Silence = Acceptance

I was recently flipping through the December issue of O Magazine when I came across an article capturing Oprah interviewing a Sandy Hook family that had lost a child. At first, I was uneasy reading the article. I have cried many times thinking about what occurred and what difficulty the families left behind have gone through. The article made the feelings fresh again.

Not long after the Sandy Hook shootings occurred, I was part of an audience that was encouraged not to be the silent majority any more, but to speak out to our government and school leaders and have our voices be heard in regards to violence and gun safety. I believe most of us in this country agree that there are measures we can and should take to make school environments safer and provide more assistance to those suffering from mental illness. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I cannot allow myself to do nothing. Silence = Acceptance. And while there is a part of me that is still working on gaining my confidence in finding my voice, I have great motivation to do so…my children. I certainly don’t want them asking me later in life, “Why didn’t you take a stand?” or “Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you try?” If I expect my children to find their voice and make a difference in the world, working with others to solve big problems, it starts with me as their parent.

While I would prefer a gun-free world, I know that’s not possible, and see no benefit in trying to pursue that as an avenue to solve this issue. Guns exist and will continue to do so. I am suggesting that we, as parents and as a country, have an opportunity to discuss these really important issues that we are not talking about because we are divided and or fear there is no middle ground. To me, gun safety isn’t an us versus them discussion. We collectively have to figure out how to address this issue.

The Sandy Hook families are not slipping into silence. In fact, they are leading the way in how we solve this problem together by forming a community around the discussion The Sandy Hook Promise: Parent Together to Prevent Gun Violence in Our Communities. It’s simple to join the community and be part of the conversation. Participate and let your voice be heard. Let’s figure out how we solve this problem together.

Silence = Acceptance. I won’t accept silence anymore.

How are you making your voice heard? How do you take action when it may be uncomfortable or not easy to do?

Just Ask

Have you ever needed to ask for help and been reluctant to do so? I found myself in that situation this past week. With a busy schedule, and demands piling up, my anxiety seemed to increase with each passing day. How would I get everything done in the upcoming weeks that I need to do? I thought. I ran various scenarios through my mind over and over again and came to the same conclusion. If I was going to do things on my own, I needed to accept that exhaustion and resentment for having to do it all myself would follow.

Someone suggested I ask others to help me out. Of course that sounds logical and rational, I thought, but as a woman I believe I was raised as many others were—not to ask for help. I was taught along the way that women, especially moms, are supposed to bear the “burden” (in whatever form the hardship takes), and asking for help somehow implies weakness or being inept. Or worse, forces us to reveal our imperfection!  Of course that sounds ridiculous. And have you noticed how men seem to have a much easier time asking for help when they need it?

Asking for help is a way for us to connect and care for one another, and is anything but a sign of weakness. It takes courage to ask. Someone could say “no” or they “wish they could but they can’t” and that’s okay. The fact that you were willing to put yourself out there and ask speaks volumes about you recognizing that you are worth it. We miss out on allowing others to show they care about us when we don’t ask. We miss out on an opportunity to grow when we don’t allow ourselves to receive.

A dear friend of mine has been going through some medical difficulties needing to go to doctor’s appointments and have meals brought to her. She didn’t ask for help, but her husband did. I gratefully accepted. It gives me great joy to bring a meal to share and spend time with my special friend.  It makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful, worthwhile and I thank my friend for that.

It looks like I’ll have the opportunity to reciprocate with my growing pile of ‘to-dos’. I’m going to muster up the courage to ask some friends for help and I suspect those that are able to assist will be happy to do so.

Interesting how something so simple like asking for help can seem so hard.

Are you comfortable asking for help?

Do you know a Dr. No?

Our youngest son is very advanced. Now, I know you might be thinking all parents think their child is gifted, but I can back up my claim!  Our son really took to the word “no” when he was first learning to talk. He fully embraced the word quickly and has gotten very good at using it. If there was a college degree in the word “no” I believe our son would have his PhD in it already. As frustrating as it can be, I have to smile when thinking about just how good he is at using it.

I say this all, of course, because most parents have experienced their child telling them “no.” There are various methods we might implore to coax our child into complying with our request. We are clear on what we are asking of them, lay out consequences for inaction, and may even throw in bribery (how about a sticker?) to sweeten the pot, and still get “no” for a response.

Taking away favorite toys didn’t work.

Taking away a sticker, or the opportunity to earn one, didn’t work.

Making him go to his room didn’t work.

Talking to him about why I needed his help didn’t work though I believe it helped him better understand why I was asking him to do what he was doing and why I was frustrated.

Finally, at my wits end, I enlisted the help of his pre-school teacher. She reminded me that there are probably a few things going on. First, he wants to be acknowledged for what he is feeling. Second, he wants an opportunity to have his say. That made a lot of sense to me. I think we all want to be heard and all want the opportunity to express how we feel or how we want to respond to a situation. When either is taken away from us that can be really aggravating—maybe just enough to make you want to say “no” every time you feel this is happening to you.

When I ask my kids to do something, particularly something they don’t want to do, I remind them that there are only three reasons why I’m asking them to do it. I am trying to teach them something. I am trying to keep them safe. Or I need their help.  Helping my boys make the connection with what I’m asking them to do really seems to help.

With the case of my youngest, I’ve employed a few new techniques. I work to acknowledge what he is experiencing and feeling. I express more empathy for how he is feeling when he is upset with what I’m asking him to do—to leave playtime early or not  accommodating his desire to go to the store for a treat. I am continually trying to reach my son to help us get to a place where “no” isn’t his go-to response, but saved for situations that really warrant it.

We’ll get there one day I just know it!

Marriage: It’s all about Communication

When my brother-in-law got married, a friend of his gave him some solid advice, “Marriage is all about communication,” he told him. My brother-in-law shared this with my husband and me when we got married a few years later. While we were in agreement with the statement, we didn’t really know what to do with it at the time.

What is communication in a marriage?  Is it simply the act of talking and listening?  I’ve come to believe that it’s much more than that. My husband and I recently reflected on this advice that we’d received nearly eight years ago. My husband pointed out that successful communication in a marriage was more than talking and listening, it included understanding—the need for each partner to work to empathize with the other, to try to understand their point of view. Each person also has to work to make themselves understood, to get their point across. Not an easy task.

You may have heard the expression “heart talk” which refers to talking about how you feel rather than talking about what you think.  Here is an example:

Talking with your head:

“You didn’t take out the trash after I asked you to five times!” 

Talking with your heart:

“It makes me feel discounted when you don’t acknowledge and act on what I ask of you.” 

See the difference? Talking from the heart may seem a little uncomfortable to some, after all, we’re talking about feelings, and most of us run for the hills when we have to do that. But communicating this way can be very effective in helping your partner understand where you’re coming from.

My husband and I have also discovered that a key to communicating well is to understand your individual needs.  What are you getting from each other in the relationship that is making it work? What are you not getting from each other? Or, in other words, what’s not working?  Marriage is partly a journey of self-awareness and you have to have the confidence to bridge the subject of open communication with your spouse.

Do you feel comfortable asking for what you need? Try some of these phrases out:

“I need to feel valued”

“I need to feel respected”

“I need to have some autonomy”

“I need proactive communication”

“I need to be unconditionally loved”

“I need to be listened to”

“I need to be supported and encouraged” 

This may seem like a lot of “I needs”, but being clear about what you need and asking for it is the only way you’re likely to get it.  And having need doesn’t make you needy.  Would you say your child was needy if they said any of the following?

“I need food to eat”

“I need a bed to sleep in”

“I need unconditional love”

“I need respect”

“I need to feel valued and important to you”

“I need to be listened to”

“I need you”

Of course you wouldn’t! And it’s no different in a marriage.  How many married people don’t ask for what they need and maybe haven’t even thought about it?  I suspect many. Most of us are just trying to get through each day and our hectic schedules don’t leave much time to reflect.

Good communication is key to a good marriage, but it’s more than simply talking and listening.

Do you talk to your spouse with your heart or your head? Are you asking for what you need?

Say What You Mean

I was speaking with a group of moms recently and we were discussing how to find your voice as a woman. We decided that the only real way to find your voice is to say what you mean. It sounds so simple, but I’ve discovered many of us struggle with doing just that.

The particular discussion began as they normally do with parenting groups, around the talk about how emotions like frustration and resentment can develop between partners after a new baby arrives. Things your spouse did before the baby came, like not picking up after him or herself didn’t bother you and well, now it really does. As an outside observer, it’s easy enough to think a new parent should just tell their partner how they feel and yet, many of us don’t. Instead our voice gets stuck, it freezes up and the words won’t come out. It can’t be that simple, we think. Can we really just ask for what we want? Or more importantly what we need?

I’ve met many women in particular who struggle with finding their voice and saying what they mean to their partner, parents, in-laws, siblings and friends (note: I think both men and women struggle with this but women talk to each other about it more frequently). I know I am still working on fully finding my voice. Asking others for what you want and need can be scary.  Will I appear selfish? You ask yourself. Incompetent? Too needy? We’ll modify what we really want to say: “I need a break” to something less direct “Any chance you want to take the baby with you while you run errands?”

But what I’ve learned in recent years is that when you ask for what you need you send a message that you respect yourself enough–even love yourself enough–to ask for what you need. Think about that statement for a moment. You love yourself enough. You respect yourself enough to ask for what you need. And when you respect yourself, others will too.

A woman in the group I was speaking to most recently really stood out to me. She was the first woman I encountered in a long time who had truly found her voice. She’d had it before her child arrived and I suspect had an even clearer, stronger voice since becoming a mom. She shared how she asked her husband for what she needed, when she needed it—telling him when she needed alone time, or asking him to take on some of the household chores because she needed help.  It was inspiring to listen to her speak.

I will continue to work to find my voice and to be more direct and clear about what I need and why.

Have you found your voice?