The Best Parenting Book Ever

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into CooperationEasy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation by Becky A. Bailey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is seriously the best parenting book I’ve ever read. It has taken me almost a year to work through this relatively slim book, but I found I needed to take time with each chapter to fully absorb it. (I took notes and made flash cards for myself — I’m a nerd, I know). It also has taken me that amount of time to actually put into practice these parenting techniques.

I should also say that this is probably one of the best mental health/counseling books I’ve ever read too. Another reason I chose to read it slowly is because one of the very first quotes of the book is “You cannot teach what you do not know.” So if I don’t know how to deal with my feelings or accept disappointment in a healthy way, how can I expect my child to not throw a fit about leaving the park early?

Maybe everyone else already understands this, but it took this book for me to realize that children misbehave because they don’t know the appropriate way to deal with something, not because they are disrespectful. The first thing the author teaches is to accept the moment as it is and to look at this tantrum (or “bad” behavior or whining) as a moment to teach our children a better way. There are many times I whine or throw a tantrum as an adult, but we seem to expect children not to do these things and to be punished for them. Bialey has us focus less on punishment, and focus more on what we actually want our children to learn. Basically, this book is about changing our mindset about parenting, starting with changing our mindset about ourselves.

This might sound philosophical, but Bailey also has specific actions to take, to the point of “here are the words you could say” kind of thing. She gives tons of examples of what to do and compares that with what we might already be doing, which I appreciate. I think one of my biggest takeaways was from The Power of Attention: what you focus on, you will get more of. This might be obvious, but it is something I had never really practiced in a parenting context. I usually found myself saying, “Don’t do this,” “no, not that,” etc. Bailey suggests that we focus on what our kids are doing well and also giving a suggestion of what to do rather than what not to do. This is simply just reframing how we say things. For example, I should say, “Put your feet on the floor,” rather than “Don’t put your feet on the table.” Little things like this actually matter and make a difference.

I have become a more compassionate, centered parent because of this book. I still make mistakes, of course, but I have found this way of teaching rather than punishing helpful for my kids and me.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

A White Girl Gets Woke: Gentrification Edition

Condo construction

Photo by John Tobe is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When we bought a house in our neighborhood seven years ago, it was a relatively diverse place, but it is rapidly gentrifying. In reading “The Dallas Morning News” several weeks ago (yes, I read the actual physical newspaper), I saw an article about an apartment complex not far from me that had been sold to a developer, likely to be transformed into an expensive condo. The current tenants had 60 days to vacate. The tenants responded by having a protest, highlighting the plight of low-income renters.

At the end of last year I read Evicted by Matthew Desmond. It is an important, illuminating and heartbreaking book about how hard (and expensive) it is to be poor in America, never being able to put down roots anywhere, always being required to search for the lowest rent or go homeless. I don’t know the people who have been basically evicted in my neighborhood, but because of this book, I am now familiar with the sad path that this might take them.

We recently had to vacate our house for about a week because of a mold problem. We moved in with my parents who live on the other side of town. It just about drove me bonkers (not because of my parents) but because it just wasn’t home and our schools, our jobs, our activities were now 30 minutes away. But I had a safe space to go for a limited period of time. I can’t imagine having to pick up and move so often because of not being able to make rent or getting evicted. 

Most low-income earners spend 60% or more of their paycheck on rent. That is just absurd. One, we don’t pay people enough and two, the cost of paying for a place to live has become astronomical, not even just for renters. Because the housing market has been booming, even my husband and I could not afford to buy in our current neighborhood now. Basically, we need more affordable housing in all our neighborhoods. 

You might be thinking that Section 8 vouchers could cover this. Well, most people are on a wait list for years and even then, many properties do not have to take these vouchers. We had a friend who (after waiting three years) got the coveted Section 8 voucher, but it took him another year to find a complex that would accept it…in Ennis. Dallas needs to require new developers to make affordable housing right along with these fancy, expensive condos. Dallas needs to require that more landlords take Section 8 housing. And we all need to see that housing is a basic right. 

A White Girl Gets Woke: My White Life

So 6 months ago, I set myself up with a series that I was going to write, and then I promptly stopped writing. Chronic illness, major diet changes, and a heavier teaching load than I was expecting all contributed to my lack of writing. 

But life has relaxed (slightly), so I’m back. Before life intervened, I was discussing how my worldview has changed for the better these past five years, starting to understand racism and white privilege in a way I never had before. However, my literal view, the people I tend to surround myself with has only gotten whiter. 

Five years ago (really six), I worked at a community college where most of my colleagues, friends, and students were people of color. Now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, working only online, I have found that my friend groups have gotten whiter and whiter. To me, this unveils my white privilege even more starkly because I can easily surround myself with whiteness, only occasionally and tangentially interacting with a person of color. 

But I want to make a more conscious choice of who I surround myself with. I need to go out of my comfort zone. I need to put myself in colorful, non-white spaces. One of those spaces is being more active in my local elementary school where most of the students are Latinx. I’ve gotten involved in the PTA, partly to do my part, but a lot so that I can get to know a lot of the other parents in the school. I have met some people, but I haven’t been able to spend enough time with anyone to actually become friends. 

So, I think I’m going to have to find other spaces where I am the minority, but honestly, I have found this hard to do. I have good intentions, but like so many people, I lack follow-through. I also lack the time. If I really want to find a group of people different from me, I am going to have to give up something else. Do I give up the women’s group I meet with biweekly, made up of mostly white women, but that I also find life-giving? Do I just make my introvert self talk to more moms on the playground? I’m seriously asking for suggestions here. I don’t know the answer. I have whitewashed my life, and I don’t like it. I want to live in color, but I don’t know how. 

A White Girl Gets “Woke:” A series

So what have I been doing the past five years? Well, among other things, I’ve been getting “woke.” If you aren’t familiar with this term, it basically means seeing and working against systemic racism, although I suppose you can wake up to just about anything. 

Five years ago, I would have told you that I don’t see color (people are just people). This was even after I took several graduate level courses in African-American Literature. I learned a lot in those classes, but through no fault of my teachers, I never understood that colorblindness actually perpetuates racism because it literally refuses to see differences in people and especially how they are treated.

Then Trump got elected. I know, I know. This was a “woke” moment for a lot of white people, and I’m no different (though I am aware that my black and brown friends were giving me the side eye and thinking, “What took you so long?” For a humorous representation of this phenomenon, watch this SNL skit.)

I’m sorry that it took seeing that most of our country will excuse racism and misogyny in our leaders to see that racism and misogyny are real, and ever-present. 

Now I don’t want to alienate my Republican friends who may have voted for Trump. You have values that are important to you that he claims to represent. I just also want you to see that words matter. They pave the way for how we think and act. And his rhetoric (calling Mexicans rapists and criminals, calling African nations “sh**-hole countries) paves a way that America has walked since its inception, and that path leads to inequality, harm and death for people of color. I don’t want to walk that path anymore.  

So I started reading more books, reading blog posts by people of color, following activists on Facebook. In order to get “woke,” education is a good place to start (look at the end for my book, podcast, and blog post recommendations). One of the places to start learning is actually understanding who we are.

And we are white people.

I am a white person.

What the heck does that even mean? In order to investigate this question, a few of the women in my church and I created a group for us white Southern ladies to learn and discuss what whiteness is and means. We did this by creating a curriculum where we discussed a 14-episode podcast series called Seeing White along with material called “Whiteness 101” from Be the Bridge, a non-profit group focused on racial reconciliation.

I’m glad we had this safe space to learn and discuss. Because there have been tears. And frustration. And anger. We white people can be defensive. No one wants to be called a racist. But I’ve come to see that all white Americans are racist because we live in a racist society, one that privileges white skin and cultur Continue reading

When a Voice is All You Have

So, I haven’t touched this blog in about 5 years. It just no longer appealed to me to share my life, my struggles, my thoughts. These past five years have been a time for me to focus on parenting, dealing with a major faith shift, and learning to live with a chronic illness. It was also a time that I stepped away from writing altogether. I didn’t even write for myself. 

It wasn’t until this past November when I participated in NaNoWriMo that I realized what a large part of my life was missing, that writing is actually life-giving for me. I wrote a strange mash-up of a fun middle-grade novel centering around a scavenger hunt that was also a fairly depressing meditation on death. Needless to say, no other eyes than mine will ever read it, but it was the act of writing itself that was more important to me than what I accomplished. 

I had been so fearful, for so long that my voice didn’t matter. I was fearful that people would read what I wrote and find it wrong-headed or stupid and at once afraid that no one would ever read it at all. I’m passionate about reading books by people of color, so I was hesitant to even start writing a novel that would put a privileged white girl’s perspective out there. Don’t we have enough of those?  

Maybe. But I need to recognize that my white, privileged, cisgendered voice can either stay silent to what is going on around me or speak out injustices that I see. And sometimes I’m still hesitant to use my voice because I am afraid that deep down I just want people to see me as a good white person. But I feel like I just need to stand up and say no to separating families. Say no to treating people who come to this country illegally like they are criminals.  Say no to a country that is more concerned with the rights of unborn children than with the living, breathing black and brown men, women and children who live in fear of the people who are meant to protect them. Say no to being cynical and apathetic. 

I want to say yes to seeing immigrants who come to this country as humans, as people who don’t want to leave the only home they have ever known but know that they have no future if they stay. Say yes that black lives matter. Say yes to writing my congressmen (even though I don’t feel like it does much good) because if everyone feels apathetic and does nothing, how can we tell the people in power what is true and good?

I think I also write this with a fair amount of guilt. Guilt for not doing more, for not going to protests, for not having many friends of color. Because I have chronic migraines, most days I am just hoping to keep me and my kids alive and relatively sane for another day. In some ways that gives me a great excuse to do nothing. But I’m tired of doing nothing. So on days when I only have a voice, I think I’ll use it.  

Helping without Hurting

'Smokehouse' photo (c) 2000, Don O'Brien - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I just finished Miss Willie by Janice Holt Giles for book club.  It was a book I honestly wasn’t too excited about: a middle-aged woman goes to take on the challenge of being a a school teacher in the poverty of Appalachia.  I feel like I’ve read this book before (Christy, anyone?).  But I ended up getting immersed in Giles’s beautiful language and her portrayal of Miss Willie’s realistic inner life.  Miss Willie also comes to an epiphany at the end of the novel that coincides with another book I’ve been reading — When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…And Yourself.

This book talks about the best ways to help others, mostly the idea of working with the poor, not foisting our “help” upon them.

Miss Willie comes to a similar conclusion and Giles writes this inner process in such a true way that I will quote it at length here:

“She had come to the ridge thinking:  These poor people!  They need help so badly.  They need me, Miss Willie Payne, so badly.  She had been horrified and shocked at conditions, and she had gone about preaching and lecturing. She had known the right way to do all things, and she had never hesitated to say so.  She had pitied these people and patronized them.  And what people of pride ever wanted pity or patronage!

But she had tried so earnestly to help them!  She had tried.  The wrong way, maybe.  But she had tried everything! Everything? Now her heart told her.  Everything…but love! She remembered crying out to Mary: “Where can you start? Where can you start?” You start with the people…and you start with love for the people! ‘The gift without the giver is bare’! And she had never given of herself! Her time, her energy, her knowledge. But not herself! She winced from that thought, but she faced it in all its bitter gall. She had never loved them!

Love was the way.  And lovelessness had been her greatest sin.  Out of a dim, long memory Miss Willie remembered a text of her father’s. ‘Take my yoke…and I will make it easy.’ The words came back to her now, and repeated themselves over and over. ‘Take my yoke.’ ‘Take my yoke.’ That most perfect One had lived ‘together’ with the people. What did He mean by his yoke? ‘Take my yoke…and I will make it easy.’ Could He have meant — was it possible His yoke had been living and working with people who never understood Him? Common, ordinary, ignorant people, who didn’t listen and who wouldn’t change? People who didn’t want anything better than they had? People who were dirty, diseased, and foul sometimes, and who were clean and noble and fine other times? People who loved and hated, fought and made peace, witnessed against their neighbors and then stood by them? Could He have meant living with them and loving them just as they were, unchanged and unchanging?

Like the eastern sun flooding the sky with light, Miss Willie understood in a flashing, transfiguring moment what it meant.  It meant to live together…under the yoke, together! Not one standing above, reaching down to pull the others up! Not one saying, ‘I must help these people’! It meant, instead, the banding and linking of people, one to another, in love and pity and yearning. It meant saying, ‘My people’; not, ‘These people.’ It meant getting under the yoke alongside of people, one with them, pulling the load with them.  Not standing aside telling them how to pull! It meant grieving with them, and sorrowing with them, and laboring with them, and laughing with them, and most of all, it meant loving with them. ‘Take my yoke’! He had been yoked with the people.  He had meant, then, live with them where they are.  Love them as they are. Take the yoke, and life it.  All lift together!”

She says it well: words I have thought myself, words I’ve been ashamed of, words of challenge, words of the true Kingdom of God.

Block Party

Part of my year of venturing is getting to know my neighbors. I had met our immediate next door neighbors (after I literally knocked on their door to say, “Hi! I’m your new neighbor!”) soon after we moved in. But I hadn’t met anyone else, and I wasn’t sure how to go about it other than to start knocking on doors again.

So, we decided to throw a party. Problem is — we decided this a year ago and still…no party. After going to a Mission Alive Fundraising Dinner, which is all about reaching your neighbor, I decided to just go for it and have the party that week. Careful planning be damned! I think the idea of the party (which I don’t really enjoy planning) had become so big in my mind that it became this overwhelming monster.

So we did minimal planning, minimal publicity (just flyers in mailboxes), and hoped for the best. We also invited members of our house church that live close by, and that gave me more peace of mind. If no one showed up, at least we could have a nice time with them.

So how did it go? It was great! 7 neighbors showed up for hot chocolate and conversation.  Several of our neighbors mentioned how excited they were to get our invitation.  I think this world is desperate for community, and most people don’t have a natural way of creating that.  Our neighborhood block party was so successful that we have decided to do some kind of get-together every month, to really have a chance to build community.

Reading Lately – Winter Edition

IMG_2397

I go through phases where I don’t feel like reading anything.  Then, all of a sudden, I can’t read enough and I start five books at once.  This winter was a “I don’t feel like reading anything” kind of season.  Part of that might have to do with my discovery of all five seasons of Alias on Amazon Prime Instant Streaming.  So I didn’t read many books during this season, but here is what I did read and what I thought:

Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

I have read A LOT of parenting books, trying to figure out how the heck to do this thing called parenting.  So when I heard about this amusing take on parenting, I thought I’d give it a go.  This isn’t so much a how-to as it is a memoir of the American author raising her children in Paris.  She lets us in on how the French raise their children, and how, apparently, it is very different from the American way of parenting.  They are strict about a few things, and then let their kids explore within these boundaries.  They teach their kids to wait — for snacks, for attention.  They aren’t so concerned with their kids getting ahead, but are more concerned with teaching their children how to enjoy life.  Enjoying life is also a big part of becoming a mother.  Motherhood should be balanced between work, home, and play — something their society makes easier by reduced-cost childcare, free preschool, and paid maternity leave.  I enjoyed reading about Pamela’s adventures in raising a Parisian child and found some similarities in how I view parenting.  There are some positive things I took away — especially the part about letting our children explore at their own rate and not flashcarding them to death.  But there are some aspects of French parenting that aren’t all its cracked up to be:  they don’t encourage breastfeeding and there is a lot of pressure to lose that baby weight.  But for the most part, this was just a fun read, seeing how a slightly different culture raises their kids.

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis and Beth Clark

This was a book club selection; otherwise, I probably would not have read it.  I’m glad I did though because it generated one of our best discussions.  We were all in tears at the end!  It’s about 19-year old Katie, who has some serious chutzpa, moving to Uganda, starting a non-profit, adopting a bunch of kids, and pretty much giving up her American life.  To be honest, I had a hard time with this book, mostly because I felt guilty the whole time that I hadn’t given up my American life to serve in Africa.  I know this book is meant to be inspiring, about how one person can do so much, but I just felt disheartened, knowing that I don’t have the faith she has to make the difference she is making.  She seems like such an unreal character, this nearly perfect person, with an overwhelming faith in God that my doubting heart just can’t connect with.  I would recommend it though for a book club.

O, Jerusalem by Laurie R. King

This is the fourth or fifth mystery novel in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, and I found this one to be a bit of a disappointment.  This was less a mystery than it was a traipse through pre-Israel Palestine in the disguise of Arabs, which was pretty enjoyable.  I do like me some historical fiction, especially about places and times I know almost nothing about.  Seeing Jerusalem before the nation of Israel was recreated after World War II was pretty darn interesting.  However, the mystery plot was severely lacking and I just didn’t care.  But the relationship between Russell and Holmes makes up for it — almost.

The Wonder Weeks by Hetty Van de Rijt and Frans Plooij

This is a baby book I have been working through since Henry was an infant, and finished at his one-year birthday.  I enjoyed this book because it helped me explain those unexplainable and frustrating fussy days (i.e. weeks, months) that Henry would have for no apparent reason.  The Wonder Weeks helps you identify what the baby is learning, some new concept or skill that is causing a certain fussy behavior around a certain time frame.  I found this to be true with Henry for each of their weeks.  The book also gives helpful ideas about games or other things to do to help your baby ease through this transition by practicing the new skills.  I’d recommend it, if only for the comfort that you are not alone.  Yes, every child does this.  And here is why.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

I bought this book on my kindle a while ago because someone recommended it to me and it was a buck.  I kinda wish I had my buck back.  It is a story told through a dog’s eyes, and while I did enjoy this point of view, it left me distanced from the human main characters.  The racing metaphors were a bit heavy handed, and I could see all the plot points coming from a mile away.  I liked the character of Enzo the dog very much, but I felt like the story we saw through his eyes was uninteresting and, ultimately, corny.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

The subtitle gives a hint of what’s inside the cover of the book (a cute pic of Rachel sitting on a doll house, hair wrapped in a shawl):  “How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master.”  Just to stop you right there:  no, these are not the conclusions she came to after taking a serious look at “Biblical womanhood.”  Most of these actions in the subtitle are exagerrated stunts that highlight how we are all guilty of picking and choosing scripture to live by, and how complicated reading and living by the Bible can actually be.  She also highlights how we have used the Bible to silence, to box in.  I very much appreciated this thought-provoking look at how we often use the Bible to prescribe what a woman should be, when the results seem more politically and culturally motivated than exegetical.  A great read for furthering the discussion of women’s role in the church and in society.

Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card

This is the last novel in what is known as the Ender Quartet.  Though there are many more books about the Enderverse, this is the book that brings it most closely to an end.  If you haven’t read them, go out right now and buy Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.  Ender’s Game is a children’s novel with some really big themes:  love, death, xenocide.  It’s pretty deep and really good.  Speaker for the Dead is even better.  As the books in the quartet go on, Card becomes more philosophical, which is okay, except that the philosophizing drags on and on.  I still enjoyed the novel, but the main conclusion we have been building to for the past three novels was anti-climactic (probably because it has been going on for three novels).  I do enjoy Card’s writing though.  I love how his characters read on the page and read each other.  He can also turn a great phrase, bringing you out of some sci-fi gobbledy-gook and into real emotion.  So though this wasn’t his best, it was still pretty darn good.

Lent Experiment 2013

'Lent Logo 2008' photo (c) 2008, jezobeljones - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So this year I’ve decided to do something kind of typical, something a lot of other people will be giving up: Facebook (except for posting my blog).

There are several reasons why I’m giving it up:

  1. I use it to compare myself to others WAY too often
  2. I end up trying to feel connected to others in this rather disconnected way, by constantly checking status updates throughout the day when I end up alone in my house caring for my small child.
  3. I stalk Facebook when I should be stalking God.  I have a Common Prayer app on my phone that alerts me when to pray the offices of the day.  Lately, when the buzzer sounds, I don’t pray.  I look at Facebook.  I know.  Pretty bad.

In the past, I’ve given up things that were much more difficult for me, much more central to my life, like TV and reading.  I’ve only been at it for two days, but not checking Facebook hasn’t been that big a deal.  It was just a bad habit I was developing, and getting in the way of a more important habit I want to cultivate:  talking with real people in my neighborhood in real time.

I figure that the time I spent trying to feel connected on Facebook is time I can use to go walking in my neighborhood, venturing out, nurturing new relationships.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Does my House own my Heart?

Christmas Lights

A few months ago, I had to find the perfect couch for our living room.  Any spare moment, I would whip out the ipad and search online.  I made pinterest boards.  I found other pieces of furniture that we just had to have.  I was obsessed.

I was tired of our house looking like a bunch of college guys lived in it: mismatched, hand-me down chairs; ancient tables falling apart; the Kramer on the mantle (though I still think that is kinda fun).  I am nearing 30.  I have a child.  I should have grown-up furniture.

There was a time when I didn’t care about furniture.  When we rented our tiny duplex, the mismatched chairs were charming, the ancient table a family heirloom, the Kramer — just a kitschy piece of our personality.  If I didn’t have the right curtains or the right piece of furniture there, I didn’t care.  It wasn’t our forever home.  What we had was good enough.

But as soon as we bought a house, what we had was suddenly not good enough anymore.  I spent countless hours online and in Home Depot and Home Goods finding rugs and curtains and couches.  I was a bit whiney and extremely agitated until we got the perfect rug or the right couch for upstairs.  But it didn’t seem to end.

I was itching for more, until one day I realized that my house had taken over valuable real estate in my heart.  I was so focused on prettying up my house that I had no room in my heart for others in need.  I was the one who needed…another pillow cushion for the couch.  I realized that Matthew 6:21 was right: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  I didn’t want to be the kind of person whose heart was focused only on the material.  My discontent was becoming all of me.

So I stopped searching on the internet.  I started repurposing furniture we already had.  I started to see our mismatched furniture as quirks of our personality.  I started to be thankful for the fact that we have a house and furniture.  Somewhere in all the blessings I was given, I had forgotten to be grateful.

I am grateful now.  And ashamed — not for wanting a nice house with pretty things, but for allowing my house to own me instead of the other way around.