Monday, March 30, 2015

Why Parenting with Love is better than Parenting with Guilt

Photo credit: William Warby

It was a hard parenting week, you guys. Honestly, the fact that I haven't given myself some permanent calm via a home lobotomy speaks wonders to my self-control.

It was reality-show crazy over here. We had epic sibling fights galore. We had anxiety-fueled meltdowns on the daily. We had walk-on-eggshells-or-the-household-will-implode evenings. It was a really bad week. They so rarely befall our family these days, but when they do, they're in like a lion and out like a lion. There are no lambs involved. Weeks like these eat the lambs. It's the first thing they do. They're dicks.

In short, a whole bunch of stuff happened (much that I'm leaving out for brevity) that left me feeling like the world's worst parent who can't keep things together and should probably take a course or something but actually that money might be better spent getting my kids some therapy because clearly I've already caused irreparable Jerry Springer-like damage that will lead them to be immortalized in Dr. Phil reruns where everything will point back to their terrible upbringing. Something like that.

I was pretty good at holding it together all week, but by nine this morning, I was calling my friend at work in tears (the poor thing has never been happier to have her own office.) I was in Emotional DEFCON 1, but she talked me down fairly quickly - probably because she needed to, like, work and stuff. I'm so grateful to have people who get me even when I don't get myself. Everyone needs those people.

Then I spent the rest of the day hating all people everywhere, which happens about once every two or three years. I just hate everyone. I become a buxom Trent Reznor and wear a lot of eyeliner and spend my time listening to songs with angry guitar solos and stay as far away from other humans as possible.

Hey, don't judge; it's cheaper than the therapy I clearly need.

Every time I get that way, I know I need to do some digging on the inside. So that's what I did today while I was busy hating everyone (especially myself), and this is what I came up with:

 I don't do well with feeling like a flop of a parent. There are days when I just know I'm dropping all the balls I'm supposed to be juggling. And this year, the balls got so much bigger and hairier. It's like Mission: Impossible for clowns.

When I had kids, I made a promise to myself that I was going to be an amazing mom. Like totally great. Most days, I don't feel I come anywhere close that. I drown in my own guilt.

If my kids can't get along for days at a time, I figure it's my fault because I haven't taught them enough conflict resolution. If my kids don't get along and I don't serve any vegetables with dinner, they're going to develop heart disease before they can ever learn to get along and that's a double failure on my part. And if I do that really stupid thing and yell at them to stop yelling (and eat their damn vegetables) because I'm totally frustrated? Family of origin therapy before the heart transplants. Triple parenting fail threat.

If my daughter is having a bad anxiety week, it's my fault because I haven't taught her the right coping skills or she must need new medication and I'm neglectful for not noticing or I'm missing something really serious going on with the trans kid with the world on her shoulders and I need to shape up and pay more attention because holy crap she has a lot going on and what's wrong with me?!

Or maybe I'm too strict, or too lenient, or I'm coddling them, or I'm not giving them enough attention. Maybe I'm too busy or too present or not letting them make mistakes or letting them make too many. Or maybe it's all those things. Shit.

Everything always comes back to me. It's incredibly self-absorbed and destructive.

Guilt: it's what's for dinner. I like to serve it with a nice side of shame and sprinkle it all with MSG, because that shit is bitter if you don't hide the flavour.

But the conclusion I arrived at today while listening to vicious guitar riffs, is that I need to just cut myself some slack, already. Parenting sucks sometimes, and nobody likes handling a bunch of big hairy balls. So it's ok if the idea makes me cry a little. I'm only human, after all.

And this perfect juggling record I've been striving for day after day? It's just not humanly possible. I will always drop some balls. Always. Pretty much every single day. And I had better get used to that. I criticize myself in ways I would never criticize another parent. That shit needs to stop.

Because, the thing is, I really love my kids. Fiercely. Devotedly. Completely. And that's this anti-supermom's greatest power.

Love makes me try harder. It makes me a creative problem solver. It makes me believe that I'll figure things out, even if I have no clue how in the moment.

Love makes me get up the next day with new resolve. It makes me turn off the guitar solos and go hug my children while they struggle to get loose so they can try and kick each other.

Love makes me both soft and fierce. And even on the days when I haven't dished out a single vegetable, I'm still dishing out the love. They give it back to me, making it the best renewable resource.

So chin up, imperfect mom that you are. You've got love on your side. Some days it's all you've got, but it's enough.

You're enough.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dear Daughter: You Don't Have to Hate Your Body

Image Credit: Alan Cleaver via

Dear Daughter,

The day you came out to us as transgender was a big day for you - and also for me. That's the day I found out I had a daughter, when I had been under the false assumption for many years that I was raising a house full of boys.  Silly me.

I've never told you this, but for many years I had a deep-seated fear of raising a girl. In fact, when I was surprise-pregnant at 19 with your older brother, I was sure we was having a boy. And when people asked me how I knew, I told them the universe wouldn't give me a daughter yet because there was no way I was ready to raise one.

"I don't have the self-esteem to raise a girl with self-esteem," I would explain matter-of-fact-ly. People would give me all kinds of strange looks, but I knew it was true. It's not that boys don't benefit from having confident mothers, but as girls we come into the world at a disadvantage, and a strong female role model can make all the difference. I didn't love my body back then, and so I knew I couldn't teach someone how to love hers. I tied my self-worth to how I looked, so how could I teach a daughter to do the opposite? You can't model something you don't possess.

Flash-forward 18 years (feel free to make some great time machine noises.) I've done a lot of work on myself, and that's a good thing because - surprise! - I have a daughter now, and she's watching. Moreover, I have a daughter who will have to work harder than most to be comfortable in the body she has, so my task to raise you into a confident woman is even more important.

(But no pressure or anything.)

So here's what I need you to know: Throughout your life, you will be told that unless you look like a model dipped in Photoshop edits, you are deeply flawed.  But you are not flawed, our society is. The weight loss industry is. Our impossibly high standards are. But you, my beautiful girl, are not. You are exactly who you are meant to be and you should be proud of that.

Throughout your life, you will be told that how you feel about yourself should be directly tied to how you look. That is so wrong that it's Kanye-at-an-awards-show wrong. Our physical form changes all the time, my darling, so using outward appearance as a measure of the beautiful beings we are inside is just a really stupid idea. Some of the most beautiful people you'll meet on this planet will never be in a fashion magazine.

Throughout your life, you will be told you would be happier if you could just attain a certain weight or fit into a particular dress size. Well I know a lot of people - on account of how popular I am - and I can tell you that there are miserable folks of all shapes and weights. Happiness does not come from a dress size.

The good news is that society's messed up constructs on weight are like The Matrix. Once you're shown what a bunch of bullshit it all is, subscribing to it again becomes a choice. I want to give you that choice. You don't have to hate your body.

I say all this because, as you know, I've recently committed myself to getting healthier, and it's very likely going to involve some weight loss. But I need you to know I'm not doing this because I hate myself; the shame train left the station a long time ago and I wasn't on it. 

I'm doing this because I love myself in a super great way. 

I love myself so much that I'm going to learn how to eat and exercise properly so that I can feel better and hopefully live longer. 

I love our family so much that I don't want to exit it prematurely and leave you all wondering who's going to change the toilet paper roll (you guys might have to hire someone). 

And I love you so much that I want to keep fighting for your rights as a proud trans girl for many years to come.

So please don't take the journey I'm embarking on as a sign of disgust; it's a sign of pure joy. I've watched your own transition from the inside out and it's been remarkable. Do you even know how amazing you are? Every day I see you becoming more and more the girl you are inside, and it makes me want to become the woman I am inside: a woman with more energy and more years to show off her fabulous hair. What's not to love about this idea? 

You're the very best teacher. I love being your mom.

So let's not hate our bodies together, ok? Come on, it'll be fun.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Make Some Room for the Good Stuff

One of my awesome graduation cards.
Thanks, @stephdesign for recognizing what a classy bitch I am.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen both the best and worst of people.

In the same week as we all saw a man fat-shamed for dancing, I witnessed a bunch of women severely tear down another woman's looks. It hurt me to the core - not because I know the woman in question (I don't), but because that woman could have been me, or you, or anyone - and no one deserves that.

In fact, I was that woman - or girl - once upon a time. My school days involved some pretty extreme bullies; they tore down my looks, beat me up, told me I should just go kill myself, and eventually even set me on fire in front of the school. I wasn't severely hurt, but the emotional scars lasted for years. To this day, I have yet to feel so alone as I did back then.

So, while a part of me wanted to say more than I did when I saw this barrage of insults to another woman's physical form, another part was fearful I would be the next target if I spoke up.

Isn't that awful? We teach our children through anti-bullying programs and talks to defend the defenseless, and yet I couldn't do it.  I'm still mad at myself.

Thankfully, I rarely find myself in a position like that. That's not my norm, yo. In my day to day, my world is filled with really positive people. In the last week, for example, I've been helping some of them move a pregnant single mom and her two children into a home filled with new-to-them furniture, a stocked pantry, and cupboards and closets brimming with everything they will need to start their lives anew.  Friends and strangers came together in person and over social media to raise money, provide gift cards and donate clothes and household items.

If you've never been part of a beautiful movement such as this, I would strongly encourage you to jump at the next opportunity. I can assure you it's life changing.

I didn't initiate the movement, merely joined it. One of my good friends was the organizer. We spent the week packing, moving and unpacking items, collecting and sorting donations. It was fun, tiring, and entirely worth it. As I watched my friends work so hard for one of our community members, I couldn't help but feel grateful to know them.

That's the world I live in today. The world of good people. The world of kind, generous, do-anything-for-you people. I'm not at all surprised they did what they did for this family. Knowing who they are, I would expect nothing less.

In the midst of all that crazy, some of those friends - along with many others - threw me one beautiful surprise grad party. They made me a yearbook with all their high school pictures in it, and signed things like "it was great to sit next to you in chemistry class!" and "I'll never forget that moment we shared behind the bleachers. Let's stay in touch!" They insisted I take cheesy pictures with flowers and a robe on, and made sure to stuff me full of delicious food. I was moved to tears that they would do this for me. I'll never forget it. In that one night, I could feel the old wounds from my former school years heal up - for good. In that one night, I said goodbye to the pain and the loneliness a part of me still carried around. It's easy to see that I'm anything but alone these days. I wish everyone could feel this way.

Awkward grad photo!
Credit: Christina Hajjar, who insisted it look as cheesy as possible

My life wasn't always filled with great people. I didn't always make good choices when it came to friendships, nor was I always the greatest friend.  For many years I was insecure, petty and passive-aggressive. I didn't know how to communicate effectively and I had to hard time trusting people. I'm still a work in progress. I always will be. But one day I decided I was worth more than the shit I was putting out and getting back. And that's when everything shifted.

Sometimes people tell me they wish they had a good group of friends like mine. And I tell them that if they're anything like me, they just need to make room in their lives for good people. If we're always busy dealing with negative people or situations and our own negative attitudes, we won't have the time or energy to cultivate positive friendships.  

When I found out I had a daughter last year, I made a commitment to her and to myself to model healthy relationships. My bullshit tolerance is now incredibly low, both for my own and for other people's. If you don't add something positive to my life and we can't seem to get on the same page, you're no longer going to be a part of it. If I walk away from our interactions feeling drained or belittled or like I need a shower to wash away the ick, I won't keep coming back for seconds (and I love seconds, so that really tells you something.)

It's so much harder to deal with chronic negativity than positivity, so much more work to handle toxic situations than healthy ones. It leaves no room for anything good to happen. I spent years in those situations, with those people and as that person. Those times are over, and that's not only allowed for an infusion of new healthy friendships, but for existing ones to get the attention they deserve.

Like I said, I've seen the best and the worst over the last couple of weeks. But what I can say for certain is that the best has had the most staying power, giving me so much warm and fuzzy that it could put a litter of puppies to shame.

Be the good. Make room for the good. I promise if you do, you won't be disappointed. (But the puppies might be.)