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Parenting the Strong Willed Child

Having a strong willed child is not a bad thing, it’s actually a positive trait!

Shepherd or Sheeple

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I took this pic in Ireland in a random parking lot – the cutest!

I was speaking to a Mama friend the other day and she was briefly venting about her 13 year old, argumentative daughter.

I really respect this mom; she is smart, funny and beautiful.  It is obvious to probably everyone else, that her daughter is a chip off the old block.

So of course, I didn’t hold back and quickly assessed the situation:  “You are both shepherds.  Do you expect her to act like a sheeple?” (The ironic thing is that her daughter is actually the person that taught me and Avery the term, sheeple.  I’m not sure if she made it up but I have adopted it as one of my “go to -isms”, as many of you know I like to do:).

Of course, the Mama friend laughed and sloughed it off and the conversation ended there but I have been thinking about it since.

As moms, I believe we are all the shepherds of our households but what happens when our daughters begin displaying “shepherd-like” behavior themselves and it makes our lives effing difficult?!?

I think it is important to ask yourself this question, “What do I want for my girl?  Do I want her to be a leader or a follower; a shepherd or a sheeple?”

When she is faced with hard decisions during the teenage years that involve peer pressure, drugs, alcohol and pressure from boys, do you want her to follow the herd or to exude confidence and leadership energy?

I choose to support her as she trains to join me as a member of the fierce and fearless Shero Mama tribe.

Right now, that may look like her arguing with me… just because.  Or telling me that she HATES the dress I bought for her.

She may seek many avenues to exert her shepherd-ness and the renouncement of mine. Sometimes her independent mind is inconvenient for me and sometimes, I feel sad that my agreeable little girl has been replaced with an extremely opinionated imposter.  But mostly, I feel pride that she is exercising her shepherd muscles.

I believe it is a dance that can result in my daughter stepping into her new role as “(S.I.T.) shepherd-in-training” where she prepares and practices to be the shepherd for her own children one day.

I believe that is the ultimate assignment for all of us Shero Mama Shepherds; to gracefully usher our daughters into their own shepherd-ness so we can pass down the torch and support them as they become the leaders of tomorrow in their homes and lives and possibly the world.

My Story

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Reluctant to leave college at 22 years old, begrudgingly, I dragged my feet as I left Austin with a Sociology degree and a Women’s Studies minor.  I had no idea what “I wanted to be” and definitely felt overwhelmed by the fact that I was hardly a grown up ready to face the world and deal with health insurance.  Subconsciously, I think I knew that there were many lessons left unlearned and I felt a bit lost while armored up in my pretend bravery.

I considered going to law school and worked for a year as a paralegal researching the commitment…pure misery. I had no idea at the time that I would  berate myself repeatedly over the next two decades for not immediately pursuing a graduate degree.  In hindsight, a graduate degree in Social Work could have been a great fit for me but I never even considered it.   I was not strong enough for the likely ridicule I would have received from my well meaning and highly financially motivated dad so this would not be an avenue I would explore.

My undergraduate studies didn’t seem to tangibly prepare me for any career I could define at the time and there were many jokes in my family letting me know it.  I studied those subjects because frankly, they just interested me. I loved learning about people and their patterns of behavior and have always been passionate about female empowerment.

Over the next few years, I had a string of jobs to pay the bills in various sales and management positions. Needless to say, I was quite unfulfilled and remember frequently thinking, ” this really doesn’t matter in the bigger picture” but afraid to admit any uncertainty or vulnerability, (Brene Brown hadn’t even written her books yet), I had no clue what that “big picture” was for me and what I was truly interested in doing in the world.

Soooo I decided to get married and start a family.  I know that sounds no different from going to college and graduating with an M.R.S. degree but it was not intentional like it sounds.  I didn’t set out on a path looking for a husband.  He was meant for me in a way that magical things happen that make you believe in God or the universe or whatever your particular term is for a higher power.  He was my summer camp best friend’s older brother and we were living in the same city for the first time.

His sister, Carol(yn) and I were best friends living in different cities when we were growing up that reunited each summer at camp.  She and I were a pair with that type of bond where everyone knows you’re a package deal – it felt like she was my family from a very young age. Carol’s  brother, Scott, never went to our camp and I barely knew him.  When I moved to Houston, the chemistry was obvious and couldn’t be denied between us and we became friends.  He was meant to be my family just as I had felt with his sister years ago at camp. I knew I had met THE guy that I was head over heals in love with and felt his love for me was limitless, the way every girl dreams that someone will be in love with her one day.  That was one thing I finally knew for sure – so the decision was an easy one.

Now I can look back and see how fortunate and probably lucky we were to begin a family from a deep place of love and knowing that we were meant to be family.  My family embraced him and loves him today as much as they love me; some may even like him more than me I think. His sister has always been my sister or at least it feels that way.  There is a lot of acceptance in our relationship – life is messy and so am I, literally.  I am a bit disorganized, terrible with details and collect piles of clutter and crap.  He hangs his dirty clothes and takes them to the dry cleaner on hangers – type A neat freak.  I am a glass is half full.  He is half empty.  We are Yin/Yang on almost everything.  It works well for us.

I spent most of my 30’s focused on our marriage and raising our children and it definitely felt purposeful and important.  In the process, I was an avid reader on any topic that would support my ultimate goal – creating a connected and loving family and giving our kids a healthy foundation. I had my eye on that prize with clarity and consistency and never waffled about the importance of raising really good people that grow up to be loving and able to receive love. I had an inner knowing or belief, (before I was even aware of it on a conscious level), that my role as mother would serve as the nucleus for our kid’s experience during their childhoods.  Their relationship with their dad is important and at the risk of receiving hate mail from all the amazing dads I know in the world and there are a lot of you, I still believe that the mama/child bond is like nothing else in the early years of a child’s life.   My end game has been for our kids to feel loved, safe, enjoyed and that they really matter in this world. As a result, we enjoy and really like them in addition to the love every parent feels for their children. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments when we want to strangle them but they are far fewer than the delicious ones.

Over the years, I have studied so many areas of interest on this path – more books and programs than I could even begin to name on child development, neuroscience, the Conscious Discipline Program, COUNTLESS self help books and now Martha Beck Life Coach Training.  It feels as if I have been in the most interesting graduate studies program for more than a decade. When I reflect back on my prior feelings of disappointment in myself for untapped potential or direction after college, they have faded.  I now realize that my intended career wasn’t accessible to me years ago when I graduated from college.  I needed to experience having a loving marriage and raising a connected family to prepare for my next endeavor.  This path of life and parent coaching that was meant for me has involved independent study, self-discovery and a hands on approach, in my field of interest, family.

I have tremendous gratitude for the loving and supportive partner that has joined me on this journey.  As our children have grown and the older two reached the teenage years, my journey and passion has truly unfolded for me. I threw my heart and soul into family and now realize that I have achieved exactly what my college courses emphasized… women in leadership positions making a difference and ultimately changing the world.  My passion is to create a tribe of “World Change Agent Mamas” – changing the world beginning by creating the family of their dreams.  I am ready to take my knowledge and passion to the streets and get started on my next chapter, the birth of my new project ….. Apparent Coaching

Middle School – Time of Terror and Torture or Growth and Healing…for the Daughter AND the Mama!)

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When I was pregnant and found out I was expecting a baby girl 14 years ago, I was bombarded with the negative comments about girls and how much more difficult they are than boys to raise.  I received the “memo” that girls were whiny, manipulative, materialistic and socially brutal – specifically during the middle school years.

My daughter, Avery, is about to begin her last year of middle school in a few weeks and since we are beginning the tale end of the supposedly torturous and socially grueling years of middle school, I want to share some of my reflections about raising a girl over the last 14 years. This is from the perspective of my own experience as Mama to Avery and what I have seen from my clients and what they have shared with me regarding their daughters and “girl world”.

  • raising a daughter is so much fun…from the second she was born;
  • it is true – the clothes are ridiculously fun to shop for and I did feel like I had a real Baby Alive that did more than eat and poop; (my husband keeps waiting for me to stop shopping for the now 5’2″ “Baby Alive Avery” but I will admit it is a sickness AND I respect her personal style and love testing myself by styling her according to her tastes, not mine);
  • from the get go, she was far more independent than my boys and was headstrong in a way that I identified with… she was not manipulative, whiny or a doormat that could be bossed around;
  • she had assertive, kind, loving, positive, leadership energy from as far back as I can remember -(isn’t this the epitome of the “sacred feminine” definition?!?!);
  • she has been a portal for me and my personal growth journey.  As I raise her and notice how much gets triggered within ME as she enters a new phase or goes through the messiness of life, I get to reflect and discuss with her and grow along side her;
  • this opportunity for growth of myself as I raise her has created a relationship between us that feels unbreakable.  We are both learning and growing and she does not expect me to be the “all knowing” formal mother – in fact, when I share my vulnerabilities with her, the bond strengthens;
  • she calls me out (as do my boys) when I get “stuck in my own blindspot” and I behave in a way that is not consistent with the person I aim to become.  She has that nurturing, loving and feminine way of holding me accountable that feels supportive rather than dismissive or “judgey”;
  • most of my unresolved childhood wounds that have been triggered during her middle school years have had to do with my own feelings of “girl world” and the social hierarchy of female relationships.  It is very interesting to become an observer in my own mind and figure this stuff out once and for all – especially since I didn’t even know these wounds existed until recently!
  • social media triggers feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) in everyone!  It feels kinda evil and I treat it seriously when we host Avery’s friends. We explain why we take a no posting stance in our household when it comes to parties or gatherings and why it can be hurtful. The other kids seem totally receptive and many have just not thought about the repercussions – I think they appreciate the explanation and the reminder to enjoy each other in person and to be in the moment rather than using the moment to publicly boast about the party you are supposedly enjoying…(but aren’t actually present enough to enjoy b/c you’re so busy posting and reading the comments of others that are probably at the same party and you both have your faces down attached to your screens posting back and forth while drumming up fomo in all the girls that weren’t included – crazy town);
  • “no-cializing”:  this is what we call the act of a bunch of teens in a room together with their faces in their screens not socializing with the people they are physically with;

So needless to say, I think having a middle school aged daughter is wonderful.  It can be like intense therapy for the mama if she looks inside herself and surrenders to the possibility of healing and growing.  I am ready to take a stance against the female bashing by other women and girls that in my case began even before my baby girl was born.  As human beings we have a basic need to belong – we need our sisters.  Sisterhood in the form of sacred friendships, where we love and nurture each other and our daughters (and sons), is a big priority in my life today.  The funny thing is that it took my daughter being a middle school  aged girl for me to be able to articulate how important this is to me.

I believe that middle school is the training ground for female relationships.  It can be a rich and powerful experiential time for growth and positive patterns to form.  We can choose to learn from the painful and hard experiences as mothers and daughters and grow and learn together. Isn’t this what we all yearn for – to be  close and connected to our daughters and for them to feel the same way about us?  A generation consisting of mothers and daughters modeling positive, fun and empowering sisterhood – wow, think of all the magic we could create.

July 4th – remembering 2 strong mama warriors.

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July 4th represents independence and freedom.  There have been many battles for freedom throughout our history – the most recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in the United States was a huge victory representing freedom of choice and equality for gay Americans.  The ruling came on my daughter’s 14th birthday, June 26th and it seemed synchronistic considering she took a firm and outspoken stance in her Bat Mitzvah speech 10 months ago about gay rights,

Even though most Americans living today can’t imagine a time when women did not have the right to vote, most of us do recognize that by and large it is still a man’s world in many ways.

In every community in America in large ways and small, many women work to level the playing field between men and women.  These women model positive female leadership and confidence in everything they do.  Sometimes, they make a public stand but quite often they work behind the scenes and build reputations for themselves as strong, intelligent, confident women.  These are the women you want on the board for your organization or the one you feel comfortable sending your child on a playdate to their home.  These women exude wisdom and grace all at once.  These are the women modeling for our daughters how to be feminine and confident and BAD ASS.

It is the mothers in our communities that mold and shape the next generation – let the feminist brainwashing begin!  In a good way of course.  It is so important for our daughters and sons to grow up having lots of examples of strong female leadership so it can become the absolute norm and we can continue to close the gap.

I would like to recognize on this 4th of July, 2015 two such women…Robin Berry and Kim Glover.
Robin passed away July 2, 2011 and Kim’s funeral was July 2, 2015.  It seems synchronistic again, that 2 incredible female leaders in the same community were taken from us just 4 years apart.  They both were examples of Mama Warriors; loved their children fiercely; spoke out about things they believed in; stepped up to the plate to take action whether it was planning a class party or taking on a more traditional leadership role in their children’s schools.  They were “those” moms that get sh!t done.  They were both fun and likable and charismatic and BAD ASS female role models.

Please take time this 4th of July to honor the memories of Robin Berry and Kim Glover and reflect on how their lives impacted yours in some way.  Even if you didn’t know them, think of the Mama Warrior you can show up to be for your kids, your extended family/friends and your community at large.  We all have the capacity to be strong feminine leaders like Robin and Kim – they have handed off the torch to each of us to continue serving as role models in the way each of them lived their tragically shortened lives. Let’s make them proud.

What Does Hillary clinton have to do with little league baseball?!?!

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In 2008, Hillary was a contender for the Democratic party’s nomination for president.  Obviously, she lost to Obama.  At the moment, she will likely be the Democratic nominee running for United States president in the 2016 election.  When Obama won the nomination, she told supporters, “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest hardest glass ceiling THIS time, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it.”

Whether or not our first woman president will be elected in November 2016 remains to be seen.  I have no desire to get into a big political debate about the future of our country financially under female DEMOCRATIC leadership, (Dad).   BUT I do have a very important question to ponder regarding the trickle down effect on many aspects of our culture when a woman is literally leading the pack and running the world – A-ha-ha-ha-ha…
Specifically, will the moms (unlike me) that have expert baseball knowledge be able to shake up the Big Boy’s Club of little league baseball and start mixing it up with some female coaches?  After all, both moms and dads coach girls’s softball so what gives with the double standard in this day and age?

I can feel the eye rolls from the members of the Big Boy’s Club now and all of the justifications and excuses used by men since the beginning of time why women should be excluded.  For the record, by no means am I suggesting that moms should take over little league and squeeze the dads out. This is all about inclusion and the superiority of any organization once the feminine and masculine come together and make a beautiful baby.  We were meant to work together as equals each bringing our unique chromosomes to the table and leaning in together.

I have sat in the little league stands for the last several years and noticed many of the wonderful AND a few unsavory aspects of the way our kids are coached.  My son has greatly benefitted overall by his little league baseball experience so far and especially the comaraderie that he feels on the field with his teammates.  At 9 years old, he is starting to get slightly more invested in the competitive aspect of the game but overall, he judges whether he is on a “good” team or not by how many kids on his team cry over a loss or a bad play.  He has figured out at this young age that games are supposed to be fun and he really doesn’t understand the whole crying thing over a game.

He is definitely learning life lessons about sportsmanship and the way to handle victory and defeat with integrity.  These are values that are more successfully taught in practice on the field rather than in theory using only words in a conversation and we are incredibly grateful for that amazing aspect of team sports.

Another positive byproduct of playing baseball is the real life experience he gets re: staying calm and centered when the heat is on.  A year ago when he was only 8 and playing intense district baseball, he was extremely affected by a coach that was so emotionally invested in this 8 year old game that I think he must have had some serious cash invested in the form of a wager.  This guy was bananas and my kid really wanted to quit.  He asked me why an adult would yell so much and didn’t he realize that it was just a game?  He actually used the words, “This is too much pressure and I’m just a little kid.  I thought games were supposed to be fun.”

We discussed strategies to keep him calm and centered involving breathing and mantras.  We talked about adults being human and often living vicariously through their kids and not realizing it. By the end of our conversations, he really understood that an out of control adult’s behavior truly has nothing to do with him and that it was important to learn strategies to stay calm and grounded in your own head regardless of what is going on around you.

At first my timing was terrible and I often frustrated him by reminding him of these strategies at the wrong time – in the moment.  However, I am happy to report that a year later, his coach this season would pull him in without notice as a relief pitcher when games got heated because he said that Cory was calm and cool under pressure.  If Cory has learned how to manage his calm at the age of 9 then I can honestly say, I am grateful for the banana cake coach that served as the impetus in learning this incredibly valuable skill.

So I think I have established so far that my son’s little league baseball experience has been extremely positive and I think it would be even more so if some female coaches entered the little league arena.

I sat in the stands this season with a woman that had far more baseball knowledge and personal experience as a lifelong softball player than 95% of the coaches I know and she seems to be a really great mom on top of that…all the ingredients for an amazing coach in my opinion.  She was an excellent “team mom” – the best I’ve seen.  But frankly, utilizing her time with organizing snacks, coach’s gifts, team parties and gala baskets is the equivalent of a heart surgeon working as the secretary instead of performing surgery.

She sat in the stands with an intense energy that clearly revealed her passion for the sport, and not only cheered for ALL the kids but was the biggest cheerleader when a child flubbed a play with words of encouragement.  She especially cheered for the child on our team with some developmental challenges and all the boys followed her lead with cheers and chants of support for this child from the dugout regardless of the outcome when he was up to bat.  This was such a perfect example of the amazing leadership energy she could bring to the table if she decided to lean in as a baseball coach.

So I asked her towards the end of the season why she wasn’t out there coaching and she just blushed and brushed it off while mumbling something about being fulfilled with the team mom role.  When I pressed her, she admitted that she wasn’t up for the challenge and repercussions of trying to break into the Big Boy’s Club.  She mentioned 2 other moms that had attempted and coached for a season or 2 and what they endured as a result.  It isn’t hard to imagine the labels assigned to their reputations, that so many other women have experienced, when they have taken on traditional male leadership roles.

So my question is:  Once Hillary becomes president, will the moms that are meant to serve as coaches instead of team moms; CEO’s instead of secretaries; entrepreneurs instead of receptionists, start to more frequently take a leap, step up to the plate and knock it outta the park? Hope so!

Investigating family history

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Recently, my Dad, went to visit my 87 year old grandmother, “Nana”/Magda, in a nursing home in Florida.  These visits are infrequent and short in duration…the last time my dad visited Nana, after traveling from Texas to Florida, he stayed for an hour total and then headed off to the casino.  He got in and out and then needed a gambling fix.

Magda was born in Sátoraljaújhely, Hungary. We have no clue how to pronounce the name of the town where she was born and raised until the age of 15; the age when she was put on a freight car and taken to Auschwitz Birkenau. In fact, we are not sure she even remembers how to speak Hungarian anymore – the only language she spoke her first 15 years of life.

A few months ago my 13 year old daughter, Avery, was talking about school one day and began discussing some interesting details she had learned about the Holocaust.  She mentioned that the majority of Hungarian Jews perished in the war and I mentioned that Nana, (Magda), is Hungarian as well as her Papa.   She had no idea that she was part Hungarian and was excited to tell her teacher she had rare and special Hungarian genes.

This conversation left me feeling really curious about the details of Nana’s story/circumstances/journey and filled me with a desire to know more about our family history – a topic rarely explored in my own childhood.

“Nana” / Magda, at age 6, in Hungary, before the war

Growing up, the relationship my family had with Nana was estranged and limited. We are fairly certain that she shared very little of her traumatic Holocaust stories or any childhood memories with her 5 sons or 12 grandchildren.  Our family history was all but forgotten – practically erased as if it never even existed…which I suspect was what Magda was hoping to achieve – if you don’t speak of that elephant in the room, maybe the elephant will actually disappear and cease to exist.  But as I’m learning, not unpacking the trauma dooms you to get stuck in it, and perpetuate the trauma in your own life and the lives of your children.

Inspired by the conversation with Avery, I discovered candid interviews by Magda about her childhood in Hungary and Holocaust experience on the Shoah Foundation website, an effort organized by Steven Spielberg.  Spielberg’s goal was to preserve the stories and truth about the Holocaust, while the survivors are still alive.   Consequently, my family has been able to learn our history over 60 years later.

Avery with my Mom and Dad – her Papa & Mimi

I’m not sure what kept my grandmother from ever sharing her story with her family.  Maybe it was “survivor’s guilt” or to protect herself and us from the likely post traumatic stress symptoms she endured.  Now that I have viewed a 2 hour snapshot into her years of torture, I feel fairly certain her scars were deep and the suffering has endured for the rest of her life.

You may be wondering why we never thought to uncover the details before now.  The answer lies with Magda’s 5 sons.

My dad left home at 16 and practically never looked back.  He married my mom at 21, had kids very young and created his own family.  We heard very few stories about  Nana or his childhood and had essentially no contact with her.  He describes Nana as “a more violent version of Mommy Dearest”, which paints a pretty vivid picture in my mind.  Magda’s traumas definitely came out in her relationship with her own children,

To this day, my father does not want to look back to his own childhood.  While he didn’t experience trauma like Magda’s, the trauma he did experience involves a deep desire to numb, escape and avoid dealing with “the ring of fire” just as Magda did.  Thus, the cycle repeats and this is how patterns continue to exist within families throughout time.

We have a very close knit immediate family but there were certain patterns, (yelling, anger, blame…fear based behaviors),  passed down that probably originated with Magda and the unconscionable atrocities she endured.  I believe uncovering her story has and will provide a great deal of healing for our family and help us to put the old dysfunctional patterns to rest where they belong. Understanding and healing seem to be a productive byproduct of digging up these roots.

The importance of family has always been a cornerstone in the Jewish religion and culture, as it is in many other religions and cultures in various parts of the world.  Trauma of all kinds crushes families, causes harm and division within families.  I long to see families healed of their generational traumas and return to healthy, nurturing patterns.  I believe it’s possible for your family too.  All it takes is one brave person to start telling the truth and it becomes contagious within your family and spreads rapidly.  A new epidemic and no vaccinations are needed…”Past Pox”.

Randi, Scott, our 3 kids, my parents