Maria’s Musings & Advice: Mama ain’t into tats

Dear Maria,

Ugh! My daughter just got a tattoo. Throughout her teens, she talked about wanting to get a tattoo, and I never gave her permission. Now that she’s of age, she’s gone and done it. I can’t say that I’m happy about it! Tattoos always meant criminal or low class people to me. Does that make my daughter one? I guess I can understand why she wants to have a tattoo now, but what if she changes her mind when she gets older? What if the tattoo keeps her from getting a job that she’d really like to have? I just think she was being impulsive and didn’t think through the consequences.

Signed,

Mama Ain’t into Tats

Dear Mama Ain’t into Tats,

You’re not alone in your opinion of tattoos and their wearers. But, we see them everywhere: professional athletes, performers, military, lots of people in the service industry. Dear Mama, it’s time we accept that a tattoo’s meaning today is more nuanced than our old school way of looking at it.

I did a little research on the subject to help us ponder this question. Psychcentral.com’s article Thinking of Inking? cites research that says 23% of Americans have tattoos, and about half the people in their 20’s have a tattoo or body piercing (other than ears). That’s a lot of tattoos! The article cites a generational divide in tattoo perceptions, one that’s playing out in your family now. The Daily Mail, on the other hand, says tattoos can improve the chances of getting hired if they are “seen as an asset” to convene the company’s personality.  Hopefully, your daughter’s tattoos can be covered up, if she wants to. If not, she may have limited her job prospects. But, she’d probably rather work for an organization that’s flexible/supportive of self-expression through tattoos, anyway.

Tattoos on young women, in particular, are a powerful means of self-expression, and a statement of autonomy. Young women deal with a barrage of scrutiny over their appearance in our culture. The tattoos are, in this way, a feminist statement: “This is my body. I’ll decide what I do with it.”

My husband and I raised two girls, one the age of your daughter, and another in high school. Both lobbied for tattoos during their teen years, and we never said, “Okay.” This decision is best made when they are of age, understand more fully the consequences, and can pay for it themselves. These multiple conversations influenced my perception of tattoos. I don’t think I’d ever want one, but now I understand more fully their meaning and function in a person’s life. Your daughter is of age, and made this decision on her own. Try to understand the meaning of the symbols she has placed on her body, and talk with her about what the whole experience means to her. You may delight in her autonomy, creativity, and reflection. Look at her tats from her perspective, rather as something that undermines or restricts her. In a misogynistic world, she is seeking, and finding, herself. The choices she makes that embolden her personal power are to be celebrated.

Many of my friends and readers have tattoos, and/or their daughters do. Please join this conversation, and share your experience in the comments, below. I hope this helps you smile:

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Online Harassment

hands-typing-7Dear Maria,

I’m wondering if you have suggestions for helping your teenager handle online harassment from peers. My high school-aged kid has a former friend who regularly posts things about her on various social media sites. Sometimes it’s direct, using my teen’s name, making negative comments about her, and encouraging others to do the same. Sometimes it’s thinly-veiled, stuff that someone else may not know is about my kid, but she knows and their peers know. Regardless, it all hurts and is doing serious damage to my teen’s confidence and social life. It’s hard for my daughter to defend herself online because anything she writes in response gets shot down by this kid and their peers. As parents we can see that over the long run, the kid who is harassing our teen is on a path for self-destruction, but in the short-term we don’t know how to best support our kid.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you have.

Signed,

Mom Who Wants to Support and Empower Her Teen Against Online Harassment

Dear Mom,

Remember, back in the day, when the circles of people our children interacted with were small? When they were little, we could easily connect the dots to who-said-what, and call on other adults (teachers, troop leaders, sitters) to help with hurtful situations. Now, teens interact on so many different platforms. The connections can be amazing, and damaging. It makes my head spin. Here are a few hard-learned insights of mine, and the wisdom and guidance of Tavi Gevinson, speaker, actress, and founder of Rookie magazine.

Tavi shares your signature sentiments, but she’s 20 years old! She’s a cultural critic and feminist advocate who’s smart, savvy, and stylish. Here’s sage advice in a Rookie magazine article on gossip. Two takeaways: One, in many cases, the gossip is best confronted in a social media-free exchange. Believe it or not, when the telephone was first invented, critics feared it would lead to the decline of civil conversation, due to the loss of face-to-face interaction. They had a point. Today, I wish teens would use the phone, not just texting or online forums, to clear the air. Two, with malicious gossip (page 4 of the Rookie article), the author suggests not reacting to the gossiper, and enlisting the help of an interlocutor, if possible. My daughter has survived a few rounds of online gossip and lies. In two cases, my husband and I called the parents of the gossiping child. It stopped immediately. In another case, school administrators intervened and counseled the students involved to dial down the drama and call a truce. Our daughter resisted the help, at first. We let her handle things on her own, until it became clear that intervention was necessary. (She was relieved when we did.) You’ll know when the time is right to step in. Plus, it’s an opportunity to model for your daughter how to take a calm stand in an escalating situation. With my maternal super audio and visual powers, I can tell there have been other instances that she hasn’t let us in on. I trust she’s handling it as best she can, and learning along the way. (Additional resources can be found through the National Center for Victims of Crime website.)

wpid-IMAG0722.jpgIt’s painful to see our children suffering. I wish I could download all my life lessons to my daughters. But, they’ve taught me that they learn best through their own experiences. What we can do is model what real friendship and love looks like, especially while they are hurting. We can listen and comfort, and shore up their strength as their own, best advocate. It’s okay to be hurt, but not to succumb to anonymous potshots. Their true self is not the broken person their critics portray them to be. For every person who doesn’t appreciate them, there are dozens who do. As moms, we’re in a key position to reflect to our children their innate goodness and worth. When I praise my daughter, she shrugs it off with, “You have to say that—you’re my mom.” But I’ll keep on praising, trusting that I’m contributing to a reserve of inner strength that will come in handy throughout her life.

In the midst of their hurt, let’s give them space, but not let them become isolated. Teens want to be left alone, but sometimes I think it’s a test to see how hard we’re willing to work to get to them. They’re worth the effort, and to be loved by people who are proud to do so. Our homes can be a haven where feelings are safe and they feel loved and accepted.

Learning to take the long view is part of adult-ing. Continue to counsel your daughter to keep her eyes on the horizon, all while offering Kleenex and hugs. Be with her while she’s hurting, but lift her gaze to the healing. Share, where appropriate, your own experiences. She may shrug it off as, “Well, that’s the way it was for you, but it’s different for me.” Still, you stand in testimony to the fact that a person can and will survive mean gossip, and emerge a better person. Our challenge and charge as mothers is to nurture our children into capable, confident adults who live with integrity. Unfortunately, that formation includes painful experiences. Check out Tavi’s powerful TED talk for guidance on self-image, and empowering young women to make their own decisions:

Thank you so much for your letter; I’m in solidarity with you, and welcome our readers’ comments. Moms, what do you suggest? What works to help your child with online harassment?

Dear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Mom’s confounding Christmas morn

holiday_8Dear Maria,

For Christmas, my husband and I gave our teenage daughter a very nice gift. It was an iPad, something lots of people her age would like, or at least I thought. She opened the package, pulled the plastic cover off the screen, and then shoved it back in the box without even turning it on. She seemed angry about it. I was so confused and hurt. We tried to talk to her about it, and all she said was that she isn’t into electronic stuff. I let it go for a few days, then asked her about it again. She said she was disappointed that I didn’t know she didn’t want electronics. I guess moms are supposed to know everything their children want. I was so hurt. I’m glad my husband stepped in at that moment. He took her to the store to exchange the iPad for something else, or for the cash. I don’t know. I didn’t have the heart to ask. I guess she’s happy now.

I think I have two questions for you: Was my daughter being fair? And, how can I get over my hurt feelings?

Signed,

Shoulda Checked My List Twice

Dear Shoulda,

My condolences on your Christmas morning. What kid doesn’t want an iPad? I could ask my own 16-year-old about this, but I don’t want to give her any ideas.

As a fellow mom, who some years hit the mark on Christmas, and other lonely mornings sat shaking my head, you have my sympathies. It was easier to delight the girls when they were younger. In their teens, their interests seemed to change so often, It was hard to keep up, but I tried. As you did, too, mom.

Don’t be hard on yourself. I think all my readers will join me in affirming your good and generous attempt to make her Christmas Day. You have hereby fulfilled your maternal duties. At its best, a gift is freely given, and we can’t control how it will be received.

heart-handI can’t judge if your daughter was being fair. Would you have preferred that she pretended to like the gift? And never told you how she really felt? Talk about hurt—you’d be dealing with a double-whammy of disappointment. While I’m stumped as to why she didn’t want an iPad, I’m kind of impressed, too. She’s choosing against the mainstream. That kind of strength will come in handy in life. I do hope that, despite her disappointment, she said the words, “Thank you.” You can’t force her to like the gift, but you can insist she be gracious about it. Graciousness, too, comes in very handy in life.

As for your hurt feelings, I wish I could give you a hug. You’ve experienced that lonely feeling when we realize, with painful clarity, that we cannot completely know our offspring. They were born to us, and through us, but not to be us. There are parts of your daughter that will remain mysteries to you, just as there are parts of us that our own mothers will never know. That’s normal; that’s adulting. A friend of mine once paraphrased a famous quote, “The truth will set you free, but it will hurt like hell in the meantime.” This is the bitter part of motherhood. Try and accept your daughter’s honesty as part of the sweetness.

mom-and-pieTherefore, as part of your recovery, I hereby grant you permission to do something wonderful for yourself, up to and including buying an iPad of your very own. Or the equivalent in spa days, a spiritual retreat, wine, books, movies, sweaters, lunch with friends, etc. Find out what you love, what feeds your soul, and go do it. Moms tend to place ourselves at the end of the line, the last on the list, the one who never did care for pie, anyway. So, from one mamma to another, be good to yourself. Take a day off, put your feet up, and know you’ve done your best. Then, buckle up, and brace yourself for the next shocker. Believe me, it’s on its way.

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

 

Maria’s Musings & Advice: No divas, please

Advent day 16 strong 1Mary, Jesus’ mother and I, we kinda have this thing. I was born on one of her feast days, and my parents named me “Maria Regina.” Over the years, I’ve come to know and appreciate Mary as an intercessor, as a friend, and as a fellow mom.

There’s a gospel passage in which a woman in a crowd following Jesus says, “Blessed is your mother,” and Jesus replies, “No, blessed are those that hear the Word of God and observe it.” Ouch. That stung a little.

Then I realized that Jesus was doing what she’d taught him. Over time, as we raise our children, we learn that the job isn’t about us as mothers—it’s about our children living their own lives. Moms run the risk of projecting onto their offspring what they would have them do. Or, they take their kids’ behavior as a reflection on themselves: “If I were a better mom, they wouldn’t have pulled that.” As our children grow, we come to understand that the story of their lives isn’t our story. When regret rears its head, we need to remind ourselves that we did the best we could with what we knew at the time. Then, we have to let go, and trust they’ll make good choices. And if they don’t, we pray and hope they’ll find their way back—not to what we would have them do, but to what is authentic and good and true for their own lives.

So, here’s Jesus out on the road saying, “No, it’s not about my mom. It’s about all those who hear the Word of God and observe it.” Mary’s whole life was not about Mary, it was about saying “yes” to being a conduit of God’s grace in the world.

When she visits her cousin Elizabeth, Mary prays the Magnificat, a lyrical expression of true humility.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty one has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Luke 1:46

We mistake humility as pushing aside our strengths, beauty, or accomplishments. Someone compliments us, and we deny it: “It was nothing.” “This old thing?” “I got it on sale.”

Mary models true humility to us—she acknowledges her gifts, and gives the Creator all the credit. She doesn’t downplay herself, but rejoices, saying, “Look at me! Isn’t this great? Is God awesome, or what?”

Well, who does this little girl from Nazareth think she is? She boasts: “All ages to come will call me blessed.” But she doesn’t say it in the spirit of “Am I the bomb, or what?” She proclaiming: “Look what God has done for me! So of course, all will see and say I’m blessed!”

A diva might say, “Look at me, I’ve got it going on.” When divas perform, it’s not about their music, or their incredible voice. It’s about how hard they’re working, on stage, to deliver the money notes. Well, pardon me, ladies, but it’s not about your efforts—it’s about your talent. Get out of the way. Surrendering to your talent means you’ve worked hard and accomplished much, yes. But, in the end, the work prepares you to give birth to beauty bigger than yourself. And Mary was all that. Mary was no diva. Mary knew God was doing great things in her, for her, and through her.

Perhaps most comforting in Mary’s story is that her life plans didn’t change, even as the angel Gabriel presented a vision of her life to come. She was already engaged to Joseph. She’d planned to make a home, and raise children. The circumstances of her life didn’t change, and yet, her “yes” changed the world.

We are invited to a similar yes. It’s not about making bold, dramatic changes to live an authentic life. it’s about saying “yes” to our talents, to goodness and truth, right where we are. In that yes, our lives will be transformed. We are invited to be, as Mary has been called, a reed of God.  To be that through which the Great Creator flows, so that love, compassion, healing, mercy, joy, and peace will be experienced in our world. Mary held this great mystery in her heart. And she taught her son well.

I know you’re busy, but try to spend a few minutes today doing something you’re good at, that makes you happy. Let that chuckle of delight rise from your heart. Great stuff!

Take a moment to reflect:

Today I am grateful for:

My intention for today:

My to-do list for today:

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Sustenance for The Holidays

br-mickey-mcgrath-on-thanksDear Maria,

I write a weekly advice column on my blog. It’s published on Thursdays, and on Fridays it goes out to my readers via email and on social media. This week, I missed my deadline because of Thanksgiving and other work commitments. Have I blown it with my readers? Do you think they will forgive me?

Signed,

Thinking They’re Thinking the Worst

 

Dear Thinking,

Stop that! Of course, your readers forgive you. There’s nothing to forgive, really! Every week, you have a forum to share your support and views on many topics. Be grateful for your readers, and the wisdom they’ve shared in response.

Here’s an idea: How about sending them a quick list of things you’ve read, seen, or heard that are sustaining you as the holiday season begins?

Dear Maria,

Couldn’t have said it better myself. 😉

Arrival: The new movie starring Amy Adams as a linguist hired by NASA to translate messages received from visitors from another world. Notice I didn’t say “aliens”.  The movie raises pertinent questions regarding communications between cultures (and planets), how time works, and the intersection of our personal and professional lives. Amy Adams soft-spoken, powerful performance gives us a hero who doesn’t need violent weapons to make her point.

We Gather Together: or How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving 2016: Laura Munson, a mentor and friend, has written a warm and hopeful post about loving the people in your life whom you don’t see eye-to-eye with politically. She drills down to the heart of what matters at our gatherings, and encourages us to focus on the love. Keeping it real, as she always does.

Jon Batiste: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s music director and leader of his band, Stay Human, is love expressed in every note. I’m grateful Colbert brings Jon’s music to a national audience on a nightly basis.

His beautiful rendition of The Beatles’ Blackbird, performed on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ performance on the Ed Sullivan Show (in the same theater that is now home to The Late Show), is a gentle call to arms and a lovely reminiscence of the moment a dream takes hold of the heart. Check out his new Christmas album. It’s destined to be my Christmas ’16 soundtrack. Along with…

Amy Grant’s Tennessee Christmas: The music on this Cd feels so cozy. We’re fireside with a woman who loves Christmas—a wise and warm Amy, seasoned by the season, and by life. The music is at turns intimate, melancholy, and comforting. All the things Christmas seems to be. Read the rest of my review here.

Christmas in The Kitchen with Mitzi McDonald and Keltic Reign: A warm and wonderful family holiday show now in its twelfth year. (Hmmm, 12 Days of Christmas, perhaps? A magic number.) Steve and I got a preview on the night before Thanksgiving with Mitzi and friends performing God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen for strings and piano. Glorious, good tidings of comfort and joy. Something like this:

Upside Down Apple Pecan Pie: I’m not an accomplished cook, but I can follow a recipe and handy video guide. This dish was our Thanksgiving dessert, and people seemed to enjoy it (or maybe they were being kind). Well, I liked it, and it filled the house with wonderful smells (after I remembered the cookie sheet under the pie pan). A perfect combination of my husband’s favorite (apple) and mine (pecan). I was excited to have followed through on a recipe I’d saved for someday. And TJ’s Pecan Pie filling is delish!

Garden Glow: Christmas lights delight my inner wee one. And, my mother-mind hears my little 2-year-old daughter exclaim “Yites!” whenever I see them. This lively and charming display at the Missouri Botanical Garden will warm your heart, baby, even in the cold outside.

GCB 08 coverThou Shalt Give Thanks: In The Year of Living Biblically, author AJ Jacobs gained many insights during the year he sought to “follow the Bible as literally as possible.” AJ created some personal commandments as a result of his experiment. The first: Thou Shalt Give Thanks. AJ learned the power and importance of “giving thanks for the 100 things that go right everyday, rather than focusing on the few things that don’t.”

This lesson is echoed in Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas.  The reflections begin on Thanksgiving, and carry us through the Feast of the Epiphany in January. Daily inspiration to help you stay sane this holiday season!

What’s helping you this holiday season? What music, movies, books, reads, traditions, displays, etc. are sustaining you? Comment below! More inspiration to come in future columns. Stay tuned!

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Thanksgiving, Holiday Stress, and Dealing with People You Don’t Get

In The Year of Living Biblically, author AJ Jacobs gained many insights during the year he sought to “follow the Bible as literally as possible.” AJ created some personal commandments as a result of his experiment. The first: Thou Shalt Give Thanks. AJ learned the power and importance of “giving thanks for the 100 things that go right everyday, rather than focusing on the few things that don’t.”

GCB 08 coverThis lesson is echoed in Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas.  The reflections begin on a day established for the purpose of giving thanks.  The journal pages ask us to consider:  “Today, I am grateful for …”  In the Thanksgiving Day reflection, we read: As you move through your day today, pay attention to the big and little things that are meaningful to you, from the people you love, to that wonderful light in the refrigerator that comes on just when you need it. Say “Thank you!” Then give thanks for how light your heart feels after you’ve said those two simple, life-affirming words!

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!

 

Dear Maria,

Christmas will be here before I know it. I used to love this time of year, but these days I start crying just thinking about all the work I have ahead of me. I talked to my husband about it, but he just laughed it off and said things will work out. He doesn’t understand that I’m the one who makes things work out! How can I get back to feeling happy about this time of year?

Signed,

In a Fall Funk

Dear In a Fall Funk,

“There’s a special kind of lonesome ‘round that ending time of year,” sings Harry Chapin in his Winter Song. Perhaps a part of you feels a little sad about the change of season? Folks who live in this climate say they love it. Yet, summer turning to fall and winter brings with it a touch of melancholy. There’s a sad, disconnected space inside. Preparing for the holidays ahead adds overwhelm to the mix. No wonder tears come to your eyes!

First of all, let yourself off the hook for feeling a little sad. Sure, you’d rather be happy, but I’ve found that sometimes the only path to joy is through a good cry. Set aside some time and mull over your feelings, and cry, laugh, hug yourself through them. Please don’t tell yourself you should feel a certain way. You can write about your feelings, or take a long walk in a beautiful place, or pour out your heart to a trusted friend, or listen to favorite music that touches your soul…or all of the above! Give yourself permission and space to just be. That’ll help recharge your batteries.

smile_hide_overwhelmedRegarding all the work ahead, take a hard look at what you have planned. Assess what’s really important to you and those you love, and who can help. Maybe your kids are a little older and can take on more responsibilities? Maybe someone else can host your gatherings this year? Talk with your dear husband about your ideas, and make a plan together. Generally speaking, men like to solve problems. Let him help you find a solution to the overwhelm you feel. Lots of planning resources are online; you might try Organized Christmas—they have great ideas! You might also check out my posts about Advent and Christmas. I love the seasons, and do all I can to minimize stress during the holidays. (Click on the Advent and Christmas category to the right on this page.)

Above all, I suggest you do what is important to you and your immediate family and, when in doubt, use the K.I.S.S. Principle. For today, close the door and grab some tissues. Let the sadness go, and you’ll feel lighter. Things will get easier. You’ll find beauty in this ending time of year.

 

Dear Maria,

I was raised that the only difference between white people and black people was the color of their skin. That black people were just like me, only darker. I never thought any different and always treated them with the same respect as I do everyone else. I was also raised to love everyone just like God has loved me. Lately I am finding this harder and harder to do. All of the killing lately is really striking a nerve. Black people are so mad at white policemen for killing black people. I have not heard much in the fact that the black person is committing a crime and the police are protecting themselves and others by the shooting. The slogan “Black lives Matter” also strikes a nerve with me. I feel that black people are now more racist that white people ever have been. I feel any racism that our county has overcome is now rearing its ugly head in people, people like me who treated them the same as everyone. These feelings are building up in me and I don’t like it.

Signed,

No Longer Colorblind

Dear No Longer Colorblind,

Thank you for your brave questions. Racism is a heated issue, and many people are reluctant to talk about it. I appreciate your confusion over recent events. In addition to your confusion, I suspect there’s also sadness, fear, and anger. Feelings like these are boiling over for many people. Your letter shows that you’d like to sort them out. Here are a few of my thoughts.

I was raised in a similar manner. What I have come to see over the last two years is that skin color carries with it perceptions, history, privilege, assumptions, experiences…it is not simply an issue of different pigment. Broadly speaking, the experience of being white in America and being black in America are profoundly different. All of us are trying to make our way in systems—economic, legal, political, cultural, educational, and religious—that do not treat all participants equally. (Here’s an excellent opinion piece from the St. Louis Post Dispatch that helped me understand the economic side of this issue.) There’s the ideal of America, which reflects the equality you speak of, and the reality of America, which, sadly, does not.

I cannot understand what it is like to be a person of color in this country. But I can acknowledge that I have benefited, albeit unwittingly, in systems that favor people who share my skin color. As a woman, I can relate to what it’s like to be judged on my appearance, have my opinions dismissed by (male) colleagues, and get talked-over and ignored at public events, from civic meetings to my children’s sporting events. None of these, however, threatened my ability to feed my family, pay the rent, obtain healthcare, feel safe, or vote. The stress of poverty is real, and those of us who never dealt with it simply don’t understand.

The media is saturated with images of racist and violent behavior, initiated by people of all colors. (My Facebook feed is also full of posts that witness to our better selves.) Social media has exposed our country’s injustices in ways that previous news channels did not. The racism was there all along—we’re just seeing it plainly now. This upheaval calls us to revisit our assumptions about our systems, and each other. As I prepared to answer your question, I heard this terrific interview on the radio about a program called Showing Up for Racial Justice. (Coincidence? I think not!)  I invite you to listen to it. All parties need opportunities to talk about their feelings, perceptions, and concerns. Talking, and really listening, are the answer—not violence. Real healing begins with folks like you who are willing to share their confusion and pain. Thanks again.

Dear Maria,

My mother-in-law is the quintessential thorn in my side. She says awful things about people she doesn’t know, based on her naivety, judgmental heart, and sometimes based on her racist beliefs. It is beyond difficult to see her, to do anything with her, to listen to her hatefulness (which usually comes out as a passive aggressive and arrogant). At times I offer suggestions on trying new things, she always says no. She says she doesn’t like such and such. But she never tried whatever it is, I cannot understand how a person can blow off trying things, and then say they don’t like it. How would you know if you didn’t try? I asked her as much, and then got rudely trounced on. She in effect blames me for things and presses my buttons to the Nth degree, and she is worse about it lately more so than ever. I don’t know how to reason with her.

I don’t want to be her friend, I just want to be able to not feel uncomfortable every time I have to see her, for my husband’s sake. He’s an only child, and to her, he’s still her baby. She makes everything about him, which is frustrating, because he isn’t perfect, and she acts like he is.

What is the best I can do to help this situation? Should I convince my husband to intervene? What if he refuses? Do I think more about my own peace of mind first, my husband’s? I am sure I have said some things over the years where I sounded judgmental of her with her racist remarks. Do I apologize for things said long ago? What would you suggest?

Signed,

Not Happy with Mother-in-law

Dear Not Happy with Mother-in-law,

She sounds like the inspiration for all bad mother-in-law jokes, ever. If she reorganizes your kitchen without permission, or conspires with your husband to keep secrets from you, run for the hills!

Difficult relatives are an issue in every marriage. There’s extra tension when it’s one of the moms, and your visits have become stress minefields. Your letter doesn’t give much detail on how your husband reacts when she goes on a rant, but I suspect he’s very practiced at remaining mum during the tirades. He may think you ought to behave the same way: avoid the bully and hope they’ll go away. Instead, you’ve tried to engage her as an adult. But, she doesn’t see you as a grown up, just as she still sees her son as her baby. She holds the floor because she’s the matriarch, pure and simple. There is no changing your MIL. Accept this as a given.

IMG_13091759670007Talk to your husband about this situation. Instead of enlisting his help to change your MIL’s mind, strategize ways you can make the visits more bearable. Is there an activity you can do together—play a game, go to a movie, scrapbook family photos—to take the pressure off of making conversation? If she starts in with the negative comments, leave the room. It’ll be uncomfortable at first, but keep at it. (If you both do this, you may affect some change in her behavior.) Perhaps your husband feels he’s caught in the middle. Do you both need to visit every time? Send your husband on his way and skip a visit now and then. I think part of your resentment may stem from feeling trapped and obligated. The visits are primarily your husband’s responsibility, so give yourself a break.

I consulted my friend and colleague Kenneth Pruitt for additional insights on handling racist remarks. He is Director of Diversity Training at the Diversity Awareness Partnership. He reminds us that “being firm and convicted about issues of race will cause conflict…it just will.” You’ll have to decide how much you want to engage her on these issues. As Kenneth suggests, those who are racially conscious “have to determine for themselves what their work is and what others have to work out for themselves. I may not argue with my grandmother, for example,” he writes, “but I’m sure not going to be vague about where I stand. And if that makes her uncomfortable, perhaps that’s a really good thing.” For more resources on this issue, visit the Diversity Awareness Partnership website.

Bottom line, we recommend that you take self-care really seriously. There are some important boundaries that need to be set with your husband, and with your MIL, for you to gain health and well-being. Minimize your contact with her, and when you do visit, don’t engage the negative comments. When you’re with her, pay FB_IMG_1441171138385attention to how the sunlight streams in the window, or the song playing on the radio, or the cool drink of water in the kitchen. In other words, be very intentional about finding beauty in the moment. Work on your own head by identifying one or two things you appreciate about your MIL—they could be as simple as her tasty cherry pie, or that she gave birth to your husband. Think on these things when you think of her. Practicing appreciation can help soften how you react to your MIL, and that will bring you peace of mind. Remember: All of us are doing the best we can with what we know. Use what you know to take care of yourself.

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Take My Place, Please!

fall-festivalDear Maria,

I’ve been a volunteer at our church and kids’ grade school for nearly 20 years. I’ve held bake sales, led scout troops, and now I’m chairing the fall festival. My husband coaches the soccer team. Come spring, our youngest will graduate and go on to high school.

Knowing this is coming up, we’re both trying to find someone to step up and take our places. My committee members are very sweet and hard workers, but no one wants to be queen bee. The assistant coach’s child is graduating, too, and no other parent has responded to our many notices in the school newsletter asking for a new coach.

I’m starting to get nervous. I’d like the chance to pass along all I’ve learned to someone, but I can’t twist anyone’s arm to take my job. My husband is a great coach, but I don’t know of anyone who knows soccer like he does. Any suggestions?

Signed,

Done My Time

Dear Done My Time,

Thanks for all you’ve given to your church and school through the years. Volunteering is a great way to be involved in your children’s lives, and, you impacted a lot of grateful families with your service.

My husband and I were involved with our neighborhood association for most of the 20 years we’ve lived in our home. My longest stretch came as editor of the newsletter (10 years!), a monthly task that I often resented. It was always the one more thing I had to do, after family, work, and house stuff. (You know what it takes.) Despite our good intentions, our efforts were subject to lots of opinions, and sometimes conflicts arose. I certainly had my share.

So, when I passed the project on to a talented neighbor and friend, you’d think I’d be nothing but happy, right? I was relieved, but also sad. There was a hole in my life where that commitment used to be. My outside said I wanted to be done with it, but part of me held on. Perhaps there are some ways you’re clinging to your place at the school, and don’t realize it? Sometimes we get stuck in our way of doing things, and it’s hard to let someone with new ideas step in and take over. You say you want to pass along all that you’ve learned, but maybe you also want to be assured that your successor will do things the way you did? There may be ways that you’re unwittingly pushing away people who genuinely want to help. Try to think of it as a relay race, where you’ve run your stretch, and hand the baton off to someone else. They may not run like you. Cut that loose.

In my case, a moment of clarity came when I realized there was a lot to be thankful for: the service the newsletter was to our community; my friend’s offer to take it from me; the found time I now had. I tried to sit with the space, and not rush into the next thing, to try and see where life was leading me. I discovered I could downshift for a while.

For you and your husband, do your best in the time left as festival chair and coach. It’s not your responsibility to ensure that these two programs continue—it’s really the community’s job. If the other school families value these programs, they will find a way to keep them going. Perhaps the best way to let that happen is to simply step aside, with no successor in line. A scary thought, I know. But, I’ll bet you two have run your programs so well for so long that no one has really felt the need to take a leadership role. Stand down, and see who steps up. Let one of those grateful parents take a turn. Enjoy these lame duck months, because I bet it won’t be long until you’re up to your elbows again at the high school. Good luck!

 

 

What I Learned from the Sunset:

  1. wpid-imag2495.jpgStop and pay attention: sunsets come on slowly but change quickly. If you see a beauty and think, “Oh I’ll take a good long look when I get home,” you’ll miss it.
  2. Just because the sun is gone it doesn’t mean the show is over. On vacation in Key West, my one goal was to see the sunset over the ocean. My husband and two girls and I search for a spot to watch, but all the front row seats were taken on every pier. As the sun went down, we strained to see around the crowd. But after the sun sank in the water, people got up and left their tables. My enterprising husband quickly secured one, and the four of us ate dinner in the glow of the colors that lasted far beyond the sun’s disappearance.
  3. Some days are better than others, so hold on ’cause a good one is coming: One evening, the colors may not show. Others, the sky’s on fire. Remember on the gray days that tomorrow may surprise you.
  4. We haven’t heard the last word: Sunsets are spontaneous beauty that comes just when the day is done, with nothing more to say for it. Just when we think it’s all over, life may have other plans.

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: What a Couch Potato Taught Me

wpid-IMAG0370.jpgMaria’s Musings & Advice was just a few weeks old when this letter arrived:

Dear Maria,

I need to exercise more. I wasn’t very athletic growing up, and I never got into the habit of working out. I hate sweating. I’ve tried exercise buddies, Zumba classes, joining the Y, swimming. I go for a few days or sessions and then slack off again. Any suggestions?

Signed,

Self-Conscious Couch Potato

 

It takes a certain hubris to launch an advice column. “Who does she think she is?” you might say, or maybe that was the gremlin in my head. This letter came along and held up a mirror to me, proving that self-appointed advice gurus need counsel, too. “Self-Conscious Couch Potato” might have been me. For days, the question knocked around in my head, weighted down by my own self-doubts about offering advice on a topic I hadn’t handled all that well in my own life. Deadline looming, I crafted a response from my Better Self—the one who makes wise choices and takes good care of herself. So, she wrote:

Dear Couch Potato,

Thanks for being honest about hating exercise. What you probably haven’t told me is how often you call yourself “lazy” when you don’t do it. As Dr. Phil might say, “How’s that working for you?” Try this tactic instead: do only exercise that you like to do, for just 10 minutes every day. That’s it. Sometimes, just getting started is the biggest hurdle. Start off slowly, and notice how good you feel afterwards. At the end of the day, “lazy” doesn’t apply anymore, because you’ve done what you’ve said you’d do. Pay attention to how your body and mind feel after you exercise. For me, after I’ve walked, my breathing is clearer and stronger, my chest feels lighter, and my mind is clearer. On a good day, I even come up with new ideas for my writing, or a new perspective on a problem in my life. Affirming the good things exercise brings (with even one round of effort) will inspire you to keep at it the next day. Then, your sessions will get longer, the days will add up, and you’ll reach bigger goals of weight loss or increased strength and stamina. So, rather than forcing yourself to exercise because you should, do it because it’ll make you feel better today. Tomorrow will take care of itself. 

Here’s a great playlist I put together to motivate writers. I think it will help here, too!

Since publishing this column in June, I’ve walked about a mile every day. It’s not much, but it’s more than before. I feel great. “Life Changing” may be too grand a descriptor for such a humble effort, but it is. Thank you, Couch Potato, for pulling me out of my chair (bed), out of myself, and out into the world. Thanks for helping me remember how great my morning walk can be. My Better Self shines through!

Years ago, in another failed attempt to get an exercise routine going, a young trainer at the Y asked me, “What are your goals for this exercise program?” I said, “I want to get to the point where I miss it if I don’t do it.” Outside my back door, I found that place. Thanks, Couch Potato. Let me know how you’re doing!

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: High School Stole My Son

Candle treeDear Maria,

My son just started high school and he’s busier than ever. His social life has really picked up. He was always kind of quiet and shy before. I guess now that he’s with more kids in a bigger school and doing more activities, he’s coming out of his shell at school. Sounds great, right? The problem is he clams up again when he gets home. He used to talk to his dad and me, but now if I ask any questions, his answers are short and angry, like he’s mad at me for asking. Now that he’s hanging out with more kids, I don’t know any of the parents like I used to. I worry he’s getting in with bad kids. I’m happy for him, but how can I be sure he’s doing okay?

Signed,

High School Stole My Son

 

Dear High School Stole My Son,

Like, duh.

Sound familiar? 😉

We raised two girls, so I can’t speak from experience, but mothers of sons tell me that this is typical behavior in high school boys. They process a lot internally, or they’re exercising their new-found independence. Developmentally speaking, part of a boy’s job is to differentiate himself from his mother. So, the fact that he’s pulling away means he’s doing his work and individuating. The goal is his successful life navigation without your help, yes? Sounds like he’s right on schedule! And good for him for getting involved at school and making new friends. New schools are hard for a shy kid, so his stepping out is a wonderful sign that he wants to take advantage of new opportunities. He may even like the idea of starting fresh.

only-one-mother-quoteAs our children get older, we have less and less control over their social circles, and we’re less likely to get to know their parents. One tactic you might try is encouraging your son to invite friends over. Create a space where they can hang out, if you don’t already have one. (We have a TV room in the basement, and this gave our girls enough privacy to feel comfortable, and we always knew who they were with.) He’s not driving yet, so a home base at your house could work well. Also, when you drive him to a friend’s house, especially for a party, walk him to the door and meet the parents/chaperones. This embarrassed our daughters, who just wanted to be dropped off in the driveway. Too bad. Part of the parent’s job is to be embarrassing sometimes. Whenever you have the opportunity to meet his friends, do it, and pay attention to how you feel about them. If they’re good kids, you can be proud and relieved that he’s making good choices. If you have doubts about anyone, keep asking questions and be brave in the awkward moments. To paraphrase a wise person, “My kids will have hundreds of friends, but only one mom.” They may push away from us, but deep down they want to know we’re looking out for them. So, in a roundabout way, his frustration with you is actually reassuring to him. He’s not conscious of that now, but he will understand as he matures and encounters “real life.”

hardest-thing-about-being-a-parentThere’s sadness in your letter, which may be hiding behind concern. Maybe you miss your little boy, just a wee bit? Passages like these are bittersweet for moms—happy he’s doing well, sad that he’s doing it without you. I love my young women, and miss my little girls. Here’s what gets me through: I cry when I need to, away from the girls. Though sometimes, my heart wells right up into my eyes. Again, it’s in the mom job description to embarrass them. When we’re together, I pay attention to all the ways they take care of themselves, and celebrate the tasks I no longer have to do for them. As mom to a boy, you may be tempted to keep doing things for him that he’s perfectly capable of doing for himself. Wean yourself and your son from all that! He’ll be a better roommate, husband, and father for it. Taking care of your boy fills the empty spot in your heart for now, but in the long run, it’s best to help him become the man you want him to be.

Since I linked to a beautiful Happy Chapin song a couple of columns ago, I won’t include “Cat’s in the Cradle” here. If you turn on an adult contemporary or oldies radio station, I bet you’ll hear it within 15 minutes. Instead, here’s a beauty from the musical, The Full Monty. “Breeze Off the River” is dad singing to his son, but mom could easily harmonize. Dad’s not sure about life these days, and he marvels at his son’s ability to shine a light that clarifies everything. “Everybody knows the secret/ Well, I don’t, and I never did/ I don’t know any secret/ All I know is I love you, kid.” Grab a tissue for this:

Your question, “How can I be sure he’s doing okay?” is one you’ll continue to ask and answer throughout his life. You’ll never not be his mom, but your role is ever-evolving. Enjoy your son as much as you can, celebrate his accomplishments, be a safety net when he falls, and help him stand on his own feet again. He’s better than okay; he’s doing great. And you’re doing great, too. Buckle up, it’s gonna be a quite a ride!

Mothers of sons: Please comment below and give us your thoughts and suggestions for this mom who’s missing her son.

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: In a Fall Funk

Dear Maria,

I can’t believe it’s already Labor Day weekend! Where did the summer go? I’m looking ahead to a busy fall, and Christmas will be here before I know it. I used to love this time of year, but these days I start crying just thinking about all the work I have ahead of me. I talked to my husband about it, but he just laughed it off and said things will work out. He doesn’t understand that I’m the one who makes things work out! How can I get back to feeling happy about this time of year?

Signed,

In a Fall Funk

Dear In a Fall Funk,

four seasons tree“There’s a special kind of lonesome ‘round that ending time of year,” sings Harry Chapin in his Winter Song. The trees may still hold their leaves, but soon we’ll see bright colors and bare limbs. Perhaps a part of you feels a little sad about the change of season? Folks who live in this climate say they love it. Yet, summer turning to fall and winter brings with it a touch of melancholy.

While your heart may seek quiet and rest to contemplate such things, the calendar revs up again with kids returning to school, Halloween displays in the stores, and picking up the work and home projects we put off during the “lazy days of summer.” So, there’s a sad, disconnected space inside. Preparing for the holidays ahead adds overwhelm to the mix. No wonder some tears come to your eyes!

First of all, let yourself off the hook for feeling a little sad. Sure, you’d rather be happy, but I’ve found that sometimes the only path to joy is through a good cry. Set aside some time and mull over your feelings, and cry, laugh, hug yourself through them. Please don’t tell yourself you should feel a certain way. You can write about your feelings, or take a long walk in a beautiful place, or pour out your heart to a trusted friend, or listen to favorite music that touches your soul…or all of the above! Give yourself permission and space to just be. That’ll help recharge your batteries.

smile_hide_overwhelmedRegarding all the work ahead, take a hard look at what you have planned. Assess what’s really important to you and those you love, and who can help. Maybe your kids are a little older and can take on more responsibilities? Maybe your in-laws can host Thanksgiving this year? Talk with your dear husband about your ideas, and make a plan together. Generally speaking, men like to solve problems. Let him help you find a solution to the overwhelm you feel. Lots of planning resources are online; you might try Organized Christmas—they have great ideas! You might also check out my posts about Advent and Christmas. I love the seasons, and do all I can to minimize stress during the holidays. (Click on the Advent and Christmas category to the right on this page.)

Above all, I suggest you do what is important to you and your immediate family and, when in doubt, use the K.I.S.S. Principle. For today, close the door and grab some tissues. Let the sadness go, and you’ll feel lighter. Things will get easier. You’ll find beauty in this ending time of year.

 

Dear Readers,

Please comment with your tips to beat the blues as the seasons change, and what helps you enjoy the holidays!

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.