Sipping the Select Sport Kool-Aid

6.11.16

Sometimes modern parenting feels a little bit like a competitive sport. Parents sign their kids up for organized sports at age three or four. By age seven or eight, many kids are trying out for select teams and focusing on a single sport or activity year-round; some continue to play other sports for fun, but time and financial constraints make it difficult for most kids to really focus on more that one select sport at a time.

I was raised to be well-rounded, not particularly outstanding at any specific sport or activity. My mom signed me up for weekly piano lessons, swim team, ballet and jazz classes, tennis and golf clinics, and YMCA soccer and basketball (one season to be exact)… We went on family vacations, where I learned to get by snow skiing and scuba diving. She sent me to summer camp, so that I could learn to water ski, shoot arrows and make lanyards… I never developed a drive to pursue any one sport or activity with focused ambition. But, I am thankful for the exposure and for my privileged, low-pressure childhood.

To be honest, I struggle a little bit with this new approach to childhood sports and activities. I think if you’re raising a driven kid who naturally falls in love with one particular sport, it makes perfect sense. If not, it’s nice to let kids shop the spectrum of sports before narrowing their focus. And, if the focus never narrows, I see value in being well-rounded. I like options.

I also recognize that being well-rounded does not always make the cut in high school…especially in today’s competitive youth sports world, where even select players can get cut from high school teams. Although select sports were not really around when I was growing up, there were kids who fell in love with a particular sport and worked really hard to be great at it.

When I was a freshman in high school, I tried out and was cut from my high school tennis team. My weekly clinics simply did not prepare me to compete with the girls who trained so much harder and spent their summers competing in the Missouri Valley. Maybe if I’d given up some of my other activities and really focused on tennis my outcome may have been different? Maybe not? Luckily, I was able to find other ways to get involved in high school (which is the ultimate goal for my three children).

A couple years ago, my daughter declared that dance was her thing. She loved, loved, loved ballet and wanted to work at becoming a better dancer. Following her lead, I enrolled her in a conservatory dance program at a small studio with excellent teachers; I kept encouraging her to keep playing soccer and basketball with her friends at school. A year later, she asked to audition for the Junior Repertory Ensemble, a performance group affiliated with our local professional ballet company. With the encouragement of her teacher, I let her try out and she’s spent the last year performing at various venues around our community. This year (after much discussion about how making the dance team will limit her ability to continue to play recreational sports with her classmates), she auditioned and earned a spot on her studio’s competitive dance team. She’s incredibly motivated to work hard and to see where this new experience will take her. I am excited for her, but a little nervous about closing the “well-rounded approach to childhood” chapter.

Last night, I attended one of her recitals at a local senior living center. The image of pure joy that was reflected on her face as she performed made me feel at peace with her decision… well really our decision to take a sip of the select sport Kool-Aid. I truly believe that part of growing up is discovering what brings you joy and makes you feel alive. Each person’s recipe is unique. There is something incredibly rewarding about watching your child discover his or her thing and pursue it with purpose.

Teachable Moments: Finding the Good in the Bad

6.3.16

Sometimes it feels like you are sailing though life…loving your family, making new friends and feeling authentically happy. That is how I would describe the first weeks of summer: filled with sunshine and freedom.

My kids feel relieved to have a break from the rigors and routines of the school year. They’ve been enjoying long and lazy days, filled with unscheduled stretches of time that allow them to read books, play Legos and pick up spontaneous games of kickball with the neighborhood kids. This week, swim team practice and tennis clinics began; it’s felt good to add a little structure to our days… In short, our summer has been filled with abundant blessings.

Yesterday, I had a reality check when I walked into a situation where a pack of boys was treating one of my kids with cruelty. My child was asking “Why?” and was being laughed at as I walked up and stood next to him. The kids stopped and looked at me, wondering what I was going to do. I simply put my hand on my child’s shoulder and said that it was time to go home. As we walked away, I wondered if I handled the situation correctly…

This event completely sucked the wind out of my sails. My mom’s old saying describes my feelings perfectly: “You are only as happy as your saddest child.” I just cannot shake this overwhelming sense of sadness.

When your kids are toddlers and have a “booboo,” you can kiss the pain away. As they grow up, you become more of a passive spectator…a fan, cheering for them to make the right choices and to pick the right friends. You are backstage, making sure that they feel loved and supported at home; but, you realize that most of their daily experiences are completely out of your control.

Growing up is hard. Everyone wants to fit in and to be accepted. Some kids struggle more than others to find friends that click. Although I desperately wish that I could turn back the hands of time and prevent the ugly incident from happening, my hope is that this will become a teachable moment. From it, I hope that my child will learn to pick his friends more carefully. I hope that he will choose to fill his life with kids that make him feel happy and who can appreciate all of the qualities that I love most about him.

I need to let go and to move on with the understanding that all of the boys involved are also growing up and learning who they are and who they want to become. What I witnessed was a snapshot in time, not their defining story. Maybe my intrusion will create a teachable moment for them, too? Who knows? It’s time for me to focus on my blessings and to enjoy the short season of summer.

 

My Frenemies: Diet Coke and Facebook

 

5.23.16

Ever since high school, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Diet Coke. Despite its truly terrible taste, I’ve craved this cold, sweet and carbonated source of caffeine for more than two decades. When I was in college at KU, I loved taking study breaks and driving to Kwik in my roommate’s convertible for a 32-ounce fountain drink. I’d bring my refillable plastic cup, plop down 49 cents and leave with a genuine sense of happiness. Over the years, I’ve cut back on my Diet Coke consumption and at times eliminated it completely. But, there are moments of weakness when I miss my old “frenemy.”

If I’m honest with myself, I know that anything with that many artificial ingredients cannot be good for me. I know that although it has zero calories, it increases my hunger and makes me feel bloated. I know that I’m healthier without it as a daily habit…

I recently realized that I have a similar relationship with Facebook. I love it because it makes me feel connected to friends that live across the country. I’ve enjoyed watching the kids from our old playgroups in North Carolina grow from preschoolers into fifth and sixth graders. I feel closer to my Facebook friends who live in different parts of the country than to those who I only connect with via Christmas cards each year.

On the other hand, I know that Facebook can be a little fake; some friends portray a perfect life rather than an authentic one. It can also be hurtful; I’ve had my own feelings genuinely bruised by seemingly innocent photographs depicting  birthday parties and get together that excluded one of my kids or even me. And, although I celebrate my friends’ achievements, it can make me feel inadequate…like I’m just not quite measuring up to my accomplished friends with incredibly talented offspring…

For all of these reasons, I decided to give up Facebook and to “go dark” last January. It was a little bit like giving up Diet Coke; at first, I really missed it and felt out of the loop…I didn’t know what to do with my iPhone when I was caught up on e-mail and still waiting in one of my many carpool lines… But, over time I stopped missing it and realized that my life was richer because I had more time to write and to focus on actual connections with close friends.

I recently set up a Facebook page for GratefulandAuthentic.com, so I found myself back on Facebook. The experience has felt a lot like pulling away from Kwik with a 32 ounce cup of Diet Coke: I feel happy to reconnect and follow the highlights of my friends’ lives and to read the inspirational articles that they share. But, I also feel a little bit conflicted because I know that it may not always be good for my heart.

I am an “all or nothing” kind of person. But the farther I travel along my life’s path, the more I understand that not everything needs to be consumed in extremes or eliminated completely. It’s okay to allow yourself an occasional treat (in the form of a Diet Coke or Facebook session), but too much of anything can turn a positive into a negative – it’s all about moderation.

Can you relate?  What are your frenemies?

 

Treasure or Trash?

5.16.16

I spent my childhood chasing golden trophies, wooden plaques and blue ribbons. The bookcase in my old bedroom was lined with gleaming statuettes of poised swimmers and golfers; my bulletin board displayed ribbons and medals, each one representing countless hours of hard work and determination. As a young girl, I considered these awards to be my most prized possessions.

My parents are in the process of downsizing, so I spent this past weekend trying to pack all of the remnants of my childhood into a single tote that will go into my own basement (where it will likely collect dust for the next 30 years). I approached the project with the attitude that I would simply put all of my old stuff into the dumpster and move on with my day; my own storage room is a disorganized mess and the thought of adding anything else to this massive project is overwhelming.

However, as I started to sort through the boxes labeled “Kara,” I found it difficult to separate the memories from the things. I found myself saving essays written by my fourth grade self about what my life would look like when I grew up. (It included long-forgotten dreams of living in New York City with my handsome husband and adopted twins; I did not want to have kids.) I lost track of time as I went through my elementary school class photos, looking at all of the young, familiar faces of old friends and beloved teachers. And, I felt joy as I discovered my long-lost, complete set of Garbage Pail Kids! The idea of consolidating my childhood into a single box suddenly seemed draining.

So, I started with my big, bulky trophies and tossed them into the trash bin. Next, my plaques and a large zip lock bag filled with ribbons from my old swim team. It made me a little sad to see them go, but I realized that they had served their purpose and that I really don’t have space for them in my life.

As I prioritized what would stay and what would go, I found myself placing more value on my childhood journey than my accomplishments. I couldn’t part with the Garbage Pail Kids that I spent countless recesses trading with my best friend Kelly, my reflective essays with thoughtful comments by Mr. Hall (my favorite English teacher), or a single photograph. I know that there is value in setting goals and working towards them, but the real treasures of my childhood don’t include any awards for “Best Sportsmanship” or “Hardest Worker.” The real treasures of my childhood are simply childhood itself: The friends I made, the time I spent with family and the love that was given and received…all things that cannot fit in a box.

I hope that I can keep this perspective as I coach my kids through their young lives. Yes, it’s important to work hard and to maximize your potential…to set goals and to go after them. But, it’s equally important to enjoy the journey: To develop close friendships and to foster relationships with family. Because in a blink, they’ll be sorting through their own dusty boxes from my basement and wondering if their childhood treasures are trash or antiques?!?

 

5 Lessons My Mom Unintentionally Taught Me

5.8.16

When my oldest was in the throes of the “terrible twos,” I went to his pediatrician seeking advice and perhaps a self-help book recommendation or two. His response? “Don’t worry, he will be fine. Great parents are positive role models. They teach kindness, good manners and healthy habits by example. He will watch and learn. It really is that simple.”

I left his office feeling both relieved and intimidated. I had just been handed a prescription for a lifetime of good behavior (no pressure).

On Mother’s Day, I find myself reflecting on his advice and considering all of the things that I learned from my own mom, just by observing the way she lives her life.  Here are five life lessons she taught me (in no particular order):

Be Generous.  I was raised by a mom who always fought her friends for the bill; I never saw her offer to split anything. As a kid, I thought this was how it was done. As an adult, I can see that she’s exceptional. I love that she taught me that it’s more important to give than to receive.

My mom is also generous with her time.  As a young girl, I loved having her volunteer at my school; she was a regular room mother and served as the Community Club President.  I grew up watching her volunteer in our community, supporting local non-profits that were important to her.  She taught me that you can make the world a better place; you just have to go out and do it.

Be Proud.  I remember watching my mom carefully print “homemaker” as her occupation, when filling out paperwork for school or the doctor. At the time, I wondered why she didn’t write “stay-at-home mom” or leave it blank? Now that I stay home with my own kids and struggle to do everything well, I appreciate the pride that she took in her title. She was the one who made our house a home that was welcoming, tidy, organized and always stocked with nutritious food and fresh laundry. Without her love and devotion, it really would just be a house.

Pray.  I think one of the most challenging things about being a mom is that as much as you want your kids to succeed, you can’t do it for them. I was the child that constantly put myself out there. I wanted to be president of my elementary school’s student council. I wanted to be the lead in the school musical, despite my complete lack of talent. I wanted to win the district speech contest year after year… I think my mom would have been more comfortable with me avoiding risk and any chance of disappointment, but she supported and encouraged me…and she prayed for me A LOT. She taught me that I should work hard and pray hard.

Shop Sales.  My mom made shopping a game. The goal: to achieve the greatest value while spending as little as possible. She taught me to shop sales and to clip coupons. To this day, I rarely purchase anything that is not on sale or the best price available. My dad, who is an avid golfer, explained it this way: “For your mom, finding a really good deal is like getting a birdie or eagle; it generates the same amount of excitement. Bargain hunting is like a sport for the women in our family.”

Collect Friends. When my husband first met my mom, he commented: “Your mom has incredible social graces.” He’s correct. Rather than collecting trophies, my mom collects friends. She treasures old friendships, while expanding her circle to include new ones. She keeps their social calendar full, which makes her heart happy. For her, relationships are life’s most important treasure.

I think that my son’s pediatrician was right: children learn by what they observe. This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my mom and all of the lessons she taught me when she didn’t know I was watching. I am truly blessed to have been raised by the mom I aspire to be.

Happy Mother’s Day! xo Kara

 

 

 

 

Life is all about collecting new experiences.

4.28.16

Sometimes an off-handed remark can challenge your way of thinking.

I recently traveled to Kansas City with my daughter’s dance group, so she could participate in workshops at various studios and perform at different venues around the city. While our daughters were dancing, the mothers made small talk.

As the weekend went on, we moved past our daughters’ dance resumes and started to have more real conversations. As I was talking with an intelligent attorney and mother-of-three, she mentioned that her family was in the process of narrowing down where they’d like to live next. She explained that her company was relocating to another city and that her position would be ending within the year. I told her that it seemed exciting to plan a “second act” for her family. I asked her how the kids felt about moving and she said, “Life is all about collecting new experiences.” I nodded in agreement.

As I consider her philosophy on life, I realize that I’ve approached life from the opposite direction. Thinking back, most of my new life experiences have been unintentional. It’s not that I deliberately avoid them; I just feel more comfortable going with the tried and true.

I remember when my husband was in medical school and was interviewing for residencies around the country. On a whim, he applied to do his internal medicine year in Hawaii. We did a quick analysis of what the residency would cost us, factoring in my loss of income, the high cost of living and the incredible moving expenses. The value of collecting a new life experience was pushed aside for practical reasons. Our decision to stay put for his internal medicine year enabled us to save for a house and to get our feet on steadier financial ground, but it cost us the experience of living in Hawaii for a year. All of these years later, I find myself wondering if the money saved was worth the experience lost?

When it came time to interview for medical residencies around the country. I was supportive, but firmly in the “stay in the Midwest” camp. I reasoned that we’d be starting a family soon and that I wanted to be close to family. When my husband matched in North Carolina, it was a complete shock. I had never been to the state. I didn’t know anyone who lived there. It was 900 miles away from Kansas City. And, it was the best thing that ever happened to us. This life experience was the ultimate, unexpected gift.

When we decided to move back to Omaha, I wanted my children to grow up near my childhood home and to attend the same elementary school. I hoped they’d enjoy swimming on my old swim team and develop a mild interest in tennis, so they could play with their dad. Eight years later, I am shooting zero for three: My elementary school was not the right fit. None of my kids embraced competitive swimming. And, the simple question, “Anyone up for tennis?” is consistently met with unanimous groans and eye rolls. In other words, despite my intentions, my children have forced new experiences on me; I’m grateful for them.

I’ve learned that as much as I’d like for my children to enjoy everything that I loved about my childhood and to embrace the interests that my husband and I share, you can’t force a square peg in a round hole; they will follow their own hearts. I need to meet them where they are, not where I want them to be. My son will choose books and robotics over organized sports every time. Given the opportunity, my daughter would spend all of her free time dancing. My youngest loves Legos, sports and learning right now; I look forward to following his journey as he discovers “his thing(s).” By following my children’s lead (not my own plans), our family will collect new experiences, friends and pieces of wisdom along the way.

Looking back, I can see that my accidental collection of new experiences has exponentially increased my own happiness throughout the course of my life. In the future, I will try to be more intentional about collecting new life experiences and supporting of my husband and children when they don’t choose the tried and true route through life. Collecting new life experiences requires a little leap of faith, but the risk is worth the reward.

Do you deliberately collect new life experiences or do you tend to choose things that are familiar? Why? Thanks for sharing your thoughts; your feedback is the fun part.  🙂  Kara

Ten Birthday Wishes for My Daughter

4.20.16

Today, my daughter turns ten. Today, she celebrates her first double-digit birthday. Today, she officially becomes a “tween.”

A tween is defined as “a youngster between 10 and 12 years of age, considered too old to be a child and too young to be a teenager.” There is something bittersweet about watching your daughter close one chapter and begin a new one. It marks the passing of time for both of us. Ever since she was a baby, I’ve been told that girls are easy when they are little, but everything gets flipped upside down as they enter their teen years. Although I want to reject this advice, I understand that this sweet stage may not last forever.

As I watch my daughter make a wish and blow out the candles on her cake, I find myself making wishes for her, too.

Here are ten wishes for my daughter on her tenth birthday:

  1. Develop Drama-Free Friendships. My sister always tells me to “fill up your life with good stuff.” I think that’s especially true about friendships. Fill your life with friends who make you feel happy and secure…friends who like you just the way you are, no improvements needed…friends who won’t ever put conditions on your friendship or make you feel pushed to do things you don’t want to do… My wish for you is that you will find true friends who will encourage you to be you (and love you for it).
  1. Take Chances. I know that you want to succeed at everything you do. But, don’t be afraid to fail. Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Then, put yourself out there and go for it. You are more talented than you realize. And, you are more resilient, too. It’s tempting to always play it safe and to avoid disappointments. If you don’t try, you may not reach your true potential. My wish for you is that you won’t be afraid to chase big dreams.
  1. You Don’t Have To Be Perfect. I can see that you are a little bit of a perfectionist. I’m not sure where that comes from. 😉 Speaking from experience, the problem with being a perfectionist is that no one is perfect; it’s unachievable. So, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly. Everyone makes mistakes. And, I love you because you are you – not because you do everything so well! My wish for you is to know that you are loved without conditions; nothing could make me love you less.
  1. Don’t Take Life (Or Yourself) Too Seriously. Often, your wit catches me off guard and I find myself wondering where your wonderful sense of humor came from? (Not me!) You are able to be silly and to laugh at yourself. I hope that you will never outgrow this trait because it makes the world a happier place. My wish for you is that you will never lose your sense of humor.
  1. Never Forget Your Nine-Year-Old Self. Remember our trip to Chicago to celebrate your ninth birthday? Remember the first time you walked down Michigan Avenue? At first, the enormous skyscrapers, the roar of the traffic, and all of the people amazed you; then you encountered a needy person, asking for money. You stopped and opened your little purse and handed him one of your precious five-dollar bills – a large percentage of the birthday money that you’d saved for the trip. The smile on the man’s face lit up your own and warmed my heart. As we walked to the next corner you stopped again and repeated your act of generosity. After crossing the street, you met another person in need of help; at that point you realized that you were quickly running out of money… So, you asked if you could share your lunch and dinner with them? I’ve always been proud of you, but this stands out as one of my very proudest mom moments. My wish for you is that you will hold onto your generous, caring spirit.
  1. Be Confident in Your Natural Beauty. Over the next few years, you are going to hear a lot about what it means to be beautiful. I hope you always remember that true beauty shines from the inside out – it can’t be purchased in glossy tubes or beautiful bottles. Beauty is revealed in your words and your actions. My wish for you is that you will never conceal your natural beauty.  
  1. Don’t Be A Sheep. You are one-of-a-kind. You were given your own mind, so never be afraid to use it. I know that you have a strong moral compass, with it as your guide – you will steer clear of trouble. If you are uncomfortable with the direction your crowd is moving, have the courage to step outside. It will seem scary, but the consequences of making dangerous, unhealthy choices can be much more devastating. My wish for you is that you will always have the courage to make your own choices.
  1. No Hurry to Meet Prince Charming. I know you still say, “Ewww!” at the end of Disney cartoons, when the prince and princess kiss and go off to live happily ever after. But, one day your attitude may change. When/if it does, I hope that you set your bar high, knowing that you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness at all times; never settle for anything less. I hope that you’ll take the time to find yourself first. It’s okay to be a little selfish when you’re young: to focus on your goals, interests and dreams first. My wish for you is that when you’re old enough to date, you will have the confidence to be extremely selective.
  1. Say “Thank You.” We all have been given far more than we deserve. Focus on what you have, rather than what you lack. My wish for you is that you will always take time to count your blessings…and share them with others.
  1. Be Yourself. Discover what makes you happy (not me or anyone else). I truly believe that we all have a purpose and the sooner we discover it, the better. My wish for you is that you will have the courage to be authentically you.

Happy, happy tenth birthday, dear daughter!

May all of your wishes and my wishes come true!

xo Mom

 

 

 

2016 Liebster Award

I want to thank Patricia Mitchell, blogger at Fitness for Life, for nominating me to receive the 2016 Liebster Award. Please check out her inspiring blog at https://newfit40.wordpress.com.

Here are the rules:

award-rules.png

My responses to Patricia’s questions:  

1. What made you decide to start a blog? I recently made the decision to focus on my blessings, rather than my life’s imperfections, and to strive to live a more authentic life. My blog reflects this mission (struggle).

2.  How did you discover your life path/career? To be honest, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I realize that I’m running out of time! I really believe that you can have everything, but not all at once. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a career and to have been able to stay home with my kids when they were little. Right now, I’m trying to enjoy my last days with a preschooler. Not sure, what’s next…

3.  What brings you joy? Peace and Harmony. I am happiest when my family is enjoying each other. Sibling squabbles make me crazy…actually all squabbling makes me miserable.

4.  What is your favorite movie? Why? I think it’s a toss-up between Annie, Grease and Frozen. I really like musicals with happy endings.

5.  Who inspires you and why? I can’t really name one source of inspiration. I find it in the strength and wisdom of my friends and husband, off-handed comments made by my children and sometimes even strangers I encounter throughout the day.

6.  What is your favorite restaurant and favorite meal there? The mere mention of the word Chipotle makes my kids groan.  I could eat a chicken burrito/bowl for every meal. It just never gets old.

7.  What hobbies do you enjoy? Photography. I recently learned how to use the manual settings on my camera and am addicted. I love taking photos of my kids; I am also working to provide more original photographs for my blog, too. Ÿ Tennis. I just started playing in a doubles league with a dear friend. It’s been so much fun! I love learning the strategy and the opportunity to work at a new skill. Ÿ Books. My idea of a perfect vacation involves a quiet place with a stack of books. In my real life, I don’t allow myself to read as much as I’d like because once I start a book, everything else on my to do list doesn’t get done…

8.  Who or what inspires your blogs? Life. My blog has turned into a form of therapy for me; it allows me to explore the lessons that life is trying to teach me.

9.  What’s number one on your bucket list? I actually already crossed it off. When we lived in North Carolina, I really, really wanted to go to the Outer Banks and to see the wild horses. At the time, there were a million reasons why we couldn’t swing the trip. To celebrate our 40th birthdays, my husband and I took our kids to Carova – a 4 x 4 beach at the Northern tip of the Outer Banks and stayed for a week. It was my favorite vacation to date. We unplugged and played together as a family. In the evenings, we’d track the horses and play board games. It was incredibly recharging to get away from our everyday responsibilities and to just be a family.

10.  What’s your favorite splurge/cheat meal? I have absolutely no will power when it comes to monster cookie dough. When I bake, I typically sneak enough of it to count as a meal!

11.  When did you start your blog? I started my blog three months ago, as one of my New Year’s Resolutions. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that it’s stuck.

I nominate the following bloggers for the Liebster award:

  1. https://hebroughtmeicecream.com
  2. https://stephenaroth.wordpress.com
  3. https://rebeccaburtram.com
  4. https://hey40blog.com
  5. https://writeandamuse.wordpress.com
  6. https://tolivealifelessordinaryblog.wordpress.com

Here are my questions for the nominees:

  1. Why did you decide to start a blog?
  2. What inspired your blog’s name?
  3. How long have you been blogging?
  4. What is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
  5. If you could have any super power, what would it be?
  6. What has surprised you most about adulthood?
  7. What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
  8. What is your favorite book?
  9. What is your greatest blessing?
  10. What is your favorite television show?
  11. What is your favorite quote?

Love or Approval?

4.5.16

This weekend, I had dinner with a dear friend; she mentioned that she felt like the Universe had a very specific message for her: It was time for her to stop pleasing others and to start pleasing herself. She said that she’d heard the same theme over and over throughout the day… My husband chuckled and said, “I think that message is for Kara, too.”

I confess that I am a pleaser. I’ve always thought that this trait made me thoughtful and unselfish. But, now I’m wondering what makes pleasing others so important to me?

I’ve spent my entire life believing that love is conditional. In order to be loved (or even liked), I must please those who are closest to me. I don’t think that this was a lesson that I was ever taught, just a core belief that I’ve held as long as I can remember…

In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen writes: “Of course love is never earned. It is a grace we give one another. Anything we need to earn is only approval.”

I love this quote. I am embarrassed to admit that I have never conscientiously separated love and approval before. But, they are definitely two very different things.

It is critical that my children know that they are loved by me without conditions. Of course, I want them to try to maximize the gifts that they’ve been given. Of course, I want them to make choices that will set them on a path leading to a happy, healthy life. Of course, I want them to do what I want, but these are not conditions that must be met in order to receive my love. I will love them even if I don’t approve of all of their choices. It is critical that they understand that love and approval are two different things.

The truth is that as much as I believe that I know what’s best for each of my kids, I may not. I want to raise strong, independent children who consider others’ feelings, but are capable of pleasing themselves, too – without guilt.

Ultimately, I want my kiddos to live authentic lives that bring them happiness and success. In order for them to achieve these things, it is entirely possible that my husband and I may need to get out of their way as they grow into independent young adults.

 

 

More is Not More

 

3.30.16

It’s easy to believe that more is more…bigger is better… I spent my 20s and early 30s in a perpetual state of delayed gratification, focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel.

If I could travel back in time about 15 years, I’d tell myself to stop looking ahead and to enjoy the abundance of today. Enjoy the challenge of clipping coupons, shopping at consignment sales and the thrill of keeping your checkbook out of the red each month. Enjoy your cozy house, with your sweet little family snuggled up on your old, broken-in couch. Treasure your friends who share your struggles and make you laugh (sometimes through your tears). Daydream about the future, but know that you are living your dream.

I spent last week on Spring Break, skiing with my family in Steamboat, Colorado; this is my husband’s and oldest son’s “happy place.” It made me consider if our lives would be happier if we lived there year-round? Would the laid-back, Colorado lifestyle benefit my type-a, hard-charging husband? Would my son be happier if he could ski all winter, rather than a few days a year? Would my husband be happier if he could fly fish and hike on his days off rather than once a year? Would more be more?

To date, my life experiences have taught me that more is not more:

Stuff. I’ve just finished hauling loads of my kids’ outgrown clothes and toys to our school’s annual garage sale. While collecting our donation, I stood in my own closet and realized that I have worn the same five tops and two pairs of jeans over and over, while my closet is full of dusty clothes that date back to college. I rounded up boxes of holiday decorations that my mom gave me because she no longer wanted them; I’ve moved them from our apartment in Kansas to our house in North Carolina to our house in Nebraska and never displayed them… There is something incredibly liberating about defining what is essential and eliminating everything else.

Attention. When I decided to stay home with my kids, I approached motherhood as a full-time job. I worked everyday to provide enrichment activities for my first two children (19 months apart), taking them to book babies at the library and the local children’s museum regularly, playing with them on the floor and reading to them for hours on end. Consequently, my kids always looked to me to be their entertainer. When my youngest son was born 4 ½ years later, our family’s full schedule did not allow me to give him the same level of focus. And guess what? He learned to entertain himself. He has an incredible imagination and an easy-going personality. You can argue about nature vs. nurture, but I believe that he’s thrived under my non-intentional “less attention is more” approach to motherhood the third time around.

Kids’ activities. With three kids, it’s easy to let you family’s calendar get totally out of control with various lessons, practices and games. Initially, it takes time to expose your kids to all of the extracurricular activities out there. Eleven years into this parenting thing, I firmly believe that you can’t do everything and do it all well. Now, I challenge my kids to follow their interests and to make choices. It’s so easy to overschedule; it really benefits no one.

Volunteer commitments. I am a “yes” person and always up for a new challenge. These traits have made me a target for lots of opportunities requiring free labor. My volunteer work has served as a positive outlet in my life; it’s allowed me to get outside of the house and to use my professional skills to raise money for non-profits that enrich my community. It can be stressful and time-consuming in the days and weeks leading up to a big event, which can be annoying to my family. Experience has taught me to limit my “yeses.” Defining my focus keeps me from spreading myself too thin and allows me to better balance my needs with those of my family.

I guess that my conclusion is simple: life is a balancing act. More of one thing can mean less of another. Moving to your “happy place” seems like it would make your life happier. But, it would also mean moving away from all of the things that currently bring you joy: family, friends, teachers, coaches, neighbors and church (to name a few). Happiness is about focusing on your abundant blessings, which if you stop to count often multiply.