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This past year has been an incredibly busy one for me and my family, full of activities, travel, work, volunteering, and everything else expected of a mom with kids at home. Our family had a daughter who was a senior in high school, who stayed busy with extracurriculars, and I was involved in many ways myself. We also decided to host an exchange student, and she lived with us for the entire school year. Thus, we had an extra teen and high school student in the house in addition to all our usual stuff. It was busy but fun and great in many ways.

Now that the school year is over, the senior daughter has graduated high school, and the exchange student has returned to her home, it’s summer, and a very quiet and empty one, uncharacteristically so. We have nothing planned! It’s a wonderful feeling. And whereas last summer I had some (what I thought were) modest goals, which I didn’t really achieve, this summer I have none. Well, aside from getting through it with my sanity intact. And that can be a biggie.

My parenting philosophy has always been taken from that of my mom and my own childhood: Mom isn’t responsible for keeping kids from being bored. That includes not scheduling stuff, or at least not much. I’ve always felt it was important for kids in many ways to be reared with this kind of parenting, mainly because it teaches them responsibility for themselves from an early age. They learn the world doesn’t exist to make them happy or fulfilled. It’s on them. And it allows them to just develop their creativity and thinking skills, given a sufficiently “stocked” environment. (In my feeling, this includes a mom who’s willing to spend some time reading with them, taking them to the library, and providing them some raw materials for play.)

I am not at all surprised when I read that studies bear out my (my mom’s) philosophy. This article on The Atlantic mentions several benefits for kids, such as learning “self-direction” and “self-regulation.” My job as a mom is to grow independent adults. It takes ‘em a while, but I want them to be able to take care of themselves when they leave the nest. That is the idea, isn’t it?

I’ve never been a big “scheduler,” in part because I don’t want my kids to not have free time and this opportunity to self-direct, and in part because I don’t want to overschedule myself and our family as a whole. I admit that I did “schedule” my younger girls to have some summer classes in the mornings to give myself a little guaranteed time to myself and to give them the feeling that they have some balance of scheduled (but both fun and educational things) and nice wide-open afternoons. It’s a nice balance for us all so far, as I’m finding here at the end of “summer week 3.”

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Yes, they have toys with which to keep themselves busy.

Here’s what I said at the beginning of the summer, and which I occasionally repeat as a gentle reminder of the “rules”: “I have generously paid for you to enjoy some fun things in the mornings (for five weeks). In the afternoons, and on weekends and other days you’re not in school, I have provided you plenty of options for things to do. Your rooms are now organized and reasonably stocked with art supplies, books, and toys; there are board games; we have things to do in the yard. I will go outside with you for some time most afternoons and watch you so you can swim. You have the responsibility of figuring out exactly what you’re going to do and when during all those off hours. I will not choose for you. Now, go and have fun!”

So far, the rules are working fairly well. I’m getting my paid freelance work done, I’m finally getting to the “eventually-to-do” lists (woot!!!), and everyone is mostly happy and well adjusted. I think my parenting philosophy is benefiting my kids, whether the studies bear me out or not. But they do. Ha!

 

Great divides

Humans tend to be pretty divisive. We can be divided between individuals or, it seems even more commonly, between groups. We group ourselves in all kinds of ways, and then we cling to our groups and hiss and claw at other groups (yeah, I have cats). I’ve written about this before, and here I am thinking about it and writing about it again.

I just finished reading, for example, a compelling and fascinating book, The Good Spy by Kai Bird, about Bob Ames, a CIA agent in the 1960s and 1970s who worked tirelessly to build and maintain relationships, even friendships, with key players in the Middle East, some of whom the U.S. would have considered enemies, so he could contribute to peace between some very, very divided groups in the Holy Land and its environs. He did make great contributions to the peace process, and then he was killed in the 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Beirut. The book’s examination of the complex, longstanding issues and conflicts in that area and of the passionate, extremist beliefs and actions of individuals and their groups reminded me just how bad things can get among us very flawed humans. And before anyone thinks, “Well, that’s just one small area,” let me remind them that this small area’s conflicts deeply affect the entire world.

The most recent divisiveness I’ve seen has involved a group I’m a part of, this one my religious group. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been in the news for some time now, for a variety of reasons, but very recently it has been the focus of discussions about women’s place in the church. A very small group of LDS women felt that women were being marginalized in our church, so they ultimately decided a straightforward way to solve this problem was to ask, then demand, that women in the church be granted the priesthood, which for the church’s whole history has been granted only to men. I do not have the space to discuss the doctrine involved here, but I can only say briefly that my understanding, my study, my experience, my feelings about the topic lead me to conclude that giving the priesthood to women is not the answer to certain problems that may exist (and I word it this way to recognize that some individuals in the church, human as they are, are definitely not perfect — none of us are!! — and have made some poor decisions or behaved in ways they shouldn’t have, thus making some women feel marginalized, and that does need to change).

From what I have read, the leader of this group finally made some choices that were too far out of the boundaries that have been set for and by the LDS Church, and she was excommunicated, or put out of the organization, according to its own rules, well known to its members. It is sad, for many reasons. But from everything I’ve learned over the years, this seemed to have become a necessary action for the church to take. It is not permanent; anyone who is “disciplined” in any way by church leaders is given opportunities and time to resolve their problems and concerns and find their way back, with support and help from these same leaders.

What I have found particularly distressing is the divisiveness this has caused within our church group. Because, the thing is, there are plenty of other groups within this large group, and these groups are now rallied against each other to some degree. Some — again, human and imperfect as they are, somewhere along the long path to being more like Jesus Christ, whom we strive to emulate — have made unkind comments on news stories online or have posted negative things on social media about the issue. Whichever “side” they’re on, their approaches are wrong.

I have many dear friends I admire greatly who disagree with me on this issue and other topics that relate to “groups” within this larger group we all share. I wish we didn’t disagree, but that’s the nature of things: we all have different life experiences and different ways of interpreting and seeing issues. Usually, we can simply remember that each “adversary” is a friend, a fellow human being, a fellow child of God, and treat them with compassion and kindness, even as we respectfully disagree on opinions. And sometimes, yes, sometimes, division will happen and sever people permanently. Jesus himself spoke of this happening. When he sent out his apostles to teach his doctrine, he told them, “I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”

I believe as part of the doctrine of my faith that we are living in a time close to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. These latter days are ones that will be difficult for everyone, on many, many levels and for many reasons. I do believe we are being “sifted” and “tried,” to see where we stand, as we prepare for Jesus’s return. That’s my belief. I do make judgments about issues and where I stand on them; I cannot stand by and not make a judgment call, a decision, on most topics because Jesus has also said we cannot be lukewarm. We can’t sit on the fence. We have to choose a side, and we must do so as wisely and thoughtfully as possible, weighing things, considering, praying, seeking inspiration for ourselves. My friends and other groups may very well end up on the different side of the fence from me. Strangers I read about may end up on a different side. All I can do is state what I believe and possibly why, and still be kind and compassionate even as I disagree. I do have to judge an issue for myself, but I don’t have to judge a person who disagrees. I don’t have to be mean. I certainly don’t have to be mean and nasty online.

I do not know the future or the details of the big picture. Only God does. In the meantime, I can follow my Savior’s teachings as well as his example, by making choices that are the best ones I know how to make, trusting that we all will someday understand more of the big picture in which these issues fit, and by being loving and compassionate to all, even as I stand firm in my beliefs and decisions. I appreciate and support the statements made in a video by one female church leader:

Those who are struggling for whatever reason should be able to find within our sisterhood a spirit of warmth, inclusion, and love.

Occasionally, some of our brothers and sisters may find themselves away from the fold because of personal choices. Without condoning those choices, it is important to remember the Savior’s message of leaving the ninety and nine safely in the fold and reaching out with love, with kindness, and with compassion to the one. We can demonstrate that compassion by ensuring that our communications with one another are respectful and kind.

lifeandlims:

This article is beautiful! This guy is an amazing writer, whether he knows it or not. :)
I’m reblogging, which I’ve never done before, because this is valuable. I love the points he makes, and I love that it’s a man doing it. Men and women both in our culture need to take the time to think about and discuss these topics. Awareness is an important first step toward change, and we still, unfortunately, have a low awareness level of just how much our society is focused on looks, on image, especially for women. We are definitely not “one-note instruments,” but we certainly have to wade around in a society that considers us as such. Let’s talk about our value, our characteristics, the talents and gifts and unique combination of personality traits that makes each of us who we are, worthwhile and important members of society. Everyone has something to contribute and everyone is worth receiving something back.

Originally posted on Mindless Productivity:

Every two or three days, I see an article or blog post or forwarded inspirational quote about beauty. It’s usually something affirming like

“You are beautiful, whether you know it or not.”

“We are all beautiful.”

“Everyone is beautiful to somebody.”

It’s cheerful stuff. It builds the self-esteem, makes people feel valued, and spreads joy and happiness across the internet.

It’s also bullshit.

angry face enraged

And you know it’s bullshit, because you really wanted to laugh at that picture.

Everyone is not beautiful. Some people have tumors the size of a second head growing out of their ears. Some people have skin like the Michelin man. Some people lose fingers, legs, or eyes in horrific assembly-line machine accidents. People have warts and blemishes and hair loss and dead teeth and lazy eyes and cleft palates and third nipples and unibrows.

There are plenty of people that are not physically appealing to look at, the…

View original 655 more words

The wedding of my littlest sister gave me the opportunity to remember the start of "best days" in my life.

The wedding of my littlest sister gave me the opportunity to remember the start of “best days” in my life.

This weekend I had the privilege of witnessing a wedding. Weddings are such happy occasions, filled with love, friendship and support and the opportunity to further cement ties of various kinds. At one point after this wedding, someone commented that the day would be the “happiest day” of this young couple’s lives. I thought immediately, “You know, it is a great day, but there will be many more and even happier days to come.” I can definitely say my wedding day was not the happiest or best day of my life; it was 21 years ago, and I was 23, and I loved my husband and was excited for the day and all it meant, but I have had so many wonderful days, better days, since.

The groom in this scenario was the next-to-youngest of eight children, and his parents were blessed to have all their older children married already, and these couples were all in attendance. I’d venture to say, from my own experience, that this day may very well have been one of the best days of the groom’s parents’ lives to date, as they were able to celebrate a beautiful, meaningful occasion not just as a couple, but as a family: the family they themselves created and nurtured.

My view is that marriage isn’t just about putting a legal or cultural stamp of approval on a romantic relationship. It’s meant to be the start of a family. And my faith teaches that families are forever: that marriage is a vow between a man and a woman that can be “sealed” in the presence of God in a temple and last forever, more than just “till death do you part.” And that promise to be faithful to each other and support each other and grow together includes having children and teaching them and loving them. That big picture, the years spent growing together as a couple in love and being able to rear children, is what brings the best days of all.

I definitely appreciate the sentiment expressed by Bruce Hafen in one of his excellent books, The Broken Heart: “One new bride reportedly said to her mother on her wedding day, “Oh, Mom, I’m so happy! I’m at the end of my troubles.’ ‘Yes, dear,’ replied the wise mother, ‘but which end?'”

A wedding day may seem the culmination or the end of a courtship, the fulfillment and denouement of romantic love. But it’s really just the start of something much bigger, deeper, and wider. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful days with my love of 21 years, as well as a bunch of stinky ones. We’ve had our share of troubles and stresses and real difficulties. We’ve had our share of disagreements and I’ve had moments or even hours during which I’ve been very frustrated with him (and I’m sure he’s been in the same boat with feelings about me), to the point where I was beside myself and unsure where to go next, how to resolve our problems, how to feel less angry or disappointed. But I’ve had moments of pure contentment, absolute satisfaction, utter bliss. I’ve been satisfied that despite the difficulties, I made a good choice of spouse and that despite everything, I still just LIKE him a lot almost all of the time.

We’ve been blessed to have four daughters, three biological and one adopted. And we’ve had days and weeks of frustration in parenting, of being at wits’ end, of not knowing how to proceed with parenting challenges. As our kids have gotten older, these moments have become more frequent and intense, because they’re more and more their own people with distinct personalities and very definite plans to exert independence. They can and do make their own decisions, and it’s our job to guide them and provide meaningful consequences, discipline and teaching, combined with big doses of love and compassion. But the whole job has gotten almost exponentially harder and more challenging with each year each gets older.

At the same time, these independent people we’re rearing are also sources of immense joy and happiness. At the best of times, when everyone is getting along, when we’re just having fun, simply being ourselves together and laughing and being distinctly us, the unit that is uniquely the Marce and Cathy Lim family, it is the best of anything I’ve ever experienced. It really does feel like heaven on earth, the best version you can dream up.

Here’s why these years can contain the best days I’ve ever had: there are more of us than just the two we started out with. Our little couple expanded into a sixsome composed of some amazing people who are wonderful to be around as individuals but even better when combined. I cherish our wedding day as the start of what we have now. But it was just a seed, an embryo, of what we were meant to be and to have. And as time goes on past today, past this year, past these moments where I can enjoy other young couples’ “seed” days of weddings, our Lim tree is growing and growing. There are far more “best days” ahead, and I look forward to them with great anticipation.

So I posted that I’m on a very restricted diet this month, and I plan to really work at doing better with some of my eating habits. I do eat lots of healthy foods but my downfall is my sweet tooth. I also eat a lot of grains. Whole grains, mind you, but grains nonetheless. I am just going to have to do better at eating at least a little less of the healthy carbs and a lot less of the non-healthy ones.

Let me NOT eat cake...

Let me NOT eat cake…

I knew this going in, but it’s been pretty interesting going through this at this time of the year: May for our family is birthday month. Including the child whose birthday is April 30 (nearly May), we have four birthdays in the month, not to mention Mother’s Day. That makes five celebrations in a mere 32 days at our house. And what do we think of first when it comes to celebrations? Food. Cakes are the top priority for birthday gatherings. And ice cream. I absolutely ADORE ice cream. (My grandma says when I was just a preschooler visiting her, whenever we’d pass the nearby Baskin-Robbins in her car, I’d LEAN toward it. I gravitate toward it naturally.) My husband has gotten in a habit of ordering ice cream cakes from there for my birthday every year. I’m getting one for my oldest daughter’s birthday today and one for my third’s party next week.

So I knew I’d definitely be sacrificing some serious sweets this month. It was and still is a price I’m willing to pay to take better care of myself and to lose some weight quickly before big events — and photos — in a few more weeks. But I didn’t foresee just how much my husband and children would be beside themselves about the situation. “I was going to get you an ice cream cake!” bemoaned my husband. “We can’t make you breakfast!” lamented my daughters on Mother’s Day. Pancakes, waffles, muffins: all out. A big glass of ice-cold water is still a very fine thing. Keep me hydrated, kids, and stat.

It’s actually been kind of funny to watch them squirm. It’s not just them; I think pretty much anyone in our society today would have the same reactions. We are just THAT programmed to go right to food as the top way to celebrate. And it’s generally all the kinds of treats that are bad for our bodies; sugar is getting more and more vilified, for good reasons. (Now don’t get me wrong: an occasional treat or dessert is perfectly fine, IMHO. That’s why it’s a “treat,” though, not a regular occurrence, and I’ve had a problem with that.)

This phenomenon is part of why it can be so difficult to “diet” or, better, really change our regular eating habits. Everything we do is far too saturated with food. Emotional eating (of fat- and sugar-saturated goodies, naturally) is essentially a way for us to have our own little pick-me-up parties when everything else in our lives is far from party-like.

I’ve been telling my family to stop worrying about not being able to feed me. I’m quite well nourished, thank you very much. But I could use some quiet time, some foot massages, some more obedience from my kids. I would appreciate even more than candy or cookies to have my dishes washed and clothes folded without me having to ask for them to be done (if anyone really wants to know, I can come up with a mighty long list right here). Of course, those are harder to do; no wonder everyone just wants to give me a Hershey’s Kiss instead. But these lips aren’t puckering up for those little sugar bombs this month. And hopefully I’ll do far less in the future.

So Mother’s Day in the United States has just passed, a day in which millions of women received handmade cards with paint-stamped body parts in shapes of hearts and various forms of breakfast, either in bed or at the table. It was a day in which mothers smiled and were gracious about the efforts of their young progeny, same as pretty much every other day of the year.

It was also a day that induced or amplified all kinds of emotions in women of all ages and stages of life, ones who have children and those who do not. So let me address one of those emotions that tends to rise to the surface yet again for some mothers on the second Sunday in May: guilt.

Yep, one of my obligatory Mother's Day photos, in which at least one kid is making a funny face.

Yep, one of my obligatory Mother’s Day photos, in which at least one kid is making a funny face.

Here’s one scenario of feelings that can play out that Sunday, particularly if one attends church, where people stand at the pulpit and talk about their angel mothers: I am not good enough. As a mother, I do not sound at all like the description often made of those amazing moms whose stories go down in the history books of being completely self-sacrificing, completely loving and giving, completely kind and always up for listening to a child’s ramblings, no matter how constant or stream-of-consciousness they may be. These women never seem to snap, never seem to request a break just for some peace and quiet, never ask for “me” time, never tell a kid to come back later.

If, for some reason, a woman doesn’t hear those kinds of talks or they just don’t bother her, then there’s still the rest of the day to barrel through, which invariably also means her husband and children are eager to make her happy. If you’re like me, someone who can get overloaded and overstimulated seemingly far too easily, and you just made a T-shirt quilt for the high school band director so her senior daughter and fellow seniors could have a personalized gift to give him before graduation, and you hosted a before-prom dinner for 16 students at her house the night before Mother’s Day (just as two examples), you probably just want to be left alone for an afternoon and evening to sleep and collect your thoughts again (and gear up for more events and to-do-list items begging for your attention). But your children and husband know it is their DUTY to MAKE YOU HAPPY that day. To them, just leaving you alone and letting you sleep, etc., translates into profound failure on their part, because MAKING YOU HAPPY means being with you every moment, attending to your every supposed need and loving on you.

So as a mother, you’re stuck. Either you take the needed time to just be alone and manage to rest up enough so you can forge on with your selfless mothering duties for the rest of the week, month, year, and lifetime, for all those other days for which you are supposedly celebrated and venerated on the one Sunday, OR you suck it up and spend time with the kiddos doing things they enjoy because they think it’s stuff you enjoy and that will make them happy.

Let’s just say that mothering guilt will inevitably occur. No matter what, you’re back at that familiar rock and hard place.

Let’s just posit this idea: women generally are and want to be selfless when it comes to their families, except for those women who truly are just bad mothers (they do exist, you know). They do make sacrifices, some seemingly bigger or more story-worthy than others, at different levels that are unique and personal and necessary for each (some even sacrifice too much, honestly, more than is good for their own mental and emotional health). So the reality is that there’s going to be at least some level of guilt on the day they’re celebrated, at some moment or hour during that day. There’s going to be guilt because there’s guilt 365 days a year; there are just a few new twists on it on Mother’s Day, in addition to the regular ol’ garden-variety guilt.

How about we just declare the day “Mom, don’t feel guilty” day? How about we ban guilt for one day? It’s a bold and wacky idea, but maybe we can give it a try. It might be very liberating.

You know when you dream about eating something off-diet and demanding of some complete (thin) strangers walking by, “Do you ever eat?!”, you’re self-conscious (and frustrated) about your weight.

I’m half-proud, half-embarrassed for myself that I embarked on a strict diet last week, mainly because, yes, I want to look better. And I want it to happen fast. Here’s the thing: I have felt very self-conscious about my weight in photos of late, and I have several big events coming up for which I’ll be in numerous photographs, and I don’t want to look fat.

Yep, there it is.

Yep, my self-image is pretty distorted right now.

Yep, my self-image is pretty distorted right now.

As much as I talk about self-image and how bad our society is about focusing on looks, whether it’s regarding weight, age, or relative size of body parts, I still struggle with it myself. Sometimes not so much, other times mightily. As I most recently mentioned to my therapist, “I feel horrible about how I look.” Her response: “Right now you’re very stressed and not feeling good about yourself in lots of other ways, so that’s not surprising.” Meaning, essentially, try not to worry about it; it’ll pass when you manage to process everything else that’s had you down.

So I kind of feel like a hypocrite when I’m urging everyone, male and female, to be more aware of how media and society all around us dose us liberally and continually with the religion of thinness and image, of airbrushed (impossible-to-achieve) perfection, and I am struggling with it so much still.

It’s complicated by the matter of health: when I’m stressed, I eat sweets. I overeat. That’s simply not good for my body, and that’s important. So I do also want to work on that. I want to break my physical and emotional addiction to sugar and my reliance on food as a crutch. But I would like to figure out how to separate that out from my worries about how those habits affect my LOOKS.

Here’s another thing: plenty of people out there have far worse eating habits than I do, but they’re thin. So their health might be in need of improvement, but they either don’t worry about it, or they don’t worry about others seeing them as fat. Because don’t we tend to judge people who are overweight? We automatically think, They need to eat less. They need to have better self-control. They need to take better care of themselves. But health and thinness are not always directly correlated.

That’s not to say I excuse myself for slipping into bad habits. I can do better by my body sometimes. But our society judges on appearance, and I judge myself. I have a lifetime of negative messages to overcome. And that simply makes it much more difficult to just take care of myself the way I should because I’m devoting so much emotional energy to the image part of the equation, which is NOT the important part; overall health is.

I have had a lot to deal with the past months, the past year, with a few breaks in the onslaught of expectations, responsibilities, and struggles to catch my breath. I anticipate having some breaks to catch my breath and focus more accurately on taking care of my health — emotional, mental, spiritual and physical — fairly soon, but in the meantime, I’m just getting through it as well as I can.

And dieting. Like I said, I’m a little embarrassed because I’m doing it almost exclusively for the reward of looking better in pictures. It’s not the example I’d like to set but I’m doing it anyway, just because right now so much has beaten me down I don’t feel good about myself in many ways; I feel weak and run-down and just not up to snuff. I feel like I’m letting people down left and right because I simply can’t do everything everyone needs me to do at all times. So that feeling extends to how I look.

I’m going to keep working on my self-image, my self-esteem, the ways I look at myself and talk to myself. I’m going to do better. Just forgive me the lapses right now in my actions and how they don’t match my ideals. It’s a process for me, and it’s a process for us all as individuals and as a society. For me, this topic mixes my mental health awareness-raising with my awareness-raising about society and image. The intersection is a little delicate, and I’m navigating it as well as I can in this tricky time. I hope I’m making progress in it all because all I can do is just hope I’m slowly doing better. I’m going to just try to remember to pat myself on the back for what I’m doing better: life isn’t about improving overnight. It’s a journey with all kinds of intertwined paths leading to a place where we’re our best selves in all aspects.

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