Family Circle

WIN IT! Family Circle Summer Shopping Spree Sweeps With RetailMeNot.com

Written on July 1, 2014 at 2:15 pm , by

Let digital coupon site RetailMeNot.com foot the bill for all your summer shopping needs by entering Family Circle’s gift card giveaway sweepstakes. There are four $500 visa gift cards up for grabs. Here’s your chance to WIN! See official rules, here.

 

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on June 30, 2014 at 12:54 pm , by

“We are berry patriotic!” says Instagram user @mommi_swag, who re-created our Berry Kabobs.  The All-American dessert is easy to make and a surefire hit! Find other patriotic treats at here.

 

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.

Turn a Boring Summer Day into a $10,000 College Fund!

Written on June 25, 2014 at 11:31 am , by

By Robb Riedel

The rev of a lawn mower. The chirping of crickets. The hypnotic melody of an ice cream truck. It’s official: Summer has finally arrived! Which means the three words mothers dread the most can’t be far behind: “Mom, I’m bored.” It seems by the time school’s been out for a mere week, there’s already nothing to do.

But boredom isn’t necessarily a negative, especially when it could result in winning some cold, hard cash for college. All your child has to do is invent the winning outdoor activity in the Clif Kid Backyard Game of the Year contest. Relish a rare moment of tranquillity by charging your kid with the task of inventing a new, fun fresh-air activity that doesn’t promote violence and can be played by children ages 6 to 12. Your kid might get inspiration from your own childhood, when unstructured time meant heading outside to play tag, build a fort or ride a bike through the neighborhood. Kids can also check out previous finalists’ creations, which include creative games like Tortoise & the Hare Ball and Sidewalk Chalk Adventure.

Go to clifkidbackyardgame.com to enter the name of your child’s game, a description and a photo. The kid who creates the best activity will win a bike and helmet, a special block party for family and friends and, most important, a $10,000 educational scholarship!

There’s no better reason to send kids outside to play! The contest ends July 3, so there’s ample time for them to perfect their game’s rules and submit photos. For more information, visit clifkidbackyardgame.com.

Getting Back to What Matters Most

Written on June 23, 2014 at 10:37 am , by

By Rachel Macy Stafford, author of Hands Free Mama

As my family prepares for an upcoming out-of-state move, I’ve been forced to think about what home means to me. I’ve always believed home is a feeling, not a place. More specifically, home is the feeling of peace and completeness I feel when I am surrounded by the people I love.

But recently, my definition of home has expanded. Home is also living Hands Free.

What began as small changes to let go of distraction, pressure and perfection has become a necessity—like water, air and food. Each day, I need time to connect to what matters in some form or fashion. I need time to rest, laugh, listen and breathe.

Smelling my daughter’s freshly washed hair … feeling sunshine on my face as I wait for swim practice to conclude … jotting down writing ideas in a notebook … tight hugs before we go our separate ways … my Hands Free moments are home to me now.

But I must be realistic. As much as I would love all moments in life to be calm, present, safe and undistracted, it is simply not possible. We live in a fast-paced world saturated with duties, deadlines and devices. In a world inundated with distraction, it is easy to get far from home.

Yet with almost four years’ experience living Hands Free, I am able to detect when I am getting too far from what matters. No longer am I willing to push and pressure and “yes” my way through life to the point that I lose sight of everything that matters most.

Here are some of the difficult truths I say to myself when I am getting too far from home. These “red flags” help me realize when I need to say no, re-establish my boundaries or reassess what matters and what doesn’t.

My distraction radar says:

“You’re overwhelmed.”

“You’re staying up too late.”

“You haven’t sat down all day.”

“You’re eating at the kitchen counter.”

“Your heart is racing.”

“You are complaining more than you are being positive.”

“You are quick to anger.”

“You are bullying yourself.”

“You are trying to do too much at once.”

When I hear these painful truths in my head, I don’t ignore them like I used to. Nor do I make excuses or get defensive. Instead, I do one of the following actions to bring myself back home:

• I lower the bar. I remind myself nothing has to be perfect, just “good enough for today.”
• I turn away from the outside/online world and turn toward my inner circle of friends and family.
• I take a walk. Even 10 minutes of fresh air and time for reflection helps me feel rejuvenated and less overwhelmed.
• I silence the inner critic with three powerful words: Only Love Today.
• I resist the urge to push myself beyond my limits and make a reasonable plan for getting one item accomplished at a time.
• I throw on a hat and stop fussing over my appearance.
• I treat myself with kindness and compassion like I would a friend who is going through a hard time.
• I say, “I cannot worry about that right now,” and stop obsessing over things I cannot control.

Whenever my distraction radar goes off, I try to do one of those things—even if it is for only a few minutes. These actions help me protect what is important in my life and keep me moving forward on my Hands Free journey. My friends, we cannot control all the circumstances of our life, but we can control some. When faced with feelings of being overwhelmed, take a moment to evaluate: Is everything I’m trying to do today necessary? Is there somewhere I can lower the bar? Is the feeling of home in here somewhere? Each day, take one small step toward what brings you peace and fulfillment. This way, you’ll never get so far from home that you can’t get back to what matters most.

 

Rachel is the New York Times best-selling Author of Hands Free Mama. She resides in Alabama with her husband and two daughters, who inspire her daily. You can join her on her journey to let go of distraction and grasp the moments that matter at www.handsfreemama.com

 

You Make It, We Post It!

Written on June 16, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

Nothing signals summer more than gorgeous ripe tomatoes! Instagram user @shoo_shoobaby did an impressive job re-creating the cover recipe from our July issue—Cherry Tomato Bruschetta. Try your hand at the other dishes that have graced our covers here.

 

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.

Pick up a copy of our July issue, on newsstands now, featuring delicious Cherry Tomato Bruschetta!

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Too Sexy, Too Soon: You’re Wearing That?

Written on June 10, 2014 at 11:07 am , by

By Bruce Feiler

My girls are barely in their tweens, but the wardrobe wars have already begun. I can’t win every battle over clothes that are too skimpy, clingy or cheeky, but that’s okay. I’m learning to make peace—well, sort of—with their fashion sense.

It first happened to me last year. My twin daughters, who had just turned 8, came bounding into the room to show off the new outfits they would be wearing to an extended-family gathering. My eyes bulged. The dresses drooped provocatively off the shoulder and offered other peekaboos of their bodies. Sure, I figured I would one day face clothing battles with my children. Politicians aren’t the only ones who draw red lines. But so soon?

As a father, I find these conversations particularly challenging. On the one hand, I’ve internalized all the messages that I should not criticize my daughters’ bodies, compliment them merely for their looks, or in any way stifle their emerging sexuality. On the other hand, I don’t want them to leave the house dressed as pole dancers.

For years, I had what I thought was a sly way of handling this issue. Whenever my daughters modeled a new piece of clothing, I would say: “I don’t care what you wear. I care who you are.” Recently they’ve begun throwing my line back at me: “But I thought you didn’t care what we wear!”

Time to get some new lines.

The issue of appropriate clothing for girls has been the subject of increasing academic and popular scrutiny, fed by the likes of skimpy panties printed with “Dive In.” Abercrombie & Fitch (whose CEO got in hot water recently for saying he wanted to sell clothing only to cool, attractive kids) was forced to back down after marketing “padded” and “push-up” bras to little girls. Walmart bowed to parental pressure and yanked girls’ underwear that was printed with the words “Who needs credit cards…” on the front and “When you’ve got Santa” on the back.

While it’s easy to put the blame on stores, the real issue lies at home. I feel as if I’m constantly struggling with where and when to draw the boundary line. Is this worth picking a fight over? How about that? According to Sarah Murnen, PhD, a professor of psychology at Kenyon College, parents today face greater challenges than in the past because girls’ clothing has become more revealing. Her survey of popular shopping sites shows that a third of items were “sexualized,” including more than half of dresses and two-thirds of swimsuits. This trend is particularly alarming because her research indicates that when adults see girls dressed in sexualized clothing, they take them less seriously. “Teachers might be looking at these girls and assuming they aren’t intelligent,” she says. Still, it’s impossible for kids to withstand sophisticated efforts by corporations that prey on their desire to be popular, says Joyce McFadden, a psychoanalyst and the author of Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women. Parents can sometimes compound the problem. “We’re so afraid to talk honestly with our daughters about their sexuality that we end up leaving them out in the cold,” she says.

My wife, who selects the bulk of our daughters’ clothes in consultation with them, admits that she’s less concerned with what a particular dress or T-shirt says about the girls than with what the girls say for themselves. “My goal is to make them feel good when they go to school, so they can focus on what they have to say in class,” she explains. To do that, she prefers to let them pick out clothes they like, even if they’re a bit tight-fitting or short. About those outfits that set off alarm bells (not only with me, by the way, but with my mother- and sister-in-law too), she says, “My line might be drawn slightly differently from yours. I found those dresses to be a little mall rat, perhaps, but not risqué.”

But we agreed that we need to be more prepared for these battles in the future. So I came up with a few typical tween-teen retorts and then asked for expert advice on how to reply.

“Everybody does it.”

“Ooh, that’s a rough one,” McFadden says, “because it’s the precursor to ‘Well, Johnny is freebasing’ or ‘So-and-so gets to stay out until 4 in the morning.’ ” A little pushback—as in, “Well, in our family we do things differently”—is called for here. The critical step is for parents to make sure they are on the same page before approaching their children. Even so, “you’re going to have to compromise on some pieces of clothing,” says McFadden. “I had to give in on push-up bras with my tween. But don’t let these items take over her wardrobe.”

“It’s the only thing they sell.”

According to Sharon Lamb, EdD, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and co-author of Packaging Girlhood, children who make that observation actually have a point. “Still, it’s important to state your values,” she advises. “Say something like, ‘I don’t want to see you and your friends buying into these marketers’ schemes to sell teenage stuff to younger and younger kids. It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The marketers are the body snatchers, and I’m going to fight them!’ ”

“You’re such a square.”

Maybe, but parents need to embrace their old-fashioned standards, Murnen insists. “I told my daughter that I hope she develops a wonderful body image and a healthy sexuality but I don’t think that’s what sexy clothes are doing,” she says. Murnen went a step further and adjusted her own fashion choices. “I’m not a conservative person and I like attractive clothing,” she says. “But I’m careful not to wear styles with sexualizing characteristics because I do feel like I need to be a role model.”

“Mom wears these things, why not me?”

The smart answer is to point out to girls that as they get older, they will have more freedom to make their own decisions. But you’ve got to put your foot down for now. “This generation of parents are such sissies when it comes to setting boundaries,” says McFadden. “They concede to their children’s whims to make them happy, but those children have no internal compass. Limits are what make healthy, happy adults possible.”

“Fine, but I’m just going to change as soon as I get to school.”

When your daughters threaten to peel off layers once they leave the house, it’s time to redirect the conversation. “I would say, ‘I’m not interested in controlling what you wear, but I am interested in getting you thinking about what it means to be an attractive person,’ ” Lamb suggests. In fact, she often tells her college students that the species would die out if boys only wanted to have sex with girls who looked like Victoria’s Secret models. “We’re built to be attracted to people with different looks, personalities, talents, senses of humor and lots of wonderful things, she says.

So back to that family gathering and those barely-there dresses. Our girls were clearly flashing their approaching tweendom, and my wife quickly heeded the message. Shawls were procured, and their outfits instantly became more age- appropriate. A few weeks later, the three of them did a little hunting and located some websites that sold attractive clothing with more modest yet trendy-enough slogans: “I Love Music” and “Bee-You-Tiful” with a bumblebee.

Still, as we’ve been warned, the big battles are yet to come. McFadden encouraged me to stay strong. “Remember, you’re raising two young girls who are going to live a whole life,” she says. “Just because one episode doesn’t go well doesn’t mean an accumulation of similar messages won’t somehow trickle down. Be brave. Let them have the freedom they deserve, but still set guidelines that represent your values.”

When I first became a dad, I figured I would decide on a few core principles, state them firmly, and my children would know how to apply them. Now I realize I was wrong. I have to constantly find new, subtler ways to remind them what’s really important. Sexuality may be the most vivid example of this change. When I was growing up, parents thought the topic could be dispensed with by a single awkward sit-down about the birds and the bees. But these days, sexuality is everywhere. As a result, it’s no longer “The Talk” for parents; it’s a series of talks. It’s a conversation. And it can’t begin when the kids turn 12. By then, it’s too late. Our kids are already tuning us out.

In that way, I’m happy I had this first showdown with my daughters while they were still young enough to listen to me. If nothing else, we got
to practice what’s already becoming our little opera of daily life. They say, “I’m becoming a woman, Dad, hear me roar!” I say, “I’m a square, girls, but I can roar too!” And every now and then, I can even get them to smile, as long as I don’t rub it in that I can still make them laugh.

 

Bruce Feiler is a columnist for The New York Times and the author of the best-selling book The Secrets of Happy Families (William Morrow). 

 

Parenting Confessions: “Mom, Did You Ever Smoke Marijuana?”

Written on June 10, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

By Sue Sanders, author of Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore: Navigating 25 Inevitable Conversations That Arrive Before You Know It

“MOM, DID YOU EVER smoke marijuana?” my 11-year-old daughter, Lizzie, asked as we pulled up in our driveway, gravel crunching under the car’s wheels. Her question wasn’t totally out of the blue—we’d just passed a group of teenagers hanging out on our town’s main street, a smoky cloud hovering over them like a mass Schleprock—but I was still caught off guard. My husband muttered something unintelligible and darted from the car to let the dog out of the house. I sat, frozen with anxiety. Do I answer honestly? Or lie? Spinning possible answers like a roulette wheel in my mind, I opted for truth.

“Yes, I did. A long time ago, in high school.” I unclasped my seat belt and turned around to face her. Lizzie actually gasped. “Why?” she asked. She’s the type of kid who likes rules, the more of them the better.

And why indeed? I’d been curious, of course, but I also wanted, desperately, to escape my social awkwardness, the discomfort of living in a small southern city. That town fit me as well as the jeans I wore back then, so tight and claustrophobic that I had to lie down on my bed, exhale, close
my eyes and will myself smaller to zip them up. I guess I also wanted to see what I could get away with. (Quite a lot, it turned out.) Pot was forbidden and illegal—and sure to horrify my straitlaced parents. But mostly it was a social lubricant that greased my rusty social skills: The ritual of rolling a joint and passing it around a room of kids my own age was something I could spend hours doing.

Of course, I wasn’t going to tell Lizzie all this. I wanted to bare my soul but not get naked. I wanted to be candid with her, but I wanted my candor to be rated PG. So I simply told her I’d been curious. I admit, I gave it a little spin. I told her that way back then, marijuana wasn’t as strong as it is now and drug laws were different. I explained that kids can ruin their chances of getting into college or attaining a scholarship if they’re caught with drugs. And Lizzie already takes college, the concept, very seriously. She plans to study writing and cooking. This week, at least. (Not long ago, she wanted to be an elf.)

Shocked, Lizzie rushed into the house and raced over to her dad, shouting, “Did you know Mom smoked marijuana in high school!” He did.

Like so many other parenting challenges, this one thwacked me in the face. I’d been meaning to talk with Lizzie about drugs, I really had, but just never got around to it. Sure, I’d read articles about what you’re supposed to do. Then I’d forget, or get busy folding laundry, or my email would ding. Then again, maybe waiting for the perfect opportunity, the right teachable moment, to present itself is just another way of saying I was wrapped in my cocoon of denial and avoidance. Teachable moments have a way of playing hooky.

Later that night, after Lizzie and I had snuggled together and talked a little more about drugs—I’d asked her if she had any more questions, and she did—

I trawled the Internet, searching for parenting advice on various websites. And I discovered I’d apparently done everything wrong. I was supposed to bring up the subject of drugs way back when my sixth-grader was still in preschool, finger painting and sorting colorful plastic toy bears into muffin tins. I should have discussed “good drugs” versus “bad drugs” with her as I gave her a Children’s Tylenol or Motrin for her fever. I briefly berated myself for not reading more parenting books when Lizzie was younger. See, I’m not a big fan of “experts” telling me what to do— a residual and healthy distrust of authority from my adolescence—but I do believe these guides have their place: as kindling. While newly pregnant, I was given a popular book that forewarned me of all the things that could possibly go wrong with the baby I was carrying, arranged in a helpful trimester format of pure terror. I think it was called What You Expect to Go Wrong Will. But in bypassing this publishing industry of fear, had I missed out on the basic steps of parenting? Was I simply Doing It Wrong?

I closed the parenting website and opened Facebook. It was time to lean on my most trusted source of parenting advice—my friends. And so I posted a status update, a query, asking how other parents talked to their kids about drugs. The postings poured in. Most said they favored being honest about their history and discussing the legal and health ramifications. They warned me off any Reefer Madness fervor or hard-line demand of “Don’t ever do it.” Back in high school, I’d been on the receiving end of “Don’t ever do it.” I can personally attest that approach didn’t work. I didn’t “don’t ever do it,” quite a lot.

All of which confirmed what I already knew. It was better to trust my friends—and myself—than “experts” for commonsense parenting advice. Besides, there seems to be a new expert or parenting philosophy every time I flip open the newspaper or log on to my computer. I won’t always discount what they have to say. But as parents, we have to trust our guts too. Because you can’t plan for every question, and the questions come fast.

The other day, while I was having lunch, Lizzie came into the dining room, face furrowed, and asked, “What’s a virgin?” Choking on my seltzer, I asked what she meant. She went into the kitchen, came back with a container and pointed. “It says right here: virgin lemonade.”

 

This article first appeared in Salon.com.  An online version remains in the Salon archives. Reprinted with permission. 

 

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4th of July Gear For Your Pets

Written on June 5, 2014 at 12:00 am , by

By Cristina Corvino

Red, white and blue fur-ever. Let your pets in on the patriotic fun with a simple accessory or an all-out Uncle Sam costume. They’ll be dressed in their Fourth-of-July best!

Pose your pets in their finest red, white and blue gear and share the snapshots with us on social media, using the hashtag #FCPETS.

 

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6 Ways Parents Can Discuss Sex Before Prom Night and Graduation

Written on May 28, 2014 at 3:31 pm , by

By Leslie Kantor, vice president of education, Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Prom and graduation season is an excellent time to have conversations with our teens about sex—what they anticipate happening, what their date or friends might envision, and how to handle the potent mix of alcohol, drugs and sexual pressure that is likely in the mix.

Studies show that teens who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to make healthy choices like waiting until they are older to have sex, and using birth control and condoms when they do decide to. You can empower your teens to make smart, safe choices by discussing the importance of having good communication with partners and using condoms and contraception. Proms and graduations should be very positive events in a teenager’s life, and with your help, they’ll be prepared and able to focus on enjoying themselves.

Keep the lines of communication open.
Talking with your teenager about sex may be awkward and uncomfortable at first, and owning up to that can help relieve tension. You can try saying something like, “It’s totally normal that this feels awkward, but I love you and care about you so we need to talk about important things like this.” In time and with practice, it will get easier. The key is to keep the conversation open and ongoing.

Discuss expectations.
If you’re allowing your teen to spend the night outside the home or stay out later than usual, talk about what you expect of them and help them think about how to handle peer pressure or difficult situations.

Practice things to say and ways to handle different situations.
As parents, we can help our teens by warning them about the lines they might hear and situations they may find themselves in. We can help them practice assertive responses that feel right to them, from saying no to sex to setting boundaries about what they want and don’t want to do. For teens that are going to engage in sex, making sure they are prepared with condoms is essential, as is what constitutes consensual sex so that teens are clear that when someone is drunk, they can’t actually consent to sex.

Talk with them about preventing pregnancy and STDs.
The reality is that 63% of high school seniors have had sex. Even if you want your teen to wait until they are out of high school or much older to have sex, it’s still important that they know how to protect themselves from STDs and getting pregnant before they head off to college, or start jobs that will inevitably force them to face sexual decisions and pressures.

Make sure they’re prepared.
You might want to make sure they have condoms with them on prom night and consider having your teen get a method of birth control as well. Chances are that that first year away at college or working, opportunities for sex will arise, so it’s better that he or she is prepared.

Get more information.
If the thought of helping your teen navigate these decisions feels a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Many college health centers provide condoms and birth control, and you and your teen can always visit a Planned Parenthood health center for information and care. They can also check out Planned Parenthood’s mybirthcontrolapp.org, which is designed to help older teens find methods that will work well for them, which they can then discuss with a health care provider.

For more information and resources on talking to teens about sex and sexuality, check out plannedparenthood.org/parents. Read more of Leslie’s work, here

Follow Leslie on Twitter @LeslieKantor.

 

 

Turning Fear into Empowerment

Written on May 23, 2014 at 3:13 pm , by

By Erin Rabitcheff

“Maybe this year will empower you.” This was the advice I received one day at a friend’s gathering when worrying aloud about the prospect of solo parenting my two young boys for a year. My husband had accepted a post abroad, and for the first time we would be separated as a family.

Three years ago, my husband came home and told me there was a job opportunity in another city. For your average American family that might mean New York, Houston or Los Angeles. For us it meant Kabul, Afghanistan.

My husband is an American diplomat working for the U.S. State Department, and we are an average Foreign Service family. When he signed up for the Foreign Service, he agreed to go anywhere in the world, and when I married him, I agreed to be open to wherever we might go, for as long as I could.

The U.S. invaded Iraq when our first son was not yet a year old. During the months that followed, my husband expressed interest in going there to serve at the U.S. embassy. I was nervous about it but did my best to be open and supportive. I almost agreed to let him go, until four Americans were killed in the 2004 Fallujah ambush. I feared I would be left a widow with a toddler. I told him I didn’t want him to go, and his friends and family agreed that he shouldn’t. He stayed, and although I was relieved, I always felt bad that I had prevented him from pursuing his dreams. So this time when he said he wanted to serve in Afghanistan, I supported his decision.

And then I panicked. He was due to go in a year, so I had 12 months to nurse my fears of becoming a widow, of being a single mother with two young sons, of falling apart from the stress, of how the boys were going to react because they are very close to their father.

When I spoke about my situation at a friend’s gathering, a guy there said, “I’m not married and I don’t have any kids, but maybe this year will empower you.” I stopped in my tracks. I had been so focused on my fears that I had not considered being empowered by this experience.

I had grown up with a single mother and it was no picnic. I could only imagine being like my mother—constantly struggling, stressed-out, overworked. Yet in a moment, the calm words of this acquaintance shifted my entire perspective. I remembered I was not my mother. I was married to a man who loved his kids very much. We had technology and could stay in touch as much as possible. I had friends I could rely on for emotional support.              

That year, I had many opportunities to build up my confidence, everything from the mundane (figuring out how to change the clock in the car, a typical duty of my husband’s) to writing a song with my children, which turned out to be one of my greatest joys. I talked to them about how they felt about their father going away, and we set their thoughts to music, using their words and perspective. I shot footage and edited the video myself, something I had never done before, and I posted the video on YouTube.

My greatest lesson was that by taking care of myself, I would take better care of my children. One of my dreams was to be a singer-songwriter. During the year that my husband was away, I carved out time to write music and to show up at open mics. I decided not to give up singing in a choir I loved, and took the kids with me. I made sure to meet up with friends and go and do something fun from time to time. I meditated and joined a gym and actually went regularly.

My husband made it home safe and sound. The year was very challenging emotionally for the entire family, and there were days when I felt nothing but exhaustion and worry. But I kept up with my music and tried to see my friends whenever I could. That self-care fueled me enough to be a happier person and a more loving, and empowered, mother.

 

———

Erin Rabitcheff, of Pixiegrowsup.com, is a singer-songwriter, blogger and mother living in New York. The song she wrote with her kids, “September 1st,” recently received runner-up status in the Song of the Year Song and Lyric Writing Competition. It is available on iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby.

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Living Without Regrets

Written on May 23, 2014 at 10:12 am , by

By Sandra Bornstein, author of May This Be the Best Year of Your Life

Sandra Bornstein in India

In the wake of the 1960s feminist revolution, I made an unusual choice for a college-educated woman in her mid-20s: I waived the opportunity to embark on a career track and decided to be a stay-at-home mother in the northern suburbs of Chicago. When I chose this path, I never anticipated that it was the first step toward moving to India to become a teacher.

While I respected the feminists at the time who encouraged women to pursue their careers, I did not feel that this option was the right fit for me. Fortunately, a second income was not an economic necessity. I devoted all my energies to our growing family. I embraced motherhood and ignored the criticism that was directed toward college-educated stay-at-home mothers. I had been raised by a revolving door of maids and did not want to repeat that undesirable pattern with my kids.

During my early years of motherhood, I was content with my choice, although I knew other stay-at-home mothers who did not share my positive feelings. (Likewise, I observed some career-driven peers who struggled to maintain a balanced lifestyle while others coped well and thrived.)

But something changed in my late 30s, after my father unexpectedly passed away. Losing a parent can have a profound effect on one’s perspective. I suddenly felt the need to pursue a master’s degree that I’d been unable to afford in my early 20s. I wanted to delve deeper into my heritage by studying Jewish history and culture. I chose a flexible program at Spertus Institute in Chicago that allowed me to attend classes at my own pace. My time-management skills were honed as I balanced the obligations of graduate school with the responsibilities of running a household with young children. I treaded carefully as I ventured into unfamiliar territory.

After graduating and relocating to Colorado, I reentered the workforce as a part-time teacher at a private Jewish high school in Denver but was soon back in school, this time to pursue a second master’s degree at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where I studied instruction and curriculum with an emphasis on multicultural education and second-language learners. This time around, I was part of a cohort that was required to graduate within two years.

Pursuing back-to-back graduate degrees while simultaneously raising a family forced me to evaluate my priorities. There were only so many hours in a day to complete required tasks. Getting a sufficient amount of sleep was at the top of the list. If there was a conflict between a class obligation and a family responsibility, my children and husband always came first. This decision sometimes created tension with my professors. If I hadn’t asked for accommodations, my family’s well-being would have been disrupted.

After graduating, I chose flexible teaching opportunities in the private and public sectors. I always aimed for a balance between work and home. Even though I was approaching empty-nester status, I wanted to maximize my time with my youngest children. I knew that my two youngest sons’ high school years would zoom by like the fastest train in the world, the Shanghai Maglev.

Right after my youngest child entered college, my husband was offered an unusual legal position that required him to split his time between India and the West. As a middle-aged woman, I had to decide whether I would remain in Colorado or relocate. I chose to become an expat. After interviewing at a handful of private schools, I accepted a teaching position at a highly respected international boarding school in Bangalore, India. Even though it was a dream job for a multicultural educator, I had many reservations and concerns:

Was I ready to step out of my safe and secure suburban existence and travel halfway around the world?

After 30 years of putting motherhood first, was I equipped to handle such an unusual adventure?

How would I cope with culture shock and being occasionally separated from my husband and sons?

And what would happen to my career after I returned to the USA?

I usually feel intense waves of anxiety while making life-altering decisions. But most of the time, I refuse to let go of my proposed plan. I take control of my emotions and discard elements of inflexibility. I simultaneously accept the idea to hop outside of my comfort zone and follow through with my journey.

Nothing could have adequately prepared me for what I encountered when I stepped off the plane in India. My new environment was filled with unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells and tastes that bombarded my senses. My Bangalore apartment was the antithesis of my suburban home. I never would have dreamed that a wild monkey would be hopping on my kitchen table or that a family of monkeys would visit my classroom on a regular basis. Each day, I faced an assortment of unpredictable events that I was forced to address.

But I never regretted going to India, because, whenever possible, I have followed my dreams to seek out enriching experiences.

 

Sandra BornsteinSandra Bornstein is the author of the award-winning book May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India.  Sandra currently writes a blog that focuses on life as an empty nester, book reviews, author interviews and travel. For more information visit www.sandrabornstein.com.

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Disney Princesses and the Meaning of True Love

Written on May 13, 2014 at 5:29 pm , by

 By Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior

We were watching Sleeping Beauty recently when my kindergartner pointed at the unconscious princess on the screen and said, “Mama, what’s wrong with her?” (Like death and taxes, princess movies can’t be avoided, especially by mothers of little girls.) My older daughter, Tish, 9, replied, “She’s sleeping and waiting. She can’t wake up till she finds true love.” Amma looked right at Tish and demanded, “Well, how’s she going to find anything if she stays asleep?” I laughed and thought: Excellent point. Then Amma asked me, “Mama, what is true love?”

I stopped laughing and stared at her. It seemed clear that my usual response—Let’s Google it!—wasn’t going to cut it. Amma’s thoughtful question required a thoughtful answer. I promised to get back to her and then pondered her question all day: Mama, What is True Love?

Sleeping Beauty got it halfway right. True Love is what wakes us and allows us to start living instead of just surviving. But I’m not convinced that life is a quest to find that singular soul mate who “completes us” (as Disney, with help from Jerry Maguire, may have us believing). I’m afraid this is a setup for bitter failure, because no one will ever complete us and nobody makes us happy. Our state of mind is more of an act of will than an uncontrollable result of circumstances and other people’s behavior. Happy people are not those who have found one perfect person to love: They are those who have found a way to truly love life—in the midst of all its imperfections.

At dinner that night I told my girls that as human beings we need to fall in love—with life first, which is the greatest relationship they will ever have. I explained that True Love is a decision some people make to trust, to always look for the good, and to consider every failure or distressing experience a necessary part of the journey. They don’t expect a prince to whisk them away because they don’t want to be whisked anywhere. And they don’t lie down and go to sleep. They stay awake and engage because they believe that life is ultimately on their side, even when it causes pain.

“Why does it have to hurt? Why does it have to be hard?” Tish asked me. “You know how math is your hardest class right now, but it’s also where you’re learning the most?” I explained. “It’s like that. Life is about learning, and we learn best when things get hard.”

This led to a discussion of the difficult things we often face. We talked about life’s ups and downs and excitement and dullness. We talked about how folks come and go without warning and often surprise the bloody hell out of us with their selfishness and their selflessness.

I asked my girls how they imagine they might respond to the beauty and brutality that life will ultimately put before them every single day. I firmly believe it is best to talk about these inevitable happenings before they happen—because I don’t want it to ever be a surprise. Nor should they view it as something personal. No matter who we are or how many rules we follow perfectly, there will be great pain and loss and joy and triumph. Life happens to all of us, whether we want it to or not.

My Amma must have been pondering the same thing because she wisely said, “I think we have to keep trying to love life even when it hurts our feelings.”

So we thought together about what we can do to keep loving life even when it hurts our feelings. The fix isn’t to seek out a new drug or drink or car or dress or diet or prince. Nor is it to curl up and go to sleep. No, we keep our feet on solid ground and we find the people, things, activities that make our souls sing, filling us up with beauty so we can make it through, even during our darkest moments.

And that beauty should be spread far and wide—in friendships and mountains and poetry and bike rides and work and art and always, always in service to others. You may find it in your children. Your dog. That majestic tree in the front yard. Deep breaths. Bluegrass music. Your partner. The ocean. Books. Yoga. The quilt your mama made with her own two hands. For me, these things are all my soul mates. It takes the whole world to fill me up, to “make me” happy. I’d never pin that job on just one person.

My girls and I agreed together that our best partner is the one who will most lovingly and supportively witness our journey—and the one whose journey we find most worthy of witnessing. And that, in the end, is the beginning of a truly beautiful relationship.

 

Glennon Doyle Melton is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir Carry On, Warrior, and founder of the online community Momastery.com