Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When Lack of Life Experience = A Lack of Compassion

I did it again. I responded to a friend of a friend on Facebook. I engaged in political discourse that is likely to go nowhere. But this time, it stuck with me.

A little background. This friend of mine on Facebook is one of my most reasonable and intelligent Facebook friends. Yes, he's also a Republican. And yes, we differ in political opinions quite a bit. But I always enjoy his comments on Facebook and often find myself seeking to understand his viewpoint because I respect him so much as a person. I know him to be kind, generous, and forward thinking. So, when we disagree, instead of saying, "He's so wrong! What an idiot!" I instead find myself wanting to better understand why he thinks what he thinks. Now, this friend, being reasonable, will often state his strong opinions but rarely engages in discussion or argument (he says such discussions are for the dinner table...I'm still waiting for our dinner date). I think he knows his blood pressure is better off because of this rule he has set for himself. But while this friend of mine is reasonable, his friends are not. And I often find my own blood boiling at the comments some of them make. There was one today, regarding a flat tax that I could not let stand. So, I responded, and an argument ensued. You can see it below through screen shots. I removed the name and profile pictures so as not to violate anyone's privacy:

(Apologies for the language...I was fired up!)

So, yes, I get it. After engaging in this long discourse with people I've never met and likely never will, I look like one of the "unreasonable friends" I spoke of above. But bare with me.

As I said, this discussion really stuck with me. I have never met either of these people. I know nothing about them, but, I have to assume that they have had very few (if any) real life encounters with hard working poor people. People who have made the best choices they can in life, given their life circumstances, and who still struggle to make enough money to support their families. And if they truly have never met and had the opportunity to truly get to know people who fall into this category then I get where they're coming from.

My world view was drastically different before I started my graduate degree in Social Work. During my training I had two of the most socially transformative experiences of my life.

First, I interned at a homeless shelter for families. In my role here I met weekly with mothers and fathers who were doing the best they could to provide for their children. These parents were employed. They weren't just sitting on the sidelines looking for a handout. Employment (or well documented disability) was a requirement of this particular program. These were hard-working, committed, and desperate parents. They wanted to do the best they could for their children but life had given them few choices and few opportunities, and so this is where they were. Many of them came from drug addicted parents. Some of them grew up in violent areas where leaving the house every day to get to school was putting one's life at risk, and thus they didn't finish school. Being desperate for money to provide for their families some (but not all by any means) had engaged in illegal activity--theft, prostitution, the sale of drugs-- and had convictions on their record that further limited the choices they now had. I was young, about 23 when I first had the privilege of meeting these brave, inspiring fellow humans. And because of my interactions with them, my world view changed dramatically.

Then, in my second year of internship I interned at Boston Children's Hospital in what was called the Advanced Fetal Care Center. Here I met with women who were pregnant and their partners. Each woman I met with was carrying a baby who had a life threatening abnormality or disease. I sat with mothers and fathers as they learned the most devastating news about their children. I sat with them as they agonized about the decisions they faced: 1) to continue with the pregnancy hoping the child survived to birth and hoping for a few minutes with their baby before he or she died, 2) to continue with the pregnancy with the plan to intervene in any way possible, hoping to save their child and give them a longer life, or 3) to terminate the pregnancy. None of these parents took these decisions lightly. All of the children they were carrying were wanted. But yes, for a host of reasons, all valid reasons, some of them chose to terminate the pregnancy. These brave women taught me that abortion is many things, but most of all it is a private, personal decision, and not one that our government should be involved in making.

Yes, as I said, I get it. I get how you can be so very certain of "the way things should be" until you are faced head on with the people behind the opposing viewpoint. I am one of the lucky ones. I have had these experiences I described above, and so many more in my career as a Social Worker that have brought humanity at its best and at its worst into focus for me and as a result my world view has changed for the better.

So, what do we do? How do we help the people of our Country to have more experiences with more people, who will help them to better understand that the world is not such a black and white place? I know high schools are trying to do it by requiring a service component to graduation, but clearly its not enough. Many colleges have wonderful social justice curriculum and volunteer opportunities, and yet, these efforts miss all those who never go to college. It must start younger, and it must include parents.

We must find a way to include children and parents together in encounters with people who live differently than they do. We must foster discussion, at an early age, about social injustice. I'm not particularly religious, but I know and understand the valuable role that churches can play in this effort and we must challenge church leadership to truly embrace the spirit of Jesus and show care and concern for the least of our people. Our churches must get more people involved in service and must engage their congregations not just in service of others, but more importantly, interactions with others. I fear as a society that we will not change for the better until the majority of our citizens have an opportunity to interact with a wide variety of people from different classes, races, ethnicities, and cultures. We are a Country of many. We must step outside our own little bubble and get to know the many as best as we can. Then, and only then, will we be able to develop a truly compassionate, caring majority who seeks, as I've written about before, to do the most good, for the most people.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Teach Your Children Well

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young said it first back in 1970. But the message is just as important, if not more so, now. Is there a greater responsibility in this world than to teach our children well? To teach them how to care for each other, for themselves, for this planet?

I've been thinking about all of this a lot lately in light of the political vitriol that is surrounding all of us these days during the Presidential Primary Election. Anyone who knows me personally knows I am very passionate about the things I believe in most strongly. I don't hesitate to speak up and say how I feel. And lately, I have been utterly disgusted by the display of inhumanity that has been the GOP primary season. Yes, I am a Democrat. But, I am also an American. And regardless of one's political affiliation I think it is obvious that the hatred, dishonesty, and bigotry that is on display in recent months is unacceptable and repulsive. And yet, apparently its not so obvious because he who does not deserve to be named is getting more and more votes.

4 years ago, on election day, when my oldest son was not yet 3 and my middle son was not yet born I wrote this letter to my children. At the time I felt so positive and uplifted about our Country and my State. It seemed likely that we would re-elect a man who I believe is one of the best, most human, intelligent, and honest Presidents our nation will ever see. It was also looking as if Maryland would become the first State to legalize gay marriage by a vote of the people. Both those things came true. Barack Obama was overwhelmingly reelected and the people of Maryland voted to legalize Gay Marriage. I could not have been more proud. But I wrote this letter before I knew these results. In this letter spoke to my children about the importance of election day. I spoke not of democrats or republicans. I didn't even mention who I was voting for. But I spoke of voting for the people and the issues that will do the most good for the most people in our nation and world

This is something I still strongly believe needs to be behind every person's decision when they vote. I may have a difficult time understanding "the other side" sometimes, but if you can convince me that you truly believe your favorite politician's efforts have at heart, doing the most good for the most people, then you have my ear. I understand that there can be different approaches to the same goal. And so, I can respect and value any person or politician who truly seeks to improve the state of being for as many people as possible. Not just the wealthy. Not just men. Not just white people. But, all people. At the same time, I understand that we can't please everyone all the time. That's why I am OK with taxing the wealthy to care for the poor. I'm OK with taking away guns from those with the potential for violence in order to protect the majority of people (hell, I'm OK with taking away everyone's guns to protect all people....but, I know that's unlikely to happen). I understand that sometimes, in very rare circumstances the lives of our brave soldiers must be sacrificed in order to bring safety to a majority of people. And because our leaders have to make decisions about such profound issues like the life of a fellow human being, they must have goodness at their core. I'm not saying any leader will ever please everyone all the time. I'm not saying that mistakes won't be made. But in order to earn my vote, you must convince me that your underlying and overarching goal in all decisions you make has at its heart the well being of the majority of humanity.

And while I ardently disagree with the approach of the vast majority of Republicans in achieving this goal of the most good for the most people, I do believe that there are GOP politicians who share this same goal. But this year? This election season? Nope. Not one. I do not believe for a second that a single person running to be the leader of our great Nation from the Republican party has this as their goal.

One cannot want to build a wall, or prevent all Muslims from entering the United States, or limit a woman's right to make decisions about her own body, or support at all costs an organization whose sole goal is to sell as many guns as possible, and still convince me that you have the best interests of the people you will serve at heart.

As Americans we have a responsibility  to elect a leader who will support us in teaching our children well. Someone who will support our efforts to teach our children what it means to be kind, empathetic, and honest. Someone who our children can look up to as an example of good in the world. Someone who, 10 years down the line you will be proud to tell your children, "Yes! I voted for him/her!" Someone who might make mistakes, who may have faltered at times, but who genuinely sought to be kind to the people closest to them, and to those they never met.

There is no greater resource in achieving greatness for our communities, our nation, our world, than our children. If we cannot with confidence lead our children in the direction of kindness, compassion, and honesty, then we have nothing as a society to hope for.

So, I implore you. I beg you, please, when you go to the polls this primary season and in the general election, vote for the individual who will support you in teaching your children what it means to be a good citizen of this earth.

Potty Training: If its difficult, just STOP!

I get it. I really get it. Changing diapers suuuuuucks. Paying for diapers suuuuuucks. Trying to find a container that  doesn’t emit  the smell of the stinky diapers into the baby’s room is nearly impossible. I get it. You want your baby to be potty trained yesterday. And you’ve been working on it, and he’s not getting it. She had 17 accidents yesterday and you didn’t even know it was possible to go to the bathroom 17 times in one day! You are Facebooking like mad asking all your fellow mommy friends what their potty training secrets are. You’re desperate to be DONE. WITH. DIAPERS. I get it. But really, if it’s not happening easily, please just give up. I promise you, potty training should not be a battle. It shouldn’t make you or your child miserable. How do I know? Well, I’ve had a little experience.

I have a three year old (and a 6 year old and an 17 month old). A few months ago, my Facebook feed and many of the threads on “Mom Groups” I am in were taken over by moms who were overwhelmed with potty training. I read these exasperated, desperate comments and thought, “Huh. It wasn’t hard for us.” But that was when I’d only potty trained one kiddo, and so, I was able to convince myself that the ease with which he trained (literally, in a day) was a fluke. We were just one of the “lucky ones.”

But, all this potty talk made me realize that my second born little guy was approaching the age his older brother was when he was trained (2 years, 8 months) and so, I decided to give it a go. A few things you should know: My oldest is a typical oldest. He, for the most part aims to please, he follows rules well (most of the time...), and he never met a challenge that he wasn’t going to take on full force. So, the fact that he potty trained easily was no surprise to me, really.

My second little guy is very different from his brother. He is sweet and lovable but cares very little about what others think of him. He’s not out to impress anyone. Back in the fall, when we were doing back to school shopping for his big brother, Ryan, I grabbed a pack of underwear and tossed it in the cart. Realizing they had BOTH Minion underwear and Paw Patrol underwear (two of Zach’s FAVORITES) I looked at Zachary and said, “Zachary, don’t you want to wear underwear like a big boy? Look! You could choose any pack you want!” Zach looked at me defiantly, and said, “No, Mama! I not wear underwear. I wear diapers.” When I would ask him if he wanted to learn to go on the potty he’d say, “Ummmm, maybe. But…not yet,” as he squinted his eyes, tilted his head to the side a bit, and shook his head in an adamant “no”. To say I had low expectations for his potty training success was an understatement.

But, HE DID IT! He did it in a day. In the first three weeks of training he had a total of three accidents, all within the first few days. He even stayed dry during naps and even all through the night practically right from the start. He not only exceeded my expectations but he blew them out of the water.

So, what’s my point, you ask? My point is, if potty training is hard, it’s not time. You’re trying too soon. Just stop.  

This is not me being judgmental. This is me trying to make your life easier. So, follow the advice below for an easier, simpler, less anxiety producing potty training process: 

                        If it’s hard, just stop.

If he isn’t telling you when he has to go, just stop. You reminding him to go every 15 minutes or making him sit on the potty for 30 minutes at a time until a few drops dribble out does not mean your child is potty trained.  It means you are.

If she’s fighting you on it, just stop.

If you’re miserable, just stop.

If your kid is miserable, just stop.

If you’re petrified to leave the house because your child might have an accident, just stop.

If you’re arguing with your spouse about how this is supposed to work, just stop.

If you feel like your kid is going to go to college in Pull-ups, just stop.

If you have to stay by your kid’s side every second of every day in order to notice the most subtle of subtle cues that she has to go, then, please, just STOP. 

So, now what? You’ve taken my advice, you’ve stopped the potty training that is clearly not going well, what now? You can’t leave your kid in diapers forever. (Or could you? Sometimes diapers are just so convenient). But seriously, most schools require a child to be potty trained so the “Diapers forever!!” approach isn’t going to work. 

I suggest just pretending like the whole potty training thing never happened. Come back to it in a few months once your kid is a bit older, and you’ve had a chance to develop a strategy that works for you and your child. I’m not going to suggest that my strategy is the absolute best. I’m sure there are many approaches that have worked for many kids. But, having potty trained two very different kids, both in less than a day, I know it does not have to be a long, drawn-out, miserable, makes you want to pull all your hair out, process. 

When the kid is ready, and the technique effective, it should be easy and quick. I’ve talked to a lot of other moms and they agree that all kids get to a point when they are “ready.” That time is different for every kid. And yes, if you push it before they’re really ready, you will eventually be successful, but will it be worth it? Will it have been worth the tears and frustration? It should not be an agonizing process. It should be a process that ends in lots of high fives for your little one (perhaps a few too many M&Ms) and the glorious realization that you now have a little extra money in the bank every month! And no, your kid isn’t potty trained if that extra money is being spent on Febreeze, pull-ups, and laundry detergent. Nope, you should be able to take that extra cash and enjoy a few extra lattes. You’ve earned it. 

P.S. I am fully aware that because I wrote this and put it out in the world that my 3rd kid is going to be a nightmare to potty train. Either way, you can be sure I'll write about it. 

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