Small gestures of generosity matter: Giving just a little to Ugandan children

Talking about the various types of crises that plague countries on the African continent and the necessary role that both humanitarian efforts and volunteers play are topics of conversation that likely occurred more frequently in my household than others here in America. My mother lived in West Africa for a few years when she was a teen and the experience she had while living there had a great impression on her and she reflected on that quite a bit in my childhood. Sure, she was considered by many to be an “army brat” and she attended a privileged boarding school with other students who were also white Americans and some Europeans. I vividly remember watching aid efforts approved by President Reagan on the nightly news, which is a memory lots of us who were kids in the 80s probably share. Starving, dying children in Ethiopia was a concern of mine, even though I was just five years old. Why is this happening? Why isn’t President Reagan doing more? What can I do to help? I asked my parents if we could go shopping and send some food over, but they explained why we could not do just that. Instead, my mother encouraged me to write a letter to President Reagan, urging him to do more. So, I wrote my letter–likely with crayon–and stuffed it into a big envelope, licked the stamp, and mailed it off. I bet when the day comes where I am going through old boxes of belongings in my parents’ attic, a letter addressed to me with a date of 1981 and a gold, embossed seal from the President of the United States will turn up. I doubt my letter made a difference, but what my family did this morning just might.

A few days ago, I saw a few posts in a Facebook group that I am a member of, a couple of men in Uganda sharing news about a children’s school they work at, advocate for, and support. I saw the photos of Ugandan children, smiling as they held up objects that had made…evidence of lessons they are learning as they develop critical-thinking skills. Then, I went on, liking some memes and commenting on some posts. And then I went to bed.

Then, yesterday morning, I remembered the posts and photos about the Ugandan children and went back to just see what types of items they are in need of. “Balls, pencils, pens, and clothing…” were some suggestions that Bwambale Robert gave me. He is one of the men I am in contact with at Kasese Humanist School.

Bwambale Robert

Simple needs, I thought to myself. And then it occurred to me…these children, a certain percentage of whom may be orphans, don’t have enough balls to play with. The thought literally brought tears to my eyes. As a former teacher and parent of little ones who spend all hours of practically everyday immersed in free play, I couldn’t imagine Ugandan children in need of balls. So, I drove to Wegmans and discovered a sale on balls, some of which were really cool neon rainbow-colored, and I bought 8 balls (4 kick, 2 volley, 2 soccer) for $39. A small gesture of generosity.

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My husband deflated the balls, I packaged them up as small as I could and he drove to post office to mail them. $83 in shipping fees. WOW. But, in the grand scheme of things, a worthy move considering we have so much and these children have so little. And it’s not like my household is upper-middle class and has an ample, consistent income…we live in a very modest, small home on a pretty meager income. We are a typical “paycheck to paycheck” household who may never afford the American tradition of traveling to Disney World that so many do. But, somehow I revamped our budget to make room for this and am glad I did. I contacted one of the men who work there and shared this photo with him, letting him know our package has shipped. And he snapped a photo of a few of the students with smiles on their faces after hearing that many balls were on their way.

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Students at Kasese Humanist School in Uganda, photo taken 9 July 2018

I did a little research on Uganda and learned more about the impact schools have on the lives of children and the community there. And I learned more about the Kasese Humanist School:

Achievements in the last 7 years include educating children over the years; growing over the years and moving from a rented property to their own property in three different locations in Uganda; providing job opportunities to Ugandans as teachers & non teaching staffs, builders, carpenters, farm workers, drivers, etc.; initiating women emancipation campaigns by emphasizing female child education and self help projects; lobbying for child sponsors, donors to help the school (more than 250 children over the years have studied under the child sponsorship scheme); running an orphanage hostel in Muhokya where a small number of orphans are fed, sheltered and educated and educating almost 100 orphans for free at the Bizoha School in Muhokya; engaging learners to learn practical skills in computers, tailoring, carpentry, knitting and gardening; and managing to put up the Bizoha Humanist Center, which is a building that serves different roles, such as a Hostel for guests, shops, library and offices for Kasese United Humanist Association & Women group. Such an admirable and remarkable feat! They do face challenges though, since Humanism isn’t exactly an extremely popular concept on the African continent (although it is a growing and appreciated philosophy). Some parents struggle to satisfy students’ school fees and paying staff salaries can be difficult. Schools need fencing and equipping them with electricity, smooth cemented floors, and water storage tanks can be a challenge. So, while packages containing balls, pens, pencils, and clothing are needed and appreciated, cash donations really help the most. Plus, one fact I was unaware of is that the school must pay a tax on items shipped to them. So, rather than ship thirty shirts, it is more wise to donate the cash and then those who run the school can take the cash to a local second-hand store and buy clothing for the students, avoiding the tax. Lastly, rumors tend to circulate every now and then, tarnishing the image of the schools, such as the claim that some think that every time photographs of the children are taken that they are then given to spirits in exchange for money, or that because the school supports humanism that those there are anti-religion and are going to hell. Humanist schools are also accused of training homosexuals simply because they support the premise that homosexuals have a right to live and not be segregated against.

But, despite challenges, there are 10 key values that they’ve put into practice, derived from a certain book Rational World for Global Ethics by a Canadian writer Rodrique Tremblay and they are…

DIGNITY, RESPECT, SHARING, NO DOMINATION, NO SUPERSTITION, CONSERVATION, NO WAR, DEMOCRACY, EDUCATION

You can learn more here as well as reach out to Bwambale Robert on Facebook if you wish to extend some kind of small gesture like we did, or something more. You can also give via the Brighter Brains website https://www.brighterbrains.biz/schools then choose any item equivalent to the donation. This op-ed is a great one to read and share.

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Have a Baby Naming Ceremony! Alternatives to baptism, christening, and bris to welcome the new baby

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There are alternatives to baptisms, christening, and the bris. I feel it is very important that this be said and word be spread, known far and wide. Why not have a Baby Naming Ceremony? For many reasons, this alternative is the best…

Introducing Baby. Picture this: you have a baby, whether at home or in the hospital, or even the backseat of a car on a highway. It happens. And you come home with baby to no one but your family. No visitors. No ample supply of hand sanitizer. No face masks on stock. Because you have told close family and friends to WAIT. Wait for the ceremony. Give yourself 4-8 weeks to adjust, heal, mend, adapt, cuddle, and love. Then, when you are ready (anytime from birth up until 3 months old, possibly even a year depending on circumstances), have a celebration.

What is a Baby Naming Ceremony like? Invite everyone, do an e-vite where people are invited via text message or email and R.S.V.P. the same way, or go ahead and order special announcements that double as invitations. Order a great cake and find the nearest Humanist Celebrant to you to perform the ceremony. Whether the gathering is held at home, at a park, restaurant, or other venue, a Baby Naming Ceremony is a great way to both welcome you baby into the world and have a meet’n’greet. Some may bring gifts, cards, or a dish to share and pass. You can select background music and even hire a photographer.

But, what about Godparents? I hear this a lot. Well, often times humanists (like myself) select Guideparents or guardians and at the celebration, announce who these folks are and, in an honorary way, elect them to this flattering position. Speaking as a Humanist Celebrant myself: Don’t worry…we have this all figured out. Here is a typical script.

Why it matters. Secular parenting and atheist households are on the rise. Whether you are a lapsed catholic or a pagan, or you consider yourself religious but don’t want to affiliate with organized religion or a specific church, you should have options. Just because someone is a non-believer or doesn’t attend or belong to a church doesn’t mean that welcoming baby into the world doesn’t matter. Your baby DOES matter. And you should be able to celebrate baby’s welcoming into to this world just like anyone else. And, consider it a bonus, your won’t have to put your baby through a ceremonial step such as immersing the baby’s head or body into holy water or have a ritual circumcision. Instead, you can have the type of celebration you wish to have YOUR WAY.

If you’re in Central New York please check out the services I offer as a Humanist Celebrant endorsed by The Humanist Society.

Real advice on “essentials” for first-time mommas

The first time I had a baby, I had so much shit on my registry. Oh, and not just one registry…my royal ass had lists at two separate stores. Now, after having two more babies and gaining wisdom as almost 15 years has passed, I feel like I could make a list of things NOT to put on your registry. But, that would be quite status quo and typical talk on a mommy blog, so instead I’ll go ahead with a humorous twist while maintaining honest seriousness. Here are things that may help keep you on the right track as you voyage into the first few years of child rearing.

Referencing the above image, the first item is good coffee. Even while pregnant and nursing, coffee was a must for me. I remember when I was pregnant with my second child, I had switched to a half-caff blend that I only indulged in twice a day. I was in my third trimester and had a 50-minute commute home every weekday that began at 3 p.m. Well, there must have been something about that time of day because I was almost always tired and yawning on my drive home. One time, I actually fell asleep at the wheel and startled myself when I awoke to my car drifting off the thruway lane onto the shoulder at 65mph. Now, I awake at dawn around 6 a.m. and go to bed around 11 p.m. My days revolve around two little, super active tots whose shenanigans require me to always be on my toes. I cannot risk being tired. So, after much experimentation, hubs and I decided on Chock Full o’Nuts Donut Shop as our go-to brand to brew every morning. When we can afford it, we indulge in Starbucks. Oh and we got the Mr Coffee maker that has the insulated carafe and has a timer so we can prep a pot before bed and it will brew for us while we are still in bed. I admit, it’s easier to crawl out of bed if I have the aroma of coffee twirling around my nose as my head is resting on my pillow.

The second item is wine. Honestly, at the end of the day…well, anytime after 4 p.m. really…a glass or two of merlot with or after dinner just helps me wind down. And since we are not exactly rich, it’s a box of Vella merlot in my cupboard that hits the spot for me.

Third would be Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast. He is my favorite comedian and realist and he has two episodes a week, the first is obvious and the second is on Thursdays. This guy–his rants and jokes and humor–just puts everything in perspective for me and brightens my day. I’m a Unicorn Mom, so with that said, you now get my drift.

Fourth are wireless bluetooth earbuds, that help me effectively carry out the third. Burr, like me, loves cuss words, but they aren’t something I want to teach my tots. So, while I rest on the couch with tots by my side watching Moana for the umpteenth time, I can secretly enjoy Burr’s MMP in my ear. He makes me chuckle as hard as cartoons in New Yorker magazine. And, when washing dishes or preparing meals, I often watch F is for Family on my tablet with an earbud in. Oh and my two favorite personalities on Instagram who often share witty, spot-on videos about “Mom life” are Tova Leigh (@tova_leigh) and Riona The Unnatural Woman (@mrsrionaoconnor). Tova also has a podcast with Kristen Hewitt called Cold Coffee on Stitcher.

Fifth, a good lotion. I wash my hands soooooo much, hoping to leave germs outside. Over the past two years, we had Norovirus, Coxsackie (the ol’ hand, foot, mouth disease), and Coronavirus, which put our youngest in the hospital for five days and resulted in him losing weight and needing an IV. I love local companies, so for me it’s Luscious Lilac by Silly Goats.

Sixth and lastly, is a good humorous mug. Not an essential, but it sparks joy for me. This one here is my new fave.

If you’re already momming it up and have items to add on your a list of Top 6 “essentials,” please comment and share!

“I’ll box your ears!” A once common practice of discipline that has now faded out…and, yeah, it was abuse

Today while listening to the most recent episode my favorite podcast, Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast, around the 50-minute-mark, he begins talking about the phrase “box your ears.” I immediately flashed back to my dad who, about 20 years ago, was impersonating his grandmother. He did this funny “old lady” voice and said “Bobby…don’t do that now, I told you once already, I’ll have to box your ears.” Then, he explained how when he was a young teen living with his grandmother, how she had boxed his ears when he did something bad. He remarked at how painful it was and how much he feared her doing that to him again. Here I am in 2018 listening to Old Billy the Goat talk about something that happened to my father in the 1960s. You’ve gotta listen to this on Burr’s podcast, as he explores what exactly boxing of the ears is.

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Evelina by Fanny Burney, first published in 1778

The blog Burr references courtesy of Georgetown University further clarifies the origins of this practice. In an earlier post on my blog I talked about discipline–spankings, paddlings, etc.–but failed to include the boxing of the ears, which could cause severe hearing loss and in many cases, deafness, of children’s ears. When you really think about this…approaching a child who is in a state of upset or has just done something deemed as bad or wrong and, as an adult, your choice of response is to smack your child on both ears simultaneously…and consider the actual effect or consequence of this act, how can any parent or caregiver proceed with this as a method of discipline? Yet, surely there are parents and caregivers who still perform this inhumane act of physical abuse on children and never face charges via the court system.

I found this letter penned to Dear Abby, dated 1994, wherein a writer poses concern and question about this practice:

DEAR ABBY: On the subject of child abuse: Several generations ago, it was considered acceptable to box a child’s ears as an appropriate punishment. It was not generally known that such a practice could have devastating results – although many must have heard that a very young Thomas Edison became deaf after having his ears boxed.

At the age of 4, I recited some indecent poetry in front of polite company. My father, an otherwise model parent, slapped the left side of my head vigorously with his right hand. (That was the only time he ever struck me.) Soon after, and from then on, I felt a certain numbness in my left ear. Later, there were spells of buzzing and roaring along with dizziness centered in my left ear. Finally, seizures and repeated blackouts sent me to the hospital, where surgery was performed by a neurosurgeon. My hearing never was restored in that ear. And all this was brought on by a “loving” parent.

So, Dear Abby, if a parent feels a little physical punishment is necessary to teach a child a lesson, tell your readers to keep it below the neck. Please withhold my name; I’m quite well known in … Lake Placid, Fla.

And Abby responded….

Dear Lake Placid: I disapprove of hitting a child to “teach” him (or her) a lesson. Hitting has escalated to beatings – some brutal enough to send a child to a hospital, or worse.

Denying a child his favorite entertainment or sport is far more effective.

The art of parenting surely has modernized, but I believe that we still have quite far to go. Too many parents are guilty of continuing on ethnotheories and practices that their parents did, things said, that are void of efficacy and ineffective. Hurting, shaming, threatening, and scaring children are never appropriate methods of discipline. If, by law, corrections officers are not allowed to so these things to adult inmates, parents should not be allowed to do these things to children.

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Mamma. “NOW, SIR–IF YOU DON’T BEHAVE BETTER, I WILL TELL PAPA OF YOU, AND HE WILL BOX YOUR EARS!” Shocking Boy. “WELL, THEN, GO! MARCH!! AND SHUT THE DOOR AFTER YOU!!!”

The old adage “How you handle your kids in your home is your business” needs to be erased from our society. Physical abuse should never be determined as permissible or unacceptable. There should be no line.

A forever good-bye: Explaining death to our almost-4-year-old

My spouse and I were hit hard with three deaths over the past ten months. He lost his dad unexpectedly in mid-July to heart failure and I lost my best friend of 30 years and her 6-year old daughter to a house fire this past January. It was the first time our teen experienced loss and attended funerals and our middle child was just three years old at the time. He saw both Grandpa and my best friend and her daughter often and knew them all well. He had relationships with them and they were suddenly gone.

The last time we saw Grandpa

That’s how we explained it at first: gone forever. All of our children attended Grandpa’s funeral, which came first. The teen was the only one to understand it. The toddlers stayed in the pew and played with Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater as the funeral went on. And no trip for them to the cemetery. Not yet. I knew we would eventually go and that death would be explained to our middle child, but not yet.

Today is Memorial Day and since Grandpa was enlisted during Vietnam in the Air Force, we decided that today was the day. On the drive there, I explained that we were going to a cemetery and explained what a cemetery is: a place where bodies are buried after people die and are gone forever. I explained that a hole is dug very deep and a casket, which is a big wooden box, that has a dead person’s body in it is lowered down and then the dirt is shoveled in to the hole to bury them. The person is now laid to rest and a gravestone is placed there with the person’s name and other information. And Daddy visits it often and sometimes he is happy and sometimes he is sad and cries. Our son then expressed interest in finding the bad guy that killed Grandpa. I told him there was no bad guy, but that he was old and ill and he died. He asked how he got to the cemetery–did a bad guy take him? I told him that Grandpa died at a hospital with doctors there and they took him to the cemetery. I then also explained that some people are cremated when they die, that there is fire and the body turns to ashes, which can be saved in an urn, or vase, or brought to special places and spread, like mountains or the woods.

I did not yet inform him that everybody dies, which is something I will save explaining until a few years from now. We did not talk about heaven, or souls and spirits, for we are atheist-humanists afterall. One day we will explain that some people believe in that, which is fine. When our children grow up to be adults, if they wish to believe in afterlife, we have no problem with that as long as they come to that concept on their own and after much thought.

We got to the cemetery and visited the grave. All in all, it was a meaningful experience. We kept it short…just 10 minutes. In the above photo, you see our middle child who is almost 4 years old giving Grandpa two high fives with our youngest, almost 3 years old, behind the gravestone. Every year, we plan to celebrate the birthdays of our loved ones we lost. We get a cake, have a large photo of the person beside it, sing happy birthday and say we miss you. We are celebrating the lives that mattered so much to us and those we lost but will never forget.

A new book is on it’s way to the printing press, What Happens When We Die? , which is part of the pro-science series featuring Annabelle & Aiden

Just when I thought I had enough hats: On learning our child is autistic

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I must begin by admitting that the feet you see in the above photo are not mine (thank you, royalty-free stock photo database). While my second toe is indeed longer than my first, my feet are dirty from always walking barefoot around my backyard. Oh and given the fact that we bedshare with two little ones, white is not our color of choice…our fitted sheet and duvet are grey. And I would not be sleeping on my stomach…my boobs are too big and I would not be able to breathe easy. I collapse into bed onto my back with my filthy feet pointing up.

Oh and about the hats. When in graduate school, as I worked towards a Masters in adolescent education, one of my favorite professors had us participate in an activity where we all took a hat from a huge trunk she hauled into the classroom. She explained that, in life, as teachers, spouses, parents, etc., we will have many hats we wear. And she was right! I have so many hats that I cannot sum up who I am in a social media profile’s bio line that allows only 110 characters. To think that at one time, I had just one or two hats. Ah, to be 20 again…

A few weeks ago, our youngest was diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (aka ASD). I am careful not to say “we discovered” or “we learned” because we knew something may be awry given the fact that he has yet to speak aside from saying “Mama.” That is the reason we took the route that led us to a pretty involved evaluation at a center downtown…he just hasn’t talked yet. While we acknowledge the diagnosis, which was a consensus among the team comprised of five different specialists, we also know that sometimes a child can be misdiagnosed as having autism. I am not in denial about the diagnosis we were informed of, but do not wish to proceed insisting that he indeed is autistic. As a former educator who has experience with children, adolescents, and all types of learners, I know how difficult it may be for children to be diagnosed at young ages. My own husband was a “late talker” and a very active boy who was an extremely picky eater. It wasn’t until he was 6 or 7 that he was found to have some form of “learning disability” (not a favorite term of mine, but what is listed in his file from school) and by his teens, in the mid 90s, he was labeled as having Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). Consider what a Yale Child Study Center report noted: “toddlers with delayed language development are almost identical to their autism spectrum disordered counterparts in their use of eye contact to gauge social interaction.” And Ann Densmore Ed.D, CCC CLP/A said, “After 35 years as a speech pathologist, I’ve seen many children with a diagnosis of autism that turned out to be a combination of language delay, sensory issues and apraxia.” Whether our sweet child has autism or some other form of cognitive impairment, our levels of involvement, nurturing, and love won’t change for we are providing the maximum. Our current situation allows me to stay at-home with my youngest children and thankfully I paid attention in all the grad courses I took where professors taught about the brain, behavior, and child development. And I am still putting tools in my toolbox thanks to great TEDtalks, books, and documentaries that further educate me on the topic of neurodiversity.

What prompted me to write today was this op-ed here entitled “Why We Should Encourage Children to be More Weird,” which was posted on the Neurodivergent Rebel’s Facebook page. I immediately flashed back to the school bus that I rode home from school on. I would sit in the back across from my best friend, Tommy, and he and I would talk. Some days, he would sit there holding onto his trombone case, which seemed almost as big as him on that bus. One day, I gave him a keychain that read ‘Why Be Normal’ with an upside down question mark. Although I saw Tommy and his family–and their big white house and lovely lawn with inground pool and swingset–as “totally normal” (and very unlike me and my family and home), he had a little brother with Down Syndrome and was raised in a house where neurodiversity was acknowledged and respected. He liked that keychain. He may still have it in some box of relics hidden in an attic somewhere. Anyways, I read this piece on UK’s Independent site and, while I understood and concurred with the message, I cringed at the word ‘weird’ in the title. I guess I just don’t see value in continuing to use terms like that in the 21st century. Ever since I read Caitlyn Jenner’s memoir The Secrets of My Life, the reality of just how rigid mid-20th century America was and still is really hit home for me. In the book, Jenner talks about growing up in suburban Connecticut in the 1950s and how boys played with boys and did boy things, girls never played with boys and did things that all girls did. There was no space for individuality, uniqueness, and thinking out-of-the-box. Life was black and white, meaning everyone followed norms and social mores and if there were folks who didn’t, they were “squares” and likely bullied, tormented, and possibly beat the shit out of. This is where “weird” comes from in my mind and means different, unusual, atypical. And when you really explore concepts, like Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences wherein there are a pretty big handful of ways in which children can display smarts, interests, and talents, you really see how diverse even a small population of children can be. Then, there is the debate over what is more important… I.Q. or E.Q. (E.Q? What the hell is that?! people often remark). Today the argument that E.Q, or emotional quotient. matters more is proving to be more valid. Be unique. Think differently. Express yourself like no one else. These are the messages that are circulating more frequently in today’s world, but are not yet loud and clear for all to hear.

So, while my child is presently diagnosed with autism and regardless of whether or not he will continue to be in the future (I am no proponent of the “cure autism” movement, but simply stating that for some parents, misdiagnosis becomes a surprising reality), we are ready to explore all of the roads that are ahead of us and try to determine which is best. Preschool, homeschool, or unschool. Play-based therapy, increased social interaction, and practicing a fast response-time when shit hits the fan. Hopefully we will avoid common mistakes that other parents have admittedly made. And we will never consider ABA. We have few certainties as we progress in our roles as parents and as we age with our offspring, but my spouse and I both agree on allowing our children to develop at their own paces, loving them unconditionally, and sharing the understanding that we need each other’s support and at times, each of us deserve to check-out and tag-team in the other because parenting is hard. Adulting is hard. And in our house, Murphy’s Law rules the roost.

J

In conclusion, ASD is not cut and dry, it is more like a box of kaleidoscopes where, when you pick up and look in each and every one, the view you see is different through each peep-hole. My friend’s autistic child may behave in a way that is very different than my child whereas, when around another autistic child, my child may share similar behaviors: hand-flapping and jumping when happy or excited, or mild, occasional head-banging when miffed. And he went through a phase where he always spun his helicopter propeller (stimming) and now almost always looks for a stick or two when outside so that he can carry it around, spinning it as if he is the world’s best baton twirler. When looking at “9 Red Flags Every Parent Should Know” according to top autism researcher Dr. Rebecca Landa, director of the Center for Autism & Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, we only saw two of the nine “red flags.” My spouse and I remember our youngest, who when around 4 months old, began making eye contact and smiling at us. He babbled and moved his arms and legs and although he still does not yet speak, at 2 years and 9 months old, he constantly babbles and chatters and does dinosaur growls when playing with his T-Rex. Sure, he didn’t always respond to his name, but weeks pass by and suddenly he begins responding to his name more and more. He does not ever line toys up or repeat sounds or words again and again. Children are like seashells…no two are identical. Maybe close to it, but a difference will always exist. Just like it is important to view gender, femininity, and masculinity as falling somewhere on a vast spectrum, I feel that it only makes sense to do the same with neurodiversity. And, when speaking about neurotypicality, maybe it is wise to just stop and think: what is “normal?” Are all brains constructed the same? Do all minds operate the same? Can perception be expected to be the same for any two pairs of eyes?

A word from the wise: Proactive parent-led conversations about dating violence

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Having “the talk.” There are so many talks, where do we begin? When they ask questions about where babies come from, seek validation regarding whether or not Santa Claus is real, or share their thoughts about discovering their friends’ religious beliefs, many of us parents confidently say “I got this.” And we then go ahead and handle “the talk” in the most simple, comprehensible way we possibly can. But, one topic that really deserves more attention and should be brought to the discussion board more than just once is dating violence. Whether you’re parent of a son or daughter, cisgender or transgender, gay, straight, or pansexual, the risk of getting involved in a relationship with someone volatile or possessive should definitely be addressed.

Unfortunately, I have a wealth of experience regarding this topic. As I grew up, my parents rarely fought in front of me. They’d have talks, sometimes could be overheard briefly arguing, but never did I hear cuss words thrown around, name-calling, or see physical altercations happen. So, I grew up envisioning whatever relationship I would eventually fall into be one that would be like theirs: happy, mostly great, and lasting. They did not prepare me for reality, never told me warning signs to look for, or describe to me what behaviors may actually be red flags. So, starting when I was 15 years old, I fell into relationship after relationship where I was controlled, threatened, and left feeling helpless. And I don’t think my parents ever really knew. Until the last relationship I was in, which upon terminating it almost resulted in me losing my life (not once, but twice). So, what do I wish my parents would have said or done before my 15th birthday? What will I say to my children before their teen years begin that was never said to me?

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I would say…

Relationships are serious. Although many peers may be dating in their teenage years does not mean that you have to find someone, too. There will be plenty of time for that down the road. Right now, enjoy your freedom to play sports, enjoy whatever hobbies and activities make you happy, and build some solid friendships. And you can have friendships with people of any gender and regardless of sexual orientation. But, not everyone you meet will get two thumbs up from me. I want you to know that your safety and happiness matter most to me.

And here is a list of subtopics that I would have on my bullet list under the dating violence talk (list of resources at the end of this post):

  1. Possessiveness: don’t ever let someone tell you that you need to give them more of your time or that you shouldn’t spend as much time with your friends and family. Watch out for conversations that leave you feeling guilty or make you question your friendships and family relationships. You have every right to decide how you will spend your free time and anyone who manipulates you to feel guilty for doing so may not be the best choice for you. And if you are feeling like you aren’t being shown respect by the person you are dating, perhaps you feel like you aren’t being be provided enough time or attention, then decide how you want to approach that discussion. And show others the same respect. Evaluate your feelings and if you feel like you need to talk, I am here for you.
  2. Intimacy: don’t ever let someone pressure you into moving faster emotionally or physically than you feel you should. Not every person in every relationship may experience love and that should not be expected or demanded. And not every relationship requires you to get physical. Nobody should persuade you to take the next step. And you should never pressure another person to move any faster than they have expressed that they are comfortable with. And when asked if you want to take the next step, you can say no. And you do not need to explain yourself. Always show your partner the same respect. And if you are getting intimate and have concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to come to me. I will not judge and will do my best to listen, only offering advice if solicited.
  3. Anger: if you find yourself in a situation where you are being yelled at, called names, or cussed at, or you are so angry that you find yourself saying things that are out of line, it may be best to stop, take some alone time, and think. Stop. Think. Then talk. It may take a day or two. And you may need to talk to someone. And there is no specific time-frame where you may come to a decision on what you want to say. But, taking 24 hours to think before responding is wise whether a personal, professional, or work atmosphere. But, no matter what, it is never okay to take your anger and frustration out on someone else. It is okay to feel angry and shout it out to the world. And it is healthy to express your anger and frustration. But, nothing good will come from targeting someone with rage.
  4. Boundaries: there are all kinds of boundaries–physical, personal, etc. You set some, I set some, and your partner may set some. Regardless of who sets them, you need to respect them. And if you question them, that is okay, just be sure the conversation is not one-sided and remains respectful. Consent matters. Also, be sure to pay attention to adults who you feel may have crossed a line, whether it is a relative, teacher, or coach. Be sure to clearly communicate to someone–anyone–that this has occurred, so to ensure that it does not happen again whether unintentional or not.
  5. Physical contact: Forgiveness is challenging at times and usually a good thing, but when it comes to someone laying their hands on you, the first time is the last time. No one should ever restrain, hit, kick, or push you. The moment this happens, find a safe space and call me. There is no need to feel embarassed and please don’t think that you may be overreacting. Unfortunately, it is highly likely that someone who is abusive once will be abusive again. And again.

Resources

Telephone and chat hotline for youth dating violence: http://www.loveisrespect.org

List of state-by-state support organizations: https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/get-help/state-resources

TEDtalk about teen dating violence: https://youtu.be/iwuy5UZy3Gw

How Our Whole Lives (OWL) curriculum at Unitarian Universalist churches support consent and body positivity: https://www.uuworld.org/articles/dont-just-say-no

Books to read: https://www.domesticshelters.org/domestic-violence-articles-information/5-ya-novels-about-dating-violence-teens-and-parents-should-read