More thoughts on bullying

Last year, our family had an experience that pushed us to do some learning about bullying. At that time, one of our kids experienced bullying behavior, and we wanted to know what bullying looks like, how to help our kids identify bullying behavior, and how to cope should they encounter this behavior.

That was a difficult time for my child and myself. She felt sad, confused, and generally pushed around. I felt protective of her. I worked very hard to try to come to a more compassionate view of the other child, and the best I could do was to say the relationship was just not a good fit. Truthfully, the easiest thing was to view the other child as mean or clearly in the wrong.

More recently, we have been given the opportunity to learn about bullying from the other side: our child is behaving like a bully. That is also really hard and really sad. I am having to ask myself whether I went wrong somewhere as a parent and how this could have happened. I am having to work through a lot of difficult feelings in order to think clearly and figure out how to work through this.

As I think about the relationship dynamic in both of these situations, it is very similar. The bullying child is a louder, more opinionated, more assertive person who is more skilled at leadership. The bullied child is quieter, more easy-going, very nice, sensitive, and likely to withdraw when being pushed around. None of this is really problematic until these two personalities are brought together and there is some sort of stress that escalates their behaviors. The result is a situation where one person gets hurt, and then both children must learn some new skills. The bullying child must learn: to use their leadership skills for constructive and non-aggressive purposes, to deal with difficult feelings inside themselves instead of inflicting them on others, how to ask for help outside the group dynamic to avoid gossip and taking sides. The bullied child must learn: how to recognize unhealthy relationship dynamics, how to set healthy boundaries in relationships, how to be assertive, how to ask for help when needed.

It occurs to me that people who are inclined toward bullying behavior have several strengths that can help them be successful in life. Many are natural leaders who understand relationships, know how to organize a group and get people to work toward a common goal. They are charismatic, persuasive, and persistent. They are passionate and opinionated. They know how to get people to listen to them and do what they want. This realization helps me move toward the more compassionate, balanced view I was hoping to achieve.

Although I am very different from my absolute FORCE of a child, I value her strengths and want to see her use them in a way that does not cause harm to others. I even love that every feeling she has is out there, when all of my big feelings take me deep inside myself. She is a wonder and a joy to me. She isn’t mean, but the FORCE can look mean when things are not right with her world. These are the steps I am taking to help her learn from this experience:

  • I have been asking questions and listening carefully in order to understand the situation, the group dynamic, and my child’s feelings around it.
  • I have been very clear and specific about what behaviors are unacceptable.
  • In addition to telling her what not to do, I am being specific about what she can do instead.
  • I have been asking myself the question: What skills were lacking in this situation?.
  • New skills are being practiced daily at home to develop new habits.
  • In addition to doing everything I can to help my child learn new skills as quickly as possible, I am practicing patience and loving kindness, because I know it is difficult to change.

Further resources:

These videos are a wonderful way to communicate with children about the different kinds of bullying and the different roles people play in bullying. They also foster discussions about empathy and help children consider different choices.

I found some good books: a book of reading and activities for character building, and a book of guided meditations for learning to work with difficult feelings.

More than one way to get there

Over the past couple of months, I have been exchanging letters with an old friend of mine. She and I have known each other for almost thirty years. Especially in our adult lives, we have connected through sharing the things we are reading and learning about. We both get very excited about our learning and all the ideas that are churning in our heads. This particular exchange started with her reaching out to me to share her experience of converting to Catholicism. Joy does not really begin to touch on the feelings she is experiencing around this transformation, but I was hearing a lot of joy and enthusiasm. She wanted to send me some materials to read so that I could learn more as well.

There were times during the exchange when I felt that my friend had reached a point where she believes there is only one right spiritual path. This brought up some old feelings for me around conversations I have had with loved ones about education, child rearing, nutrition……anything that I find important and hold strong opinions about. The moment of distress for me is always the point at which I am offered the point of view that there is only one right way. Sometimes I even accept this view for a time. For a moment, or sometimes for weeks or months, I can hang out in this place, wondering if the way I have chosen is the one right way. I may reexamine all the possibilities, I may revisit the research, I may observe carefully for a time.

When I believe that there is only one right way, I am in misery. I feel tense and scared. Sometimes I feel righteous and sure, also judgmental. Sometimes I feel despair, sure that I have completely blown it and there is no hope. When I continue to read, observe and process, I always, always come back to believing that there is more than one way.

As I read about my friend’s spiritual path, even though it differs from mine, I can relate to her search for answers, and to the benefits she enjoys through her spiritual growth (the peace, joy, and connection). As I talk to my friends whose kids go to school and those who homeschool, I see that it is possible to raise well-educated, healthy, kind, happy children through either path. As I talk to homeschoolers and see the enormous variety in homeschooling philosophy and methodology, again, I see that there are many successful paths. Whether mothers are breastfeeding, child-wearing and co-sleeping or bottle feeding and sleep training, I hear love and a desire to do what is best for their babies. As I hear people talk about their love of vegetarianism or the Paleo diet, again, I see that there is more than one way to eat and enjoy good health.

And I tell you what, I just relax a whole lot once I can see that again. I still have the constant day-to-day struggle to sort out what is best for me and my family in this life, but that is a lot less stressful without the pressure of believing there is only one right way.

Back to school: On the road

My husband and I have been talking about an extended RV trip for so very long that I can’t remember exactly when or how the idea struck us. I just know that we have been talking to each other about this for a long, long time. We have talked to everyone we have ever met who has either lived on the road or taken a big adventure and asked them many questions about how it works. We’ve read about it. We’ve thought about where we’d want to go and what we’d want to see. We’ve talked about how we’d pull it off. So much talking and researching and thinking and planning!

This summer, everything lined up just right. The opportunity to be away was there. With a little nudge from family to come visit up north, we began planning. My husband and I spent several weekends looking into all the things we could do in the area and made a 5 week plan: three weeks to explore Michigan with a week to visit family and friends on either end of our trip.

And what did I do then? Well, of course I bought books! I found some books related to the places we planned to visit and the things we planned to see and do while we were there. I put them all in a bag and made room for them in our teeny, tiny living space.

Then, as the temperature was getting to be over 100 degrees everyday in TX, we started driving north!

Michigan

Warren Dunes, Sawyer MI

When I was growing up, we went to Indiana to visit family every year. A favorite thing we often did while in the area was to visit Warren Dunes on Lake Michigan. A family tradition I wanted to share with my kids:

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the trek up the dunes,

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the waves,

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and building in the sand.

The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI

My daughter who aspires to be a “building wife” when she grows up, loves to watch Innovation Nation. She wanted to see the Henry Ford Museum, especially the Rosa Parks bus and the Wright Flier. We got to see both and so much more! We spent half a day wandering around and could easily have spent several days to see it all.

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USS Edson, Bay City, MI

USS Edson, Bay City, MI

We stopped to visit the USS Edson. When my husband paid for the tickets, he was offered a tour guide. Who could pass that up? Our tour guide was an older gentleman who was retired Naval Reserve. He had so many stories to tell! He told the kids about living quarters, the little lockers for personal items, the timed showers, the food. His stories really helped us imagine life aboard a Navy ship.

Tawas Point State Park, MI

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This may have been my favorite stop for this trip. The little beach at this state park was a lovely, lovely place to pass a few days.

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It was never really warm enough that I would have wanted to get in and swim, but the kids were more than happy to swim, build sand castles and look for treasures on the beach.

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St. Ignace, MI

We stayed at St. Ignace several nights. There are a lot of historical sites to visit. We spent a day at Colonial Michilimackinac. They have people dressed in period clothing available to tell you about each part of the village. About every 15 minutes there was a different demonstration (shooting a cannon, firing a musket, a children’s tour, etc.) in addition to just walking around and seeing the various buildings and exhibits.

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We didn’t think we wanted to go over to Mackinac Island, but we were so impressed with Colonial Michilimackinac that we decided to go to the island to see the fort.

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There were exhibits in each of the buildings, as well as guided tours and demonstrations several times each hour. Also, they had a children’s room with dress up clothes and interactive exhibits. A big hit!

Each afternoon after sightseeing, we went to this little park in St. Ignace right by the water.

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The kids had hoped to swim, but the water was ice cold. Still, an incredible view and a great place for the kids to play (or draw).

Sault Ste. Marie, MI–The Soo Locks

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Well, we made it to the Canadian border! A long way from central Texas! We got to see a ship go through the locks and explore the little visitor center. We had burgers and fries at a little diner by the water.

JB Wells State Park

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We thought we were going to have a few more days on the beach, but the weather got pretty cool and rainy. So we ended up spending a couple days playing at the playground, reading, and drawing. I got to take some long walks with my big kids and hear all the things they are thinking about, while the little kids played at the playground. We could see and hear the water from our campsite. We had a cool breeze and some comfortable camp chairs. It was a relaxing way to end our time in Michigan.

All in all, 5 weeks, 9 states, 4,000 miles! I thought we might be tired of driving, of living in such a tiny space, but we hated to see it end. We are already thinking about a next adventure.

Reading goodies

For the kids:

Paddle to the Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling- a story of a journey through the Great Lakes region

Under Michigan: The Story of Michigan’s Rocks and Fossils, by Charles Ferguson Barker

From the Childhood of Famous Americans series: Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart, and Wilbur and Orville Wright

Once on This Island, by Gloria Whelan: historical fiction set on Michilimackinac during the war of 1812

And some favorites from my own reading:

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrick Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrick Backman–Both books were wonderful! I would have a hard time picking a favorite.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

The Giver Quartet, by Lois Lowry

Bullying

When I decided to homeschool, it was not to protect my kids from bullying, or from anything really. I just like sharing life with my kids, and I thought I could handle the job.  However, I did consider it a nice side-effect that they would not have to deal with bullying and other types of school-related unpleasantness. I have to think I wrote it off somewhere along the line as something we would never have to deal with.

However, here we are now, and very unexpectedly we DO have to deal with it. So, it is with great surprise that I am now learning and thinking about bullying. While it is true that much of what is written about bullying describes bullying in the school setting, of course bullying is not limited to schools. Bullying can happen to people of all ages and in a variety of settings. It is possible to find quite a bit of information about bullying in the workplace, which indicates it happens to adults as well as children. However, all of what I found about bullying as it relates to homeschoolers is that it doesn’t happen in the world of homeschooling.

So, when my daughter and my son each had these difficult experiences, I wasn’t sure what to call them, whether “bullying” was even the right word for it. I’ll have to admit, even I was not completely clear on the definition of bullying. When I think of bullying, I picture the big, tough boy who stands on the corner physically threatening smaller kids, calling names, stealing lunch money, etc. Yes, this does describe bullying accurately, but the list of bullying behaviors is longer and broader than I imagined. My mental picture of a bully is more typical of boy bullies. Girls bully too, and they do it very differently than boys. They are more likely to hurt each other through relationships, using backstabbing and gossip to exclude the target from the group. This kind of bullying even has its own name: relational aggression. Girl bullying is more sneaky and less likely to be noticed by grown-ups.

Bullying is a tough thing to talk about, for kids and grown-ups alike. Given all the time I spend with my kids and all the opportunity we have for connecting conversation, I really thought my kids would feel like they could talk to me about anything. And I think they do, but it isn’t as simple as that. They didn’t want to get their friends in trouble. They didn’t want me to have a negative opinion of their friends. They wanted to manage on their own as much as possible. In some cases, even though they felt terrible in the relationship, they weren’t entirely sure they’d been mistreated. Only when they reached their emotional limit was I fully brought into their confidence.

Now we are having open and specific conversations. We are talking about bullying: what it looks like, how to resist pressure to participate in it, and the importance of speaking up for someone who is being mistreated. I found that we couldn’t talk about bullying without also talking about healthy relationships, how to recognize unhealthy people/relationships, and when and how to walk away from someone. We are talking more about kindness, because while my kids seemed very clear about kindness to others, they were less clear about setting good boundaries in relationships and not tolerating unkindness toward themselves.

For more information about bullying and how to talk with kids about it, I found this book to be a good resource. For information geared more toward girls, this is another good resource.

An extraordinary life

Time is flying by and we have been in our new home for about eight months already. In some ways it feels like it has been much longer. In other ways we still feel very new here. The navigation feature on my phone hardly ever gets used these days, so that has to be a sign that I am less of a newcomer.

When we left our hometown, we left because it was clear that it was time for my husband to leave his job. Big changes were being made that would mean an end to the work he enjoys and an end to the place he had helped build and felt love for. It was time to GO. So he opened his heart and mind to going somewhere else, leaving his hometown and even his state if he had to. Once he got his opportunity to go, we left.

As a family, we have been so amazed and thankful that somehow we accidentally landed in a city that is really a very good fit for us all. It has been easy for us to find community and make friends. We love all the opportunities for enjoying the outdoors and that it is possible to enjoy the outdoors so much of the year! We are definitely loving this place!

And yet….something we had so recently felt, we were feeling again: this job is not the right fit. Ug. I don’t think either of us felt ready for that one yet. However, the fact remained that on every single point, it was not the right job. So my husband started watching. And applying. And interviewing. I was ironing pants. And shirts. And ties. And listening, listening, listening.

As I listened, I got to watch my husband come to a place of clarity about what he was looking for. Over and over, I watched him ignore the advice of the recruiters he was dealing with so that he could get the information he needed to find a job that is truly a good fit for him. And that good fit was very dependent on family life, which some employers did not care about. I saw him turn down offers when I knew how anxious he was to leave his current job, but he was not so anxious to go that he was willing to compromise. He said, “I watch you and the kids live an extraordinary life and I have this idea that maybe I can too”. That brought a few tears to my eyes, and I settled in to practice patience.

In a very funny last minute twist to this story, as he was waiting on the offer he had decided to accept, the perfect thing just fell in his lap: the job he was looking for, with people he would enjoy working with, with the flexibility he was looking for and the work/life balance.  It seems to be his opportunity for an extraordinary life.

For us, this part of the story isn’t necessarily a happy ending. Who can know? But it is a place where we get to let out a big sigh and feel hopeful about the next chapter of our lives.

Encouraging movement for tweens

For my younger kids, it has always been pretty effortless to encourage movement. With no video games in the house and no TV in the living room, and lots of encouragement to be outdoors, they played hard all day.

Somewhere around 9 or 10, things changed. They became very project driven. My son became very passionate about building models of military machinery and learning about the related history. My daughter has became passionate about sewing and duct tape crafts. I love this age! It’s all so very awesome to watch them completely on fire about whatever it is they are into! AND they sit a lot. When the little kids ask them to come play, it’s like overnight they forgot how to do it. They don’t want to run around in the yard or play pretend. That almost blows my mind because I remember not so long ago when they could spend hours doing those things. But no longer.

And my 12 year old seems to have made yet another shift. He lives so much in his head that it is sometimes tricky to even get his attention. He’s listening to stories, writing his own stories, and drawing. No movement there.

Now that I am enjoying the benefits of daily exercise, I am looking at my older kids and thinking, “Hmmm…..these two need some movement in their lives!”

I have had all the same thoughts about this dilemma as I had when I tried to find a good way to exercise myself. I looked into sports and other organized forms of exercise. Swim teams are meeting every morning at 6am for practice and on Saturdays at 6am for meets. We lived baseball season for three kids one summer. Literally lived it. It’s all we had time for. Dance or gymnastic tuition x4 kids–yikes! A gym membership for the family–expensive. Really we’d rather be outdoors as much as we possibly can, so we aren’t even likely to use a gym membership for much of the year. With all the information I gathered, I decided that surely we can get started on this without a huge commitment of time or money.

So my husband and I are inviting the big kids to join us in our exercise. My son is taking bike rides with my husband. My son and daughter both are joining me for yoga in the evenings. I’m showing them how to use the hand weights safely and how to do sit ups, push ups, squats, etc. My husband is working with my son on learning to do yard work and including him in building projects.

I continue to look for ways to encourage movement. I want to make some changes in the playroom. My little girls are not really into toys. They are more into BIG movement, like climbing, jumping, running, swinging, biking, skating, etc. So I am looking into gym equipment that we could use in our playroom when outdoor play is not possible. Maybe a climbing rope? A balance beam? Gym mats? Maybe the big kids would also enjoy some of these things too.

I’m still working on this! Any thoughts on how to encourage movement and active play for tweens?

Mothering: an important job

I am a homemaker, a housewife, a stay-at-home mother. Sometimes I forget that my job is important. Sometimes I even neglect to think of it as a job. Certainly there are many messages out in the world that it isn’t really a job if you’re working in your home or your work doesn’t result in monetary gain. But even though I know that I work, that my work ain’t easy, sometimes I just forget that my job is important, that what I do really matters.

I usually remember that my job is important when the quality of my work suffers for whatever reason: when I am spread too thin because of some big life event, when I have had to be away for appointments, when I have been sick or injured, when I just feel like checking out for a day. These are all times when I have been made aware of my contribution to family life and how it all just breaks down when I’m not doing my job. None of us feel good, the kids are whiny, the house is cluttered, our brains are cluttered…..no one is their best self.

Though my house could always stand to be cleaner, if I am not available to do the work of cleaning it, then it becomes obvious how much cleaning I really do. Even if I have talked with everyone before I leave about what needs to be done during the time I am gone, whether it be chores, learning or breakfast, if I am not there to set the rhythm of the day, those things often don’t happen. If I don’t feel like thinking about meal preparation, we don’t eat well and we all suffer for it. And let’s not forget cuddles. If I am not around to provide cuddles, just good ol’ mama love, I have some seriously fragile children.

It’s not JUST when things fall apart that I am reminded my job is important. There are sweet reminders too. Seeing their faces light up when they see me, getting tackled with hugs and kisses after I’ve been on an errand, and knowing that NO ONE on earth can comfort my kids the way I can, these are all the most touching reminders that my work is important.

Most of my job, the things on my to-do list, look so ordinary, nothing I would put on a resume, nothing that would be impressive to most people. It often feels to me, when I look at the details, like it is just doing dishes or just reading a bedtime story or just picking up dirty socks off the bathroom floor. Or sometimes it’s even just being there, holding someone’s hand through a difficult time or just being available to answer all the hundreds of questions a little person has in a day. I can tell you that I do not feel the least bit important or glamorous as I am doing my life’s work. It is a beautiful surprise every time I get a glimpse of how my job touches the lives of the people I live with. Those are the moments that push me to do my best work. They help me to remember that what I do is a real job and the quality of my work does matter. My work is everything to the people I live with.

On Mother’s Day and everyday, I am thankful for my own mother who has always seen me and appreciated me just as I am, who has been there with me through the fun and difficult times.

I am also thankful for my grandmothers, for all the “other mothers” I have learned from over the years, and for my mama friends who inspire me.

Love to all the mothers!

Settling in

Settling in after a move is no small thing. It has taken all our time and energy to live it, leaving nothing left for sharing. The move has also changed us and I have found myself feeling stuck about what to write in this space because it may not be my usual. That has kept me away from writing longer than I would like.

So, today I will start with an update since it has been a long absence.

Overwhelmingly, we are feeling happy to be where we are. Though we felt like adjusting to life in the big city would be hard for us small town folk, we actually really like it here. We feel like we accidentally ended up in the perfect city, neighborhood, and home for our family right now. We are having fun exploring this new city, eating at new-to-us restaurants, shopping at new-to-us shops, hiking on new-to-us trails, etc. We are having great success meeting friends. Friends really make a place feel more like home. Already we feel our horizons broadening in many ways.

I feel like I have a great many stories in my head that are ready to be written. We have been busy taking everything in and I haven’t taken the time to write anything down, but it feels like we are at a point that I could begin doing that. We are in a pretty good groove now and I see an opportunity to make some time for my writing—regularly!

Geology

We found a great book at our library: Geology of the Great Plains and Mountain West, by Cynthia Light Brown. It was an enjoyable read. The information in it was easy to understand and connect to. My son enjoyed reading it with me. It has little experiments at the end of each chapter using very common household items (Warning: Be careful not to spill Epsom salts in the bottom of your oven. That was a BIG mess!). We tried several of them and the rest we just read through.

The best part for us was that we were able to connect some of our experiences from our travels and our time outdoors with the information in the book. We went back through some of our pictures to help us remember.

Waterfall at Devil’s Den State Park, AR
Palo Duro Canyon, TX
Mark Twain Cave, MO
Glacial grooves, Kelleys Island, OH
Visiting the Great Lakes of Erie, Michigan, and Superior.
Rock City at Minneapolis, KS
The plains at Laura Ingalls’ childhood home site, De Smet, SD
The Rocky Mountains, CO
Caves at Meramec State Park, MO
The kids have spent countless hours exploring the land and creek at their grandparents farm.