What You Must Say First to the Child [guest post]

A writer colleague of mine wrote this beautiful piece that I think is SUCH a great reminder for all of us about how important it is that we approach children's creations (and our own) with great respect and notice their beauty, before we start to instruct them (or ourselves) on how to make it better - which may or may not ever be necessary!  I asked if I could share it with you all and she graciously said yes!

From Elizabeth Spelman:


What you Must Say First to the Child

One day when I was little, I stood in my grandmother’s kitchen and helped her dry the dishes. I took the dishtowel and pulled it tightly over the top of a glass, like a drum. “Look Nana,” I said, “I’ve made art.”
She took it from me and pushed the towel into the glass. “No,” she said, holding it up, “this is art.”
It was true. The cloth doubled over in curious folds inside the glass and flowered out at the top. If Picasso had come to dinner, he would have agreed with her.
That day, sorrow made me hate my own work, and anger made me hate hers.  
This page is the glass; these words are the towel. Today I will tell myself, “First you must say, ‘It is beautiful.’”


Yes, yes and yes.  

And to all of us (myself included) who cringe remembering times when we have jumped right to instruction about "how it can be better" - self-compassion, self-forgiveness.  We start where we are and it is good.

To those of us who are remembering being the child with the crushed spirit, may we find healing and reclaim our creations, calling them good.

Here's to thriving,


Celebrating the Wisdom of Teens—Really!

I’m ridiculously amazed at how much my son has grown in the past few weeks while I’ve been conducting what I think of as my “compassionate observation experiment.” 

My intention during this time was to focus on replacing instruction from me about what he should do and be with compassionate observation of who he is already, where it seems he wants to go, and how it works best for him to get there.

It’s an experiment that builds on the belief that he is already good and wise at the core of his being (even as a teenager!) and therefore, that he knows more about what’s best for him than I do.  (For my college-aged readers, I want you to know especially that I believe this about you too.)

Side note: This is the idea that academic and life coaching is based on too and that’s why I love it so much.  It opens a whole realm of untapped wisdom that we often overlook.  

This belief in the inherent wisdom of individuals contrasts with dominant views about teenagers that emphasize their poor judgement, lack of knowledge and experience, and resulting need for lots of adult instruction and control over their lives.

There’s some truth to this more deficit-based perspective as well, of course.  Teens do, in fact, have undeveloped brains with some significant disconnections between the logical, rational part of the brain and the parts that determine their emotions and actions.  They often do need adults to “connect the dots.” 

Still, teens (mine included) tend to get PLENTY of instruction and control from parents and teachers and counselors etc.  In this experiment, I wanted to tip the scales a bit in the other direction. 

What Do You See? What Do You See?

As you know if you read my post last week, I’ve been observing my younger son closely—taking a break from giving him instructions about how he should live his life. (Yes, I still tell him to put his dishes in the dishwasher!)  I must say it’s been a really fun experiment! 

I don’t know how all the energy stuff works in the world, and though I think there’s some truth in it, I also think there are some serious gaps/errors in the whole Law of Attraction/The Secret idea—you know, the “what you think about is what you get” concept. 

But at the same time, I’ve certainly found that my own experiments with changing my focus and my stories about life, focusing on what’s good, using my imagination in positive ways to envision what I hope for, often have a hugely positive impact in my actual, physical life.

This is one of those times. 

During the past week, it’s as if I opened a door to growth for my son, just by backing off and observing him with a spirit of compassion and curiosity.

It may be coincidence (the only way to know will be to keep trying new experiments to see if a pattern appears), but without my prodding in the past week he’s moved out towards: 1) doing something he loves in the arts AND, 2) conquering the ever-illusive concepts of geometry in his own way.  These were goals his dad and I had for him, but our rules and plans about how he should reach them had thus far had little effect.

In addition, I’ve noticed that he’s responding to his dad and me in more mature ways in relation to the responsibilities and expectations we have for him, expressing his own desires and preferences in ways that leave room for us to work out a plan that feels good to all of us. 

For example, on Sunday I wanted him to go put his clothes in the dryer at a time when he didn’t want to do it.  I said I didn’t want to go to bed without feeling sure that it was going to happen.  Rather than getting defensive or yelling something to the effect of “I’m fifteen.  Why can’t you just trust me!  I’ll get it done!”  He said, “If I don’t do it, no screens for me tomorrow.”  I said, “Okay, that works.”  And when I woke up in the morning the clothes were done.  Win. Win.

I also learned that he doesn’t just like music, or rap, he likes “lyrical rap” specifically.  This is a new term for me.  And it’s given me a hint about how I might be able to help him move in a direction he’s interested in. 

It struck me that I’ve been practicing this kind of curious and compassionate observation, not only with him, but with myself—and with similar positive results.  (Maybe next I’ll try it with my husband!) 

Building a Life You Love, Step 1 (and a tip for 2017 planning)

Happy New Year! 

I feel as if I should be writing about how to set your intentions or goals or something to that effect, as that is what most of the writers I follow are doing, but the problem is that I haven’t set mine, so it would be a bit inauthentic to act as if I’m on top of the whole new year routine.

I did pull out my “Priorities and Goals” folder last weekend (pleased as anything that I knew exactly where it was!), but I still haven’t managed to do more than skim through my 2015 review and 2016 intentions.  So, if you wanted to pause and think about what you want out of 2017 and you haven’t done it yet, I’m right there with you!  And I want to remind you that we haven’t lost our chance just because it’s past January 1. 

I, for one, plan to pause and look back at 2016 and sit with my hopes and intentions for 2017 this coming weekend—and maybe in bits and pieces over the month of January.  Maybe you, like me, don’t feel able to find a big chunk of time to do it, but you could schedule a half hour here or there.  That’s fine.  That’s good.  Just do that. Or do nothing, if that feels more appealing.  You can still build a great life this year, with or without January goals/intentions/resolutions.

For those who do want to set some intentions for the new year over the course of the month of January I’ll share something each week that might help you as you do. 

Today, it’s a great question I was asked by coach Joanna Lindenbaum yesterday, “How do you want to FEEL in 2017?” I love this question.  Still pondering it for myself.

I think “delighted,” might be part of my answer, which is interesting considering that this has been a rough few weeks for me in the “delighted” category and not because of anything “technically” all that difficult.

The thing is I’m pretty good at BIG THINGS.  Major crisis?  I can handle it.  But bad weather in Southern California when my oldest son is here for a short visit – I LOSE MY MIND.   I scream at my husband and at California itself.  “California is sooooo mean!  It’s not fair!” I say!  I pout.  I stomp.  I cry.  I act as if I am about two-and-a-half-years-old. 

The emotional challenge I experience in the face of small everyday disappointments is not new for me (though the frequency has decreased.)   What IS new for me is my reaction to my meltdowns (a.k.a. my complete failure to be who I want to be and who I believe I should be in these moments) and to other kinds of failures: missed deadlines, blown budgets, embarrassing outfits, etc.  

I want to share with you what’s changed for me because I believe it is a foundational piece of the path towards building a life you love—and loving other people too!

Moms: I know it's the holidays, but this one's for you

What would it mean for you to love and nurture yourself without apology?

Pondering this question is a good place to start a journey to find that energized, loving, full-of-life YOU that you haven’t seen much of lately. 

I find that for most women (myself included) and some men too, the thought of loving and nurturing oneself without apology is practically unfathomable.  It short circuits our brains.  We feel confused.  Is that even right?  Possible?

Isn’t there something wrong with even asking the question?

There are many reasons for our discomfort.

Some are undoubtedly very personal, but many are much bigger than our individual selves.  They are rooted in stories we’ve heard our whole lives:  about good girls and bad girls, good moms and bad moms, good Christians and bad Christians—you get the idea.

Our discomfort with idea of loving and nurturing ourselves without apology for all the messed-up parts, for all the parts that don’t fit the ideal, is rooted in lessons taught to us directly and indirectly, often by well-meaning adults. 

These lessons convince us deep within our souls that we should apologize for taking up space in the world, for having needs, for having opinions, for wanting to be valued for our work, for feeling strong emotions.  For many women, there is also an unconscious apology we make for the mistake of being born female in the first place.  And if you are a woman who is a member of another undervalued or oppressed group too—if you’re brown-skinned, or poor, or have a physical disability—you know even more stories that encourage you to apologize for being who you are.

“I’m sorry to bother you” we say to the sales clerk whose job it is to help us find and purchase what we need or to the professor whose job it is to answer our questions during his office hours. 

“Please forgive me, but may I make a suggestion?” we say as we seek to insert ourselves into a discussion about a topic about which we have more expertise than any of the men in the room who have been easily talking over each other for the past 45 minutes. 

These are small examples, but there are bigger ones too.  For moms especially, there are often much bigger examples of the ways we apologize for who we are.  And this is a problem, not only for ourselves, but for our children and—I would argue—for the world.

Very often as moms we apologize for having needs, or desires, or goals of our own without even realizing that we have done so.  

We bury them.  We silence them.  We numb them.  We silence ourselves and our needs before we even get to an outward apology for their intrusion.  We apologize through our actions.  How?