Life Lessons

This category contains 6 posts

“You Raised the Monster….”

“You raised the monster….”

I worked for two years at a company where the mom was the CEO and the son was the V.P. of Sales. That line was a common refrain when co-workers would gripe about their epic verbal assaults on each other. We had no sympathy for the CEO when her son started trying to oust her. After all, she had raised him that way. His personality didn’t sprout up overnight. He suffered from a severe case of feeling entitled, because he was spoiled his whole life. She taught him to get what he wanted, regardless of whom he had to step on to get it. And, one day, she was just one more rung on the ladder that was his climb to his own little empire.

See, here’s the truth, people. You raise your children. Your children are your responsibility. One of your main responsibilities as a parent is to provide your children with the life skills to become established adults. I’ve seen it far too often in the last decade or so, helicopter parents who can’t (or won’t) allow their children to grow up, but then complain when they don’t move their asses out of the house and become self-sufficient.

Seriously! That’s not a fail on the part of the child, it’s a failure on the part of the parent. Children need room to grow and chances to screw up (or succeed). Asking a thirteen year old to schedule a routine doctor’s appointment is (ohmigod!) reasonable. Giving a child over 5 chores is reasonable. Not commiserating with your kid when the teacher is being “mean” is a good life lesson. Mean people exist in the world, whether or not the teacher is mean is almost moot, because either way, your kid will eventually need to learn how to deal with people of all types.

You can’t cave in to every whine your child makes. You can’t do everything for them. You have to be able to recognize what your child is already capable of and take steps to build on that. You have to introduce new skills to their current set. Think of the things you handle on a daily basis as an adult and try to incorporate little life lessons that your child can benefit from.

You also can’t shield them from life. I remember when finances were bad in my house growing up. My mother and father wouldn’t hide it from me. They didn’t give me all the gory details, but they were honest about when we could and could not afford something. When I was seven I was already conscious of what things cost. I would ask for a treat at the store and my mother would set a limit (say, a dollar). I would choose something, but then I’d see something else I liked. I would be forced to choose between them. I would always choose the one that was less expensive. Usually, this resulted in numerous exchanges for lesser costing items until I settled on a dried fruit leather strip that cost $0.17.

It was a life lesson that I’ve carried into adulthood. Not just of tradeoffs, but also that you can usually find something to brighten your day when you need a “treat” that’s still well within your budget.

As I got older, I got more details. More information. What my parents shared with me changed as my capacity to understand and reason changed. I learned to ask questions; to gather as much information as I could before making a decision.  I learned the power of critical thinking. I learned the power of thinking for myself.

You have to teach your children kindness, respect for others, self-respect. You have to teach them to dream big and be accepting of different people. You have to teach them to be committed to their goals, to be strong in the face of adversity, but still considerate of all parties involved. Teach them manners and courtesy. Teach them humility and humor. Teach them to be responsible and trust worthy, but don’t raise them to be gullible. Present them with information and critical thinking skills and let them make their own decisions.

Sure, I wasn’t an ideal kid… but I was responsible. I knew what was expected of me. And I became a reliable, established, responsible adult. My parents raised me before the age of the helicopter parents and for that I am thankful.

I hope I can do half as good of a job with my son because I certainly don’t want to have to deal with a monster later on in life. It bears repeating that I don’t think you have a right to complain about where your child ends up unless you’re really certain you’re not the reason they turned out that way!

 Just another thought of the day.

 

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Social Welfare – A Lesson in Perspective

I try to keep my posts lighthearted when I can. I also try to keep the subject material as non-controversial as possible. Today, however, is not one of those days. Today I would like to write about a very difficult time in my life and how grateful I was for all of the assistance I received. It’s another lesson in perspective that I hope my readers will listen to with an open mind.

I’ve taken a great sense of pride in my independence over the years. As an adult I had always supported myself, paid my bills, and, to the best of my ability, been a solid citizen. When the recession hit, I was in the process of getting laid off from a very lucrative job that I absolutely loved. Within a matter of two weeks every promising job interview I had dried up. Those positions didn’t get filled by other candidates. They simply went unfilled or the positions were eliminated. I’d been between jobs before and unemployment wasn’t ever something I wanted to stay on. It was something to tide me over until I could find another position. It never took more than a couple of months. In fact, I was so convinced that I would find a job quickly that I didn’t even apply for my unemployment until three months after I lost my job.

But 2008 was something for the record books. I applied for every single job that came up that I was qualified for, every single job that I was overqualified for, and even tossed my hat in the ring for jobs I had no chance of ever obtaining. I was averaging 100+ job applications a month. And my phone wasn’t ringing at all. When I found out I was pregnant with my darling baby boy, I contemplated terminating the pregnancy. But, being the optimist that I am, I decided that it was time in my life (I was approaching 30) and that I really wanted my child. The decision wasn’t easy. I’ve always been a believer that you shouldn’t bring a child into this world if you can’t support it. But I was willing to work at Wal-Mart if that’s what it took. (Wal-Mart never called me in for an interview either.)

My doctor helped me apply for state medical, so that I could have quality pre-natal care. And the months continued passing. My unemployment covered the basics for nearly two years, even though I constantly had to fight to get it due to a clerical error when my file was opened. I want to make it very clear that I never sat back and said “well, I’m seven months pregnant, so I should just give up on looking for a job until after the baby comes.” I have literally thousands of electronic application confirmations from those two years. I was always sure that a new job was just a week or two away. I interviewed pregnant and did my best to hide my growing belly.

I swear my son knew my concerns even before he was born, because I went into labor on a Friday night. He was born on a Saturday morning and I was back to applying to jobs on Monday. But there was nothing. Thousands of job applications with my extremely impressive resume resulted in a total of 4 interviews over two years.

State Medical was one thing to me. A perfectly acceptable social security net to bridge the gap for people who don’t have employer based coverage. But reality came really crashing in on me when my unemployment benefits were exhausted; I had no money coming in and an 8 month old baby boy at home. I had desperately wanted to breastfeed my son. He, however, had other plans. From birth he had serious latching issues. Nothing the nurses did seemed to help. I worked with him for two weeks, but he kept losing weight. There were many, many tears shed, and I felt like a failure. I pumped, but… between supplemental formula feedings and the stress I was under, there just wasn’t much to be done. So, what do you do, when your son needs specialized formula (he had milk protein intolerance) and you have no money to buy it? What do you do when there just isn’t a job to be had?

You turn to a social safety net. In my case, this was the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). There was nothing else to be done. I had exhausted my financial reserves, my 401k refund, and my savings accounts. I walked into the Department of Human Services office and wanted to cry. It was the most desolate place I ever remember being in. The tenor of the office is depressing and the individuals there just have an air of being completely beaten, downtrodden. There were crying children, exhausted parents, and elderly people… everyone just looked miserable. I felt a deep, searing pain in my stomach, just being there. Oh, how the mighty fall.

The first time I used my Link (benefit) card, which was only for groceries mind you, I had to fight back the tears. The reality of my situation was just unbearable. I tried to tell myself that I paid taxes into this system for years, but it didn’t help. I felt ashamed. I felt like less of a person.

I was only on the SNAP program for two months, because a job finally came through in July 2010. It was part time, for much less than my previous salary, but it was work and it enabled me to get off the SNAP program. I was elated the first time I bought groceries with my debit card again. I felt saved. I felt human again.

I’m off public health insurance (even though I have no employer coverage so I have NO coverage) but my son still gets health care through the state. I’m grateful every day for my less than ideal job and that, somehow, I managed to retain my optimism through everything that went wrong those two years (because there’s a lot more that I’m not sharing here). And I am extremely grateful to know that there is a safety net out there for people like me. As much as I hope never to have to use it again I sleep better at night knowing that the system is there for those who need it.

The lesson in perspective is this:

If you’ve never had to utilize a social safety net, you don’t get to judge those that do. I’m sorry, but you haven’t been in their shoes. The 80’s mythology of the “welfare” recipient who drives her brand new Cadillac to the welfare office is just that – a myth. The majority of people who utilize the benefits are just like me, people who had no other option. They are people who would like to get off the benefits as soon as flipping possible. Of course, there will always be the few people who manage to game the system. But those few people aren’t the norm. I am the norm. And I can tell you firsthand just how degrading and dehumanizing that experience really was. I challenge you, any of you, who believe that I’m exaggerating, or out of the “norm” to go sit at a social services office for an hour or so and observe the degradation first hand.

After you’ve gone home and washed the lingering feel of depression and desperation off yourself, you might find that your perspective has completely changed.

It Can Always Be Worse – A lesson in perspective.

We’ve all heard the phrase “it can always be worse”. I don’t feel, however, that as Americans we really think about how privileged we really are. Every day I hear people who are deeply, deeply unhappy with what they can’t have. Very few people seem to take the time to be thankful for what they do have. One of my personal development epiphanies occurred in my teens. It was the realization that Americans are not alone in the world, despite the fact that we use up more than our fair share of the world’s resources.

That realization came with a deeper knowledge of how others in the world live and how everything in this life truly boils down to a matter of perspective. We complain (myself included) about the high price of groceries while there are millions of people in this world who lack access to balance nutrition. Our supermarkets would likely astound them. And what do we do with this abundance of food? We overeat. We are now the most obese country on the planet.

We buy bottled water despite having one of the most advanced water treatment and delivery systems in the world. We have access to fresh water every minute of every day. Turn on the faucet and there it is. No trekking to a river that people bathe and pollute with waste to obtain drinking water.

We drive everywhere. Walking is now relegated to “exercise”. Ditto for Biking. For the majority of us, walking or biking is a luxury of time as opposed to an effective means of transportation.

Arguments about our health care system aside, as imbalanced as access may be, we all have access to at least emergency care. If we are in an accident or injured we can be assured that, even if we go bankrupt from the emergency room bill, there’s a good chance we’ll survive. Because of our access to food and clean water something as simple as a cut on our foot isn’t likely to kill us. For millions of people an infected cut is a serious illness. Here we can wash it in clean water, slather on some antibacterial ointment and put a bandage on it. We have easy access to basic medical supplies.

Whether you’re living in a mansion, a studio apartment, your parent’s basement, or something in between, you have a roof over your head. Access to quality shelter is something I see people take for granted every day. Their bathroom is ugly. Their back yard isn’t big enough. They don’t have enough closet space or their kids have to share a bedroom. Do us all a favor and learn to tell yourself “I don’t like my bathroom, but I’m thankful I have one!”.

The other day I was frustrated by a slow draining bathroom sink. A bottle of Drano later and I was thankful to have a sink that actually drains again. Then I thought, “Hell, I should be thankful to have a sink. And plumbing… and running water… and a home to contain it all.” And I was.

Money is a big complaint I hear all the time. It used to be something I complained about. There never seems to be enough money. I learned something though. You can’t take it with you. You can’t take anything you buy with you, really. Yes, money provides for the roof over our heads, the running water in our sinks, and the food in our bellies. Beyond the basic necessities, everything else is gravy. You have a computer, a cell phone, an iPad, a playstation, a tv… the list goes on and on. Check out http://bonsaimovie.com/ or google microfinance loans.

The most surprising aspect of these loans is how little money people are asking for to buy seeds, or a sewing machine, or fix the roof on their homes. Many of the ones in the Bonsai People documentary are less than I pay for my monthly cell phone bill.

If you need perspective from a cuter standpoint; check out the Babies documentary. Not only is it beautifully done, but it pulls you in. You see that babies are babies the world over. They are not born to hate. They aren’t born to be greedy about material things. They don’t use material objects or money to feel better about themselves. We are born happy and loving and curious. It is only through time and experience that our priorities shift.

If you watch, make sure you watch it a second time with a more critical eye. Compare and contrast how the babies live and grow up. It might not dawn on you that there are a few scenes where how the babies are taken care of would be persecuted here in the states. But, the perspective through which you watch the babies grow up makes it all perfectly acceptable. And it should be.

The point of all of this is not to make you feel guilty. Though, if you feel guilty it is because you’ve identified something within your own life that your mind feels you should feel guilt about.

This is merely an exercise in perspective. A gentle reminder of how good you have it. What you are unhappy over many people would be thankful for. Yes, you have the right to complain, but you also have a responsibility to acknowledge everything you’re fortunate enough to have.

Approach life with enthusiasm. Be grateful for all that you have and can be because of where you were born. Protect the rights of future generations to have a happy childhood. And try to live, if even for a few moments a day, as if you were an infant. Be happy. Be loving. Be curious about the world around you. And try to maintain perspective when you’re feeling overwhelmed or unhappy. After all, It can always be worse.

Our Families Shape our Lives (And I am thankful)

I’m going to take a break today from discussions about food. I’m sure there’s a collective sigh of relief from all my readers, the few of you that are out there. Today I want to talk about family and being thankful.

I was blessed with two sisters and, although we didn’t get along all the time, we’re cornerstones in each other’s lives now that we’re adults. I don’t know what I’d do without my sisters.

I was also blessed with two loving and dedicated parents. We had rough patches and there were financial and emotional struggles, but through it all my parents stayed together and provided a stable and caring home. They raised us to help our family members and forgive any faults that might irritate us. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if they hadn’t toughed it out together; if they didn’t love each other too much to give up.

I am not a perfect person. I am well aware of this. I also don’t expect perfection from others. I give credit for that to my parents because they taught me that when you love someone, you love them, faults and all. I don’t know how to love any other way. I love my friends down to the bottom of my soul. I love my family the same way. I love my son’s father this way as well.

We’ve had some really rough times and we haven’t always dealt with them to the best of our abilities. Sometimes communication failed and things looked bleak. We’ve been round and round the rollercoaster ride numerous times now and somehow, we keep coming back to each other.

So I was asked the other day… “How many more times are you going to go through this?” and my answer, at least to myself, was “as many times as it takes.” I honestly hope that we won’t repeat our mistakes of the past but I know that even if we do, it was worth taking the chance. This isn’t a dream or make-believe, this is reality. Merging two lives together takes work. Making and sustaining a healthy and happy family takes even more. Anyone who tells you it’s going to be easy is a moron. Sometimes things fail and you’re left with scars. And sometimes you’re given the chance to mend what’s been broken. I honestly believe that if you don’t take those chances in your life you’ll always wonder “what if”.

I don’t feel this makes me weak. If anything, it makes me stronger. I have the strength to fight for what I want in my life, to face my fears and try not to let scars of the past hinder my future. We are family, together with our son, and that isn’t something someone should give up on lightly.

I saw this picture the other day in my news feed and was reminded again how solid my base for family and relationships is.

Maybe I’m old fashioned or stubborn, but I don’t believe in giving up. I do believe that most differences can be resolved, problems can be fixed, and that; through mutual respect and love; time can heal wounds. If nothing else I will know, deep down, that I’m living my life in a manner that won’t leave me wondering “what if”. And, in the end, no matter how things play out, my son has two parents who love him to the bottom of their souls.

Family provides us with perspective. How we are raised influences how we live our adult lives. I count myself blessed that I have such a strong support system, a solid example of how love can thrive in even the most trying of times. We all take different paths in this world and the only constant is change. But no matter how much you change you know that there will always be people who love you just the way you are.

Our son is going to grow up with similar examples, a variation of my childhood themes, and a supportive and loving family. I couldn’t think of a better way to raise our son than to teach him to lead with his heart, not let fears hold him back from attaining his goals, and to love without judgment.

I guess that despite all of my claims that I wouldn’t be; I’m very much like my parents. In all the best ways.

I took time today to reflect on the most important people of my life;  how they’ve helped me grow into the person I am and how I know they will continue to shape the person I am going to become. I am thankful every day of my life to be so blessed.

When was the last time you (really) sat down and thought about the people you love? When was the last time you thanked them for loving you just the way you are (no matter how many times you’ve changed)?

Life Lessons – Don’t Panic (Take the Help When it’s Offered, Dummy!)

 Life LessonPanicking gets you nowhere.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Don’t Panic

Things go wrong at the drop of a hat. Little things. Big Things. Planned things. Things that make you feel like Karma is out to get you on a daily basis. One second life is going according to plan a

 nd the next thing you know everything you planned has been uprooted, delayed, destroyed, or otherwise interrupted. From something as small as a flat tire when you’re trying to get somewhere to the ending of a relationship you had built dreams around to an unexpected financial or professional hiccup, we all face challenges on a regular basis.

If you’re a planner, like me, you might get thrown for a serious loop when something goes wrong. If you’re the person who goes more casually through life these hiccups might still represent a destructive curveball. Little or big it doesn’t matter, when you get thrown that curveball it can send you into a panic.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it is that Panicking will get you nowhere. It will get you a headache. It will get you a lot of confusion. But mostly it gets to a place where you’re mentally spinning around in circles chasing a non-existent tail while you try to get back on a path that may not even be there anymore. And for those of us with anxiety issues it can snowball into an obsessive thought process that not only doesn’t end, but convinces us that everything is wrong and hopeless. It’s the first domino in the chain and, in our own minds we connect every other domino. We find every link in the chain that could possibly be severed by this one event. We see everything that could possibly go wrong for the next 30 years because of this one small life event.

Is this you?

“My deposit didn’t clear in time. I’m going to overdraft my account. I’ll get hit with 500gajillion dollars in fees. What if I get a flat tire? I won’t have the money to get my car towed or replace the tire. I’ll have to leave my car on the side of the road. Then I won’t be able to get to work. I’ll never pay off those bank fees. I won’t be able to pick my kid from daycare. I won’t need daycare because I’ll lose my job because I don’t have a car. My credit score will plummet and I’ll never be able to get another car. I’ll never be able to work a decent job again. Maybe I can get a job as a waitress at the restaurant on the corner, because once I get fired from this job, I’ll be a joke in the industry. I’ll never be able to show my face again. It doesn’t matter, since my credit is ruined I won’t be able to buy a house anyway, so what’s the point of having a good paying job? My kid is going to be raised in a bad neighborhood with bad schools and end up running with a bad crowd. Oh my god, my kid is going to end up with a baby at 14, and then my kid’s life will be destroyed too. We’ll all be living on food stamps and public aid. F*ck my life. I don’t know why I bother. Nothing ever works out right anyway.”

Once in a while following the cascading fall of the thought dominoes isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But the more frequently you have this kind of thought process, the more likely it is that you suffer from an anxiety problem. Anxiety can come and go. You can be fine most of your life, then experience a “trigger” event that causes you to suffer from severe anxiety for days, months, years, or even the rest of your life.

I’ve learned that the first thing you need to do in that situation is breathe. Do NOT forget to breathe. Then you need to ask yourself three things.

1.)    What is the real problem?

2.)    What can I do to resolve the problem right now?

3.)    How much control do I actually have over the outcome?

Starting by identifying the problem may sound like a moronic “duh” moment but clearly identifying the problem at hand is the first step in keeping the issue from spiraling into a havoc wreaking, life ending, this will haunt your family for 15 generations, karmic attack of doom.  It provides you the necessary perspective to see the problem that is directly in front of you.

Asking yourself what can be done “right now” provides you focus and keeps you in the moment. This is because you can’t live in the future. You have to live in the now, deal with problems in the now, and stop borrowing trouble in the future. It sounds simple; do what you can do now and if you can’t do anything right now to resolve the problem, try to stop worrying because you’re just borrowing trouble.

And lastly, you have to identify how much you can actually affect the issue. How much control do you have in the end result? Be honest with yourself. If this is something that’s totally out of your range of control or influence, then you need to step back and just focus on damage control.

Whatever you do, don’t panic. Panicking gets you nowhere you want to be. If, in the end, you find that you can’t stop worrying about every little detail. If you find that your thoughts endlessly trail to the ‘What-ifs” until you’re uncomfortable sitting still for no real reason. If you find that you can’t sleep for all the thoughts that swirl around in your head…. Well, I think you get the point. If you get to that place then I suggest you talk to your family doctor.

This leads me to another life lesson:

Take the damn help when it’s offered, dummy.

The oddest thing in the world: The people that have depression, anxiety, etc. are the ones most likely to see something horrible in getting help for it. So let me make something completely clear: needing help doesn’t make you “crazy”. Needing help and refusing to get/take the help you need is what makes you “crazy”. Think about it. If you saw someone trying to push their car to the gas station, you wouldn’t think they’re crazy. But, if you saw someone pushing their car, waving away everyone who offered them help and the guy with a can of gasoline, you’d think that person was nuts.

If you suffer from depression or anxiety you’re the guy pushing the car. It might be a momentary problem, you might be able to push that car to the gas station in a few days or weeks or years and struggle the whole way there. Or, you could accept the help your friends and family are offering you. You could see your family doctor and get the fuel you need to get you to the gas station with less suffering.

You might need a good night’s rest or a change in your diet or exercise program. You might need vitamins or medications. I can’t speculate because I don’t know you. But if you feel like your thoughts or feelings are out of control then accept the help that’s around you. It makes you a stronger person to admit you’re in a place where you need help, not a weaker person.

For me, it was a combination of acknowledging my stressors and reactions to them. I had to change my diet, add in physical activity, start taking vitamin supplements and add in medication until I feel ready to stand on my own two anxiety confronting feet again. I don’t feel like less of a person for admitting I needed medication along with the other changes. In fact, I’m so much happier with my life now that I really don’t give a crap what other people think of me. My family and the people who love me are happy that I’m happy and they’re the only people that matter.

“Oh, well if you’re on medication then your advice for handling stress doesn’t count.”

I’m calling bullshit on this one… you can try to rationalize not helping yourself or getting the help you need, but I’m not going to let you dismiss me entirely. Just because I’m on medication doesn’t mean I don’t still suffer some anxiety. It doesn’t mean my stressors went away. What it means is that I can think clearly enough to identify where I went wrong dealing with those stressors in the past and try new ways to cope with them without going into a blind panic. It means I can breathe. 

The two life lessons here were painful to learn. My life was completely devastated, turned upside down and inside out before I was able to learn them properly. I could have saved myself a lot tears and heartache if I’d learned them sooner. I’m a better person for learning them, though. I still come across problems, set-backs, and the little hiccups that make life interesting. I see them as challenges now and I work to overcome them. You will never hear me say “f*ck my life” because something goes wrong.

I just remember to breathe and…

Keep Calm and Tread On.

Life Lessons – Anything Worth Having

Life Lessons

Anything worth having is worth working for.

My parents may have taught me this lesson a little too well. Because I believe that everything takes work and I’ve reached that point in my life where I want things for myself and my family I have a tendency to take on more than I have time to manage.

I have a two (almost three) year old at home. I work and, even though I’m underemployed, that’s 30 hours of my week not including my commute. I’m a full-time student. I’m training for a 5k obstacle course. I’m looking to buy a house. I’m researching 4 year degree options. I’m trying to have a social life.

It’s exhausting, to be completely honest. But I feel accomplished and proud of myself every day. I have an amazing support network that’s filled with people who cheer me on when I’m struggling, support me when I’m worn out, and encourage me to be my best.

When I hear stories of women who get an advanced degree while working full-time with 2 or more children and little to no support system I am astonished. I honestly don’t know how they manage it. Even with all of the resources at my disposal I struggle to balance work, home, and school. I couldn’t imagine doing it under more difficult circumstances. I applaud every one of those women – they are my inspiration on rough days.

The lesson that you have to work for the things you want seems to be one that isn’t applied well these days. I know too many people, generally younger than me but not always, who seem to feel the world owes them something. The problem with that philosophy is that eventually life smacks you in the fanny and makes you get to work.

Even when you’re willing to work life sometimes smacks you in the fanny to remind you to work harder. The last four years of my life felt like a never-ending struggle. In work, in life, in my relationships. Even though things are evening out for me now, it made me realize that maintaining a good, happy life takes continuous maintenance. I’m good with that. I may come home exhausted, I may look at my studies and desperately want a night off, I may have to bike out to the middle of nowhere and vent my frustrations, but at the end of the day, I can reflect back on every struggle I’ve had and know that it’s worth it.

The next time you feel your shoulders slump in defeat over a setback or something that didn’t work out the way you thought it would ask yourself if you’ve put in the work. Have you earned it yet? Answer yourself honestly. I’m a firm believer that if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to making something happen, you’ll eventually reach your goal.

Keep Calm and Tread On.

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Judgement Day

Warrior DashJune 17th, 2012
Judgement Day: A day to push past my limits, cavort in the mud, and celebrate with a beer!
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