Monthly Archives: November 2015

How my first marketing effort ignited a social media firestorm and almost destroyed my reputation

failure[1]For a long time, people have been telling me that my message of compassionate and relationship-based parenting needs to be spread more widely.  I’ve deflected this for years because of my time constraints but knew in my heart that I have a unique voice of  authenticity and experience, and if I was given this gift then it was my responsibility to use it to help others.

But to find the time…so, so hard.  I’ve spent the last year slowly shifting my schedule to make time to be of more service to others.   This has allowed me to offer more slots for one on one consultations, and I finally decided to make the time commitment to a teleconference series for teens.

I solicited feedback on how to let people know about these classes – it’s a waste to spend time preparing and then not have an audience! – and told myself I would follow suggestions no matter how uncomfortable it made me.  And all of the suggestions made me uncomfortable because self-promotion is something I avoid.

Last night I summoned up my courage muscle and sent in a sponsored post, written as recommended to the site that was suggested.  I closed my computer at midnight with a feeling of trepidation combined with relief, but overall glad to have to have overcome my discomfort of doing something new. I had no idea that an online firestorm was erupting against me as I slept.

The next afternoon I received the following anonymous message: “I’m glad you are trying to help parents. I hope you take my words from a positive source. Your ad is offensive and demeaning. I recommend you change your wording. You have no idea how many parents are talking about your offensive means of marketing your workshop. You may have a lot to offer, but you are delineating many people. “

It was like someone punched me in the stomach. I was sitting on my bed when I read this and I literally buried my face in my blanket.  What did I do wrong?!?

She responded – and I’m very grateful that this person let me know about all of this because I was totally unaware of what was happening –  that I was too negative in describing parent/teen relationships.  Then she shared that although the administrator of that site “took off the comments from yesterday, but the discussion is still happening. I’d prefer not to reveal where on the web, but I will tell you that in the frum circles and with social media and what’s app, things get out of control without someone always posting on (that site).”

This was so, so painful to me.  I have plenty of character flaws, but being harsh and judgmental of parents who are looking for solutions isn’t one of them.  Being negative isn’t an issue of mine, either.  But I was writing in a new format and clearly didn’t convey my message as I intended.

I unfortunately do care too much about what people think of me and this scenario was like my worst nightmare.  To know that people were talking about me and by extension my parenting approach in such a negative way was very, very painful to me.

My first reaction was to completely back away from this project.  My mind started going: “Who are you to think that G-d wanted you to do this? What made you think that you have anything of value to share?  You see no one is interested and no one likes you.  You can’t even explain your parenting approach without alienating people.  Maybe this is proof you should keep your life simple and stick with local classes.  That would be easier.  Who needs this pressure?  Why should I go out of my comfort zone?   You see, this is what happens to people who become visible – others will knock them down.  I’m happy right where I am, thank you very much.  I’m deleting that ad and I’m never, never doing this again.  Ever. “

The voices of fear, of being self-serving and ego based were very loud in my mind.

Then I started thinking about messages like these:

– Failure is not fatal.  It is the courage to continue that counts.

– Never let success get to your head.  Never let failure get to your heart.

– A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.

– You are not defined by, and your worth is not measured by, your failure – or your success.

– Success finds a way; failure finds an excuse.

– Success consists of going from failure to failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.  Winston Churchill

Was I making excuses?  Was I letting my self-worth be defined by people I don’t know talking about me in different online venues?  Could I have the courage to keep going even in the face of rejection and pain?  Could I admit I made a mistake and learn from it?

I knew what I was supposed to answer but I didn’t want to do hard things.  I didn’t want to be mature and use this to grow.  I didn’t want to let go of my ego attachment to what people think of me.

And then I thought about what G-d wanted from me.  Sigh.  There was a reason that I decided to offer these classes, and that reason is still there. There are people who will benefit from what I can share with them, and I  need to keep moving forward – even if it’s uncomfortable at times.

My teleconference classes for parents of teens will be starting Dec. 6.  If you’d like to join me on a weekly journey as we explore parenting teenagers from a place of compassion for ourselves and for our children, I’d love to have you along for the ride!

Avivah

 

 

3 Massive Mistakes Even Smart Parents Make That Keep Them Fighting With Their Teen

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI have a new article up at the Times of Israel – 3 Massive Mistakes Even Smart Parents Make That Keep Them Fighting With Their Teens.  Head over there to check it out and feel free to share your thoughts here or over there!

I’m back in the hospital with Yirmi for his second surgery (thankfully minor this time) and as a result am running behind, but very soon I’ll be sharing specifics of my upcoming parenting series for parents of teens, Strengthening the Connection.  Keep your eyes open for it!

Avivah

How my kids reminded me on my birthday what’s really important

With birthday trifle

With birthday trifle

This weekend all my kids were home and they surprised me after dinner with strains of ‘Happy Birthday’ sung as an elegant trifle was brought out.

Our birthday tradition is that each person says something they appreciate about the person whose birthday it is, and this is what my children shared:

(Ds8) “I’m happy you’re my mother.”

(Ds9) “I like that you let me go to my youth group activities.”

(Ds6) “I like that you let me watch (educational program).”

Not so much depth but it’s okay, learning to value someone else is a process and they’re very appropriate for their ages.  :)

The comments below were made by my older kids, ages 13, 15, 16, 19, 20 and 22.

– “I appreciate that you do so much for me and invest so much time in helping me.”

– “I see my friends’ parent pushing them so much in school, but you never push me.  You always try to take the pressure off of me, to encourage me to relax and feel good.”

– “You’re a growing person who is always trying to be better.  You don’t think you have all the answers and are always right.  If we say something or make a suggestion, you’re willing to think about it and change what you do.”

–  “You accept us even when we aren’t pleasant and you make all my friends feel accepted, and that’s why they tell everyone I have the coolest mother ever.   People feel good when they come to our house even when they’re very different from us because they can tell that we don’t judge them and I think that comes from you.”

– “You see the good in us even when we aren’t nice to be around and tell us the good things you see.”

– “You are devoted to your family and when you believe something is better for one of your children, you do that for them no matter what anyone says.”

***************************************

I got an early morning SOS call today from a young mother stressed out about all she has to do, not enough time, not enough energy, filled with resentment and anger – rage, really – with herself and everyone around her.

I understand this feeling so well.  Sometimes the list of things to do is longer than the time and energy I have, and I feel inadequate about what I do and how I do it.

We all know that our kids are more important than the cleanliness of the kitchen floor.  But it’s so easy to see our children as impediments to getting things done. Our relationship with them is built every time we speak to them, listen to them – and yet every day we forget to keep the main thing, the main thing.

What my kids shared is that they appreciate how I show up for them in their lives, as the person that I am.  Not the things that I do, not as the housekeeper.  I wash mountains of dishes, sweep a lot of floors, have changed zillions of diapers – but that’s not what any of them shared about being significant in their lives.

It was all about feeling loved, accepted and supported – and isn’t that what each of us wants?

Avivah

See the person, not the disability

People-First-Language-2[1]This week someone introduced me to another woman, mentioning that I had a special needs child.

“No,” I responded, “I don’t have a special needs child.  I have a child with special needs.”

“What’s the difference?” the woman I was being introduced to asked, sincerely puzzled.  (The woman making the intro immediately apologized and said she knew better and was sorry to have used that term.)

Honestly, I’m not a dogmatic person.  I know this seems like a really small thing.  But I simply do not want my child or anyone else’s child labelled in this well-intended but limited way.

So I explained, “My son has Down syndrome – he’s  not a Down syndrome child.  Down syndrome is part of who he is but it doesn’t define him.”

Ds22 told me he thinks it’s too subtle a distinction for people to make, but I don’t agree.   It’s just a matter of nicely sharing a different perspective with people.  No one is purposely trying to be offensive or insensitive by using this term.  I’ve introduced my preferred term with doctors, nurses, therapists (alternative and conventional) and anyone else who has used the special needs version to me and almost everyone I’ve spoken to has understood very quickly what I meant.

Actually, at this point I don’t usually mention when people meet Yirmiyahu that he has Trisomy 21.  There’s really no reason to.  Someone will either notice or not.

Despite not being very verbally expressive yet, Yirmiyahu is bright and communicative.  People realize he has a language delay; it’s obvious.  But it’s interesting how few people realize he has T21.  Even in the hospital, a nurse who had been caring for him asked me if it was true that he had T21 – she said she hadn’t realized until it was mentioned in his medical briefing.

Recently after a friend of dd15’s visited, she told me she didn’t like how people treated him after learning he had T21.  I suggested she consider not mentioning it anymore.  To us, his diagnosis isn’t a big deal and she didn’t think it was significant to mention – to us it’s almost like saying someone has glasses or brown hair except that we’re more proud of him than that!

As soon as her friend heard he had T21, she went from speaking to him in an age appropriate way to commenting to dd15, “Oh, that’s so cute, he pointed at the bird – I think he knows what it is!”  As if he suddenly lost a bunch of brain cells and stopped being the engaging little boy she was enjoying before that.  If Yirmiyahu had overheard her he probably would have been wondering what happened to her brain cells.  Seriously, he’s 3.  He understands everything.

The reality is that Trisomy 21 isn’t the problem.  It has its challenges for sure, but the real challenge, the biggest challenge, is society and the limited expectations and lack of acceptance there is for those with developmental delays or disabilities.

This is all tied up with the terms people use.  When you speak with more awareness of a person having an identity outside of his diagnosis, you’re part of the solution.  And it’s so easy to do – a slight shift in how you describe someone and you’ve made the world a place that’s more respectful of everyone!

Avivah

How to make teaching math fun and easy

fun-math-activities[1]>>Hi. I am really on board with this educational concept of not pushing kids but practically speaking, how do you do math in this way?<<

With Yirmiyahu’s surgery mostly over, we’re gradually easing into our academic routine for the year.  My kids were resistant when I mentioned math workbooks, which reminded me of the above question waiting to be answered.

Math is everywhere!  You just need to learn to recognize it.

Here’s some of what has been happening in my house in the last few days that is math related.

Yesterday, my nine year old son took out our new kitchen scale.  He experimented with how it worked, then he started weighing different things on it.  He and ds8 spent quite a while weighing different eggs and organizing them into cartons according to weight.  (Apparently the standard sized eggs aren’t as standard as we thought – the ones they weighed ranged from 18 – 20 ounces each.)  Then they switched the scale to grams and measured the eggs in grams.  This was play for them but this is one of the topics that is covered in their math workbooks.

We recently acquired a math balance – the kids had a great time playing with it and figuring out different number combinations that equaled one another.  Another topic from their workbooks.

I saw ds8 and ds9 at different times sitting out on the porch playing with our math wrap-up for multiplication.  This is a game-like way that makes practicing the times tables fun and easy.

We have a card game of math war (addition and subtraction) – each card is a math question, and ds6 and ds8 play this together for fun. They found it with the games and play it without prompting or suggestion from anyone.  It’s fun to watch them playing and knowing they’re practicing their math facts without even knowing it.

Last night my kids put aside a book they want me to read to them today- it’s a story about a twelve year old who learned Morse code.  Is that math?  I think it could be.

Cooking leads itself to practicing measurements and multiplying or dividing quantities, and it teaches useful life skills as well.  The younger boys made pancakes yesterday; the basic recipe is intended for small quantities and they have to figure out how much of each ingredient to put in to quadruple it so there’s enough for our family to eat!

Puzzles – recently ds8 and ds13 were doing puzzles while sitting together at the table.  Ds8 did a 200 piece puzzle while ds13 worked on a 300 piece puzzle; when they finished they decided to work together on a 1000 piece puzzle.  This is great for visual discrimination and spatial development; visual perception is an important part of the skills needed for reading, writing and math.  It’s also an opportunity to work on patience and forbearance when your three year old brother pulls your newly finished 1000 piece puzzle down to the floor.  And then they got to practice persistence, perserverance and having a good attitude when they put it all back together again – without yelling at the said younger sibling.

I’ve accumulated a lot of manipulatives and games and the kids have free access to all of these.  I feel like I recently wrote about this, but I just did a quick search and it’s been two years!  Wow, time goes quickly!  Take a look at this because it fleshes out what I’m sharing now: http://avivahwerner.com/2013/10/26/making-math-fun/.

The kids play a lot of games together – in the post that I linked to above, I shared a list of some of what we have and play.  Games are a great way to learn math skills (and other skills, too – my kids’ spelling improved lots after long sessions of Boggle and Bananagrams – they each keep their own copy of a student dictionary next to them when they play!).

When you have an awareness of topics or concepts you want your children to learn, you start to keep your eyes open for ways to include it during the days.  I often integrate questions about math or other topics in the middle of stories or conversation.  That may sound awkward but it’s really not – and there’s no rule that says talking to your kids has to be superficial and meaningless, right?

 

Having said that, I do use math workbooks on a regular basis.  Their appearance has been unusually delayed this year, though.  Today I told ds9 and ds13 to take out their math books and was met with a lot of resistance, but I am easing them into a routine that includes daily structured math again.  Ds8 also uses a math workbook (if you’re wondering why I didn’t ask him to get his out today, it’s because there’s only so much resistance I’m prepared to deal with in one morning!).  Until about age 7 or 8 I haven’t found any benefit for our kids in using structured texts so ds6 doesn’t yet use a workbook.  Even then I’m pretty relaxed about it.  I usually ask them to do a lesson a day but if it’s a half a lesson daily sometimes, it’s fine with me.

In case you’re wondering, I use Singapore math through elementary.  I started using this with ds22 when he was in fifth grade, and have stayed with it since then since we like it.  It uses the concrete pictorial approach, which means the explanations are picture based and I don’t need to do much explaining to them of each new concept.

Here’s a secret I’ll share with you that will make academic work much easier: when your kids feel connected to you, it’s lots easier to get them engaged in things they don’t want to do!  I almost always precede math time with reading out loud to them, and have found in the younger years the rate at which they finish their work is much faster when snuggled next to me on the couch as they work – even if I’m not helping them at all.  If you’re not homeschooling, try this with your kids next time they need to do homework and let me know how it goes!

None of my kids have come close to doing algebra in first grade but I’m confident even at this young and very relaxed stage that their math skills are at the very least age/grade appropriate.   The older kids so far have been extremely strong math students, so this approach – of lots of interactive learning of math concepts in the early years, followed by systematic study in a relaxed way as they get older – has had good results for us!

Avivah

Father thanks terror attack for saving his life

Miracles+Happen[1]Everyone experiences difficulties, large and small, and it’s hard when you’re feeling upset or frustrated to believe that there might be some kernel of good, let alone to to believe that the entire situation was orchestrated for your ultimate benefit.

Sometimes a person gets a clear glimpse of the good behind the bad, and it brings with it a powerful awareness and gratitude.

Daniel Cohen, a 31 year old father of five was waiting for his bus in Israel last week when suddenly he was attacked by a terrorist.  He describes what happened: “He attacked me and choked me. I felt my neck about to break. He took out a knife and tried to behead me, and then he tried for my throat. But I turned my head, and he got me in my jaw. He threw me to the floor and stabbed me along my left side, in the chest, shoulder, and stomach.”

After this attack, Cohen was left in serious condition.  He was taken to a hospital where he underwent a four hour surgery.

Violently attacked and stabbed in the face, chest, shoulder and stomach.  Can we agree no one would call this a good experience?

And then the discovery during his surgery – a tumor in his large intestine that Cohen hadn’t known was there.  The surgeons were able to remove the tumor during the surgery while successfully addressing his other injuries.

Cohen said, “Lately I had felt some pains in that area, but I didn’t have time to deal with it. The attack simply saved my life.”  He adds, “The Creator brought me this operation in order to save my life, and in addition, the attack itself was miraculous in that I was not hurt in any vital organs. I have received my life as a present from all directions.”

Avivah

The perfect timing of life events…even when it doesn’t seem like it

We are so happy to be home from the hospital!

Yirmiyahu is doing really well though he’s not quite back to himself and he has a very large incision that is still healing.  He also has a stent that will need to be removed in a few weeks under general anesthesia with another (shorter) hospital stay.

Prior to this surgery, we had to do a number of preliminary tests to determine if the surgery was necessary.  These were painful and invasive tests for Yirmiyahu, and he’s become so afraid of what will be done to him that even a simple blood test requires three adults to hold him down.

When got to the hospital the morning of the surgery the admitting nurses noticed he had an eye infection.  I told them we were treating it with a medicated cream recommended by our pediatrician, and they went on to insert the iv for the surgery.  Only one parent was allowed to be in the room with him for that and thankfully it wasn’t me.  I waited at the end of the hallway and clearly heard him screaming from that distance.

When we got to the surgical meeting right before the surgery, the nurse took one look at his eye and said the surgeon isn’t going to approve the surgery with the eye infection. I explained to her that several nurses had checked him, I explained that he got the infection as a result of his immune system being wiped out by the preparatory antibiotics (this same thing happened last time he was scheduled for this surgery) and I explained if they pushed off the surgery, he was likely to once again get sick due to the antibiotics.  She repeated she doubted the surgeon would do the surgery that day and it would probably have to be pushed off for another time.

By this time Yirmiyahu had been fasting from food since the night before and even water for hours and had gone through a very traumatic morning.  I was totally resistant to the idea that he would have to go through this again if it were pushed off.  I began thinking of how strongly I was going to let them know how unacceptable this was, but as these frustrated and resistant thoughts were flooding my mind, a voice of sanity whispered to me, “G-d’s timing is always perfect.”

Ah, the gift of the inner voice!

This tiny thought was hugely helpful.  I was able to recenter myself and stay calm while waiting for the surgeon’s decision, rather than be filled with tension and resentment.  I made peace with the thought we’d have to delay the surgery and focused on gratitude for a caring staff who just like me, want the best for my child.  In the end, the surgeon said that the eye infection wasn’t a reason to delay surgery unless I wanted to – which of course I didn’t – and the surgery took place as planned.

When Yirmi came out of surgery, he was placed in the immediate observation area for post surgical patients.  This is where the nurses basically watch the patient non-stop before transferring them to their perspective wards.  Yirmiyahu’s oxygen was dipping dangerously low when he cried and they kept us in this area for additional time for it to stabilize.

This was a very emotional and sensitive time for Yirmi and for us.  He looked terrible when he came out surgery and I think I cried for the first hour while I was holding him.  At the end of this time my husband, sitting right next to me, got a call.  I heard him ask, “How much is it bleeding?  How deep is it?”  This prompted less than relaxed comments from me, asking him urgently, “What happened?  WHAT happened???”

The call was from dd19 who was home watching the younger boys.  Ds6 had gotten a deep cut on his head and it looked like he would need stitches.  Of course this happened at this point, not when one of us was at home, not even after Yirmi was transferred to the pediatric surgical ward and we were allowed to use the phone!   An injury like this isn’t exactly a common occurrence in our home – in the last 22 years only two of our children have needed stitches and the last time was ten years ago.  And now for the third time it happened at this very sensitive moment.  I had to inwardly wryly smile at the juxtaposition of things happening.  I wouldn’t have planned it like this.  But, I reminded myself, G-d’s timing is always perfect.

Then we came home from the hospital- to a house of several sick children.  The first virus of the season came sweeping through and of course it happened now.  It hasn’t been fun or easy being back home.  Perfect timing, right?

Right.

Seriously.

By now you know what I told myself, right?

“G-d’s timing is perfect!”

However it is right now is the way it’s supposed to be at this moment.  And if that’s how it is, it’s from G-d.  And if it’s from G-d, it’s for my ultimate good.

This thought has helped me so many times with the little and bigger irritations of daily living.  I hope it helps you, too!

Avivah