Monday, May 7, 2018

Building Trust: Listen

A friend recently described today's youth as without morals. Negative experiences or lack of power can cause any of us to express ourselves in risky ways. Those who work with troubled youth see it every day. It's a cry for help. We watch for signs of mental illness, anxiety, and depression. The opposite of risky is positive risk-taking. Risk-taking is a normal part of child/teen development. This is part of them separating from us. The key is to support and even create opportunities for positive risk-taking.

 In the Fire Next Time, James Baldwin describes how youth handle burgeoning emotions. It's not a lack of morals. It's trying to find a place to put all the emotions and thoughts you don't understand. Baldwin chooses between the streets and the church. The church doesn't help him understand the guilt he's carrying from his emotions. It helps him cover it up. I haven't finished the audiobook. At this point, he's still preaching.

Trust is the foundation of every relationship. Trust is risky. Our children want to trust us with their thoughts and emotions. When they can't, they're trusting their bodies and minds to people who misuse and abuse them. They might engage in risky behaviors. We can't reduce them to the simplest denominator. Us versus them. Moral vs. amoral. They're waiting for us to engage them.

We earn trust. It requires intimacy. We started earning it the minute our children were born. The key is sustaining this trust. Listening is part of trusting. I don't always listen. We were having a problem with gnats. My sons tried to tell me they were coming from our houseplants. I cleaned out the fruit, made sure there was no standing water, only to discover the plants were the cause. Listening is hard. How many times have I started fussing only to learn I had the wrong the end of the stick because I failed to listen?

The inability to listen is the cause for many of our parenting woes. Find the habits that keep you from listening. Eye rolls and dismissive words trigger me. I go on the defense. I'm quick to say, "Don't get it twisted, I'm not one of your little friends."

Stop listening to find fault. I can tear my child's thought process apart. Is that how I want to interact with my child? Sometimes we need to shut-up.

Listen to support and encourage. Don't wait for your turn to launch an attack. Unless you're psychic, you can't be certain of what your child is going to say.

Listen to your child's action and not only their words. Body language is important. Actions speak louder than words. Listen pass a fake smile or anger to the heart of the matter. Listen pass the "amoral" behavior. Whatever that means.

Listen to your child's desire for increased independence. This might manifest itself through power struggles. Parents have to know when to let go. Children mistake risky acts for the need for risk-taking. They will take control in any form presented to them. Letting go gives children more decision-making power. We need to support and encourage positive risk-taking. We need to be risk-takers. If you're homeschooling, unschooling, or engaged in self-directed education, you're a risk-taker. Extend this same risk-taking to building trust and listening. How do you encourage positive risk-taking?

Friday, May 4, 2018

Self-Discovery: Trust

"The best proof of love is trust." Joyce Brothers*

Every path to self-discovery requires trust. We have trust issues. We don't trust the education system to teach our children. We don't trust the courts and police to deal fairly with our children. We leave our children in the hands of an angry God. Many of us can't even trust the medical system to assist us with healthy and safe childbirth. We don't trust society in general to accept our children. We don't trust our children to dress themselves or know when they're hungry. We don't trust our abilities to parent them safely to adulthood. Fear of what will happen to our children keeps us from trusting them to direct their own learning. Fear and trust can't occupy the same space.

We use fear tactics to control our children. College becomes the key to all things beautiful, equal, and successful. We try to mold and shape our children into an image of acceptability. Maybe this will keep those who do not respect our bodies away. No black hoodies for our children. We quiet our children so they don't attract attention. We can never be good enough to those harboring hate. Society already has its own ideas of who our children are. It's more important that our children know who they are and walk in that truth. This takes trust.

Self-discovery takes years. We start our children and ourselves on this path as soon as they're born. My pediatrician encouraged us to let my firstborn cry a little longer every night to get him to sleep alone. Do you know how ridiculous that sounds? Even potty training didn't need to be as difficult as I made it. I didn't trust my son would use the toilet on his own. I didn't consider his readiness for certain tasks. I improved with each child. As our children mature, they should learn more and more about themselves. They don't need to wait until their 20's and beyond to find themselves. Why are people's 20's, 30's, and sometimes 40's consumed with finding themselves? Is it because they were never given the space to form their own identities, ideas, and opinions when young?

The closer we get to forty we start thinking death and bucket lists. Why does it take so long for us to become comfortable in our own skins? Mad props to those who've always been comfortable. It takes some of us a little longer to let go of the fear. What if you had trusted your abilities and decision-making at an earlier age? What if you had been willing to make more mistakes in your youth? It's a lot harder to make mistakes or recover from mistakes with you have a family or bills.

Make wise use of your child's youth. Step outside of your comfort zone. Refuse to diminish your child for a society that might not accept them anyway. I understand every parent doesn't operate the same way. Every year I fight new fears. My 16-year-old is preparing to test for his learner's permit. My children are going more places without my presence. This is scary. Life offers no guarantees. Somehow trust must grow and thrive. We build our trust in our children by giving them decision-making power. We build their trust in themselves by giving them decision-making power. Freedom within boundaries.

*Quote from

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Self-Discovery: Religion

"No one can travel your own road for you; you must travel it for yourself. My faith in this stems from my childhood. I grew up in a family with a system of religious beliefs handed down to me." Amy Tan*
I loved attending church as a child. I enjoyed Easter speeches and dinners on the grounds during homecoming. My aunt and cousins were my Sunday School teachers. I don't have any trauma connected with attending church or its teachings. I don't remember in-depth biblical teachings from my younger years. It was a time to see my cousins. I knew we'd visit my maternal granddad or paternal grandma after church. A stop by my great-aunt's house netted us bologna sandwiches and sun tea. It was family time.

I stopped regularly attending church when I went to college. It was now my choice. If you lived in my mom's house, you attended church. Regardless of age. When I graduated and returned home, I attended church. When I enrolled in graduate school and lived with my aunt and uncle, I attended church. When I moved into my own apartment and married, I still felt obligated to attend.

How many have heard "if you live in my house you're going to church"? Church has been very important to our culture and community. The Civil Rights Movement is pretty important. It's where many of us developed our public speaking voices. Many of our elders had no authority unless they were in church. It's where the people encouraged us all the way to adulthood.

I want my children to choose how they express their religious beliefs. My husband and I are not on the same page. My husband is a preacher. I teach a Bible Study class and hold a church office. Church feels more like an obligation or one more thing to check off the day for me. I'm more of an introvert, so I don't always like the company of large groups of people. I need a mental health day. My children aren't given the opportunity to stay home unless they're sick.

My 14 and 16-year olds need space to decide for themselves what they believe. They need to determine how church factors into supporting those beliefs. There is space for all my children to question and analyze their beliefs. They're encouraged to question. We want them to ask us the tough questions. I want to understand their struggles. I'm deconstructing my faith. I don't know how it'll look when it's reconstructed. I don't know what my children's faith will look like. Will they choose to attend church once they're away from home? Will they remain Christians? Whatever they decide should come from a place of authentic worship, not force.

I've spent a lot of years in the Christian faith because of other people and fear. Fear of hell. Fear of not having friends. Fear of my kids not having friends. Fear of affecting my husband's ministry. This is bigger than forced church attendance. It's operating from the premise that we can choose the relationship our children have with God or the idea of God. When do our children take charge of their own spirituality? Shouldn't we be able to live our lives before our children and transmit the worthiness of our ideas? No force necessary.

*Quote from

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Self-Discovery: Emotions

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart” ― Helen Keller*
In Living with Intensity, editors Susan Daniels, Ph. D & Michael M. Piechowski, Ph. D. use Dabrowski's theory of developmental potential to address "heightened excitability and hyperstimulation" found in some gifted children and adults (p. 8). Overexcitability is an innate tendency to respond in an intensified manner to various forms of stimuli, both external and internal (p. 8). The five areas of overexcitability are psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional. This means "life is experienced in a manner that is deeper, more vivid, and more acutely sensed" (p.9).

Is your child allowed to experience emotions? When I grew up, my dad would say, "Stop crying before I give you something to cry about." A look would reduce me to tears. A sharp word was almost unbearable. No one took the time to try and understand my sensitivities. Adults in my life thought I'd outgrow them. I didn't outgrow them; I learned to hide them.

When my parents divorced when I was around 11, I promised myself I'd never cry again. I kept that promise to myself well into my 20's. I, nor my siblings, ever showed anger to my parents by yelling or anything like that. I never saw a Black child yelling at her parents. You didn't talk back either. Try rolling your eyes, and you might pick them up off the floor. Temper tantrums, get real. Our children need positive mentors and support. Many of us are not equipped to help our children. We can't share tools that we don't have. We/They need to be able to speak up and speak out in a positive manner. They'll make mistakes along the way. So will we.

Our children practice their voices and emotions with us. If their emotions are too big for us, how do we expect them to handle their own emotions? I wasn't even very adept at identifying my emotions until my twenties. Sarcasm I could do. Sarcasm covered anger, disappointment, and embarrassment- and it still does. I would have bursts where I would feel the hurts and pains of the world. I didn't know how to channel this energy, so I'd tune it out.

I don't write poetry, and my bass clarinet is not an extension of my soul. Journaling has helped. We need to be able to trust each other with our joys, sadness, anger, and disappointments. Joy is the easiest to share. It's the other emotions we find difficult to exhibit and share. I tell my children it's okay to express anger. It's not okay to hit, throw, or demean. Some adults need to make this their mantra. I've thrown a Saxon math book across the room in response to my child's inability to understand a concept. How do they learn to express anger or sadness if they never show it? We are our children's safe havens for their emotions. It's also important for them to recognize physiological signs of emotions.

Children are not meant to handle our big emotions. This doesn't mean we never get angry. I have savage mom moments. I've spent the last couple of years working on not being a yeller. I've stopped mid-yell and shared with my kids that I don't even know why I'm yelling or using a particular tone of voice. I'll start over and express my frustrations in more positive manner. I like to think I'm successful more times than not. There are lines we should not cross. Physical, verbal, and emotional abuse are unacceptable. Seek professional help to get the tools you need to help yourself and your children.
“One thing you can't hide - is when you're crippled inside.” ― John Lennon*
Quotes from

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Creating Space for Self-Discovery

I saw this young man in the store. He had arched eyebrows, eyeshadow, and the most beautiful eyelashes. I wondered if his parents accepted him. How do we accept our children as human beings with their own ideas and ways of being? It's not always easy. How do we help them with self-discovery?

Is your son/daughter able to choose his/her own clothes or hairstyles? Looking back, my mom never commented on the clothes or changing hairstyles. My husband has grown in this area. He moved from disliking locs to supporting my 16-year-old son's decision to grow locs. My son decided to cut his hair yesterday, and my husband said they'd grown on him. Pink shirts are no longer a problem. My husband even has two.

 Is your child allowed to choose how she spends her time? Adults are good at scheduling other people's time. I never give my husband to do lists. His free time is not my time. Look at how your children choose to spend their time and what that tells you about them. This has been my toughest hurdle to cross. I love to stay busy. I have a hundred ways my children can show productivity.

It has taken everything in me to let my children sit for weeks at a time doing what I thought was nothing. I didn't/don't do this perfectly every day. There's a running joke of a particular spot on the couch having an imprint of my daughter's butt she sat so long. She joined Girls Who Code and has been building a website for the last couple of weeks. She's also knowledgeable of social justice issues, especially from the people's view. Instagram and personal blogs allow you insight into people's thoughts. News encompasses more than CNN, which she views as well. My boys started a Lego stop-motion channel. This involved hours of research. They watched cartoons, read graphic novels, and viewed other people's channels. They're discussing directing, set design, and writing simple scripts. Even my middle son's love of the TV show the Voice has resulted in a blog and an interest in Motown artists. This is writing for authentic purposes.

Is your child allowed to make mistakes? Your children won't take chances if they're afraid of your anger and criticism. They need to learn how to receive correction without it affecting their self-esteem. Mistakes are a part of life and learning. I hate making mistakes, and I am reluctant to try new things. I play the bass clarinet in a homeschool community band. I'd play low because out of fear of making a mistake. A friend encouraged me to play loud and wrong. The band director can't correct me if she can't hear me. I've seen my daughter improve in this area as well. It embarrassed her when the director corrected her. She'd get this funny look on her face. Now, she makes the necessary corrections and moves on.

Trust your child to complete a task in his or her own way when the steps to completion don't matter. I like the dishwasher stacked a certain way. I like my towels folded in flat squares and not fat ones.  I have a lot of preferred ways to complete a task, but does it matter? I have a well-known problem with wanting everything done my own. I force myself to keep my comments to myself. Most of the time this works. I still come back and rearrange the dishwasher.

Is your child allowed to eat when hungry or refuse food they don't like? My constant refrain: "You're not hungry? If you'd eat a proper dinner you wouldn't be hungry now. You need to drink some water. You're bored. Why can't you eat what I cook?" I've said this and more. I hate a dirty kitchen, and the constant in and out drives me crazy. The refrigerator is like a revolving door. It offends me when I take the time to cook, and they don't want it. It becomes my problem and not theirs. Too many adults don't even recognize the signs of satiation and hunger. Children need to experience these sensations for themselves. Can you even set a regular dinner time if everyone is not hungry at the same time?  We choose to share the same space during meals even if everyone chooses not to eat. The conversation and time spent together are the most important components.

Does your child choose his own reading material, movies, and music? We're navigating these waters with ages 11-16. We rarely ban books. Some may be inappropriate based on maturity level. I  have friends who decide what books their teens read and the movies they watch. My 14-year-old daughter can read up to 10 books or more a week. I can't review every book. She has to develop the ability to evaluate for herself. It's not a free for all. We look at who our children are and from there determine what's appropriate.We constantly share our values through the way we speak and live our lives. I know my 16-year-old listens to some artists I dislike. My husband and I stay in the loop, and let him know we're familiar with these artists and their works. We don't want them hiding material.

The more I deschool the more I notice it's usually my problems and issues. Change takes time if you're use to micromanaging. It's not hands-off, but creating freedom within boundaries. My goal is to do better each day. My next posts will look at emotions, religion, and trust as areas of self-discovery.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Black Panther: A World Unrealized, But Always Imagined

*Spoiler Alert*

My family and I went to see Black Panther on Sunday. I didn't have the highest expectations. I'm not a Marvel movie fan. I don't usually have the patience to sit through movies. I've been to known to nap through a few. Worse, I developed a headache during the movie. I kept telling myself, I'm not jumping on the movie watching band wagon. I took it as popular culture deeming it okay to be who we are in a fictitious world.

I viewed the movie as an opportunity to be part of a movement. My family and friends were going, and I wanted to join in the conversation. I loved the scenery, artistry, and actors. It didn't spark my interest until Killmonger reached Wakanda. I wanted a DC script with Marvel action. I wanted to delve more into Killmonger's character. I wanted a different resolution. My sons assure me in the comic books Killmonger has been resurrected many times. I left the movie caring less about T'Challa than expected.

I left a beautiful dream for a harsh reality. When I left that dream, a part of me was missing. It spoke to a piece of me that I don't always acknowledge. That's the hallmark of a film doing it's job. There is no respite from colonization. It's a constant battle to decolonize my mind. There is no Black Savior. How does Wakanda Forever change the here and now? It's the pain of this realization that kept me from fully enjoying this film. Former slaves and their descendents founded, established, and colonized Liberia. Abraham Lincoln suggested freeing all slaves and sending them to Liberia. Marcus Garvey advocated returning to Africa. It's hard to see even in a fictional way. Wakanda is a world unrealized but always imagined.

How much of this fervor will last until the next big movie? Wakanda gives us a vision of what may have been possible without colonization. How will affect the world beyond the movies? I hope it spurs others to learn more about African-American and African culture. It solidified everything some of us have have been preaching and teaching all along. It spoke to a deep need for representation. It spoke to a need for representation. It encouraged community.

Many young people saw themselves in this movie. They felt represented. It's important to see ourselves in mainstream media. My hope is that people also see themselves in the real world. I always tell my children you don't need to wait until you're an adult to begin living. You're in the real world, begin to do real things. The power of the media to foster and change perceptions is an awesome responsibility. We shouldn't waste the opportunity to create something lasting, beautiful, and wonderful.

More than anything, I've enjoyed the discussions surrounding the movie. My 12-year-old debated with a friend whether Killmonger was evil. My son said his methods may have been evil, but his hopes and goals were not. My daughter saw Killmonger's actions as the consequence of holding in your pain. This led to discussing how Black people connect over a shared cultural identity. The effects of colonization, as well as age and gender politics also came up. We discussed Dr. King and Malcolm X.

We saw bits and pieces of African culture dispersed throughout the movie. My children discussed Black Panther in their African History class. We asked them to analyze what they felt was accurate and inaccurate about the movie. One of the facilitators, who is from Liberia, encouraged us to remember Africa is not one people. It's divided into 54 countries with different governments. This division and its consequences is a whole 'nother matter. This division has little to do with a shared heritage, and are still felt today.

I enjoyed Black Panther for the discomfort and discussion it caused. Wakanda Forever! If only in spirit.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Creating a Space for Acceptance for Ideas

As my children grow older, I realize the need for space for them to explore their ideas without fear of ridicule. When they were younger they thought as we thought. Now, they share these half-formed ideas and thoughts that make us wonder. We have told one of them they're not making any sense. Usually, if we take the time to follow their thought processes we can find a connection.

So, I have a problem with my facial expressions. If my first thought is this is stupid, it shows up on my face. Are my children's thoughts stupid? Am I being defensive? Their thoughts may take a completely different path than mine. That doesn't make it wrong or stupid. It's easy to view their ideas as an insult to our ideas and values. We forget they're not only forming ideas but testing them out. We are their lab rats. Without our acceptance, they're going to look outward for validation.

We've been having pretty in-depth conversations about ideas mentioned in church. We question some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. One of my sons mentioned, he has tons of questions, but he doesn't ask because he knows his dad will disagree. We were both surprised because he welcomes discussion. But, something in his demeanor is not as open as he thinks. I am learning not to ask my children fifty-million questions about their ideas. We space questions so they don't feel attacked.

We want to model and encourage respectful dialogue. Yeah, sometimes they call something we've heard ridiculous and stupid. But, we work to engage critical thinking. Why do you think the person made that comment? How factual is that statement? Are there details or information missing? Do you still think the comment show stupidity? How have your thoughts changed? Sometimes they're expressing themselves the only way they know how. Other times, they're going for shock value.

It's this shock value that has the potential to shut down communication. Our children are testing if we're really as open we say we are. How do you respond when one child says, "So, God was a mass murderer in the Old Testament?" Do you get angry? Or do you say people over time have felt this way; let's explore this more. Thus, you're leaving an open door for future discussions about the nature of God. It can be uncomfortable. It can involve a brutal analysis of our own closely held ideas. In reality, they're asking is our acceptance conditional?

How do you create a space for acceptance?