Archive for October, 2012

October 25, 2012

Building Self-Efficacy – XP

Alternative Title: Why I ran a race I knew I’d lose.

I’ve got some serious perfectionistic tendencies when it comes to motherhood. In my head I’m some kind of modern-day working June Cleaver. Nutritious meals cooked daily, family time chock full of wholesome activities, and parties worth re-pinning. Some of that does actually happen…but so do frozen chicken nuggets, dishes left in the sink, and weekends spent working overtime or running errands, because life is not perfect – its busy, messy, hard, and just plain life.

What I’m trying to remind myself is that it’s okay not to be perfect. Not only in the your-kids-just-need-you kind of way, but also for the value that lays in them seeing you struggle, and lose, and generally not being perfect.

I’ve loved the developing discussion right here on CTWorkingMoms on this topic over the past few weeks. Katie talked about it as coping skills and Dena discussed the victory of effort. To me, it is all about building self-efficacy in our children.

Self-efficacy is a theory introduced by psychologist Albert Bandura. Though, related to the self-esteem we are all familiar with, self-efficacy speaks more to one’s abilities. Self-esteem is feeling good about who you are, and self-efficacy is feeling good about what you are capable of. The subtle difference is an important one. Would it be nice to have a kid who likes himself? Absolutely. But, it’s something more to raise a child who believes in himself.

There are many ways we can build self-efficacy in our children. Providing responsibility and allowing them choices over their bodies is one. Another is encouragement and praise for the process, more so than the outcome. And, though it can be hard, sometimes we have to let our children struggle and let them lose. I’m not a believer in the “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy. Handing children success is not preparing them well for adulthood. Allowing our children to feel the pride that comes from working hard and overcoming is a gift. I saw early on with my son that if we swooped in and helped him at every struggle, the only message it would send is that he isn’t capable. That he needs help and that he can’t succeed on his own. So yeah, when we play games, I play to win and sometimes do – my children doesn’t deserve anything less.

But the most important way we can teach our children – the most important tool we always have – is modelling. This is why I laced up my running sneakers Saturday morning and participated in my first 5k.

Let’s be clear: I am not a runner.

I went into the race knowing it was going to be hard for me – knowing that I would finish at the bottom of the pack. And because of those afore-mentioned perfectionistic tendencies, it was hard to go out there and do something (in front of other people!) that I knew I would be bad at. But I did it anyway.

How did it go? Well, it was…humbling. I didn’t do well, but I did cross that finish line and was greeted by the cheers of my excited children.

 

“Did you win??” my daughter asked.

“Nope,” I responded.

Then my son jumped into the conversation with, “It’s okay if you didn’t win. You just like to try new stuff, right mommy?”

Yes, that’s right. I mean, it wasn’t always, but it’s who I want to be for them.

I think about 2, 5, 10+ years from now when they may come to me with a problem. They will encounter something really hard.  A struggle.  Something they work really hard for but still can’t quite seem to get. What will I say to them? What will I teach them about how our family responds to difficulty? What will I be able to share with them about the time that I knew something was going to be really hard but did it anyway?

How will my story impact theirs?

That is why I focus so much on self-efficacy. No matter what they are faced with, I want my children to say that they are capable of handling the situation. That they can do hard things – because, surely, that is what life will ask of them.

 

[photo credit #1 and photo credit #2]

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October 11, 2012

National Coming Out Day – XP

[image credit]

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about coming out is that it only happens once, when in actuality it’s something that is done over and over again throughout your life.  This is especially true once kids are in the picture – those buggers out me on a daily basis!

But there is one “coming out” that is particularly memorable for me.  It was simple and brief, but the response I got was so perfect it has stuck with me.  It was October 11, 2006 and I was in grad school.  I had made friends with another girl in my program and we got together regularly for dinner and study sessions.  It had gotten to that point where we were close enough for it to be weird that she didn’t know, but with our focus on school, it just never came up organically.  So on Coming Out Day of that year I decided I’d let her know.  I was ridiculously awkward about it and probably said something dumb like, “Oh hey, you might not know but it’s actually ummm ::cough::comingoutday::cough:: so I’d figured I’d ummm, well, let you know that I’m, well, gay.”

“Oh,” she said before pausing to process it for a minute. Then, “Cool. I’m glad you told me. Are you coming out to anyone else today? Do you need any help?”

Because clearly I was no good at it and, going forward, could use some assistance. 

In all seriousness, I was so touched by her thoughtful response.  Not only was she unphased by the news, but she immediately jumped into a position of support. An instant ally.  “How can I help?” are words of gold to those of us in the GLBT community.

Another example of a great coming out response is in this father’s letter to his hypothetically gay son.  Seriously, its wonderful. Go read it now – I’ll wait.

As in my coming out experience with my classmate, the part that struck me and brought tears to my eyes was #2.  It’s nice to have a parent “accept” you upon coming out, but a parent that will support you, advocate for you, and go to war for you? That is just so much more.

So on this National Coming Out Day, even if you don’t experience the honor of  having someone come out to you, I’d encourage you to think about what you would say, and how you would feel, if someone did.  What if one day that person was your child?

I often hear from parents of gay children that there is a mourning period.  They mourn the life they had pictured for their child and they are sad for the extra struggles they will now face.  Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay.  Mourn if you must (all feelings are valid feelings), but being gay does not bring you an alternative life full of doom and gloom.  I married my highschool sweetheart in a beautiful white wedding in which my father walked me down the aisle.  We now live in suburbia with our 3 children, dogs and a cat and do super gay things like grocery shopping, playdates, and soccer practice.  I’m happy, fulfilled, and glad to be who I am.

If you read that and still feel a little sad at the thought, I understand.  Discrimination, and worse, does remain and surely no one wants that for their child.  The good news is that there is a solution.  A solution that my friend and that father immediately clued in on – advocacy, support, and change. 

Why not start now?  Statistics show that a good number of you reading this may have a child with a coming out story of their own one day and you have a hand in deciding what that story will be.

Resources:

HRC Guide on being a straight supporter:

http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/straight-guide-to-lgbt-americans

Listing of CT PFLAG chapters:

http://community.pflag.org/page.aspx?pid=803

October 4, 2012

Like Mother, Like Daughter – XP

Original here: http://ctworkingmoms.com/2012/10/04/like-mother-like-daughter/

Genetics have nothing on my family. 

 

My wife and son? They don’t share an iota of genetic material or heritage and yet, they have the same expressions, personalities, and often finish each other’s sentences – they share the same temper, too.  And is it just me or do they kind of have the same smile?

 

The story is the same with my oldest daughter and I.  Feisty, bossy, opinionated and fiercely independent.  Oh yes, you can spot us from a mile away.

[photo credit]

She was probably a red-head in a past life.

A lot of this feels like fate.  A match made in heaven. 

It’s neat to be able to see so much of yourself in your child, but of course all of us know what a responsiblity it is too.  As I see the old saying ‘Like Mother, Like Daughter’ playing out before my eyes, I’m reminded of what an important role I have here.  My children, my daughters especially, are always watching and learning from me.

Naturally, this encourages me to be my best self in front of them.  There are more slip ups than I care to admit; but, for the most part, I do a decent job of tucking away the biting sarcasm, overly critical nature, social awkwardness, and cookie addiction.  Well, about that last one. That one’s not so easy to hide.  Because, as you can see, I’m fat.

I’ve been fat basically every day of my life.  Its a family trait that has haunted me and has led me to feel shame, embarrassment, and hopelessness.

Then, I became a mother, and I found a strength and determination inside of myself that I never had known before.  I don’t accept ‘can’t’ from my children and I wasn’t willing to accept it from myself any more.  I started eating better (including completing a Whole30), exercising, and focusing on my health the way I would want my children to focus on theirs. I am wearing a smaller dress size and am prepping to run my first 5k in a few weeks.

Getting fit as a family

I was – am – determined to end this family legacy with me.  I don’t want my children to live in a body they are not comfortable with or struggle with food issues as I do.  I make sure to talk about activity, feeling good, and eating healthy rather than “dieting” or “losing weight,” so it’s all good…right?  

We visited the Science Center as a family this weekend and considering my personal focus of late, I was especially interested in checking out the healthy living exhibit.  I sat down with my two oldest at game in which the kids “fed” disks of different foods to the person on the computer screen.  I imagine it was intended to teach them about healthy food choices and portions.  They got a bit overzealous about the feeding and when they had put in one disk too many, the computer woman’s stomach, hips, and thighs grew. (Frankly, she now looked a lot like me.) “Oh no! She had too much and her belly got big!” my oldest exclaimed.  To my 6-year-old, the message was clear: she got fat so we lost the game.

Wait, what?? My (not-so-inner) feminist was outraged.  We need to embrace bodies of all shapes and sizes – none being any better or worse than any other! We need to stop focusing on looks! And why does it have to be a woman on the screen, dammit?!

But considering the energy I’ve been putting in of late on changing my own size, I left that museum feeling like a pretty big [no pun intended] hypocrite. Was my health-quest sending the same message as that stupid game?

Shortly after, I came across this article. I read it, tears in my eyes, hanging on the truth of every word.

So as we sit there together, shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh, I pray for her to be smart. I pray for her to be strong. I pray for her to find friends, work she loves, a partner who adores her, and for the world not to beat out of her the things that make her who she is, for her life to be easy, and for her to have the strength to handle it when it’s not. And still, always, I pray that she will never struggle as I’ve struggled, that weight will never be her cross to bear. She may not be able to use the word in our home, but I can use it in my head. I pray that she will never get fat.

Yes, it’s true. I hope they never struggle as I’ve struggled.

Now I’m more confused than ever.  What exactly is the message I am trying to send? You should love yourself as long as you avoid sugar, eat your veggies, and exercise regularly? No…that’s not it.

How do we reconcile the two, equally dangerous, epidemics of obesity and body-hatred for our daughters? Where is the middle ground between them?

What would I have said in the moment Ms. Weiner describes?

I don’t know.

When I pray, I don’t necessarily pray that my daughters stay thin – I just pray that they are happy.  But what I do know, having lived life in this body, that happiness would come a bit easier if they did.

October 2, 2012

Crossroads

Our licensing worker will be here in a few hours.  Our third visit without actually having anything to be licensed for (ie. no foster kiddos).  I’m sure he’s going to start asking questions.  It’s just, I have no idea what the answers are.