The fine art of escaping your children

Like many Moms, I have a hard time prioritizing my needs, over my kid’s needs. It’s just too easy to think, “I’m fine” “I don’t mind missing yoga again” or “I don’t really need to take time for myself.” I used to have a hard time spending money on myself. The hardest thing was to PAY a babysitter to then spend TIME and MONEY on my own frivolous fun. Before I became a Mom I used to judge those mothers who spent lots of time away from their kids and couldn’t wait for them to go back to school. Now my back to school happy dance is an annual event and right now, I am sitting in a hotel room, spending money and time by myself.

Having mental rest is my #1 trick to a happy, purposeful life. After having so much kid time this summer, my brain gets full of their thoughts and ideas, making me feel tired and overwhelmed. Some people can ignore everyone around them and just tune into themselves. I envy them, but I act more like a sponge, soaking up other people’s emotions, energies and thoughts. For me to wring myself out and have access to me, I need to escape.

The first time I escaped, by myself, I spent the day at beautiful Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. I was hanging on to sanity by a thread. I felt so guilty over needing the break and then so selfish over taking the break, that I could barely relax after an 8 hour spa day. What turned the corner for me was this: “Would I ever hire someone to look after my kids, who never took time to herself?” “Would I trust a nanny to watch my kids 40 hours a week if I knew she ONLY worked and never rested or played?” NO! That sounds unhealthy and unbalanced. Yet here I am, trusting myself to “be a good Mom” on very little personal time!

For the last five years, I’ve been taking a getaway weekend by myself about once a year. At first I brought my sister along, or used points to pay for the room, to make me feel less selfish and guilty. Now that I see how beneficial it is for me to be alone, I indulge it. To eat what I want, when I want, without cooking, cleaning or hearing complaints is HEAVEN. To go to bed when I want and sleep as late as I want feels fabulous. The best part of these weekend escapes is I get access to ME: To think my own thoughts, be inside my own head, plan out my year, dream about the future, spend time in nature, HEAVEN! I still hear myself say to my family, “Why don’t you come with me?” or “I don’t have to go, I can just stay home.” It’s like I forget how much I need it until I get it. If you are spongy like me, and need solitude to wring out and feel whole again, take these four steps and give your kids the whole and healthy Mama they deserve.

The Art of Escaping involves 4 steps.

  1. Setting Boundaries. It doesn’t matter how small you start but you MUST be the one to carve out time for you. It could be you are unavailable after 11pm. It could be Sunday mornings between 8-10am. The first Wednesday night of every month is yours to do what you want. Stick to this boundary like you are stopping your child from running into the street. It is not negotiable. They will pick up on your level of conviction and respect your decision (once they’ve tested you a few times).
  2. Doing nothing. In our hyperproductive world it’s popular to worship BUSY. But constant busy-ness distracts us from our inner world and inner guidance system. To feel whole and mentally calm, try giving yourself permission to do nothing. Accomplish nothing. Wander. Be. Go where the wind takes you. Start with ten minutes and work your way up to a whole day. It feels like being a kid again .
  3. Give generously – Money has an energy to it and isn’t meant to sit and stagnate. If you have trouble spending money on yourself, think about giving it to other people. Help people be who they are meant to be by paying them to massage you, cook for you, teach you about wine, make you pretty, play with your kids. You make their day by letting them fulfill their purpose here on Earth.
  4. It’s not about you. You are here, doing some important work raising kids, spreading love and uplifting your corner of the world. You escaping to get quiet time, isn’t really about you. It’s about pushing the refresh button on you, so that you can be whole and healthy and show your kids what it looks like to be their best and enjoy their lives. Taking time to care for yourself is a gift you give your family. Do you know anyone who had a mother who didn’t take great care of herself?  Ask them what it would have felt like to have a Mom who supported her own physical, mental and financial well-being.

Do you suffer from decision fatigue?

My friend was moving back to Costa Rica to enjoy raising her kids with less stress. I asked her, “Why is it so much more relaxing to live there, than here?” We’ve got nature. We’ve got time to play and relax. What is it about living in Costa Rica that makes such a difference? Her answer surprised me. She said “There is less to choose from. Having fewer decisions to make, makes life simpler.” In her small town in Costa Rica, she knows she will be eating rice, beans and fruit, everyday. On the weekends, your kids will be surfing or playing with the neighbors. There’s no “keeping up with the Jones’s” because there is only one store in town and Amazon does not deliver there.

My ears perked up when I heard a story about Barack Obama was moving into The White House, he told his kitchen staff, “Don’t ever ask me what I want to eat. I want to save my decision making energy for more important matters.”

Have you ever taken your kid to a toy store and said, “You can have anything you want in the whole store!” Only to watch them melt down 5 minutes later?

Teens have a lot of decisions to make with long-term consequences. Should I smoke pot? How hard should I study? Should I hang out with different friends? Should I post that picture? Where should I go to school? Who should I live with? Should I use a condom? There is a way to cut through the chaos and help you and your kids, make decisions that are right for you. With this one question, you can get perspective and tune in to your higher self.

“Would my future-self be proud of this decision?”

It was interesting at my Getting What You Want summer camp how easily the teens could answer this question. We used the example of quitting something. “Would my future self be proud that I quit soccer/girl scouts/changed schools?” These girls KNEW if they were quitting for the right reasons (to move on to something better, reduce stress, etc.) or the wrong reasons (fear of success or failure). Think of something you are debating: Should I go back to the gym or pick up tennis? Should we put our kids in private school or pay off the car loan? What should I eat for dinner? Big or small, this question “What decision would my future self be proud of?” gives us clarity and perspective.

If the answer isn’t clear, it’s time to develop a closer relationship with your future self. This person is your greatest ally, your biggest cheerleader and mentor. To get to know her better, imagine her FAR into the future, looking back on her life with pride and satisfaction. What were her favorite moments? What accomplishments is she most proud of? How did she overcome the hard times and stay focused on what’s most important? Write a page in your journal as though you are your 90 year old self and you are telling someone about your amazing life. Then work your way backward to your 70 year old self, 55 year old self, until you really get to know the future you. Help your kids start forming a picture of their future self as well. So they have someone to turn to when their friends, their parents, and the media are all telling them different things to do.

You don’t have to live in Costa Rica to reduce your options and eliminate the stress of making so many decisions. Peace and clarity is available to you anytime, you just have to know who to ask.

How do you know if you are good enough?

I’m sitting at the dinner table staring at two, huge plates of food. It’s just my son and I tonight so we’re celebrating with big, beautiful steaks. The rest of the family doesn’t eat red meat so it’s a treat for us and I went all out. I’m waiting for my teenage dining companion to finish up his video game and join me.

and I’m waiting….

and I’m waiting….

We have an agreement with the video games. He plays with his friends online and it messes up their scores if he doesn’t complete the game. I could care less about this, but I understand he is a people pleaser and doesn’t want to upset his friends. We’ve agreed that if I let him finish his games, he will come down before starting any new ones, check in with me, and hand in all technology by 9:00pm. This agreement evolved after lots of frustration and a few blow ups on my part. Tonight, as I sit by myself watching this beautiful steak dinner get cold, my doubts creep in like a familiar shadow whispering, “Your not doing a good enough job as a Mom.”

As much self-coaching as I have done, this “not doing enough” voice has been a tough one to shake. When I think I’m not doing enough I feel exhausted and frustrated and I allow my perfectionism and doubts to creep in. My tendency, is to explode in a rage-filled fit so that my son will feel as awful as I do. You see, I like to be right, so if I think I’m not a good enough Mom, I act like it. For some funny reason, he has asked me to find a different way of coping with my frustrations.

I think it is disrespectful to keep someone waiting and let the food get cold. It feels like my son is putting video games before his mother, who is just trying to feed him. The other part of me thinks, we have an agreement. If his food is cold, he’s the only one who suffers, let him suffer the natural consequences. It’s not like I’m missing out on inspiring dinner conversation, he’s a mumbling teenage boy who talks with his mouth full and wolfs dinner down in 5 minutes.

What’s really bothering me is that I don’t know what a good mom would do. I can’t think of anything I want more in my life than to be a good mom, so it drives me crazy when I can’t figure out the answer. But the reason I can’t find a good answer is because “How do I know if I’m good enough?” isn’t a good question. There’s no such thing as good enough. No destination, no great parenting report card, no judgmental mother in the sky. Good parenting/bad parenting doesn’t exist. It’s a construct of a perfectionistic mind that just gives us more reason to feel bad about ourselves.

So as I sit here, enjoying my dinner by myself, I choose to find something else to focus on. Love. I love that I have a great relationship with my teenage son. I love that we can resolve any conflict with compromise and peace. I love that I feed my son delicious food. I love that I care so much about being a good Mom. I love that he can connect with his friends without me having to drive him anywhere. I love that he has people who share his love of games. I love that I can enjoy this dinner with or without him.

I left his full and beautiful plate on the table as I went to my office to type up this blog. Ten minutes later I threw a screaming, crying fit. Not because my son never came down to eat. Not because I’m not a good enough Mom. But because my tiny dog climbed on top of the table and ate his entire 12oz steak.

Maybe some days we are just meant to blow off steam and we’ll find any excuse to do it. I felt so much better after crying, screaming and getting mad at the dog. Maybe it’s easier to let in the love after we’ve gotten rid of the yuck. I love that I’m not the only one who gets exhausted trying to do everything right and good. I love that other Moms get it and have my back. I love that I’m giving my dog the silent treatment and she doesn’t even know it.

getting along with difficult family members

How do deal with difficult family members.

As we sink our toes into the warm sands of summer and listen the sounds of happy kids playing, many of us also listen to the bickering, complaining and passive aggressive positioning of extended family members. If you’ve got family members who drive you crazy and drain your energy, read on for summer survival tips for dealing with those annoying extended relatives.

In many families, there’s at least one family member who you dread being around. Whether it’s their passive aggressive communication style, their judgmental opinions, or their tendency to binge drink and swear at your kids, family gatherings are a challenge for many people. When my clients have a challenging relative, they always want to tell me about all their flaws, but it doesn’t help me to hear it. If you need to get it off your chest, write down everything that bugs you in your journal. Then let’s get to work changing the one person you have control over, YOU.

I know it seems like THEY are the problem but the bigger problem is you don’t like who YOU become when you are with them. Either you bite your tongue and smile when you don’t mean it, or you snap and lose your cool, or you get defensive and mirror their passive aggressive ways. All of it feels uncomfortable so the first step to dealing with relatives who bring out your ugly side, is to realize where your power lies. You get to decide how you want to feel, what you want to think and how you want to behave. Ask yourself, “How do I want to feel, while he makes his sexist comments?” “How do I want to feel when he scolds my children inappropriately” You probably don’t want to be happy about this so choose something like “I want to feel proud of how I handled it.” or “I want to feel calm and in control of myself.” When we take responsibility for our own emotions, we keep all our power instead of giving it away to someone who hasn’t earned it. “If they behave, I can be happy” means your happiness is in their hands. Stay connected to you by paying attention to how you feel.

It’s really tempting to think of all the ways they should change their behavior that would make the world a better place. Although you may not like it, the truth is people get to behave however they want. They can be stupid, mean, bellegerent, judgmental, racist, sexist, drunk, controlling, worried, whatever, it’s their decision. Try this, give your relatives PERMISSION to be who they already are. You’ve had some experience in dealing with them, you’ve made suggestions and tried to change them but it hasn’t worked. When I ask my clients “What can you trust about this annoying relative?” They say “I can’t trust him at all!” I offer that they CAN trust this person to be unreliable, to say one thing and do another, to be inconsistent. Instead of trying to change them and arguing that they should be different, recognize what you can already trust about them. The FREEDOM lies in accepting the facts as they already are and recognizing that we can trust ourselves. Some of the a-ha’s my clients have had with their families are:
“I can trust my sister to be dissatisfied.” “I can trust my Mom to make comments about my appearance.” “I can trust my Dad to dismiss my opinion.” “I can trust my uncle to repeat things he heard on FoxNews.” “I can trust my brother to one-up me.”

When sunny optimism and ‘hoping they will change’ doesn’t feel good, focus on who you want to be, and how you can trust them to behave. Giving people permission to be who they are, doesn’t mean you like it or condone it. It means you are choosing to bring more positive energy into the world, instead of letting the negativity bring you down.  Good Luck!

If you want to sign up for a coaching session before your next family reunion, go to www.lifecoachingforparents.com/work-with-me

pressure to be perfect

The pressure to be perfect

I got to spend last week with a group of delightful 12-13 year old girls at my leadership camp. When I asked what stresses they had, they summed it up beautifully with these words: “pressure to be perfect”. Perfectionism is a big problem for kids and parents in today’s culture. I never thought I was perfectionistic because my house wasn’t clean, but that’s not exactly how it works. The medical definition from Merriam Webster is “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” In my clients, and in kids, I see it as black & white thinking. If I’m not good, I must be bad. If I’m not “liked”, I must be disliked. If I’m not smart, I must be dumb. When we believe there is only one right way to do things, the stress and pressure we feel is overwhelming. Perfectionism, as I see it, is the fear that the real me isn’t good enough. But if I put on a performance, look or act a certain way, then you will think I am worthy.

Perfectionism is not a healthy striving for excellence. It is the belief that if I act good enough, I will be. It shows up as meltdowns and temper tantrums (at all ages). It inhibits creativity and innovation because perfectionists are less likely to take risks or try things they know they won’t succeed in. It’s a primary cause of depression because it distances us from our genuine emotions and sets us up for unachievable goals. “I have to be the best at everything.” “I have to look perfect.” “I have to make everybody like me.”

A lot of my “SuperMom” clients yearn for their old school days when the measure of success was very clear. In school, you know exactly what needs to happen to considered successful. Motherhood is frustrating for those of us who want to “do it right” but can’t find a system or checklist to know if we are being successful. There are no metrics, no measure of better than/worse than, no way to gauge if you are a good enough Mom and it sends our insecurities into a tailspin.

With kids, perfectionism shows up as early as age 4-5 with not being able to lose gracefully, being inflexible, giving up easily, and emotional drama. You can watch them beating themselves up for mistakes and not wanting to be seen as vulnerable. Perfectionistic kids will deny any wrong-doing, use dramatic language “everybody, always does this _____.” Some perfectionistic kids can put others down as a way to feel better about themselves resulting in social isolation (perceived or real). Some kids develop a fear of success, avoid ‘being seen’, and strive for mediocrity, in order to avoid making public mistakes.

Whether we are overachievers or underachievers, our goal is to make up for the inside feelings of unworthiness and insecurity. You can spot perfectionism when the emotional reaction doesn’t match the event (Your kid is devastated over coming in second. You ate too much ice cream so you throw your whole diet out the window. You fear people not liking you so you mold & adapt yourself to convince them you are worthy of their friendship.)

I used to stress out while running late. Racing in the car, my kids would watch me be frustrated, impatient and get really mad at myself, just because I was late. I had beliefs running through my brain like “Being late is rude & disrespectful. I can’t believe I messed up AGAIN.” It wasn’t until I watched my 5th grader STRESSING OUT over forgetting his spelling book that I started changing my ways. The good news and the bad news is that kids learn by imitation.

If the following remedies freak you out, chances are you’ve got some perfectionistic ideas running your life. Click here to schedule a free discovery coaching call with me.

– Say the words “Oh Well” often and out loud. Let it became a daily mantra for your mistakes as well as your kids.

– Celebrate mistakes. “Who made the best mistakes this week? Let’s go around the table and see whose blunder wins the prize!”

– Model self-compassion and forgiveness in front of your child. “I had a goal to exercise three times this week and I didn’t do it. Oh well. I’ll do better next week.”

– Watch your words. Be careful not to use black/white dramatic language around your kids “If I don’t meet this deadline, they’re going to kill me”. “I looked so horrible I thought I might die of embarrassment”.

– Let your kids see you fail. At the roller rink yesterday I had so much fun watching people of all ages and ability levels, fall down, repeatedly. (Only the 13 year old girls made a big deal out of it). Let your kids see you fall, fail, get up and try again. Find an activity you all stink at and fail together. Failing=vulnerability=connection with others.

– Make sure you are praising your kid’s effort and process, not the result. “I love how hard you worked.” “I was so proud of you for trying something outside your comfort zone.” Avoid praising the outcome “You got straight A’s” or “You’re the winner!”

– Tell them that no matter what grades they get, who their friends are, or how they perform on the court, they will always be loved and accepted for who they are.