Category Archives: personal development

Dd23 at her engagement party with dd21

Having two brides in the family at the same time

It’s been busy with our two upcoming weddings to prepare for and I’m sorry I haven’t been able to share more here, especially with so much going on!

As we’re just hours away from the last Shabbos spent together before our oldest daughter’s wedding, I thought I’d share about a comment/question that I’ve been constantly hearing:

What is it like to have two daughters engaged and getting married around the same time?

The short answer? Amazing. Wonderful. Unbelievable blessing coming through the spiritual and emotional pipelines.

But I realized that with this question being raised so often, maybe that’s not really saying enough.

My daughters have also gotten comments about how hard it must be. One of them shared with me a question she was asked: “Isn’t it hard being engaged at the same time as your sister? Don’t you compare who has more and who gets more, whose chassan (fiance’) is better, etc?”

When my daughter shared this with me, I was taken aback. I thought this revealed a lot about the questioner, but after sharing this comment with many others who agree it’s a legitimate concern, apparently what was unusual was my surprise about the sentiment expressed rather than the concern raised.

Here’s our experience.

Each of my daughters is marrying a wonderful guy, each who is perfect for her. Each young man is very different, with different strengths and abilities. What in the world is there to compare? Who is happier? Who got a bigger diamond? Whose fiance is more thoughtful?

That would be ridiculous. Comparison is the last thing any of us are thinking about, especially our daughters. I think it’s amazing it is that our daughters can share this special stage of life with each other as they go through similar experiences, and they’ve said the same thing. For our family, it’s only heightened our happiness for them to be engaged at the same time. They’ve always been good friends and now this is brings an added dimension to their relationship.

Dd23 at her engagement party with dd21

A friend told me yesterday, “Only you could have that attitude.”

What in the world????? Did I get pushed up onto a pedestal because I recognize and welcome the abundance of having so much positive energy in our home at one time???

I can’t deny that there’s a lot of time and energy that is necessary. Planning a wedding is a lot of work, and doing it times two so close together is a LOT of work. That’s no contradiction to it being a wonderful experience! In fact, most of the things in life that bring us the most happiness are the things we’ve invested the most in.

For us, the experience of having two daughters getting engaged two weeks apart, and soon to be married twelve days apart, has been about seeing how perfect Divine timing is.

We humans can find a way to ruin anything good – no matter how good! – by finding something to complain about! I was very conscious from the beginning of the first engagement that my focus would be on my gratitude. It was important to me to be conscious of that since I knew it could very easy to get into overwhelm or complaining about how much there was to do, if that’s the direction I chose to go in.

Yes, it’s a choice.

The thoughts we think are a choice. What we focus on is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Gratitude is a choice. It’s not all about what is sent to us in this world, but the attitude we choose to take when various life circumstances come our way.

Fortunately for us, in this case enjoying this period and enjoying our two brides has been an easy choice for us all!

Avivah

Why perfectionism will make you believe you’re never a good enough mother

Recently I spoke with a young mother who wanted to address some concerns she was having with her young children. As I listened to her detail all the issues she was having, I thought about how demanding her expectations were.

When she paused, I told her, “It seems to me that you hold yourself to a very high standard that will make it impossible to ever feel good about your parenting.”  She admitted that she’s a perfectionist.

Sometimes it’s not your children and their behavior that is the issue; it’s your unrealistic expectations of yourself.  Those high expectations can masquerade as something positive – for example, in the case of this mother, it sounded like wanting to be the very best mother possible. That sounds admirable, doesn’t it?

Right. It sounds good, but if there’s so much tension and inner pressure about it, clearly it’s not healthy.  Saying she wanted to be a good mother was just prettying up a huge sledgehammer in her mind that she was constantly using to beat herself up since she never lived up to her perfect ideal.

While some people think perfectionism is a positive quality, I couldn’t disagree more. Perfectionism is deeply damaging and it guarantees that a person will never feel enough, no matter how hard they try.

perfectionism scale

Not only does perfectionism affect you negatively, it harms your children as well, because they need to look perfect in order for you prove to yourself and the world that you’re a good enough parent. They’ll never feel good enough, either – not for you and not for them. And then they’ll internalize that perpetual inadequacy within themselves.

Parents, step back and reevaluate your expectations of yourself and your children, to have a realistic idea of what to strive for. You will probably benefit from checking in with someone from the outside who has an objective perspective.  This isn’t about lowering the bar and saying that anything goes. Not at all. It’s being nurturing and compassionate of yourself and your children to let go of unrealistic ideas that only bring feelings of pain and inadequacy to you all.

We all need to have space to just be, to move at a pace that is appropriate for us. That’s a critical component that allows the natural developmental process to unfold. We can’t move forward in a healthy way when the inner voice is a driving taskmaster, saying, “More, more, better, better, don’t stop because if you do you’ll never be good enough!”

Can you let what you've already done be enough? Or do you have to do' just one more thing' to feel you've done enough?

Can you let what you’ve already done be enough?

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – again and again and again.

You are enough as you are right now. Really.

And when you can let yourself feel that, ironically you’ll then free up some emotional energy that can applied to being more of who you want to be – from a place of self-love, not self-shaming.

Avivah

 

 

So much to do!

Really busy but not stressed – well, mostly not!

We have just under a month before Tehila’s wedding and then twelve days later Michal will be getting married!

A number of their friends have commented that I must be stressed out planning for two weddings so close together. No, I’m not. :)

Having said that, I’ve been conscious about creating space inside myself to keep centered. That means recognizing what is necessary and what isn’t. So even though I technically have time to write here, there’s been a longer lag than usual since I’ve been choosing to leave myself some time that isn’t filled with activity in the evenings.

It’s not just planning for the two weddings but also the time of year that it falls out that adds to the intensity of what needs to be done. Of course there’s the week of sheva brachos celebrations nightly following each wedding – I didn’t know until my son got married that it’s the sheva brachos that really wipe you out!

The second wedding will be the night before Purim; we’ll celebrate Purim, and the next day we’ll go right into the Shabbos sheva brachos we’re hosting. When people hear the specifics of the dates they look at me and ask with great intensity, “But HOW are you going to do that???”

I tell myself (and them) I’ll just keep it simple and it will all get done. That works to keep me from getting stressed about it all.

A couple of days ago, someone said to me, “All the work you’ve done on yourself for years is going to come into play right now.” She’s a life coach – can you tell? :) She’s right, though. Years ago I could have done everything that needed to be done, but not without stressing myself and everyone around me.  I wouldn’t even have had the goal that I have now, let alone the internal tools to meet that goal – to enjoy this very special season of life and to be emotionally present and relaxed.

So much to do!

So much to do!

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Here’s an update on some of the non-wedding stuff I’m busy with this week:

Right now we’re working on making different school arrangements for ds15. The new program he was in hasn’t actualized in the manner it was originally described. Good people and good intentions, but different than what we signed him up for and not a match for him.

I’m starting the process of registering Rafael for a specific day care for the coming year – this day care has a special inclusion program and there’s a lot of demand for the very limited spots. I met director yesterday, got the registration form, and toured the facility. In a couple of days the evaluations and letters of recommendation I requested last week from different professionals should be ready.

If you’re wondering why I’m putting Rafael in day care since I’m home with the other kids… there are things I need to do because he’s a foster child. I was initially told he needed to start day care this past September when he was nine months but I pushed for him to be able to stay home with me for another year. My goal is to find the best option for him; I have a good feeling about this particular program and think it will be a good match for us.

Speaking of educational plans for next year, I’m also beginning the application process for Yirmi to attend a gan safa (kindergarten with a language focus) in the coming September.  Though it seems incredibly early to be thinking about next year,  it’s not! This is exactly when all the applications start to go in for the next school year. This week I’ve been working on getting his paperwork together and hope to open a file for him with the municipality this week.  I’ve been told that I’ll need to advocate strongly to get him in to a gan safa since they prefer to place children with T21 in lower functioning frameworks rather than with ‘typical’ children with language delays. But there are enough parents who have already done this that it’s not blazing a new trail to get this accommodation.

It might seem ironic or confusing that I’ve just spent all this time and energy to procure an authorization to homeschool him for the current school year and here I go turning around to get him into the school system for next year! It’s actually because of the positive experience dealing with the bureaucracy that I feel ready to deal with this gan process. Prior to this, I was concerned that if Yirmi was in gan safa (which I think he would LOVE!), I would be refused an authorization to homeschool him the following year. Now I’ve decided to take the advocacy for him one year at a time and not worry about what will happen too far down the road.

Oh – and yes, Rafael is still waking up in the middle of the night! Not loving that very much. 2 am looks much better to me when my head is undisturbed on my pillow. :) Actually, 7 am looks much better to me when my head has been undisturbed from my pillow at 2 am. :) So goes life!

Avivah

 

visions

The joy of watching dreams manifest in my life

Two nights ago we had the official engagement party for Tehila and Meir. The only thing missing was that we didn’t get a family picture with our new couple. :(  It wasn’t for lack of wanting one! Fortunately, the wedding is in just seven weeks so we’ll make up for that soon. :)

I’m happy to have a picture of our lovely new couple, though!

Tehila and Meir at their engagement party

We are so deeply grateful and happy to welcome Meir to our family. It’s a very special thing to watch your child find the person she wants to spend her life with, and we all like him almost as much as she does!

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Several months ago, I was contacted by a writer for Mishpacha magazine. They were planning a new column that would come out monthly over the course of a year, interviews with women who had fulfilled a dream. She wanted to know if I would be willing to be interviewed.

At that time, I shared with her about my most recent vision that had come true, of Rafael joining our family.  They held off on printing my interview since they said I was too well- known and didn’t want me to be featured in the beginning of the series.

My interview for the Dreamscapes column came out last week in Mishpacha’s Family First, right in the middle of this very special season of celebration for our family.  And as this issue came to print, I’ve been thinking a lot about the manifestation of a different vision that has been very close to my heart for years that is unfolding right now.

In February 2011, I spoke to my husband about the possibility of making aliya that summer, with nine children ranging in age from 2 – 18. To say he was lukewarm to the idea would be putting it mildly! One of the things I told him then was the following:

“In another five years, our kids will be dating and getting married. We already know that the older two girls want to live in Israel when they’re married. It’s not likely that Baltimore will be very compelling for any of them.

We’ve invested so much in our family and that connection is very important to us, but over time our kids will end up living in completely different parts of the US and even the world.  The older our family gets, logistically it’s going to be very hard to continue to physically be there for one another.  But if we move to Israel now while all the kids can make the move with us, hopefully by the time they’re ready to get married, they’ll want to stay in Israel. And hopefully being in the same small country, we’ll be more able to be physically present for one another even after they’re married.”

It’s a huge credit to my husband that he agreed to make the move, despite his hesitations. We shared the vision of continued physical proximity and connection as our family expanded, and it continued to be an important factor in our decision making process when we moved from Karmiel in the periphery of Israel to much more centrally located RBS less than three years ago.

I don’t take it for granted for a second that we’re been able to be present for these moments in the lives of our adult children. And I don’t take it for granted that each of our three couples is starting their lives here in Israel. What I feel is a very deep sense of humility and gratitude for Hashem’s kindness to us.

Avivah

 

Keeping thoughts positive about our upcoming meeting with Dept of Ed.

My husband was feeling under the weather this week and took a day off of work to stay home and rest.

At some point in the morning, he was doing a puzzle with a couple of the boys and looked up at me and said, “It’s such a beautiful environment here.  Thank you for all that you do – I know it doesn’t happen by itself.”

Often I look around at my home and family, and feel a deep sense of contentment: of being right where I’m meant to be, doing what I’m meant to to do, living my life every day with the people I love. I don’t ever take it for granted. It’s been a choice that I didn’t make one time, but many, many times.

It’s been a choice when feeling conflicted and pulled about finances, homeschooling, living in a different country.  But our decision to build our family in a given way has been a consistent. In our home there are a lot of people, a lot of personalities, a lot of things that are happening and moving parts in so many directions!

And now we come to a place of once again consciously making the choice to create this environment for our children.

We recently filed a new application that included Yirmi as he has reached the age for official homeschooling.  On Sunday morning we have an appointment – together with ds5, ds8, ds10 and ds11 -with a committee at the Department of Education regarding our homeschooling application.  I don’t find it appropriate for adults to question children about the educational decisions their parents have made for them, but no one has asked my opinion on how to run things in our government. :)

Yirmi, age 5- at day camp this summer

Yirmi, age 5- pic taken at summer day camp

I had a lot of anxiety about this process for a very long time – from the time Yirmi was an infant, actually.  I felt that submitting this application for a child with special needs would be voluntarily walking into the lions den. But as I’ve said before, making decisions from a place of fear isn’t a good place to be at.  If I’m feeling fearful I need to look at my thinking – and then I ask myself if I’m giving away my power to the officials at the Dept. of Education.

I can’t control what the people I will meet will say or do or think of me, but I do have a choice about the thoughts I allow into my mind!

  • I choose to picture a pleasant and positive meeting with all involved.
  • I choose to picture permission to homeschool all of our children, and particularly Yirmi, being granted quickly and easily.

I’m choosing to keep my thoughts focused on a positive outcome, rather than fearing our quality of life being threatened if permission is denied. I trust that the same One Who gave me these children to raise will help us through this process. That thought has helped me replace my anxiety with feeling empowerment instead. I was pleasantly surprised when I got the call about the meeting that I felt very calm – even after hearing the name of the person we’ll be meeting with (someone with a reputation for being very difficult to deal with).

I won’t write more than to say that this is a significant meeting, particularly since I’m not aware of any other child with Trisomy 21 being homeschooled in the entire country. So we’ll be blazing a new trail. :)

Another camp picture

Another camp picture :)

We’re looking forward to receiving our legal approval and to sharing our good news with you! We welcome all positive thoughts and prayers on our behalf as well!

Avivah

clarity

How To Get Clarity About What You Really Want

I think much of the inability to teach others how to respect you stems from a confusion as to what our needs really are or where boundaries should be. How can one achieve that kind of clarity? How does one teach others when one often cannot articulate one’s needs to oneself?

What an insightful comment on my last post!  Yes, this is completely true – so often we don’t know what we want and therefore we can’t communicate it to another person.

The six foundational principles of my Leadership Parenting approach are:

Connection, Compassion, Clarity, Courage, Calm and Correction

Every one of these are critical in parenting effectively.

Let’s talk a bit about clarity. Very, very often when parents ask me questions about how to handle different situations, I’ll ask them what they want.  “What is your goal in the situation?  How would you like this to play out?  What do you really want?”

That might seem simple, but knowing what you want often isn’t simple at all.

I recently had my first Supernanny stint, when I went into the home of clients to watch their family dynamics and see firsthand what was happening.   During our session that followed, I told the mother that she wasn’t clearly communicating to her child what she wanted of him.  In the privacy of my office, I was able to ask, “What do you want?”

She explained and explained and explained, and I finally told her: “I’m a mature adult sitting here listening to everything you’re saying, and I still don’t know what you want!  We can’t expect a child to be able to figure it out – we have to make it easy for him!”

You know why it wasn’t clear to her child or to me?  Because it wasn’t clear to her!

It’s okay not to have clarity. It’s not a moral failing. It’s understandable to feel ambivalent and have conflicting feelings about what you want. But lack of clarity can lead to unnecessary pain and frustration in our lives. To get the most out of life, you need to be able to clearly articulate to yourself what you really want.

Why is it so hard to get clarity?

  1. Sometimes we’re afraid to admit to ourselves what we want. It feels too big, too unreasonable, too hard to attain. So we readjust what we want to what we think we can have, and then we tell ourselves that’s what we want. However, there’s often a residual niggling discomfort that remains of the subordinated original desire that will keep poking at you.
  2. Sometimes the lack of clarity is because you’re living life based on what others expect of you and doing what everyone else does.
  3.  Another reason for the lack of clarity comes from having competing agendas – for example, someone who wants to be a stay at home mom and also wants career success. I recently experienced a conflict of competing agendas, which I shared at a seminar with the person leading the sessions. His feedback was that I have to be honest with myself.  That was not the answer I wanted to hear.  I felt like screaming in frustration when he gave me that answer, because (I thought) I was being honest with myself and that’s why I felt conflicted!

But when I thought it over afterwards and didn’t feel so defensive, I realized he was right. There was something I was saying that I wanted because I felt I should want that – and part of me really did want it and felt excited at the thought of taking on that role – but there was something else that I wanted more which I was giving my available life energy to.

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “What do I really want?”

To tune into the answer, choose a quiet place when you can be alone with your thoughts. It can be helpful to lie down with some beautiful relaxing music playing in the background, or to sit outside in nature. I like sitting in my garden – you don’t have to go far from home! The main thing is that it feels peaceful to you.

Take some deep breaths and try to quiet your mind.

When I start this process, I initially get mental noise, like the static when you’re not tuned into an official radio station. “I don’t know what I want! I want this and this and this and I can’t have it and it’s to much and I’m completely overwhelmed!!!!”  While I consciously may say I want clarity, there’s part of me that likes being able to be ambivalent because then I don’t have to change anything I’m doing.  But if I keep sitting with myself and giving myself space for the response to come, the answer gets more and more clear.

Your inner self really does have all the answers.  However, sometimes you’ve gotten so used to habituated responses that aren’t in tune with that inner self that you can’t distinguish what is the healthy voice of truth and what is the voice of fear or habit.  It can be helpful to get feedback from someone you trust who is outside the situation; those people can often see things more clearly than you can.

Being a parent is such an amazing opportunity because it opens us up to incredible possibilities for growth and awareness that we wouldn’t have had otherwise!  Seriously.

Having to be clear with your child forces you to think more about what you say you want and why you want it. Let’s say you’re battling a child to take a bath every night or eat dinner. What do you really want? Do care that much about the bath? Is there something else that you care more about that you’d rather be investing your time in?

Often parents admit that they don’t really care that much about the things they’re fighting with their children about, but they feel these are rituals or activities that everyone should do so their child should also do it.

Well.

Doing what you think you should do because everyone else does it doesn’t align well with being happy!

Sometimes it becomes clear that yes, the bath or meal or whatever else really is the priority. In that case, it shouldn’t be set aside but there might be some more effective ways to go about achieving your goal.

There’s no one right way to parent and there’s no one right way to deal with a given situation. It depends so much on what you really want – you can have two very happy and healthy families who have chosen completely different ways of living their lives.

When you get clarity you can create healthy boundaries and teach others how to treat you, as you align what you say with the actions you take.  That’s a very empowering place to be!

Avivah

treat others how to treat you

You Teach People How to Treat You

I was wondering if you could share with the blog readers more about the idea that we teach people how to treat us.Can you explain how that works, and how we can change the way they treat us?

Yes, I’m happy to explain that a bit more!  Before I begin, I want to clarify one very important distinction: we do not have any direct control over the actions of others, and can not directly change how they treat us.  What we do have control over is our own thoughts, speech and actions.  That’s where our power lies and that is always where our focus has to be.

I was speaking recently to someone who was complaining about all the people in her life who don’t treat her kindly. People are mean to her, kids are mean to her children, and everyone who passes her yard is mean to her pet!  And then a five minute walk away just a day earlier, I met someone who told me that the people living in that area are just wonderful, everyone is so kind and helpful. Are these two people living on different planets?

In a way, they are. Their inner worlds and the way they view themselves is constantly playing out with those around them.

**This is not about shaming oneself or feeling at fault for being treated badly by others. Not at all. There’s no blame here at all. It’s about recognizing where you have power to make your life better.

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My eight and ten year old sons came home upset one afternoon after playing with a friend. This is a boy who they’ve been extremely nice to, a nice kid who has strong reactions to what seem to others like very small triggers. In this case, he got upset and began throwing bricks at them, then ran after my eight year old and punched him.

When they got home, they asked for my feedback on how they could have handled the situation.  One said he’s not going to play with this boy anymore and he doesn’t have to keep being nice to someone who isn’t nice to him. The other said he sees it’s very hard for this boy to control himself and he doesn’t want to be treated like this, but he doesn’t think it’s nice to tell him he’s not going to be his friend.

This is a classic example of “we teach people how to treat us”! Substitute coworker, spouse or neighbor and you have the same kind of situations that we adults are dealing with all the time!

I told them they get to decide what kind of friendships they want to have.  How do they want to be treated by their friends? There is never a reason to tolerate someone mistreating you in the name of ‘kindness’ to them. You have a right to be treated respectfully and it’s your responsibility to teach people to treat you with respect.

So what would that look like in this case?

treat others how to treat youFirst of all, I told them in the future if it happens to leave the situation and come home immediately.  If he comes to play at another time, he can be told, “I don’t like what you did (yelling and throwing things at me).” They can then choose if they want to give him another chance or not.  If they give him another chance they can let him know, “If you get angry and hit me, I’m going to stop playing with you”.

The boy now knows clearly what their expectations of the relationship are. Can they control if he becomes explosive?  No, absolutely not.  But if he acts in an unkind way again, they will honor their own boundaries by leaving the interaction or even by leaving the relationship- and he will have learned that they mean what they say and will not interact with him if he can’t treat them nicely.

Now let’s look at another possibility.  What if they continue to play with him time after time regardless of how they are treated?  Then have them taught him that they will tolerate being abused from a ‘friend’, that it’s okay for him to explode when something bothers him.

Their response to his action teaches him how to treat them.

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If a young child playfully bats you in the face or calls you a name, how do you respond?  Do you smile and let her know you think she’s so cute?  Do you ignore it and tell yourself it’s not a big deal? Or do you hold her hand in yours and soberly tell her, “No hitting Mommy”? You are teaching your child how to treat you.

A couple of days ago I asked a child of mine to do a task and the child agreed, but with an edgy manner of speaking. I looked at that child for about a minute without saying anything.  The somewhat abashed response to me after a pause was, “Okay, that was obnoxious – I’m sorry. Yes, I can do what you asked me to do.”

What was my nonverbal message when I looked intently at this child? That although I was choosing not to respond verbally, I wasn’t oblivious to the inappropriate tone that had just been used. Yes, it’s definitely a more subtle response!  If the child was younger and might not have realized on his own that his response was out of line, I could have let him know: “You know, that sounded disrespectful. Can you say what you want in a more respectful way?”

This is just as true with people who aren’t related to us. If someone initiates a conversation topic that we would rather not participate in, we can direct the conversation to a different subject rather than feel forced to participate because we want to be ‘nice’. If someone speaks to us disrespectfully, we do not have to stay in that interaction to be ‘nice’. We teach others how to treat us.

One of my kids once opened the door for a neighbor since I was in the middle of reading to a younger child. I had never spoken to this neighbor before and he wasn’t a warm and friendly kind of person. Before I even had a chance to get up from the couch and without waiting for an invitation, he walked right into the center of my living room.  I felt my space had been invaded, and I told him to please wait next to the door and I would speak to him there. He got angry and threatened not to talk to me or help with the issue that he had come to speak about (the damage a leak from his home was causing to us) but I didn’t back down.  My home is my space and no stranger is welcome to come marching in as if he owns the place. My home, my terms.

treat others how to treat y

You can set the terms of the interactions that you participate in.  We worry too much about being nice to others, while not considering that it’s extremely not nice to ignore your own needs and subjugate them to the needs of others.

maya[1]Every day we have choices: what to respond to, when to respond, how to respond – and it really all begins with, how do we feel worthy of being treated? Do we honor our own needs, our own time, our own preferences?  We communicate this in so many ways and we’re not even aware that we’re communicating that! But our kids are watching us and have a very good sense of what we we really care about.

Avivah

y trampoline 2

See the possibilities in your child, not the limitations

Can you believe that Yirmi just recently turned 5?

Until Yirmi was born and we received the birth diagnosis of Trisomy 21, I knew very little about what that entailed.  I had the stereotypical perceptions of people with Down syndrome based on very limited personal connection.  When Yirmi was born, my eyes were opened to a much broader, more appreciative and more accurate way of seeing people with differences.

Though people tend to assign a lot of significance to the differences (skin color, religion, political affiliation, income level, abilities), we’re all more alike than different, and we all benefit when we place more emphasis on what makes us similar.  More than anything – every one of us wants to be valued for who we are.  And this has been my focus in raising Yirmi.

Yirmi and his big sister, May 2017

Yirmi and his big sister

We had a 3 hour appointment with a developmental pediatrician very recently (the first since leaving Karmiel 2.5 years ago), who was blown away by Yirmi.  She kept exclaiming that she’s never seen a 5 year old with T21 like him in her decades of working in the field.

She said that he is bright, communicative, emotionally present, focused, takes initiative, and has the confidence to try new things in a new environment.  She told me that these aren’t qualities that she’s seen in a child with T21 of this age, particularly combined with a language delay like his (‘Usually these kids are shut down.’).

A week later I took Rafael for his intake appointment, and again she remarked on how taken she was with Yirmi.  “He’s so emotionally intact.”

y trampoline 2

Why is it the norm for a child with T21 to not be emotionally intact?  To not be confident or communicative in new situations?  To not trust their abilities?  To not be willing to try new things?  To not keep trying to be understood?

Could it be in part because of how those with whom they interact regularly treat them?  Are the frameworks in which they spend most of their time focused on what they can’t do instead of what they can?  Are they being defined by limitation instead of possibility?

Having fun with Daddy!

Playing on the trampoline with Daddy!

People have told me Yirmi doesn’t act like he has Down syndrome, or that he must have it ‘just a little bit’.  What does that even mean??? What limited perceptions are those comments based on??  You can’t have T21 just a little bit – either you’ve got it or you don’t.  He definitely has garden variety Down syndrome, present in every cell of his body.

Though professionals have told me that Yirmi is doing very well, it’s not because he’s inherently different or better than any other child with T21.  I’m not holding him up as an ideal or trying to imply he’s the most amazing child with T21 ever. Comparisons of performance and impressing anyone else isn’t my goal – he is who he is and and regardless of percentages or testing or anything else, he is enough as he is right now.

Having said that, in line with the 80/20 principle, I believe 80% of children with T21 can be doing just as well if given similar support.  I don’t think he should be as unusual as the professionals say he is.  Actually, I think a lot of kids with T21 are already doing great but probably most of them are also being treated like outliers.

I passionately believe that every child deserves to be treated with respect. With respect for where he is right now, with support for whatever limitation he has at this time, and with belief in who he will be in the future.

It’s not hard to do this.  It’s really not.  It may be counter cultural, but it’s not hard.  People think I must ‘work so much’ with Yirmi.  I don’t see what I do as work; he’s not my project to fix.  What I do that I think is of the most value is to parent him the same as all of my other children – I look at what his needs are and try to find integrated ways to support those needs in our daily lives.

Integrating support in a fun way - trampolining!

One example of how we integrate support in a fun way – trampolining!

In my opinion, the most challenging thing is to recognize the aspects of your thinking about your child that are limiting, and then to change those thoughts.  Your actions will follow your thoughts, and your child responds to your thoughts about him.  If you think your child is capable, you’ll have different expectations and take different action than if you think your child has significant limitations.

To consciously shift from a paradigm of limitation to possibility means seeing the potential in your child and acting in alignment with what you trust he will become, long before you see that in him. 

If he can’t yet talk or can’t yet walk, it means believing that if you keep giving good quality input, that you can trust the timing of the output (ie performance) even when it’s taking a lot longer than you would like. At age 4, Yirmi still hardly said any words.  Now a year later, we’re seeing an explosion of speech.  And I trust that we’ll continue to see significant gains with time.

Shifting that paradigm means reflecting your child’s positive inner value to him even at times that he’s immature, irresponsible, unreliable, hypersensitive, or mean.  It means trusting your child’s potential and holding on to that vision even when external circumstances might give you reason to feel discouraged.

And that’s something that benefits every child,  regardless of diagnosis!

Avivah

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Lessons from the Pool – recognizing the limitations of childhood thinking

Last week I went on a two day retreat with 300 other women.  I had a wonderful time and some powerful moments of growth and awareness. Since they were so personal I wasn’t going to share about them but I was strongly encouraged to do it by someone who told me it would be of service to others.   Here is one blinding moment of clarity and light that I experienced.

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When we got to the hotel in the north where we were staying, the pool was open and it seemed almost everyone opted to go in!

I held back for a bit, since I don’t particularly enjoy being in a crowded pool. After a while it thinned out a bit and I went in. I looked around and realized that although there were a lot of women there, they were mostly clustered in groups around the edges of the pool. If I were to swim across the width of the pool, I would mostly be able to do that. So I set off for the other side, and the deep pleasure of swimming surged through me as I sliced through the water. I went back and forth, thinking all the time how amazing it was to be in the water, feeling one with myself and my movement through the water. I haven’t swum in fifteen years and it felt so, so good to be swimming again.

At one point, I thought to myself how nice it was that I can enjoy swimming even though I might not look like a very good swimmer to someone watching. I was feeling good to be fine with myself regardless of what others might think.

And then I got to the end of the lane and someone said to me, “You swim beautifully!” “Thank you”, I said, while I thought “hmm..”  Why is someone in a pool full of women singling me out to tell me how well I swim but my mind is telling me that I’m a sloppy swimmer? Cognitive dissonance.

I was pondering this as I continued my laps, wondering who was right – me or the outside observer?  It’s strange that I had this negative self-assessment as a swimmer when I love swimming and the only feedback I could remember was positive and took place when I was 12. At that time I was assessed in camp to determine what level group I would be in. The instructor, who was a kind of tough drill instructor type woman not given to praise, exclaimed about me: “Wow, she has power!!!”  And almost as an aside added, “But her technique needs a bit of work.”

This women was impressed by me! I always thought back on that comment as a positive memory. So how if I’ve only had positive feedback on my swimming, I wondered, had I somehow internalized that comment to mean I was a lousy swimmer?  When it was clear to me and everyone standing around that she was very impressed?

All of a sudden, I realized that it was ME who gave myself that definition. Me, who found the tiny possibility of negativity in her comment and blew it up larger than life; me, who created that image in my mind of myself. Me, who continued to unquestioningly own that definition three decades later.

‘If my swimming form could use some work, obviously I was a sloppy swimmer,’ I had somehow reasoned. Is that what she said? Was that the truth? No. It wasn’t based on anything in reality. Just my inability as a twelve year old to allow myself to completely accept wholehearted praise for what it was.

“How many other times and in how many other ways have I done this to myself?” I wondered.

As I had that thought, I was suddenly I was so overcome with emotion that I just started crying right there in the pool.

I can’t describe to you the power of that moment, realizing with stark clarity that I had limited myself for so long without even being aware of it.

This wasn’t about my swimming. In my world, how well I do or don’t swim has very little significance.

It was the power of deeply recognizing how our thinking patterns as children carry into adulthood. If unchallenged, they continue to run our lives behind the scenes. I’ve consciously changed so much of the scripting of my younger self, and this has benefited my life enormously. But I never could change this scripting because it wasn’t until that moment that I had a deep gut level realization that this  way of thinking had been a subtle and pervasive part of me.

It can be painful to let the spotlight shine on our inner workings and imperfections, but it can also be so powerful and freeing. For me this was an extremely expansive and illuminating experience, allowing me to start to see and move away from a limitation that was invisible to me until that moment.

And oh – I can now recognize without reservations that I’m a good swimmer and I have been for many, many years.

Avivah

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My tips for making your marriage awesome!

My husband and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage!  Eleven wonderful children, several national and international moves, job changes, health scares…we’ve navigated lots of situations together over the years and our marriage is a source of great happiness and stability for us both!

In honor of our anniversary I want to share some of the lessons that have been helpful to me in building our relationship.

Me and my husband

What I say is applicable to husbands or wives, but for simplicity I’m going to address this post to women. I also believe that in the typical relationship (not including abuse or addictions) women have more power than men do to significantly impact the quality of the relationship.

Here’s my first  tip for a good marriage but only those of you who aren’t yet married can use this one:

  • Choose well.  Choose a spouse who is kind, caring, emotionally stable, shares your values and with whom you emotionally connect.  Lots of problems that later come up in relationships are because people didn’t choose well and that’s something that’s really hard to overcome.

I was young when I got married but I consciously sought out role models of strong relationships and thought about what kind of person would be a healthy match for me.  Notice I said ‘healthy’, not ‘good’.  People get into relationships that can feel exciting or good on some level but not be healthy.  People mistakenly think that marriage is all about meeting the right one and the stars sparkling in the air around them.  That can be part of it, but there’s a definite place for carefully looking for the qualities that are important to you.

Okay, on to other musings that are of applicable to everyone!

A general principle of healthy relationships is that people want to be around people who make them feel good.  When you were dating, the odds are high that you and your husband enjoyed one another and felt appreciated by the other.  And you loved being around each other.

But too often, the sheen wears off after you’ve been married for a while and you start focusing on what isn’t and what you don’t have instead of what is and what you do have. You want to change him to be more like what you want him to be. Guaranteed recipe for misery.

  • Be conscious of your husband’s good qualities and let him know how much you appreciate them!  Just because you see some other less desirable qualities doesn’t erase all those good qualities. Every one of us is a work in progress. Don’t be shy about letting your husband know you think he’s a great guy!  What you focus on grows.
  • Don’t get so used to the things he brings to the relationship that you take them for granted.  My husband goes out to work every day to support his family and has done this for many years.  Does his consistently showing up and being responsible not deserve positive feedback just because he’s been doing it so long??  I let him know on a regular basis how much it means to me that he works so hard to take care of us even though he’d probably rather be kicking back on a beach somewhere.

And when it comes to making those changes that you want him to make – he’s lots more likely to make the effort to please you when he feels accepted and appreciated by you.

  • No one wants to feel taken for granted, belittled or inadequate.  I’ve often heard wives talk about their husbands as if he’s one more child that needs to be tended to. Ladies – guys aren’t completely obtuse.  When you think about him like this and speak about him to your friends like this, don’t you think he gets a sense of that even if you don’t directly say anything to him?

And let’s face it.  How many of us can feel that kind of exasperation and not express it?  Come on, you’d have to be a saint to be thinking those kind of thoughts and be able to keep them to yourself!  Learn to shift your thinking by focusing on his good qualities.

  • You’re not his mother.   It’s not your job to fix him or oversee all the details of his life.  He’s an adult, so treat him like one.
  •  When you husband does something to make you happy, don’t point out all the ways he could have done it better.  Let him know how much you appreciate the effort.
  • When you first see your spouse after a long day apart, don’t jump into complaining about how hard your day was.  I know, it’s hard to set aside one’s desire to be heard.  But take a few minutes to warmly greet your spouse.  A warm smile and welcoming, “I’m so happy to see you!” help make your home a place your spouse wants to be.
  • Let him make mistakes without pointing out everything he did wrong.  Seriously, would you want to live with an all seeing eye who pointed out all of your errors? I’d want to run in the other direction!  That’s one reason for the escape of men to their man caves.
  • Ask for what you want.  Don’t hint around and don’t expect him to read your mind and then get resentful that he didn’t do what you wanted him to do!  And don’t tell yourself if he really loved you he’d know what you want without you telling him – that’s not true and it’s just not fair.
  • Make time to spend just enjoying each other. Not at home, distracted by the chores that need to be done or the kids that need to be put to sleep.  It’s worth the effort to get out on a regular basis.  My husband and I go out every week and when we took a break from this for a couple of months due to scheduling changes, I  felt something was missing.
  • Have friendships outside of your marriage; don’t expect your spouse to be the one and only person you can talk to about everything.  That can become a burden.  My husband is my best friend, but that doesn’t mean I expect him to be interested in every single thing that interests me!
  • Similarly, don’t expect your spouse to be your therapist and to listen to all your sadness and pain – that gets old pretty fast.

And here’s a really big one, so big that I could have really put this first.

  • Make self-care a priority.  It’s not your husband’s job to make sure you get enough sleep, time with friends, exercise, meditation, yoga, bubble baths, upbeat music, etc, etc.  It’s your job to make yourself happy.  You can ask for his logistical support and chances are high he’ll be happy to help you make it happen if you’ve been warm, affirming and positive toward him.  Most husbands really want to make their wives happy.  But it’s not his job.

If you could live with someone who was cheerful and fulfilled by her life, or someone who was a resentful martyr who put herself last, who would you rather spend time with?  Who would you want to come home to?  I’ve said this before about raising children but it’s just as true with marriage – you do everyone around you a favor by making yourself a priority.

I could go on and on with lots of little tips but it really comes down to this: treat your husband as you would want to treated- with kindness, respect and appreciation.  Give him the benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong.  Learn to let go of having to have things your way, and realize that ‘our’ way can be even better. Stop shaming, blaming, and complaining.

You know how I learned all this?  By making lots of mistakes!  At times I’ve been petty, judgmental, not respectful, impatient, unappreciative and resentful.  But I chose a good man and I was smart enough to remind myself of that even when I was feeling disgruntled. I knew that strong marriages didn’t happen by themselves; I messed up plenty but I’d try to do it better or differently the next time.

Personally, learning to let go and accept and appreciate what is has been one of the biggest lessons for me.   Some people are naturally easy going and accepting; I’m not one of them.  I came into marriage with a strong propensity to move fast, think fast, and be detail oriented, which strongly correlates with being impatient, reactive and critical.  I’ve worked very, very hard to learn to slow down, to make room for the interpretations that others bring to situations, and to focus on the positive.   And that’s made a huge difference in my marriage.

My husband has been an incredible source of acceptance and support for me through all these years, and I’m very, very grateful to be married to this amazing man.  Every year has just gotten better and I’m looking forward to the next 25 years!

Avivah