A young girl and moving from powerless to empowered

We’ve all felt that debilitating, stomach-dropping sensation of being powerlessness. Of being at the mercy of others, or of a situation. Of wanting to ‘stop the ride to get off.’ Somehow along the way we’ve learned how to deal with it. Do you remember a specific moment when you determined a course of action? Was it breathing, retaliation, pinching yourself, crying, eating, inner monologue, or something else entirely? Do you try different things each time? Or do you have a tried and true way?

How about parenting through that? How have you parented when a kiddo has come to you? How did your parents handle it? Did you even talk to them about it?

My lil miss came home after school the other day, crying. After taking off her bike helmet, her hair plastered to her sweaty head and tears adding to the drippy mess, she wanted a hug. Her brothers were instantly attentive, but Miss didn’t want to talk yet. She needed a cuddle to help regulate and chill out.

We all hung out in the living room, her and I snuggling on the couch, and the brothers on their devices in the comfy chairs. After I asked if she was ready to chat, she told me the story of what happened after school.

Two boys in her grade had begun to target her and a friend on their bikes. They darted in front of their path, preventing them from biking home. Once cornered, the boys grabbed backpacks and twisted Miss and her friend off their bikes, hopped on and threatened to take their bikes home. She was worried about having her bike stolen, and couldn’t think fast enough in the moment to figure out what to do or who to find for help. A little more harassing and the boys let them have their bikes back, only to stop them again and bodily lift her up while she was sitting on the bike – she couldn’t touch the ground anymore and was afraid she’d fall to the pavement. Like cats with a mouse, they let her go and then stopped her again, pulling on the handlebars and the back tire. More of this and haranguing, and the boys eventually let them go. She was badly shaken and was sure they were going to chase her home and she wouldn’t be able to get away fast enough.

Ohmygawsh. How do I parent in this moment? What is my intent? What is my goal? How do I set aside my triggered responses and help her build resiliency?

My knee-jerk reaction was to say all the things that minimize or reduce her experience (in the misguided hope that she wouldn’t feel so bad) and excuse the boys’ behaviour:

  • “Those boys probably just like you and don’t know how to show it”
  • “Boys can do stupid things”
  • “What did you do just before that happened?”
  • “Boys will be boys”
  • “Why didn’t you go into the school?”
  • “You should have left straight-away”
  • “Are you sure it was a big deal?”

I know, I know! I feel awful that those were tumbling around my head. To create some space, I just held her while she cried and said that it was a scary experience and maybe she just needs to cry and feel it in her body right now. And in the meanwhile, I was trying to figure out what to say. I could feel the brother’s antenna’s directed at her and I. I knew I couldn’t excuse the boys behaviour – it felt there was a lot of weight in this interaction – for her future self, and for my boy’s future relationships with girls.

I labelled some of the feelings I was imagining she felt:

And the reasons why she felt those emotions:
they were in her space
touching her and her things
she couldn’t move away
uncertain about who can help
and whether it would escalate further.

And I commented on how those were transgressions:
they didn’t recognize her body language
they were only considering themselves.

She shared some of what she felt she did well, some of what she would do differently, and other choices that might have been available. We imagined options for tomorrow if the boys continued to harass, and who she can access for help. I outlined the process and the steps of escalation if her dealings with the boys wasn’t successful, and if the teachers at school couldn’t help. We joked about her brothers coming to the school to pick her up and throw their weight around. We all had a laugh and enjoyed dinner together.

There was a brief moment when she begun to show signs of perseverating, but I didn’t want her to feel victimized or anymore powerlessness. I asked if she needed to review her strategy, otherwise we’ll put it away for now.

She went back to school the next day, armed with a plan and (hopefully) a sense that we at home had her back. She was happy to report that the boys acted as if nothing happened, and she was prepared to let it go. We discussed whether she would feel comfortable approaching them and telling them she hadn’t enjoyed what they did. She made the choice to leave it, unless it came up naturally.


That was a big parenting moment for me. Trying to find the balance between letting her know that we support her, and letting her know she can handle it.

How do you create space during big moments to let things unfold? This situation was easier because she so obviously needed the time – it’s harder when I miss the subtle cues. How do you create space during those subtle times?



Embracing the chaos…

My house is perpetually messy. There are always too many pairs of shoes in the closet (or on the floor outside the closet). Coats are hung on the backs on chairs or the slung onto doors. My walls are filled with framed art from trio’s school years. There are photos tacked onto a big section of the wall of kids with marker on their faces, drips on their shirts, and smile-less mouths. The sink often has baking utensils ‘soaking’ until I get around to washing them.

But! We also have a calendar on the fridge with the week mapped out – lunches, after school activities, my work schedule, dinner responsibilities, and due dates. I will forget things if I don’t write them down. There’s another full month calendar tacked to the wall with a different set of information for the month – birthdays, sleepovers, who fed the dog that day, chore lists, and weekend plans. I have a personal agenda for my items that don’t involve trio. And finally, a white board for daily lists, notes, and reminders to communicate among all of us.

It is a tough thing, developmentally speaking, to hold onto two opposing sensations: it’s typically an either-or mindset. I am both organized and woefully chaotic at any given time. Many of us have experienced being happy and sad at the same time, or feeling anxious during peaceful moments. We seek to tip the scales into one ‘bucket’ to help us make better sense of our environment – and ourselves. How can I define myself if I’m two opposite things? What category can I fit into if I’m two (or more) of the options?

A recent learning for me has been to recognize those dichotomous feelings – just naming it helps bring it into the light – and letting them both be. Be true in that moment. Be true at the same time. Be not true at the same time.  There is a reluctance to allow space for contrast, as though one of them must be “bad” and therefore undesirable. But remove that label on these feelings and let them be just even for a moment to recognize them.

I walked doggo around the neighbourhood tonight. It was cool outside, and breezy and he was staying by my side so nicely. And I had an unexpected knot of anxiety suddenly roil in my belly. Huh?
I thought I felt relaxed.

This was a moment to practice that it’s fiiiiine to feel both anxious and calm, without judging or nitpicking the feelings. Just “yep, this is what I feel right now.” Just embracing it and then letting it go.

Eldest made a funny comment the other day and referenced Schrodinger’s cat – so many layers on why it was funny – but I really appreciated that he seems to ‘get’ that it’s possible to gently hold onto opposition.
Coming up our front porch after walking the dog and just before the front door opens, our house is both organized and chaotic at the same time, we just allow that truth to be, until we take a step in and see it for what it is:
A house full of family and all the contrast that means.


Curiosity skunked the dog

There’s something so adorable about a dog who has found something interesting – cute perky ears, flagpole tail, the jumpy body, the nose down, the wide eyes.

Typically, our dog is quite reluctant to try new things. He has a tight event-reaction connection: a loud noise leads to continued wariness, seemingly into perpetuity. When a door clanged behind him, scaring him, it took no less than 3 years and countless patient reinforcement until he was able to come through that door on his own without encouragement.

Most of the time, his curiosity leads him in a direction without any negative reaction: the wee grey mouse running alongside our house just slips under the deck, chasing the squirrels scampering on our fence hop into the neighbour’s yard, our toes disappearing under a blanket are still actually attached to our feet.

But sometimes…


…curiosity yields an unexpected reaction. Approaching a skunk does not make it run under the fence, sniffing a lawn chair can make it fall over, and stepping off a dock makes for a very wet dog. It can be hard for me not to create an even bigger reaction. And it can be frustrating for me when more care in future, similar, situations isn’t taken and it appears no learning has occurred.

How was curiosity handled when you were a kid? How curious are you now? Do you seek novelty as an adult? Are your friends curious?

The way in which adults respond to dogs, kids, and each other sends a message which will help shape our ideas of curiosity and risk and resilience. How we feel about ourselves after seeking the unexpected will influence whether we seek it out again.

Trio are away with their dad right now, and I genuinely hope their curiosity is being stoked up – they are in a different province, with new experiences, and are with adults they don’t often spend time with: there is so much possibility for New Things!

With each exposure to a new thing they learn more about themselves and their world. Even if it’s an unexpected outcome, the learning is rich – although it can be hard to define what that learning has been. It doesn’t necessarily translate into something I recognize. But an easy one to see is that even if it’s uncomfortable for a while, they learn they can handle what comes.

This is a lifelong learning: one I’m still working on… 🙂



It’s possible in the summer to become less scheduled – there is way more time to do and be and find your own pace. No school. Less work (for me). More friends with free time. Pools. Beaches. Parks. Visiting. Vacationing.

Vacations. This is the second year that trio have gone to their Dad’s for a portion of the summer. Last year it was 2 weeks. This year it is three. Three weeks. They have a ton of fun things planned to do, as well as some free time to do yoga, berry pick, and play in the backyard with their step-dog. Being somewhere else for them definitely means vacation and fun.

But what does it mean for me? I’m at home with our same mess and our same clothes and our same space. It’s the same grocery stores and parks and the same weather.

The fridge doesn’t need to be stocked with snacks. Laundry will be done in small batches and it’s solely my socks to match up. My shoes are the only ones at the front door. Bedtime is whenever and so is wake up. I can have tuna from the can for dinner.

And what else does it mean? My sense of time is all mixed up without having people to care for: to feed and tuck in at night and wake up in the morning. That also means no one to redirect and hug and encourage and clean. No one here to giggle with or feel frustrated with or hang out with. No arguments to mediate. No achievements to celebrate. No one to help with cleaning or feeding the pets or mowing the lawn. No one to tell what to do.

But amid all the lack, clarity emerges.  I have uncovered that, within myself, I am a Mother first and foremost. A mum and then me as a person, as a woman, as a sister or friend. Without the label of “mum” to help shape my days and hours, I’m not sure what to do with my time or what I even *want* to do with my time. I didn’t realize that my mix of my own-self and my mother-self wasn’t as balanced as I thought. During their absence of the last week, and knowing I have another 2 more weeks, I feel at odds: I have to acknowledge I’m not as in-touch with me-as-a-person.

Good to know.

For the next two weeks, I’m giving myself permission to choose my own adventure and to unschedule myself. Maybe I do want to declutter the basement, but if I don’t, that’s ok. Maybe I want to go kayaking for an afternoon. Maybe sit around Indigo and browse books. Maybe do work. Maybe clean the house. But I will find my own pace.

Allow me to encourage you to do the same this summer. Find opportunities to tune into yourself, for yourself. Maybe you have only one afternoon, but take it for only you.

Summer means freer days and less scheduling. Make this summer extra for you as well as others in your care.


A riot of colour into adulthood

There comes a moment when parents notice the children they knew are turning into the adults they will become.

I’ve seen glimpses of that in my children, and once I noticed a threshold had been crossed, I began watching for other signposts that will let me peek into my children’s future selves.

It can be very obvious that kids grow up. Like when I was trying to scold my teenager who *literally* loomed over me – alas, frowning “up” doesn’t seem to be as impactful when I’m trying to compel him to remember to put his dishes in the dishwasher. Or when I get his old sweatshirts that no longer fit him. Or when they take the initiative to have a shower (without prompting!! Whaaaat!)

The stunning beauty is when they make connections in the world that you haven’t, about topics you don’t really know.
Or when they’re interested in books that you haven’t been able to get through (Catch-22. A doozy).
When they show startling empathy and understanding for a classmate, and explore their perceptions with you at the end of the day.
Those first few times they ride their bike to an out-of-neighbourhood friend’s house.
When they see a need in the house/community, and they figure out how to make it better.

Part of the balance that is required in parenting is recognizing where they’re at and where they seem to want to go, and somehow offering them a chance to see more and imagine greater possibilities. A subtle shift in a kaleidoscope creates a new pattern with the same set of colours and shapes – helping kiddos see that shifts are possible leads to growth and development. Even if they don’t do the shift you were expecting, your help in creating awareness allows space for (re)imagination and future change.

I’m raising trio in a way that lines up for me as a parent, but also in a direction where I hope they can land as adults. As a solo parent without a co-parent, I am missing the benefit of hearing another perspective and not having another person’s ideas directing trio’s adult selves. There is a risk. It is super valuable when I talk with friends and hear their approaches, and when they are comfortable enough to challenge/question/explore my values and ideas. They are helping me tilt the kaleidoscope so I can continue to tilt for trio.

In what ways have you seen glimpses of adult in the kids in your lives? If you’re a single parent, how do you find being the navigator in your child’s development?


Smack Dab in the middle

How did we get into the middle of this frosty November?

Ok, well, I *know* that we got here, but wow! Days are just slipping past. When trio were small, people told me that the days are long, but the years are short. As they get older, I feel as though the years and days are short: they rush past, full of school and work and activities and dinners and moments.

I try to catch the moments with trio, treasuring and realizing each time they ask for a hug, or to tuck them in, or we all sit together for dinner, there is one less opportunity for a connection. They grow up. They need me less. They begin to branch out. Their interests evolve outside the house. And, also – I continue to grow. My interests shift outside of their needs. I begin to understand myself more.

My oldest is now a High School-er. I’m striving to let him make mistakes and uncover his own path, but still be present for support and guidance. I’m grateful that he’s able to articulate his needs (needing more space, sometimes, and other times needing defined boundaries) so we can try to remain connected through this new and dramatic phase of growth.

The most glaring shift on the horizon for us is his involvement in an afterschool club. Three times a week, he needs to be at the school for 6 hours (or more) for an astounding total of 18+ hours per week outside of a typical school schedule. He is poised for growth – guidance from other adults, peer relationships, technical skill development, autonomy, personal awareness… I’m so excited for him! Our house routine and systems will shift and change in concert with his needs. On evenings when he’s home, his homework will take precedence over housework/chores and his personal downtime. The other two will need to step up and support him and the house in new ways which will lead to growth and development in them.

It’s going to be amazing!

And it’s going to be hard!

There will be tears, and frustration, and uncertainty.

Change is tough. Growth is necessarily uncomfortable.

As the mama, I have an opportunity to model and practice patience, humour, and mindfulness. No doubt I will also be practicing humility, and forgiveness; and seeking forgiveness from trio as I stumble and strive to figure this all out.

My sense, as I go forward, is to be present. Plan and aim to make tomorrow and next week smooth, but stay in the moments as they come up. I can’t help but be empathetic when I’m present. And I imagine we’ll need LOTS of empathy in the coming weeks!




Saying no and other issues…

Did you ever watch Who’s the Boss with Tony Danza and Judith Light? There are so many classic episodes, but the one that sprung to mind recently was the episode when Angela tried a ‘positive parenting’ approach and never said No (S7e7). Parents are always trying to figure out what will work with their kids, as well as what works for them.

Anyway, that’s sort of the approach that I took with trio. Instead of giving an outright no, I’d try to reframe their request with what they *could* do in my response to their question. I found, when they were small, that it helped to hear what was possible, rather than just shutting down their desire with a flat out No – unless it was unsafe or there was a bigger issue at play. But on the day-to-day, I didn’t want them to be brutally rebuffed at every question (because man, don’t they ask a lot in a day!) – I was worried about tantrums and rebelliousness (ergo it was easier for me too).

My teenager is now actually asking to be told no. When he asks for a Nutella sandwich after dinner and before bed, I tell him what he can have instead (cheese, banana, peanut butter, etc). And his retort is “A No would have sufficed…” But I KNOW that his next question will be an exasperated “Well! What *can* I have then??” Part of parenting is always being wrong (but geez, I totally thought the best part of parenting was always being right!! Sigh.)

Peeking under the surface of this exchange, I hear him asking for clearer boundaries. Since I’ve never had a teenager before, I’m open to learning alongside him and striving to figure out what this means for me as his parent. Maybe there is problem solving that I’m inadvertently denying him. By supplying the answer to his unasked question (What can I have then??) I have prevented him from taking the next step in his own path of discovery. And really, the food-snack issue is just an analogy for other ways in which I’m precluding his self-awareness. It’s about food just now, but soon he’ll need to uncover his own path about social relationships, time management, finances, and other adult-y things. He practices with these smaller issues so he can better navigate those more challenging pieces of life.

There will be times that he might need my support in decision making and those times would be appropriate for me to ask questions, rather than giving conversation-stopping-negatives or supply him with an unrequested answer. I’ll hold out for those moments and Just Say No when it makes sense.

As always, I’m so grateful that he’s my first. He’s been so great with articulating himself so I can hear and learn these sticky webs that we’re all trying to navigate.