle school years, I could have volunteered more at the school. In addition, I could have had more parent-teacher meetings and ask specific questions about what was going on with Austin. When I contacted Austin’s teachers, it was typically over a question, issue or concern. There were few times I checked in with the teacher just to see how Austin was doing.

Homework was always an issue for Austin and me. Austin played football, basketball and baseball, and there were times when two sports were going on at once. As a single parent, it was a struggle to get him home from school, dinner cooked, driven to practice on time and to make sure he had the things necessary to complete his homework. Austin always did his homework, but it was a constant argument everyday about getting it finished. Looking back now, what really would have helped with homework is setting a specific time each day to complete his work.

There are different types of parental involvement:

  1. Actively involved — the student is more likely to achieve at higher rates and develop a higher self-esteem.
  2. Involved — the student still achieves but not has highly as those whose parents are actively involved.
  3. Not involved at all — the student is more likely to drop out of school, have lower performance, have high absenteeism and make poor choices.

Parental involvement is not just about a parent being in the same house as their child or showing up to an open house or meeting at their child’s school. Parental involvement is about the parent being actively involved with the child and their education; from preschool programs to high school and beyond. Parental involvement is not an easy task. It is very time consuming and a lot of work. However, your child needs you to be involved and needs your support. Being an active parent can save you a lot time and headaches later in your child’s life. Your level of involvement will directly impact their academic achievement and mental health.

To be actively involved, talk to your child about what they are learning in school. Your involvement does not mean you have to understand the content or know how to do the work your child is doing. But you can ask your child what they are working on in school. When you do this, you are sending your child a message that what they are doing is important to you. In addition, you are telling your child that you believe their education is important.

In addition to talking to your child about homework, attend school meetings and functions and participate in the events. Anyone can just show up to the school for whatever the event may be. But to be an active parent, you must have a purpose or an expected outcome of what you want or expect to happen as a result of the meeting. An example of this is when you meet with your child’s teacher, ask questions and leave with answers. Make sure you are aware of what the meeting is for and that you have a follow-up plan afterwards.

Parents who are involved make sure their child completes their homework and attends events. These parents stay informed of how their child is doing, but may not be actively involved. Often times the parent who is involved may attend meetings, meet teachers at open house events and provide supplies for teachers in their classroom. However, they may not always ask questions at the school events or have a purpose in attending. This type of involvement has a positive impact on the child’s success but may not always push the child to achieve at a higher level.

There are some students who overcome the odds that are against them, but students are more likely to not value their education when their parents show little interest in education. If you do not know how to be involved in your child’s education, contact your child’s school and teachers. This is encouraged at all grade levels.

Continue to talk to your child. Ask them questions each day like, “What did you learn in English (or math, and so on)? How was band?” Or even ask them how their teacher is doing. Ask them how they did on a specific assignment that you had helped with or that they told you about. When your child tells you about something that happened in class or at school, follow up on what happened later in the week.

The more you ask, the more you will know about what is going on with your child. The more you know, the more you can help them in this important area of their life.

What presence means to me

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Oct. 24, 2008, but it echoes a sentiment many Attachment Parenting parents have heard from well-meaning friends, family members and even strangers to take some time away from our infants and toddlers, without realizing that ample presence with our children may be exactly what gives us balance.

By Christina Geyer of An American Expat in Deutschland and Mamas Worldwide

1386612_mom_and_kidI can’t count the number of times that someone has told me that I need to get out of the house without my son.

I’ve been told to get a regular babysitter or to put him in daycare, so that I can have time for myself. While I agree that moms do need time to themselves — I like to de-stress in a long bath with a book by my side once a week, and go to dinner and a movie with friends occasionally — I am happy to share my life with my 15-month-old son.

What does giving him my presence mean to me? It means allowing him to be present in my everyday life.

I am a stay-at-home mom. We are extended breastfeeding and cosleeping. We’re in playgroups — a German-speaking one and an English-speaking one. I also take him with me when I go to town, to the store, even to the doctor’s office, when possible. He joins me when I get a massage, sitting below the table, playing with blocks, smiling up at me every few minutes.

We eat at restaurants together. He doesn’t have a high chair with a tray, he sits right at the table with us, taking part in the family meal. I’m thankful that most places here in Germany, where we live, are kid-friendly. He loves to flirt with the waitresses, and he even tries to pay the bill.

By including my son in my everyday life, I feel I’m teaching him how to interact. He doesn’t act out like some children I’ve seen out, especially at restaurants. He sits and watches the faces of everyone around him. He laughs when we laugh and tries to eat like we eat. He happily eats sushi, caviar, all sorts of vegetables, octopus, mussels…all without even needing a bib. My friends invite us over to dinner so that their children will try new foods. They’ll say, “Look, the little guy likes it. Why don’t you give it a try?”

Now I know that some of this is just his easy-going personality and that we might have to peel spaghetti off the ceiling with our next child, but I think part of it is due to my, and my husband’s, willingness to share practically our whole lives with him. We love his company, and I think that this will help him to grow up loving our company as well.

Using presence to raise independent children

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Oct. 22, 2008, but it carries a timeless message of the payoffs of giving presence to our children, allowing them to develop independence on their own developmental timeline.

By Kayris Wall of The Great Walls of Baltimore and Mommy, What’s For Dinner?

acorn-680205-mOne day, when my son was a baby, I took him to the grocery store. He started to cry, and as I lifted him out of his car seat, a strange woman walked by. “If you do that every time he cries, he’ll never learn to be independent,” she said over her shoulder.

I was a brand-new mom and hadn’t developed my laser-like Mind Your Own Business stare yet, so I mumbled something about him being hungry. As I watched her walk away, I thought to myself, Is she kidding? He’s only 2 months old. He’s not supposed to be independent!

That baby just turned 4 years old recently, and has been joined by a sister, now almost 2 years old. Sometimes I still think about that stranger in the grocery store. I wish I would run into her again so I could show her my independent, friendly, confident little boy and tell her, “See this? It’s because I’ve always been there for him.”

I’m not claiming to be a perfect parent by any means. I have my strengths and my many, many weaknesses. The most difficult one by far is controlling my quick temper and being patient instead. It’s something I struggle with daily. But if there is one thing that I’m absolutely confident that I’m doing right, it’s that my children know that I’m there for them when they need me.

Until recently, I was primarily a stay-at-home mom. In the beginning, I provided the most basic needs to my infant son. I breastfed him when he was hungry, changed him when he was wet, rocked him to sleep when he was tired. I spent hours just holding him, and he went everywhere with me. It was fun. He was my little buddy. Two years later, our duo expanded when I had another baby, and my son was always there when I nursed, rocked and changed his sister.

Sometimes it was lonely and I felt isolated a lot, but seeing the end result makes it worth it. Beyond feeding and changing and snuggling, I was there when my son brought me an acorn and asked, “What’s this thing?” I was there to bandage their wounds when they fell, help them learn to climb steps, to tie shoes and wipe noses.  There were a lot of times when they didn’t need me, but I was there on the sidelines in a benign fashion, just in case they did. When they are grown and look back to the early years of their lives, I hope they’ll always see my presence, even if it’s just as a shadowy figure around the outskirts.

In the past year, I picked up some daytime hours at my part-time job. While I’m working, my mom stays with my children. This past September, my son started preschool three days a week. Both transitions went smoothly; in fact, the separation was harder on me than it was on my kids! But I am convinced that these first years, those times in which I was never far away, helped shape them into independent, adaptable little people and that is why they were just fine was I was suddenly not there. They knew that I would come back.

I’m not advocating that all mothers quit their jobs to become stay-at-home parents. I enjoy my time away, I’m good at my job, and I like what I do. And as my children grow and parenting them becomes more complex, I find that working outside of the home helps make me a better parent. This is partly because I can interact with other adults and gain perspective from other parents, but also because the time that I do have with them is that much more precious. It makes it that much easier to put aside my to-do list and to focus 100% of my attention on them.

My son is thriving in school, and I’m so impressed with the program he is in that I may sign my daughter up for the 3-year-old program next fall. Eventually, both will be in school full time, both will make friends, play sports and not need my presence in the same way that they do now. But it’s okay, because they will both be prepared to go out into the world, knowing that they are loved and cherished. They will be ready. And I will be ready, too.

Playing together

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 10, 2008, but its message about the importance of presence is as timely today as then.

By Tara, Feels Like Home

1124423__chalk_I have a secret.

I am a mom’s group drop out. I researched for months and found a local playgroup so that my daughter and I could meet some local moms and kids. I joined, paid my dues and then I flunked out. They didn’t ask me to leave or ban me from membership. I just stopped going. I didn’t fit in.

The problem wasn’t the other mothers or the other kids. The problem is that I’d rather play with my daughter than sit and chat with the other moms.

My own mother thinks I’m weird.

I’m one of those play-on-the-floor moms. I’m not only tuned in to what my toddler is doing, but I want to be a part of it. I zoom the trucks around and read books and make the animals’ noises. I talk and squeal with her while we play. The other moms at our playgroup supervise their kids, but they don’t participate in the play. I join in.

When I’m out in public with my daughter, other adults often offer me a seat because I sit down on the floor. I never take it. I’d rather sit on the floor and play with my toddler. No matter where we are, we play with the toys. I chase her, and she chases me. I point out objects in the room and in pictures and books. We have fun, and we’re usually more than a little raucous.

I love every minute of it, and her laughter, hugs and kisses tell me that she loves it, too.

For me, being present in my daughter’s life isn’t the same as being in the same room at the same time. It’s not about watching her play. Being present, to me, is playing together, being involved with her thoughts and actions, and actively communicating with her.

As she grows up, I hope my daughter will recognize that I would do anything to spend more time with her. I hope she remembers what a happy toddler she was and the times we sat on the floor or in the grass and played.

I doubt that she’ll remember, but I know I’ll never forget.

Even if she doesn’t recall the moments or the days, my daughter will remember feeling loved and adored and knowing that she commanded my full attention. She’ll remember the way she felt when I tickled her belly or pushed her in the swing and how she was important enough to be the center of my world.

I know that all parents don’t enjoy playing on the floor. Whether you do or you don’t, you can still be present in your children’s lives. You can create moments they’ll remember. Let them be the center of your attention. Make them special breakfasts or desserts. Don’t just sit in the same room: Get involved. Draw together. Talk. Play a game. Enjoy their toys together.

You will never regret the time you spent being present in their lives.

Giving our children presence…at work!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Oct. 9, 2008, and in the past 7 years since, workplaces are increasingly becoming more family friendly, including allowing employees to bring their babies to work with them.

By Carla Moquin, president of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute

my-tools-614737-mFor many working parents, their desire to be present for their children is at its most visceral when they return to work weeks or months after their baby’s birth and leave their baby in the care of others for dozens of hours each week. Our society — and many others — assumes that this separation is a necessity of our modern world. After all, the workplace is “for business,” and the home is where we “should” care for our children — not to mention that most people assume that babies would cry all the time if their parents actually tried to bring them to work.

But more than 100 baby-friendly organizations around the country — and more than 1,300 babies — are proving these assumptions wrong. And at the same time, they are illustrating how socially sensitive babies are and how much they crave being part of our communal interactions.

By nature, we are highly social beings, even from birth. Babies prefer nothing more than looking at and interacting with other people. They want to be part of a community, to feel involved in our activities and to know that they are loved, safe and secure. When we meet those needs, healthy babies have no reason to cry: They have everything they need to be content.

Baby-friendly companies have seen this dynamic firsthand. Numerous managers and coworkers in these companies have commented that they were amazed at how happy babies at work have been — and that these babies could spend hours contentedly watching other people in the workplace.

Most of these companies explicitly tell parents that their babies’ needs come first while at work, and most parents instinctively respond quickly to their babies simply out of the practical need to avoid disturbing coworkers. This dynamic greatly contributes to the happiness and calm of babies at work.

And since babies of highly-responsive parents cry less, these parents have more available time and focus to get their jobs done in spite of having their baby with them.

An unexpected effect of these programs is the “village parenting” effect that has developed in all of them. In every baby-friendly company, many coworkers end up developing bonds with the babies in their vicinity, and they welcome the opportunity to hold or play with a baby for brief periods. This includes many people who were resistant to the idea of a baby program in the first place.

Babies at work don’t just have the presence and support of their parents. They actually end up with a social network of many caring adults who feel invested in their well-being. Babies seem to bring out our nurturing instincts, which makes sense given the communal nature of our species. For most of human history, we lived in integrated social groups in which many community members shared the efforts and rewards of child rearing and in which work and family were one and the same. Our species is actually hard-wired to respond positively to babies. Research has found that simply seeing a baby’s face — as opposed to the faces of older children or adults — triggers a “sense of reward and good feeling” in just 1/7th of a second.

Baby-friendly companies have learned firsthand that babies — and older children — thrive when we integrate them into our day-to-day world. They illustrate that we as a community benefit when we are present for our children and, perhaps most significantly, when we give our children the chance to be present with us.

Parent-child conflict resolution

elisaheadshotBy Elisa Llamido, a producer, actress and writer and the creator of “The Perfect Pregnancy Workout vol. 3: The Ancient Art of Belly Dance for Labor,” living in Orlando, Florida, USA, with her husband, 19-year-old stepson, 5-year-old son and four frogs

My 5-year-old son and I were on our way in to the grocery store when I suddenly realized that he wasn’t beside me. I turned back to see him standing on the sidewalk transfixed, staring at the scene unfolding before him.

A mother had been calling to her toddler to come out of the store, but he didn’t want to come. There was a large scale inside of the door, and he liked climbing on it and seeing the numbers move. There was clearly a difference in priorities here.

What caught my son’s attention was her closing gambit: “You’re not coming? OK, BYE!” She turned and walked out without him. The little boy quickly dropped what he was doing and ran after her, terrified of losing her.

My son, Jason, couldn’t take his eyes off of the scene. His horrified expression made his face a frozen mask.

“Why did she say, ‘Bye!’?” he asked.

I tried to explain it away. “She probably has somewhere that she needs to go and she doesn’t want to wait anymore,” I told him.

I realized that this me-centric explanation wouldn’t be enough for my kid. “She doesn’t really want to leave him, but she said this because she wants him to come now,” I said. Since one of the things that we work on in our house is not doing things to try to manipulate others, that sounded even worse. I grasped wildly for an explanation that would mollify my son, but I came up with nothing. We both stood, watching and waiting for the rest of the drama to unfold.

We didn’t have to wait long. The boy ran out of the store to the sidewalk, where his mother grabbed him by the upper arm and attempted to pull him so he would walk to the car faster. The toddler promptly sat down on the ground, in a last effort of defiance. Now the mother pulled harder, yanking him to his feet and dragging him, stumbling to the car.

I heard crying. It wasn’t coming from the stumbling boy. There was another witness to the scene, another towheaded moppet who was watching as the pair made its way through the parking lot. I glanced from Jason to the previously unseen witness. Wow, they’re really upset.

After they walked away, Jason suddenly reanimated and started walking into the store again, but this time he had a million questions. Why did she say that? Why did she do that? Did she hurt him? Why was she so mean to him? Was she his Mommy?

I realized that to Jason, and likely to the other little witness, this scene made absolutely no sense. They put themselves in the other boy’s shoes and couldn’t see any reason why the person who was supposed to love and care for him suddenly turned mean.

I confess that I could easily relate to why the mother did what she did. It had probably been a long day, she had probably run into the store for one forgotten item that she needed to make dinner and she just didn’t have time to wait for lollygagging. Add that to any sleep deprivation that many parents experience, and I think any adult could understand what she was feeling.

But not the kids.

Little children are gifted with the joy of living completely in the moment. They don’t understand deadlines and schedules, and their birthday or winter holiday is an eternity away. Time doesn’t mean anything. So when passing by a scale, there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t climb on it. They’re here, and there’s a scale that has a hand that moves up and down when you jump on the plate. If you asked them, they’d tell you that they couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t stop to check it out, even though you have to get home to make dinner. They may never get the chance to play on this scale again.

It’s a question of priorities.

When I’m able to adopt my son’s outlook, I feel much happier. This week, I stopped on my way into a store to snap a photo of a double rainbow on my phone and then stood and looked at it a moment, savoring it, knowing that in a minute it would be gone forever.

Before becoming a parent, I was so caught up in trying to get ahead that I dismissed anything done just for pleasure as frivolous. One of my son’s many gifts to me is that he makes me stop in my break-neck pace of deadlines and stress to look at a bug or see a bird in the yard. I realize that it’s important to stop and take in the beauty of these everyday miracles, including the miracle of the big scale at the supermarket exit.

At the same time, we adults do live in a world of schedules and we need to find a way to balance this while taking our kids’ priorities into consideration so that we can create a win-win situation where both sides feel like they get what they need.

Instead of going head-to-head with her son, the hurried mom could have spent the extra minute that she spent dragging him through the parking lot making a compromise: “We’ve got to get home to make dinner, sweetheart, so 10 more jumps on the scale and then it’s time to go.” She could then count backward as he jumped so that he’d know when his time was up. That way, he’d feel as though he was allowed to do something that he wanted, even if it wasn’t as long as he wanted to do it.

Or, if she was really in a hurry, she could have offered something more fun than the scale.

I am an athletic mom, so it’s always been easy for me to squat down, show my son my back and offer a ride. “The Mommy Train is leaving the station!” I’d call out when my son was younger, then make a door closing “Rheeeee!’ sound. My son could never resist, and he’d run over to jump on my back for a quick ride to the car. Or, if he didn’t jump on, I could scoop him up making big sound effects and then swing him around — with more sound effects, of course — as I carried him off, laughing. Now that he’s older, I can usually tempt him with a race to the car.

My friend, Cynthia, has a bad back and can’t carry her daughter, so she came up with her own invention of getting her little girl moving. Her daughter was captivated watching a marching band once, so now when she needs her to move quickly, she calls out, “OK, it’s time to march! Let’s march! Let’s march!” and her daughter quickly forgets everything else in her haste to fall in line and march after her mom.

Before I became a mother I was apprehensive about parent-child conflict. I’d seen so many of these confrontations in public places, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. My mom gave me her advice: “An adult should always be able to outsmart a child. We have experience. We have fully formed brains. If you can’t find a way to get a child to do what they need to do happily, you need to try harder.”

Does that mean that kids will always be reasonable? No, of course not. There are some times when they want something that they just can’t have.

My son used to want to operate heavy construction machinery. It’s just not possible, and he would get very upset. At those times, I would hold him close as he cried and let him know that I understood his frustration: “I know, honey. It would be so cool to push the levers on that truck! I want to do it, too! But we can’t. It’s not our truck.” He would cry for a moment, and then it would be over. He knew that I understood him.

I glanced at him now as we walked. His eyes were toward me now, looking for answers. I told him the truth as I saw it: “That Mommy was probably tired. She needed to get home soon and was in a hurry, so she tried to get him to leave. When he didn’t want to go, she grabbed him and made him go.”

Jason’s eyes were fixed on me now, riveted. I was confirming the horror that he thought he saw. And then I added, “I don’t agree with the way that she did that, and I would never do that to you.”

“I know, Mommy,” he answered. I then asked him, “What did you think of what you saw?” and he replied, “I don’t think she should have done that.”

Questions answered, his eyes left my face and he went back to his normal mode, contentedly observing the world around him and looking for exciting things to explore. I touched his shoulder in a gesture to satisfy my need for closeness after talking about something that disturbed him.

I wondered if that mom and son had resolved their differences as they got to the car. I hoped so.

A working mom seeks balance

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 7, 2008, but it gives timeless tips to working mothers struggling to feel balanced.

Guest post by Annie, PhD in Parenting

working-3-546230-mMommy guilt.

Just about every mother suffers from it, but there is no cure.  It seems no matter how much we give, how hard we try, in our own minds it isn’t enough.

Some days I feel like a do a pretty good job of balancing my career, my family and myself. But other days, it feels like I’m falling desperately behind and failing on all three counts.

As a society, I often get the impression that we are slipping behind. That families have less and less time to spend together. It used to be that Sundays were sacred family time, and now some people work Sundays while others use it to get chores done. It used to be that mom was waiting at home with freshly baked cookies when the kids hopped off the school bus, and now kids are in after-school care programs while waiting for Mommy or Daddy to finish the work day and hurry off to collect the kids. But according to an article in the Washington Post, maybe we’re not doing as badly as we think:

In 1965, mothers spent 10.2 hours a week tending primarily to their children — feeding them, reading with them or playing games, for example — according to the study’s analysis of detailed time diaries kept by thousands of Americans. That number dipped in the 1970s and 1980s, rose in the 1990s and now is higher than ever, at nearly 14.1 hours a week.

So if we are spending more time than ever with our kids, why do we still feel so unbalanced? Why do we all feel like we’re not doing enough with our kids — or at work, or for ourselves?

I think part of it is that society tells us we need to achieve balance. We need to spend quality time with our kids. We need to get recognized and promoted at work. We need to be perfect wives. And we need to carve out time for ourselves. If we fail on any of those fronts, the guilt starts again.

I haven’t found a perfect solution, but I’ve learned a few things along the way that make it easier, that make me feel like I’m progressing in finding that balance and in particular in being more present for my kids, which is the most important element of the balance for me:

  • Finding a new job — When my son was born, I decided that I couldn’t let someone else set my priorities any more. So I started my own business, where I get to decide how to balance my family and my clients, I decide how much work to take on and I decide when enough is enough.
  • Taking advantage of the time we do have — There are things that are part of our daily routine where I could shut my kids out, but where possible, I try to bring them in. My son likes to help me bake and cook, so I try to get him involved in meal preparation. It helps him learn how to get around a kitchen and also gives us some extra special time together. I drive my son to school each day and pick him up, a total of about an hour in the car together each day. We have developed a repertoire of games and conversations that we have, and I really cherish this time. Instead of leaving my daughter at home with my husband while I do the grocery shopping, I take her with me and talk to her as we go through the aisles. Sometimes it makes these tasks take a little longer and makes it more hectic, but I think it is worth it in the end.
  • Cosleeping — I have heard so many working parents complain about how little time they have with their kids during the week. Some parents arrive home from work at 6 p.m. and have their little ones in bed by 7 p.m. We do manage to sneak in more than an hour of time together in the evenings. Usually I end up having close to three hours with my kids at home before bedtime. But being together doesn’t end there. I share a bed with one or the other of my kids every night. I find this time to be an essential way of staying close, even when we can’t spend as much waking time together as we would like. As I sit here and type, my daughter is sleeping on a boppy pillow on my lap.
  • Planning dates with my kids — I try to set aside some special dates with my kids. Sometimes my husband brings my daughter in to meet me for lunch. Every once in a while my son and I go out for an early dinner after school before going home. On weekends, I try to carve off half days to go out and do special activities like a walk or a visit to a museum with one or both of the kids. In the summer, I take Mondays off and often spend the day out and about with one kid or the other, going to the park, stopping at a cafe for a snack, visiting the bookstore, having an ice cream, etc. When we just stay home and hang out, we do get some time together but that is often combined with doing the laundry, checking e-mail, cooking meals, cleaning up and all the other things that get in the way of focusing on each other, and we definitely have no time for this and want to do other activities like going out, we better get the Cleaning Services Edmonton to help us with chores and have more time for other activities.
  • Reading, reading and reading some more — Reading is a way of sharing stories and ideas. Reading promotes literacy. Reading lets parents and children bond and gives them a stepping off point to discuss feelings and topics of importance, to develop hobbies, to laugh together. We read to our kids every day and even when everything else is falling apart, I try to keep this as a constant. We have books everywhere in the house. We have books in the car. We have books in the diaper bag. Anywhere we go, we have books.
  • Accepting less than perfect in other areas of life — I’m lucky to have a husband that helps out a lot around the house. He is a stay-at-home dad and he has also taken on a lot of the household chores. But among the chores that we share or that I do, I’ve accepted that I don’t need to be perfect all of the time. Sometimes I get my daughter and I dressed all week out of an unfolded and unsorted hamper of clean clothes. Often I pay the bills once per month, rather than paying them as they arrive or paying them at the “best” time as per due dates and interest rates. I started out making my own baby food, but then gave up and went for store-bought instead. My hair looks better when blow dried, but except on the coldest winter days or the most special events, I leave the house with wet hair.
  • Striving for balance over time, not every day — I work really hard at some times of the year, often working several hours at night after the kids are in bed, but I also take almost two months of vacation each year that I spend exclusively with my kids. Sometimes I take a night to go out with friends, but at other times if my kids need me, I may have to put social activities on hold. Some weekends I need to work, and sometimes I take a long weekend so that I can focus on family. If I try to achieve perfect balance each day, I will fail. But if I let things work themselves out over time, I may have a fighting chance.

All that to say that I don’t have the cure for mommy guilt. Not even close. But I’ve discovered a few tricks that help me give my kids more presence within the constraints of our ever busy lives. What tricks have you discovered to spend more quality time with your kids while maintaining your career?

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