What do you think about unsolicited advice?

My kids

My kids

I wrote this post about unsolicited advice several years ago. Yesterday, I failed once again in the area of butting into my children’s lives where I wasn’t invited. My daughter is at working and I chimed in on “how I would do it.” She didn’t take kindly to my unsolicited advice. She wasn’t snarky or mean–she’s a grown up now.

A few hours later, I realized what I had done. I was giving my daughter unsolicited advice on how to do her job! And she’s doing great at it. I thought about what the outcomes could be for me butting in. One, she could feel insecure about what she’s doing. She could second-guess herself. Two, she could be annoyed as heck at me! I could be harming our relationship. I apologized and said I was sincerely sorry. Here’s the story I wrote a few years ago about unsolicited advice. Obviously, I’m still working on it.

A few weeks ago, my daughter was telling me how she’d missed practice because she had a midterm and the time conflicted. Her coach wasn’t happy, she said.

“Well,” I said, “maybe you should call her and explain. Or, better yet, next time you’re going to miss practice, let her know in advance.”

“Mom, I’m telling you something. I don’t need your unsolicited advice. A simple ‘that sucks’ would suffice.”

I was offended. My feelings were tweaked, not exactly hurt. I thought, what is going on with her?

This week she called and asked for my advice about a sticky situation with a friend. I get it now. She had a problem she couldn’t solve on her own. She wanted my advice and then she would handle it from there.

In her dorm room getting settled.

In her dorm room getting settled.

My mistake has been offering advice when my perfectly capable, adult child is making her own decisions and finding her own way. She does not need her mom telling her what to do all the time.

This was reinforced again when she called with an issue with her university and paperwork for the fall quarter. I gave her a few suggestions of who to call, what to do.

“I’ve done all that, Mom. I’m just telling you about it.”

Yes, I understand now. She’s sharing the trials and tribulations in her life. She’s not asking me what to do. If she needs my help she will ask me.

With teammates after breaking the 8 and under 4 x 50 relay record.

With teammates after breaking the 8 and under 4 x 50 relay record.

I should be thankful that my daughter likes to share. That she can figure things out on her own. That she’s got a strong head and can handle the daily tasks of living in a house, paying utility bills, handling school bureaucracy, and getting a speeding ticket.

Welcome to adulthood! I guess a simple “that sucks” from time to time is all she needs.

How do you handle unsolicited advice when someone offers some to you?

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Tips to Press the Pause Button as a Parent

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Just breathe!

One of my kids’ principals from elementary school talked about the “mother bear” syndrome. It’s that creature that comes out of our skin when we think our child is being harmed. The mother bear may come out when our child is being bullied, or comes home upset about something their teacher or coach said.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with that gut-wrenching feeling when we want to protect our child. It starts with a burst of adrenaline and may result into marching into the principal’s office or picking up the phone to chew out a parent about their kid being mean.

In a parenting article, ‘To make sound decisions, employ the power of the pause,” in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman offer tips that will help us as parents as well as in the rest of our lives. Here’s an excerpt:

The pause is the space you intentionally create in your mind to pull back from circumstances and retreat into a quiet corner of your psyche — a place where you can calm your nerves, think about the end result that you want to achieve and plan the steps you will take to reach it.

The pause can mean the difference between reacting out of raw emotion and responding out of rational choices. Often, it can mean the difference between strengthening and ruining relationships.

Few things spark an explosion in our emotional state like a conflict can. But when we pause, sometimes even excusing ourselves from the room, we can take slow, deep breaths to calm our bodies and regulate the fight or flight hormones that are coursing through our veins. We can pray or meditate for a few minutes, and then we can ask ourselves a few critical questions:

– What emotions am I feeling?

– What triggered these emotions?

– What is the root problem here?

– What is my role in fixing the problem?

– What is the best outcome in this situation?

– What is the best way to reach that outcome?

Instead of reacting to a situation from the intense emotions sparked by the conflict, the pause gives you the advantage of responding thoughtfully, carefully and calmly.

I used to be an emotional parent who would react at the slightest wrong-doing I perceived. Through the years, I learned to wait at least 24 hours before taking action. Action to me meant sending an email, making a phone call or showing up in person for a face-to-face meeting. Often, after I slept on it, I had clarity. In most cases, the problem went away on its own. Then a new one would pop up. Can you imagine how much energy and outrage it would take if I reacted to every uncomfortable moment my kids’ encountered?

Now, I use the pause in my own life if there’s something I need to deal with. I weigh the pros and cons, decide what outcome I want–and if it’s worth the energy to pursue at all. It makes life run smoother in the long run. I’ve written about this here.

My kids call and ask for advice on how to handle a situation at work or with a roommate. I offer the same advice of taking a pause. Wait a day or two before making a decision. When we’re flooded with emotion, it’s hard to make the right one.

From the article:

As parents, we can also coach our kids through this process. When we see emotions begin to spike, we can gently pull the child aside, help them calm down and then walk them through the same problem solving questions that we would ask ourselves.

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Walking outside and enjoying nature can put things in perspective.

Do you have any other tips to offer for making rational decisions when we get upset? Please share below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Tips to Rekindle Your Creative Spirit

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Inspiring view along my morning walks.

I’m reading a few pages a week from Julia Cameron’s books. Who is Julia Cameron you ask? She’s a writer, musician and artist who encourages creativity for the rest of us struggling along our jumbled paths. I read something in the book Walking in This World  that helped me out and wanted to share it.

What’s ironic is that it’s the same thing I write about in my parenting tips for SwimSwam. Why don’t I take the advice I shout out to the rest of the world? Who knows?

It’s all about performance pressure and focusing on results rather than the process. When our kids focus on times, or we add performance pressure on them, they will struggle to improve. Likewise, if we are too focused on the number of “likes” and “clicks” on our writing, we lose sight of our creative spirit. We’re more worried about what people think of our work–rather than losing ourselves in the process and creating art.

This results in writer’s block, frustration, second-guessing our work and losing passion for what we’re doing.

What is Cameron’s solution to this? In her books, she has a number of suggestions that include writing morning pages, walking and making time for an artist’s date with yourself. Also, she suggests trying something artistic outside your chosen field. For me it’s getting out a sketch book and drawing from time to time. When I was a little kid, I wasn’t worried about what people thought about my artwork. I drew for hours on end. I found it scary at first to try and sketch again, but I reminded myself that nobody is looking at it. I won’t be looking at the number of “likes” and “retweets.” It’s a creative outlet just for me.

Another suggestion of Cameron’s to rekindle the spirit of creativity, is to use your talents to help someone else. Make a gift for someone, teach, volunteer, or do something for your community. It does make you feel enthusiastic after helping someone else and getting the focus off yourself and your end product. 

Thank you to my BFF Cindy for giving me The Artist’s Way five years ago and encouraging me on my current path.

Julia Cameron has been an active artist for more than thirty years. She is the author of forty books, fiction and nonfiction, including her bestselling works on the creative process: The Artist’s Way, Walking in This World and Finding Water. Her work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages and has sold more than four million copies worldwide. Also a novelist, playwright, songwriter and poet, she has multiple credits in theater, film and television.

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I find inspiration from my view.

How do you rekindle your creativity if you’re discouraged or reached a block? Do you have any tips to share with us?

Could I have a Do-Over, Please?

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My young Piranhas.

If I could go back in time, say 15 or so years, I’d do things differently as a parent and a swim mom. I’ve loved every minute of being a swim parent and truly believe that signing my kids up for our local club, the Piranha Swim Team, was the single best thing we’ve done for them. Sticking with the team through ups and downs was a plus, too. Not only did my kids become crazily physically fit and skilled swimmers, they learned to never give up through tough times—whether it was an illness, a plateau or learning what a new coach expects.

So what would I do differently? Here’s my list:

One
Not focus on performance.

Sometimes, I get way too caught up in big meets and best times. I wish I could kick back, relax and enjoy the little moments more.

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Medals at a meet.

Two
Not get involved in parent drama.

Like most sports today, where you find a bunch of enthusiastic and involved parents, there’s bound to be some drama. If I could do it over, I’d never take sides or get involved. At times, I didn’t have a choice because of being on the board. But, the drama and problems we lived through don’t amount to beans, anymore.

Three
Realize everybody is different.

Not every swimmer has the same drive or goals. Not every family is going to focus their lives around the pool. It’s okay for some kids to skip practice and have other interests besides school and swimming. I’d be less judgmental if I got a do over!

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Signing day.

Four
Not compare my kids to others.

When my kids were young and new to swimming, it was common for us to compare their progress to other swimmers. That led to upset feelings all around. Looking back on it, things that seemed so big at the moment, were only a fleeting moment in time.

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My son learning to dive with the swim team.

Five
Enjoy every moment of the process.

The years go by so quickly. The friends made with other parents, coaches and officials are ones to treasure. Enjoy it all.

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Back when my daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.

 

What would you do differently as a parent?

How to Keep Your Kids in the Game

34614_1556248309940_4797539_nIt’s a hard lesson for sports parents to learn, because we do get all excited watching our kids, but we can put too much performance pressure on them. When we do this, they may lose some of their passion for their sport, play half-heartedly, or quit.

When my son was young, I learned that he listened to his own drummer. Tee ball practices were spent building dirt castles. When I put him on a summer league swim team, I was surprised to see him and a friend out of the pool, sword fighting with sticks. As he got older and focused on swimming, he was hard enough on himself. I didn’t need to add any pressure. He said he still has nightmares about me forcing him to go to a meet that he wasn’t prepared for. I thought meets were fun–at least they were for me. I didn’t see an issue with signing him up for a meet after he had spent the last two months in a school play with little or no practice.

I believe we have to keep in mind our children’s competitive natures and their passion. They have to like their sport. It can’t be done to please us. It’s their sport, not ours. According to a recent poll, 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.”

Here’s an interesting article in PopsugarUK.com from a mom who wants her kids to enjoy their sports, but is afraid of the culture. Written by Angela Anagnost-Repke, she points out some of the great things about youth sports, as well as the problems. Unfortunately, a few overzealous parents can ruin the sports experience for everyone.

Here’s an excerpt of “I Want My Kids to Play Sports, but Worry How the Culture Will Affect Them:”

I signed my kids up for team sports because playing sports teaches kids more lessons than I can count: how to set a goal and work to achieve it, how to function as part of a team, and how to find that grit we all have deep within us. It also demonstrates that when you’re working with others, on anything, those same people will depend on you. So, it’s on you to bring it every single day — to training, to practice, and to games. I personally have many fond memories of playing football with my teammates, and I want that for my kids, too. But the culture has shifted dramatically since my days on the field, so I’m a little nervous about the whole thing.

I find the pressure to be “the best” in their specialised sport — which I also think kids are forced into choosing far too young — is too intense for kids today. It feels like kids are expected to be a standout athlete before they reach 10 years old. They’re expected to get outside and practice instead of running through the sprinklers with the neighbours, give up going to birthday parties to play in weekend-long tournaments. And the older these children get, the more burned out they become. I’ve seen kids get so worn down from trying to be “the best” that they stop playing sports all together. While they loved it once, that love has diminished, or died altogether, and they can’t bear to play any longer. And, this societal pressure is not the only kind of pressure I see young athletes facing, either.

Today, I also think kids involved in sports receive too much pressure from their parents. As I stand on the sidelines to watch my son play on his travel football team, I hear parents yell at their 6- and 7-year-old boys constantly. “Get up!” “Get your head in the game!” and “You better start trying!” The little boys stiffen up as their parents scream at them and then try just a little bit harder. I can’t help but think that these parents should be yelling praise and encouragement. This pressure carries through to when these kids become young adults. It wears them down. As a high school teacher, I’ve seen it far too many times. These young adults are so burnt out from trying to please everyone around them. They’re crumbling, and it’s a damn shame.

We can cheer and love the life lessons our kids get from their sports. But, we need to keep the pressure to perform in check. If they are having fun, they will stick with their sports.

robkatwaterHow do you help your kids in sports without taking over or adding too much pressure?

How Do Controlling Parents Harm Kids?

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My happy baby girl.

In a fascinating article about controlling parents on the Good Men Project, I learned about the difference between providing structure as opposed to being controlling. One is good, the other bad. But I had no idea how bad. It turns out children of controlling parents suffer from anxiety and depression. Kids who have parents who provide structure but allow autonomy, are more resilient.

Here is an excerpt from the article written by Wendy S. Grolnick, Professor of Psychology at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. There is a ton of useful information and tips in her article. It’s well worth reading the entire article.

Controlling parenting is counterproductive, undermining children’s self-regulation and their capacities for responsibility.

Parents can often feel confused when they hear that it’s good for children to have parents who are in control of their households, but that controlling parenting is bad for them.

Mom and dad may feel caught between these two pieces of advice, suggesting that control can be good but also bad for children. How is a parent to know what’s right and when?

That’s why our research has identified a more straightforward way to think about raising children. It distinguishes between children having ‘structure’ (healthy) as opposed to children being pushed through controlling parenting (unhealthy).

Difference between controlling parenting and parenting which provides ‘structure’

Structure can involve rules, guidelines and limits so that children know what’s expected of them and the consequences of their actions. That helps them learn successfully and avoid getting into trouble. But structure does not have to be imposed in a controlling manner.

Structure can be developed in ways that also support children’s autonomy. Parents can get together with their children to figure out rules and consequences. There can be back and forth. Dissension can be heard and discussed.

Parents can listen to critical feedback and empathise with children’s dislike of tasks, be it doing chores or homework. So structure can support autonomy and children’s agency. But, ultimately, rules and guidance are established, so this approach is not simply permissive. Supporting children’s autonomy is actually very active and does not involve a loss of parental authority or agency.

This approach contrasts with controlling parenting, where parents push and pressure children into actions over which they may have little say, and parents dictate without allowing genuine input from children. Such parenting can sometimes involve harsh discipline, including corporal punishment.

How controlling parenting can harm children

Controlling parenting can undermine children’s self-regulation and their capacity for responsibility. Instead of learning how to manage their own behavior, children may become reactive, responding negatively to being controlled. This may lead them to do the opposite of what is demanded, not from personal choice, but as a reaction against too much pressure.

We tested these two aspects of parenting, structured and controlling, in a study of 215 children and their families in several parts of Worcester, Massachusetts. We looked at whether parents were controlling and pressuring or whether they supported autonomy. We also tested whether they provided structure or whether rules and guidelines were lacking.

The article goes on to talk about why parents are controlling. Some of it is living vicariously through their kids and being too focused on performance. That makes me look back at how we parented and not in a good light. Rather than dwell on all my past mistakes, I think I’ll be grateful that my parenting evolved through the years. Also, today is a good day to reflect on all I’m thankful for. It’s time to get out the gratitude journal! I’m thankful for my husband and the kind and thoughtful adults my children have become.

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Back when my son was young.

What are your thoughts about your parenting style or that of your parents? Have you crossed the line from structured to controlling?

The pitfalls of smartphone parenting

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My daughter would get on my case. She was vehement when I pulled out my phone, answered a text or call.

“Mom! I’m with you! Put your phone down.”

Invariably, it was my son who would call or text while I was spending time with my daughter. I wondered how that happened? Did he have special radar to know when we were together? Did he want to interrupt us?

In any case, I found some good information in Is Smartphone Parenting hurting our kids? from The Post and Courier, Charleston, SC, by Sara Novak. It reminded me to be in the moment with our kids and loved ones. And yes, put the phone down! Here are some excerpts from the article:

We’ve all done it. Taken our phones out for a quick email check at a stoplight. Scrolled through Instagram or returned a text while waiting for school to let out. Or researched our next kitchen renovation on Pinterest while our little one picks out a book for story time.

The long-term repercussions of this distracted parenting are largely unknown. After all, we’re the first generation of parents to feel the magnetic draw of our smartphones day in and day out. My mom certainly didn’t. Her daily parenting distractions consisted of watching reruns of “Seinfeld” on television or calling her sister in Omaha from a landline.

But the current landscape has changed vastly in the past two decades. According to Common Sense Media, 41 percent of teens feel their parents are constantly distracted by devices and don’t pay enough attention to them when they’re together. And a whopping 69 percent of parents feel the need to check their devices every hour.

The downsides of “smartphone parenting” are both obvious and more subtle. Getting in a traffic accident with your kids in the car is an obvious danger. While it’s illegal to text while driving in South Carolina, in Mount Pleasant, the fine is just $50 for a first offense and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked over to see a car full of kids and mom or dad looking down at a phone.

I certainly won’t pretend to be innocent. We’ve all felt the need to reach for our phones when checking them was unnecessary or even dangerous. But the problem is real. Nine people die every day in the U.S. as a result of distracted driving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a tragedy most parents cringe to think about.

Tapping away on our phones in front of our kids also sets a bad example, says Dr. Elizabeth Mack, division director of pediatric critical care and professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina. It teaches our kids “sedentary habits (and) minimizes healthy interaction and joint attention between parents and children.”

Parents and kids that obsessively use their devices may also experience headaches and irritability, she says.

Not giving children our full attention also sends a message that they’re not a priority, says Bonnie Compton, a child and adolescent therapist, parent coach and author of “Mothering With Courage.” She says that kids often feel that they’re not being seen and heard when their parents are right in front of them.

Another reminder of how obsessed we are with our smartphones is in an entertaining video by Fog and Smog called “Put Your Phone Down.”

10575366_10204674805333844_4491881722162368424_oWhat tips do you have to not check your phone while you’re with your family?