Wanna Write? Join Me at the New Twin Cities Writing Studio!

As a long-time writer, I have grown accustomed to spending many, many hours alone at my desk, thinking, analyzing, and thinking some more as my fingers click the keys of my lap top, trying, trying, trying to transfer my thoughts and ideas onto that glowing screen in front of me. Sometimes this process flows beautifully…and sometimes it doesn’t.

Thankfully, I have connTwin Cities Writing Studioected with some incredible writers all over the country who I can turn to when I am stuck, need honest feedback or need someone to hold me accountable. What I have found, however, is that there is an incredible energy that happens when I am able to connect in person with others who have a passion for writing. Over the past few years, Nina Badzin has become, not only my go-to local “writing buddy” but a dear friend, and through our mutual love for writing and our ability to be sounding boards for one another, we decided that we wanted to share our passion for writing with the Twin Cities community.

We would love for you to come write with us!

When I teach a yoga class, I often tell my students before we even move into our first down dog, “You have done the hardest part of the class. You got here. You got to your mat. Congratulations. Now let’s practice.” Writing is much the same. Just showing up on the page is more than half the battle. No matter if you’ve been writing since you were five or have always wanted to explore writing but didn’t quite know how, joining The Twin Cities Writing Studio will provide structure, motivation and fun designed to help you ignite/enrich your writing practice.

Nina and I can’t wait to write with you!

Details below:

TWIN CITIES WRITING STUDIO—express, explore, create

Whether you’re an established writer looking to connect with other Twin Cities writers, or you feel inspired to put pen to paper for the first time, we welcome you!

WHAT WE ARE: TCWS is a safe, confidential, and supportive community led by Julie Burton and Nina Badzin, experienced writers, bloggers, and teachers. Group members will have the opportunity to freewrite, share writing, receive constructive feedback from group members and group facilitators.

WHAT YOU GET:

  • Establish, maintain, or improve your writing practice.
  • Find inspiration and motivation from others.
  • Finish writing pieces that you have been working on for years, begin something new, generate ideas that will keep you writing long after the fall session ends.
  • Workshop any piece of writing from speeches to essays to persuasive emails.
  • Learn about blogging, magazine article writing, book writing, and publishing.

WHEN: 10-week session on Thursdays 12:30-2:30, September 10th-Oct 8th (BREAK Oct 15th) Resumes 10.22 – 11.19

WHERE: Hopkins Center for the Arts, Room 204, 1111 Mainstreet in downtown Hopkins, (ample free parking)

COST: $300, registration details are below (payment options available)

WHAT TO BRING: Notebook and writing utensil and/or laptop.

HOW TO REGISTER: Send an email to Nina at ninabadzin@gmail.com. She will write back to secure your spot in the group (limited to 10 participants), and give you details on payment.

Questions? Email ninabadzin@gmail.com

My Other Ex: A Must Have Book for all Women Navigating the World of Female Friendships

After recently reMy Other Exading “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friendships,” Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger’s thoughtful and empowering collection of essays about friendship breakups, I was not only deeply moved by the raw truths about the challenging aspects of female friendships that come alive on the pages of this book, but I also felt a huge sense of relief. The honest and vulnerable accounts of friendship breakups helped me wipe away the shame of ever being involved in a friendship that went awry. While thankfully, I do not have many ex-friends and I am now at a point in my life where I feel beyond grateful for the amazing friends I have, both old and new, I certainly have encountered friendship stumbles along the way. I know how much it hurts to feel completely rejected by a friend and I also know how uncomfortable it is to be the friend who needs some space but doesn’t quite know how to communicate that without being hurtful.

This book gets to the heart of why friendships can be so amazing and so complicated, how easily misunderstandings between friends can implode if not addressed, and how important it is to be thoughtful in how we treat our friends.

I like to call friendships “icing on the cake of life.” And while friendships are indeed sweet, there is no denying that they take effort, attention, trust and love. And like any relationship, if any of these four elements are missing or tampered with, a friendship will have a hard time surviving. And even when a friendship starts out with a bang and seems to contain all the right ingredients for a BFF scenario, just as people change, so do friendships. The essays in My Other Ex take the reader into the trenches of some extremely difficult friendship challenges—some of which were mitigated in the effort to salvage the friendship, and others were too great to overcome and led to the demise of the friendship. The essays speak to how exhaustingly difficult and excruciatingly painful these break-ups can be regardless if you are the one leading the break-up or the one being dumped.

I loved Galit Breen’s essay about being a “friendship abandoner” and how she claims that it took a close friend to teach her that, “friendships sometimes feel uncomfortable. Discomfort doesn’t weaken. In fact, when handled correctly, it strengthens. Because still being ‘in it’ after the discomfort will mean knowing that our friendship isn’t delicate or fragile, that it’s not going to break because of a problem.”

My biggest take-away from this book, aside from great inspiration from all the brilliant writing contained in it, is the essential message about how important it is for women to take care of themselves and each other in relationships. Women do this by creating healthy boundaries within the relationship. And for me, I have learned through some trial and error, that if something is not working, it is best to first take a close look in the mirror and try to figure out what role I could be playing in the relationship deterioration without unjustly blaming myself. As a people pleaser and one who does not sleep at night if I think someone is mad at me or that I did something to hurt someone, I do not like it when things turn sour with a friend and will go to great lengths to try to make a friendship work. However, there have certainly been times when my efforts fell short and times when I have needed to let go of a friend (at least for a time) in order to take care of myself.

Katrina Anne Willis nails it when she says, “I’ve let go of what was bad, what was wrong, what tore us to pieces. There were no answers, no explanations…Anger and disappointment and grief will eat you alive if you let them. When loss comes—as it often does— a journey through grief is inevitable. But it is no place to reside. I choose the other side, where love and forgiveness abound. And most importantly, even when someone else might not, I choose me.”

Yes. Beautiful.

(Note: In addition to Jessica and Stephanie’s fantastic book, they also offer a friendship advice column where you can submit your friendship questions, and friendship expert Nina Badzin will offer her thoughtful and sensible advice.)

Unscripted Mom is ONE!

Unscripted Mom is OneUnscripted Mom is a year old. And I am feeling grateful.

Just over a year ago, I was filled with fear and uncertainty as I thought about sharing my musings as an official “blogger.” The self-doubt nearly derailed me as I wrestled with notions like, “No one really cares what I have to say; bloggers are a dime a dozen and I am not that original; I have no idea what I am doing; who is really going to read my stuff anyway?

But with some encouragement of close family and friends, and the advice and expertise of Gran Harlow,  Michelle Millar and Nate Garvis, I pushed my insecurities out of the way, just enough to be able to push the “publish” button on my blog site. And so, on March 21, 2013, my first blog entry, “She’s Going to College” was released into the blogosphere.

It was both liberating and terrifying.

A year later, it still is. I sweat every time I push that publish button.

And yet, 60-some posts later, I continue to learn and grow with each word I write and every post I publish. I have learned that blogging, and the connections that have arisen from being honest about my life as a mom have enriched my life tremendously, and most notably, have helped me through one of the hardest parental transitions I’ve experienced—sending my first born away to college. As tears fell on my keyboard while writing about the pain and excitement I felt during this time, little did I know that I would find so much comfort in reading and hearing the heartfelt comments left on my Facebook page, blog or shared with me in person.  I also loved being able to share my recent “life altering” trip to Peru with you and was extremely moved by your words of support and kindness.

I am grateful and honored to be able to share pieces of my life with my readers and appreciate that my blog has served as a vehicle for bringing me closer to you in a way that may not have ever happened otherwise. Recently, my cousin, who lives out of state and I have not seen or spoken to in years, sent me an email asking if we could get our extended family together during her visit to MN. Her thoughtful words reminded me why I blog, “It is so great getting to know you through your blogs.  I feel that we actually have a lot in common underneath my first impressions of you and your family as ‘perfect.’ I am really looking forward to spending a little time with you and your perfectly imperfect family.  Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about parenting.”

Being able to convey the message that we can all safely ditch any notion of striving to be the perfect family or the perfect mom; that we all experience strength and struggle every day in our efforts to be a good parent, spouse, friend and person; and most importantly, that even on really tough days when we feel like we are doing NOTHING right (like how I just yelled at my son yesterday, after recently professing in a blog post that I had adapted a new approach to anger), we are not alone in this imperfect journey.

I have also learned that I am also not alone in my blogging journey, even though it can feel that way sometimes. I am still trying to understand all the  behind the scenes blog minutiae, like how to not obsess over wordpress analytics, which tallies the number of people visiting my blog every day, every month, every year; how not to compare myself to other bloggers; to realize that there is a way (yes, Amy Z) to make a few bucks doing this; to be a little less emotional when I send pieces to publications, and editors either accept them (yay!) or reject them (ouch! which is often followed by devastation and then the desire to chuck my computer into a nearby lake!). Managing the business of blogging requires assistance, and I have been incredibly fortunate in finding local writer friend, turned to “real friend” Nina Badzin. Nina has literally walked me through the entire blogging and social media world, introduced me to everyone she thought would be helpful for me to know, celebrated my blogging and writing victories (no matter how small) and has helped keep my lap top from ending up at the bottom of one of our 10,000 after every rejection letter.

And there are others: Stephanie Sprenger and Jessica Smock, authors of the Her Stories Project book, which has been truly an honor to be a part of,, and Galit Breen, Pilar Gerasimo and Kate Hopper who have been instrumental in helping me fine tune my writing and stay focused on my goals. And for all the other writers and bloggers who I have met through the blogosphere over this past year (Lee Wolfe Blum, Mary Dell HarringtonJen Stephens, Kerstin March,  Jessica Halepis, Vikki Reich, Emily Mitty Cappo, Jenny MaxeyTracy Morrison, Vicky Willenberg, Lisa Barr, Cindy Moy and Annie Fox to name a few), I am truly grateful and inspired by all of  you. And to those of you who have shared my work on your wonderful sites, I thank you as well.

I am also grateful to my husband who has supported me in this journey that is certainly not paying many (okay, any) bills and often takes me away from being present with him. And to my kids, who have given me permission to share pieces of them through my writing, and it goes without saying that Unscripted Mom would not exist without them. And to all of my close family members and friends, who were so kind to read, share and comment on my posts before anyone else even knew about my blog (and even when the posts weren’t that good); and they have yet to tire of me asking them to take a “quick look” at a piece before I post it or send it to an editor.

One year ago, I semi-subscribed to the notion that blogging is just a fancy term for public journaling, and maybe there is some truth to that. But my blog has allowed me to connect with readers in an authentic way, and has provided the space for you to share  your insights with me as well, which is truly what makes my writing worthwhile and meaningful.

I am not quite sure where my blogging/writing journey will take me in this next year. My book that I “finished” in December is back on the editing table, but will be out by the time my son graduates next year…or else! I also am excited about contributing regularly to Your Teen Magazine and TC Jewfolk.

But for now, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your support, for opening your hearts to my writing and for journeying through the unchartered waters of parenthood with me. If you would like to help celebrate Unscripted Mom’s first birthday, you can do so by “liking” Unscriptedmom’s Facebook page (if you have not already done so). That would be icing on the cake!

More Caring, Less Fixing—A Key to Enhancing Relationships

More Caring, Less Fixing—A Key to Enhancing Relationships with your Children and Partner

“Fix-it” me and my friend Jane

I am a fixer. And being a fixer is a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing to be able to edit my children’s writing assignments with confidence, yet it’s a curse when I am unable to just look at their writing as a work of art, which is uniquely theirs, not needing to be fixed. It is a blessing when one of my children comes to me with a problem that needs solving and I can help them process, analyze trouble-shoot until we find a solution. It’s a curse when I see one of my children struggling with an issue, and they insist on NOT needing or wanting my help—not even just a little—and my tongue becomes nearly bloody from trying to bite it.

When I see problems in my relationship with my husband—hello Bob the Builder. The tools come out and I start peeling,  scraping and pounding, “What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us? He needs to change. I need to change. And we have to do all of this changing…right now.” When I see a friend who has a problem, the “I want to help you, I need to help you” voice takes hold, and a fixer-upper project begins. While sometimes my desire to help can be constructive, sometimes it can be hurtful, especially when my friend just wants to heard, not fixed. And with myself, well, that is the biggest, most daunting project of all, as there is a constant stream of “what needs to be fixed” questions flowing through my head.

Wearing a hard hat can come in handy sometimes. It keeps me hyper-aware of all the “work” that needs to be done, within myself and with those around me. I am constantly trying to better myself, take on more projects and challenges, and I am often a good motivator of others to do the same. But given the recent studying and volunteer work I have been doing, I’ve learned that being a fixer can be unnecessarily draining, frustrating and ineffective. Because in reality, being a fixer often means that we start with the premise that people (myself at the top of the list) are broken.

On my recent Smile Network mission, our main purpose was to repair children’s cleft lips and palettes. Of course I loved this because it was a “fixing” mission. What I realized, however, was that even though these children needed their mouths repaired, they were not broken people. Their families loved and cared for them exactly as they were. Parents knew that the surgery would help their child find more acceptance in society, and in some extreme cases, it would save their life. But when I witnessed how the mothers gazed lovingly and adoringly into their child’s eyes; the way they held, protected and comforted their child, I realized that these mothers did not think their child was broken. They were at the hospital to have a doctor fix their child’s lip and palette, not their soul. Because these mothers unconditionally loved their children, and would love them no more or no less once they were “fixed.”

None of us are perfect and we all require some tweaking along the way, but if we start with the belief that we are whole and good, then it would make a lot of sense for me to hang up my tool belt and embrace the imperfections in myself and in others. I’m inspired to trade in my hammer and nails and utilize more love, acceptance and support in my relationships with my spouse, children, friends, family members and myself.

Escape the Cold by Filling Out Summer Camp Forms!

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As a Minnesotan, December is the month when our landscape turns into a nasty frozen tundra, and it is difficult to savor the memories of the past summer or to believe that we will EVER be relieved of our constant state of FROZEN. But, of course, even though we sometimes have to wait until May, the thaw does come.  My most notable December reminder of the warm hope of summer is delivered by envelopes and emails containing none other than…summer camp forms.

As much as I dread filling them out, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for all that summer camp means to our family. All four of our kids were/are AVID summer campers (and our oldest is now an AVID summer camp counselor). To say that they love camp is an understatement. They deeply CRAVE it. My husband and I have always understood the value of summer camp, and the value of sending kids away, in general, to allow them to forge new experiences on their own, and to grow and develop their sense of self, separate from mom and dad. I knew that summer camp and the relationships developed there, helped my daughter escape the stresses of school and some tough years she had socially; and that my son was able to feel whole again after he experienced several months of being bullied at school. My older son’s love for camp prompted him to attend a high school program in Israel last summer with several of his camp friends. And my youngest daughter, who was hesitant to go away to camp last summer, as a more quiet and somewhat shy 9-year-old, came back after her two weeks away, with a renewed confidence and a less fearful outlook on life.

It would take me pages upon pages to reflect on the countless ways that my kids’ (and my husband and my) lives have been profoundly impacted by their/our overnight summer camp experiences. I thought it would be even more beneficial for you to read some of my daughter’s impressions on how summer camp was pivotal in shaping her into the young woman she is today. She gave me her permission to share a portion of an essay she wrote for a college English class on the importance of allowing and encouraging kids to spend some time away from home during their formative years (referred to as mobility).

“In reflecting upon one’s childhood, it is difficult, if not impossible, to uncover a specific defining moment in which one transitions from a child to an adult. If adulthood is defined by reaching a certain age, then perhaps one could say that it is the moment when one turns eighteen. Yet, adulthood seems to be a much more complex concept than something that is marked by the celebration of one birthday. Although I am confident that I am not done developing, and at nineteen years old I still have much to learn, I can identify one specific experience that played a key role in my evolution from youth to a higher level of maturity.

When I hopped on that coach bus headed for Eagle River, Wisconsin, at eight years old, I had no idea what was in store for me. I was eager to make new friends, be independent, and connect to my faith, but I had no idea that this journey I was making on my own would be so crucial in my development. Over my 11 summers away from home at Camp Interlaken as a camper, then counselor, I learned so many things that a summer at home with my family just could not teach me. I learned how amazing it feels to truly be yourself; to be in a position of leadership, to make a camper’s day, to shower in the presence of unknown scary insects (not so amazing, but certainly eye opening), and all of these experiences helped me to become a less sheltered, and more grown up version of myself.

Had I not taken the leap, and stayed in the comfort of my home that fateful first summer, so many aspects of my personality that I feel proud of today, would never have been developed.

What is the value of sending kids away? There were always some moms who sneered at my mother when she told them she sent me to camp for a month at ten years old, questioning her true love and devotion to me. I, however, believe in the wisdom of the age-old statement, “if you love something, set it free.” While it is difficult to send children away, out of fear of something happening to them, or fear of missing them too much, it is so important for children to have experiences on their own because of the fundamental development that results.

It was the second night of camp, and Sarah was still crying. She was having a tough time adjusting: she missed her parents, she hated the food, the small beds and just wanted to go home. As the days passed, Sarah slowly came out of her shell, and quickly became one of my best friends. Had Sarah not stuck it out, it is doubtful that she would have developed the amazing self confidence that encouraged her to pursue her cross country career, which led her to be recruited to run here at this college!

Mobility can do amazing things, especially in our formative years. When we, as children, adolescents, teens, and even young adults, are away from home, and are surrounded by people who hold no preconceived ideas about who we are, we can be whomever we want. We can be fearless, outspoken, mean, rebellious, genuine, greedy, smart, kind—it is up to us. Sometimes these newfound personalities will stick, and sometimes not, but being away affords us the opportunity to try them out, and create our own hybrid of personalities that we want to define us.”

I think that about covers it…So, if you are considering sleep-away camp for your child, but are maybe a little hesitant, I would encourage you to go ahead and start filling out the forms. I highly doubt you or your child will regret it.

If you have stories to share about how you and/or your child/ren have been impacted by overnight camp, I would love to hear them!

Today is Launch Day for The HerStories Project!

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I am very excited to announce that today is Launch Day for The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, and that that I am one of 50 contributors to this new anthology, including a foreword from Jill Smokler of Scary Mommy! This collection of essays about women’s friendship, compiled by the wonderful and talented Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, is a reflection of just how important these relationships can be.

Jessica and Stephanie share their thoughts on their book: “All women’s friendships tell a story: these sacred bonds define us, and contain our history within walls that are both fragile and powerful. The girlfriend who held your hand during a time of intense grief. The best friend who broke your heart. The woman who helped you find your footing and retain your sanity as a mother. The friendship that turned toxic. The person you don’t think you could survive without. The bonds of female friendship are among the most essential and distinct of all relationships. The friendships in the life of a woman serve as mirrors, reflecting who she was, how she has evolved, and revealing what she needs and craves in her life. In this book, 50 women writers paint real pictures of friendship; in addition to paying homage to the beauty and power of their relationships, they share the gritty details of bitter friendship breakups and uncomfortable life transitions.”

My journey to become a contributor to this powerful book on friendship came about because of newly developed friendships that I have formulated since staring my blog eight months ago. Little did I know that I would find myself in an incredibly supportive community of women writers and bloggers. I met Jessica Smock through local writer, fellow contributor, and most importantly, friend and mentor, Nina Badzin. Nina introduced Jessica and I through twitter, and we proceeded to connect through email and phone conversations. We hit it off right away as we shared several parallel life experiences, as well as us each having a desire to write a book. Not long after we “met,” Jessica asked me if I would like to submit a story about friendship for a website that she and her friend, Stephanie Sprenger were in the process of developing. Stephanie also reached out to me in an authentic way, and I could tell that these two women were the real deal. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to be a part of something they were working on, and began thinking about powerful friendships that I have had/have in my life.

I sent the following email to Jessica:

“Jessica, thank you. I am honored that you asked me. The stories [that you and Stephanie have already posted] are amazing and I am not sure that I have a friendship story as powerful as those you have gathered but I will work to write something meaningful. The first thing that comes to mind is: My younger sister (and only sibling) is my best friend. Hands down. She knows me inside and out and loves me anyway. We were not very close growing up. I once threw a rock at her head…”

And Jessica responded,

“Hi, Julie.
You DEFINITELY have a great friendship story.  (You’re practically written it already!)  I have had a similar experience with my sister…”

And that is how my contribution to this book, “You and Me,” came to be, and how my friendship with Jessica continued to grow. I am honored to have my piece included in this compilation, and to be among the 50 women writers, many of whom I have had the opportunity to connect with via our blogs, twitter or facebook. I am beyond thrilled for Jessica and Stephanie, who have worked tirelessly to pull our voices together in this meaningful collection.

Please consider purchasing this book (or e-book) as a gift for the women in your life this holiday season. To learn more about the Her Stories Project and to purchase a copy of the book, head over to the The HerStories Project website. If you click on the CreateSpace purchase button and use this promo code: HK5T27Y3, you will receive $2 off each book you purchase.

Friday Faves! Home For Thanksgiving!

soph & girls

This week’s Friday Fave is not a quote from book #1. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, and having our family of six all under our roof again, I had to go with this photo. It depicts the raw emotion of my daughter and a few of her closest friends seeing each other for the first times since they all left for college in August. The embrace continued on for several minutes as more of her friends showed up at our house and joined in. These girls have been together since they were 9, and have survived numerous ups and downs in their friendships and in their individuals lives. And yet their bond remains secure and strong. The miles between their colleges are just numbers. They are united by a love that I believe, for many of them, will be lifelong.

I am grateful that my daughter has these friendships, which contain history and understanding, and most importantly comfort and security. And for me, I loved hearing the screeches and the loud voices in my house again. I loved hearing the music blaring and looking over to see the dance party happening in the kitchen. I love that I had a chance to connect with these girls, whom I adore, and are like daughters to me. I am also grateful for the wonderful friendships that my husband and I have developed with their parents, and that they also gathered in our home to toast the holidays and to feel the joy of seeing all the girls together again.

This is a brand new part of Thanksgiving weekend…and for me, it is right up there with chocolate chip pecan pie!

 

Reason, Season and Lifetime: Motherhood and Friendships

High School buddies Julia and Katy

I am so excited and honored to be a part of Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger’s upcoming book The Her Stories Project. The piece I contributed is about the relationship I share with my sister today and how we got here.

I am extremely excited not only to be a part of this book but to read this book. As I mother my four children and help guide them through the ups and downs of their friendships, I am continually reminded of how important and sometimes complicated friendships are, and how even at my age, some friendships can still be tricky to navigate.

“Reason. Season. Lifetime,” my friend simply stated when I began talking to him about friendship. “What do you mean by that,” I asked. He went on to explain that there are three different kinds of friends: Reason—these are friends you have for a reason—you work out with them, you attend a study group with them, you serve on a committee with them. They serve a purpose and a fulfill a current need for companionship in your life. Season—these are friends you have for a certain period of time, and these friendships often happen as a result of something that brings you together and keeps you together for, on average, five to seven years—your kids go to school together, you are in the same book club, you are neighbors or you work together. Oftentimes, these friendships are “seasonal” and come to an end when the season that brought you together ends—one of your kids switches schools, you change jobs or move. The third kind of friendship, which you are truly lucky if you have even one, is, of course, the lifetime friend. Your relationship has stood the test of time. She knew you when and she knows you now and she still loves you, and you feel the same way about her. These friendships are often the most sturdy and reliable friendships. (I truly don’t know where I would be without my lifetime friends.)

Women need all three of these types of friendships, and they are each meaningful and fulfilling in different ways. And certainly a “reason” friendship can evolve into a long-standing friendship. When I step back to look at women and friendships in general, I see that there are many subtleties in friendships. Many women shy away from talking about their friendships, especially those that are more challenging (which is why Jessica and Stephanie’s book is so important). Women often think their friendships should be easy and natural, but when they are not, many women feel a certain amount of shame and they just want to move on. Dr. Irene S. Levine takes a close look at women’s friendships in her 2010 article in the Huffington Post.

“Despite the romanticized myth of BFF, the hard truth is that most friendships don’t last forever. In fact, research suggests that when it comes to friendships, a phenomenon occurs that is somewhat akin to the seven-year itch: Half of our close friendships turn over every seven years. Women are reluctant to talk about their friendship problems which turn out to be quite common: losing friends, having unfulfilling friendships, or having no friends at all. Just like other life-affirming relationships that we treasure–relationships with lovers, husbands, siblings, children, and pets–our closest friendships tend to be imperfect. Friendships are fraught with disappointments and misunderstandings—resulting in some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of our emotional lives.”

For mothers, I feel that our friendships are extremely important. We are all exploring unknown, sometimes terrifying territory that involves raising kids and managing the relationship with our partner (whether you are married, separated or divorced). When we need to make sense of things, need support, guidance, love, trust, we often turn to our friends, sometimes even more than we turn to our partners. Our friends are there to help us get through the through the day to day challenges, share in our joys and sometimes give us the strength (or kick in the ass) we need to make dramatic changes in our lives.

An integral part of being a healthy woman and mother (which I cover in complete detail in my upcoming book…really, it’s almost done), is to be mindful and thoughtful about your friendships. It is important that women don’t take each other for granted, make assumptions, or treat each other unkindly. Raising children is hard, being married or in a relationship is hard, work is hard—our friendships need to be something we cherish and nurture so that we can count of them to help us feel good about who we are. Women need to feel accepted and loved, more than any of us would like to admit, and sometimes we need it more from the women in our lives than anyone else, including our partner.

I am not saying that it is always easy. For me, I know that I have been an amazing friend and I have been a shitty friend (not intentionally). I have SO been there for friends and I have SO missed things. I have hurt friends and have been hurt by friends. But from each friendship, I have learned and grown, and I hope my friends feel the same way. The older I get and the more I look at myself and my friendships, I realize how important it is for moms to feel connected to other women in a positive way. It doesn’t have to be the Cosmo drinking, lunching or hitting the town several nights a week, Carrie Bradshaw and her girl gang types of friendships. However, do not underestimate the power and importance of friendship.

So, try this: On a regular basis, make a point to reach out to a new friend or an old friend, or maybe even an estranged friend, and say or do something that could literally make her day. Really, try it! Sometimes it can be as simple as a phone call to say, “Hi, I am thinking about you.”

And let me know how it goes.

Bullying Hurts: Parents Play an Essential Role in Dealing With Bullying Behaviors

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When your happy, well-adjusted 5th grader sends you a text messages from school saying, “Please come and get me. Everyone hates me. My life is ruined,” you know there is a problem.

Upon receiving these texts from my son a few weeks ago, my mind immediately raced back to my daughter’s 5th grade year when she first experienced bullying behavior by her peers. I explored the subject of bullying amongst girls and wrote an article in 2007 for Minnesota Parent Magazine entitled “Girl Swirl.” Six years later, and even after experiencing some relational aggression with my older son’s peers, I am still blown away by how incredibly mean kids can be to one another. Kids desperately want to feel included, popular and important and will go to great lengths to secure their spot in a group.  When a group decides to pick on someone because he is a threat, isn’t following the leaders of the group, or the group simply wants to get their kicks or exercise power by putting someone else down, most kids will choose to go along with the group, rather than stand up to the group leaders. These kids are well aware that any one of them could easily become the next victim.

Recently, I got a call from the middle school dean who informed me that my son was punched in the stomach twice during a football game scuffle that occurred during recess. My son later informed me that this was the second time that he had been punched by the same boy. The first time happened during gym class when my son was sticking up for another boy whom the aggressor was teasing, and the aggressor punched my son twice in the face.  This incident, however, was not reported, by my son nor the gym teacher. The boy who punched him was sent home after the second incident, which caused an uproar amongst a group of boys, many of whom were my son’s friends (or at least he thought they were). Since this incident, my son has been blamed for the boy being sent home and subsequently has been teased, excluded, and targeted as the guy to “hit” during touch football games, which often turn into tackle (which was against the rules but went unnoticed by the recess monitors).  He has heard boys repeatedly talking behind his back and knows there have been disparaging texts being sent about him. Friends who he thought were his friends have changed their minds about him and have decided that he no longer requires even a “hello.”

The school is aware that he is being targeted, and I made some calls to some of the moms of the boys who are involved, with whom I am friendly. But not much has changed. My son, for the last few weeks of school, has felt much like an outcast when he walked into school. Thankfully, the school year is now over and my son does have some loyal and kind friends who were/are not afraid to stand with my son during this difficult time, even at the risk of falling victim themselves.

My hope is that over the summer, the boys will have a chance to cool off, forgive and forget, and that my son’s fear of starting 6th grade as a target of hate will not be realized. As my heart aches for my son having to experience these feelings, I find myself wondering, do all kids get a touch of this at some point during their adolescent years? Does anyone get through these years unscathed?  And what is our role as parents to help our kids deal with these difficult issues surrounding friendship, group dynamics and social hierarchy…and bullying.

My son is not perfect. I am sure he is guilty of saying something mean to someone. I know he has changed his mind about certain friends and decided to create some distance.  But to my knowledge, he would not go out of his way to deliberately hurt or exclude someone.

Actually, I take that back. He did try to exclude a friend/turned non-friend once, and I knew that as a parent I most definitely needed to take an active role to help guide him through some of his choices and refuse to allow him to act this way. A few months ago, when my son asked me if he could have a big group of friends over on a Friday after school, I was happy to comply. When I asked him whom he was inviting, I realized that there was a good friend of his who was not on the list. “I don’t like him anymore,” he responded when I inquired about him. “Ok, he doesn’t have to be your best friend but you are not going to exclude him from this gathering. It will be very hurtful to him and I am not going to let you do that,” I told him calmly. “O.k., then I won’t have anyone over,” he said. I told him that I was fine with that.

He did end up having the gathering, and he and the boy he wanted to exclude (but didn’t) reconciled their differences and are now very close friends again. As parents, we have a very important job to do when it comes to dealing with our children and bullying. We need to play an active roll in helping them manage their behaviors and their relationships, without trying to micromanage their every move. Their friendships will indeed ebb and flow, and feelings will undoubtedly be hurt sometimes, but it is essential that we as parents are aware that bullying is different than the having a falling out with a friend or changing friend groups.

Here are some important points to consider when dealing with your child and issues around bullying:

  • If you get a call from your child’s school or another parent who says that your child is acting overly aggressive toward a peer or peers, or if you see signs of this kind of behavior in your child, take it seriously. It is not a joke or a game or “just kids being kids.”
  • If your child denies any wrongdoing, continue to have conversations with your child about your expectations of him, and be very clear that you expect him to be inclusive and to treat others with kindness, respect and compassion, and that it is not okay for him to do or say hurtful things to anyone, or to participate in any sort of “ganging up” behavior.
  • Be a good role model and make sure that your own children are treating each other respectfully in your home.
  • Check your child’s phone and social media outlets for evidence of bullying behavior. If you find that your child has been engaging in cyber bullying, give them appropriate consequences like taking their phone or computer away, and encourage and empower them to stop the bullying cycle amongst their peers.
  • Explain to your children that bullying is serious, will not be tolerated and there will be consequences for this type of behavior. Make sure that they understand the kinds of effects that bullying can have on kids like the fact that “at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.” (http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html)
  • If your child is being bullied, monitor him closely and watch for signs of depression or even suicidal behaviors.
  • Advocate for and empower your child and teach him how to advocate for himself. Contact the school and other parents, and make them aware of what your child is experiencing. Allow the “mamma bear” to arise in you, and do what you need to do to try and make sure your child will be safe.
  • Encourage your child to reach out to kids who are consistently kind. Even when you are beyond the stage when you can arrange play dates for your child, it is still okay to contact a parent of a child whom you feel would be a positive, supportive friend to your child and arrange for the kids to do an activity or a camp together.
  • If you do these things and still feel that your child is not safe in his school environment, it may be necessary to make a change.  Even when tormentors are threatened and disciplined by authority, there are so many cases wherein individuals or groups of kids will continue to find a way to make other kids’ lives miserable.

It is extremely painful to watch your child endure tormenting and exclusion by their peers, and it is also uncomfortable to know that your child is a tormentor (although, unfortunately these behaviors are often ignored or denied by parents). And it is very difficult as a parent to know what your role is in managing these issues. But whether you are the parent of a victim, an aggressor or quite possibly both, make sure your are dealing with these issues head on and that you working with your child to help him develop the tools he needs to constructively manage his relationships throughout his formative years.

The Final Weeks of Her High School Senior Year

IMG_6517I finally took a breath. Less than 24 hours earlier my daughter called and said with a certain amount of panic in her voice, “Another girl was supposed to have the senior skip day party but now she can’t so it’s okay that I told people they could come to our house, right?” “Isn’t senior skip day tomorrow,” I asked tentatively. “Yes, she said.  I paused. “I don’t think everyone will come though,” she said to fill the silence. “There are 80 seniors, right,” I asked as my mind raced to figure out how I could pull this off as my husband was out of town until early the following evening, I was headed to my son’s baseball game, had another commitment after his game, a meeting first thing the next morning and two more later that afternoon.

“Ok, Sophie,” I said softly. “Thanks, mom, I gotta go, I’ll call you later.”

I raced through the next 24 hours, showing up for my commitments, filling my cart up at Costco, but feeling anxious and snapping at my kids and my husband when he called from out of town. As Sophie and I raced to go pick up tables at my sister-in-law’s house, just hours before the guests would arrive, she said, “Mom, sometimes you take the joy out of things because you get so uptight and anxious. This is not a big deal, it’s just some kids coming over. We just all want to be together.”

Ha! Just some kids coming over?! I wanted to yell at her and tell her that she doesn’t understand what it really takes to feed 60-80 people, to be unsure of how many people are actually attending, that my house is not as clean as I want it to be, that I am hosting a graduation party for her in a month, that I was a bit annoyed that I would not be able to go watch my oldest son’s baseball game that afternoon, that I was overwhelmed even before she sprung this upon me, that I wish I would have had more notice, that I wish my husband was home and didn’t travel so much…

But I didn’t yell, I mentioned a few of the above-mentioned issues but mostly just listened to what she said and let it sink in. She was right. What she said about me was sometimes true.

We drove in silence, picked up the tables and drove home. “I’m sorry, Soph, I just have a lot on my plate right now.  Are you excited to have everyone over,” I asked. “Yes, I am, mom,” she replied. “Thanks for doing it.” “My pleasure, “ I smiled at her as my heart softened.

But then it was back home to the flurry of her friends barreling in and tossing hot dog buns, watermelon, corn, brownies and drinks on my kitchen counter; and then firing up the grill to begin preparing the meal. The evening swirled as my husband got home, another mom came over to help, my sister and brother-in-law came over to lend a hand and check out the action, my son returned from his game, my two younger kids were trying to steer clear of the chaos, and more and more seniors arrived, all of them seemingly giddy, after a day of skipping school and possessing that incredible feeling of being done with high school (well almost done: done with classes but heading into two weeks of a chosen internship). They ate, talked, laughed, played volleyball, jumped on the tramp and signed yearbooks.

I was busy in the kitchen when all of the sudden I looked over at my friend who was breaking graham crackers and chocolate bars for the s’mores that the kids would soon be making, and said, “I have to stop. I have to sit down and look outside for a minute and take this all in.”

I walked over to the window and sat down in chair. I finally took a breath as I stared outside at these kids who were no longer kids. They were young adults, many of whom I watched grow up. I saw two boys (young men) perched up in Josie’s tree house heckling a classmate and then ducking down so she couldn’t see where the call was coming from. “They are still like little boys,” I said to my friend. But they aren’t little boys any longer, even if they still want to play like them.

I saw my daughter laughing, playing volleyball; appearing so happy and carefree. I wanted to go hug her and tell her how happy I was for her. How happy that she invited all her friends to our house. How excited I was that she had reached this stage of life—this stage at which she had freed herself from the angst of adolescence and was right smack dab in the middle of the “I’m free and life is an empty canvas” stage of teen land.

At that moment I felt so grateful for her, for the 18 years that I have had with her, and for all that she has taught me about life.  The 18 years seemed, at that moment, like a blip, like a sliver of what I prayed would be her long and lovely life, As I heard her roar of laughter and high-pitched screech of excitement, I blinked and she was three. There she was, playing with her friends, playing ring around the rosie, laughing and squealing with delight whey it was time to “all fall down”! A sense of peace flooded over me with the realization that my first-born baby was 18, happy and free, and that she still emotes the same joy as she did when she was a little girl.

Thoughts of the mess outside and the dishes in the sink snapped me out of my trance. “Thanks so much for hosting this for us so last minute, Mrs. Burton,” the seniors said with sincerity, as they slowly filed out of my house in small groups.  My heart was full—full of the many blessing that my daughter has given me, including the gift of filling my house up with her friends’ laughter and youthful energy.  And the gift that she had given me earlier that day—the reminder about not letting my stress to get in the way of my ability to enjoy the moment—allowed me to set aside the worry of my messy kitchen and find gratitude and joy in experiencing my daughter’s happiness and the happiness of all of her wonderful friends, who, as they are all getting ready to head out and find their way in the world.

“This goes down as one of my best senior memories,” one of my daughter’s closest friends said as she hugged me good-bye. “Me too,” I said with a smile as I hugged her back, struggling to let go.

“The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”

(A poem I have had in my kitchen since my second child was born.)

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