How to Create Community

My Wednesday afternoon neighborhood playgroup

I am in a funk.  I just returned from Family Camp in Lake Tahoe (my happy place) and it was fabulous.  No cooking, dishes, driving, whining, or TV.  Just happy kids and happy parents and lots of time in nature. What’s hardest for me when I return home, is the isolation:  The kids and I, at home, all day, with no one else.  No one else to dine with, play with, talk with, reflect with.  I miss it.

Humans are social creatures.  We are meant to live in communities.  But for many of us, we have a stronger relationship with our neighbor’s garage door than with the people living inside.  Two working parents, day care, shared custody, organized sports, TV and video games, driving instead of walking to school, all these make it harder to get to know our neighboring families than it was in the past.  If you are like me and yearn for a strong support system around you and a community feeling, here are some things you can do.

Break out of your box.

I was never the outgoing social organizer so it was easy to come up with excuses like “I’m shy” or “I’m too busy” or “I’ll wait for them to initiate”.  It can be hard to break outside of the roles we put ourselves in, but if you want it, you can create it.  Great neighborhoods are created by people who put themselves out there and, occasionally, get rejected.  Not everyone is going to be your people and that’s okay, but chances are, they are all hoping someone else will take the initiative.  Organize a block party, have an open house, host Friday night happy hour on your front porch.  Be open to experiencing yourself in a new way, you might surprise yourself.

The magic of multiage.

The way our schools are structured makes it easy to assume kids only want to want to play with other kids their same age.  We forget about how wonderful it can be to have a group of kids of all ages, playing with no agenda or structure. The older ones play a little younger (so good for them in a world that encourages growing up so quickly) and the younger ones love the attention of the older kids. Self-organized play is more likely to take place as the older ones take on leadership roles.   This environment of learning to adapt, adjust, create, solve problems, and innovate is such valuable, real world learning and what many kids today aren’t getting.

Leave judgment at the door.

When a new neighbor moved in with a truck full of hunting gear, I assumed I wouldn’t like them.  When another neighbor hung a political sign I disagreed with, I decided not to bother trying to get to know them.  I WAS TOTALLY WRONG.  These are some of my favorite people now, but I judged so quickly I almost missed out.  Be wary of snap judgments.  When you are raising children, it creates a common bond that surpasses other, more minor, differences.  If they live nearby and love their kids, it’s a relationship worth exploring.

When we feel lonely or isolated, it’s easy to believe that we are the only ones who feel this way.   If this were true, I wouldn’t write a blog about it.  Start up a weekly potluck dinner with friends whose partners work late or travel.  Invite every Mom pushing a stroller to meet you at the park on Monday afternoons.  Collect emails and phone numbers of everyone who lives near you.  They are all waiting for YOU to do it.

Parents Feel Peer Pressure, Too

“Don’t forget about the showcase on Friday, it starts at 10am.” I hear every morning as I drop my daughter off at a week long cheerleading camp.  Summer is here and I am pining for “me time” like a love-struck teenager longs to be back at summer camp with her first love.  My 8 yr. old loves cheer camp but the 2.5 hours per day is hardly enough time to do the things I want to do.  I want to write, plan and teach classes without my daughter.  I want to exercise and run the errands she hates but summer is here and things have changed.I really don’t want to go to “the showcase” this Friday.

I’ve watched her do cheers all week, about 6 hours a day.  I feel confident that I won’t  be deprived by not seeing her perform with the other camp cheerleaders.  I have great friends that will send me videos if I want.  I didn’t go last year, and the world did not crumble.  My husband misses this stuff and doesn’t blink an eye.  I really don’t want to give up that extra hour on Friday, when I get so few as it is.

Yet here I sit, on the bleachers, watching “the showcase”.  And apparently, I’m not the only one.

Sometimes we succumb to peer pressure, just like our kids will.  We decide to do things that we may not really want to do.  Breast feeding, work meetings, kid birthday parties, family gatherings or class reunions.  Peer pressure is just as real for adults as it is for kids so as I waited for “the showcase” to begin, I decided to take my own advice.

In my “You Can Talk to Me” class for 9-12 year olds and their parents and my “Getting What You Want” summer camp for girls 12-15, we talk about how to stand up to peer pressure.  Before you take action, you first want to link to your values.  In this case, I value my quiet time, especially during the summer months, but I have decided to go anyway and I don’t want to feel resentful.  I value connecting with other parents.  I value arranging play dates for my daughter with the other Moms (more quiet time!).  I value using life’s everyday challenges to help other parents, live more purposeful lives, ie. write a blog about it.

Anytime you are doing something that’s not your favorite activity but the societal, peer, or family pressure may be too much for you, link to YOUR values!  Maybe you dread spending your meager time off at your spouse’s family reunion?  If so, find a way to link it to one of YOUR values:  spending time in nature, finding a new recipe to try out, talking about a book you loved, mentally plan a trip you’d like to take, sketch something, etc.  Before you’ll know it you’ll be having a good time, on your terms, because you decided to.

Bev felt pressured to put her boys into classes like the other Moms: soccer, music, foreign language, gymnastics. She longed to socialize with these other Moms but her boys just wanted to stay home and play in the dirt. She could either force her boys to cope with classes they hated to make friends and feel a part of the crowd, or listen to her boys and her instincts and let them stay home. She decided to linked to her values, hired a sitter to stay home with her boys, and took classes of her own.  Bev got out of the house to socialize by taking art and exercises classes, something she always wanted to do.

Living deliberately, on purpose, gives you so much power. Notice when you feel peer pressure (and talk about it out loud if your kids are old enough).  Listen to and respect your inner voice, make the choice you want in a way that reflects your values, & then make the most of it.  Acknowledging peer pressure and modeling how to make your own choices is an awesome skill to teach to your kids.

I’m not the only one

Are you a “bad mommy”?

As I walk through my house I see my daughter’s forgotten lunch box, my son’s forgotten jacket, a sink full of dishes and an overflowing hamper.  What I hear in my head is, “I’m a bad Mom”.  My child is cold = bad mommy.  My child is hungry= bad mommy.  I’m a lousy housekeeper = bad Mommy.  When my child eats too much sugar & watches too much TV, I think “bad mommy”.   And I know I’m not alone.  I’ve taught enough classes and coached enough clients to hear this theme repeating throughout this generation of Moms.  When did this happen?  I’m pretty sure my Mom’s generation didn’t judge themselves the same way, (ok, maybe a dirty house meant you were a bad wife) but there wasn’t the same emphasis on being a good Mom.  I love the advancements we have made towards understanding what is good for kids and how children deserve our respect, time, and devoted attention.  The problem is, believing you are “a bad Mom” does not help you parent any better.  When parents are stressed, we usually lean towards being overly permissive, or overly authoritative.  Stress does nothing to motivate us and instead creates inconsistent, negative parenting that we are not proud of.

Somehow, our culture got a mixed up idea that “good parents don’t let their children suffer”.  This is leading to a generation of kids who are afraid to take chances, move out of Mom’s house and have a sense of entitlement. Perfect parenting is stressful and teaches kids that being perfect is the goal of life.  It’s time for the parenting culture we are living in to change from one of “perfection” to one of “growth”.

Most parents deny being a “helicopter parent” but when I ask who would drive their child’s lunch to school after they forgot it at home, most say they would.  I’ve done it three times myself, BUT I’M STOPPING TODAY!  Instead I’m going to think about what lessons I am robbing my children of by coming to their rescue every time?

What can you learn from a forgotten lunch box?

I can skip a meal, feel hunger, and it’s fine.  I can survive a mishap.  People forget things and that’s ok.  Mistakes happen.  People share what they have.  The Universe provides.  People like to help others. People are generous. Carrots taste better when you are really hungry.

What can you learn from a forgotten jacket?

Compassion, strength, how to keep your body warm in other ways, resourcefulness (the lost and found is a gold mine!), friends and strangers care about you, suffering is temporary and nothing to be afraid of, you are stronger than you thought.

What can you learn from a messy house?

Some work always gets done, there are higher priorities, it’s ok to let other’s help you, your mess does not define you, perfection is not important, not everyone has the same strengths, if I don’t like it, I can change it.  Kids might decide to take matters into their own hands, in which case they learn to create change and use their dissatisfaction to improve their life.

Switching your perspective from doing everything perfectly, to learning and growing from every opportunity sets a great example for our kids.  They learn to be human, make mistakes, grow, take risks, struggle, survive, experiment, and pick themselves back up again.  When I was in school, I was terrified of making a mistake so I opted out.  I answered questions with “I don’t know”, I never raised my hand, never tried hard, and kept quiet. It wasn’t until I went to college and heard others talk about their school experiences that I realized how much I missed out on.  Life is meant to be lived, fully and with freedom to be yourself.  Avoiding problems is avoiding life.  As parents, we can’t be open to learning and improving when we are berating ourselves about how bad we are.  It’s time to embrace our mistakes as learning opportunities and every day, ask “Was I better today than yesterday?”  and “Where can I praise my child’s effort instead of his/her result?” Perfection will never be achieved but growth, is doable.

I love to hear what you think equals “bad mommy”.  Crying kids?  Injured kids?  Disappointed kids?   When you are stressed, do you err on the side of overly authoritative or overly permissive? Jump over to my facebook page and let me know.

Is Your Child Stressed?

I don’t know about you but when I’m stressed, it is OBVIOUS to everyone around me!  But what about our kids?  Children don’t always have the vocabulary or self-awareness to be able to articulate their emotions in a way that we can hear them.   In fact, their emotions are so strong that just labeling them with a word (“you feel sad, angry, over-stimulated, overwhelmed”, etc.) makes the feeling seem more manageable and immediately helps them calm down.  American kids are more stressed out than every before, how can we know if our kid is one of them?

Misbehavior – When you are seeing recurring patterns of misbehavior, try to figure out your child’s motivation for acting out:  power, revenge, attention, excitement.   If there isn’t one, it might be stress.  See if you can find an underlying cause:  overbooked schedule, stressful environment, lack of predictability or just misalignment with the child’s authentic self (too much coping required).

Forgetfulness – “I forgot my Math book and I have a test tomorrow!” can be a normal problem but if it’s happening regularly, the child may be either stressed or self-sabotaging.

Illness – Some kids have magic bodies that won’t let them detour too far off track.  Notice if your child easily gets headaches, stomachaches, excema, colds, flus, etc.  I know whenever I’ve had a job that wasn’t good for me, I was constantly dealing with one illness after another.

Checking Out – Some kids do a marvelous job at taking care of themselves when stressed.  If you notice your child daydreaming, mentally zoning out or shifting into a trance-like state, congratulate yourself on having such a self-reliant child, but note that they are probably stressed.

Clouded decision making – I remember seeing a Dad telling his 4 year old he could have any toy in the whole store and this kid proceeded to have a total melt down at Toys R Us.  Sometimes what we think is fun, can be too overwhelming for kids and you’ll know they are stressed if they are having a hard time making simple decisions like what to wear, they want for dinner, or who to play with.

Arguing & Whining – We all take our stress out on those who are closest to us (ask my poor husband!).  Kids are no different.  When they get in the car after school and immediately start bickering, you know they are purging all the negativity they picked up during the day.  Whining can usually be cured with loving attention or a nap.

Overeating, Under-eating, Difficulty Sleeping – Kids and parents alike.

Do you have a sensitive child?  Sensitive children can be like the canary in the mine, alerting us to problems we all may experience if we don’t pay attention and switch gears.  Luckily, there are MANY things you can do to reduce stress in kids, in fact too many for one blog post.  Until next time, try working on just one: your own.  We are all built to mirror the emotions of people around us unless we intentionally focus on holding a higher state.  It can be really hard to feel good when your child doesn’t but it’s one of the most helpful things you can do for her/him.  Your kids will automatically pick up on your worry, spoken and unspoken stress.  Instead, find out what makes you feel good:  exercise, sleep, yoga, healthy foods, life coaching, meditation, hiking, card games, gardening and do it.  The quickest, most effective way to reduce stress is to switch your thinking.  Say these words to yourself (if you can believe them) and to your children.  “There is nothing I (you) have to do right now”   “All is well”  “It’s ok to rest”  “Everything is unfolding exactly the way it’s supposed to”.

If you have another restful thought or mantra you love, please share it!