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: 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: 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.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Mean Teens Online; True Beauty

Dear 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.)

It’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.

wpid-IMAG0722.jpgIn 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?

 

Beautiful, Just the Way You Are

Beauty and self-image were the themes of my keynote presentation at The Family Center’s annual luncheon. Thanks go out to my dear friend and colleague Lindsay Henry for her beautiful reflection, “Perspective of a Mirror”, and to Tavi Gevison, who implores us to “just be Stevie Nicks.” Listen in!

 

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.

MichMash Podcast

Share laughs and stories with my friend Mich Hancock and I on her wonderful podcast, MichMash! We talk writing, parenting, creativity, and life. Listen in!

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