Encouraging Individuality

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

There are things that your child might do and wear that make you cringe. For example, Kira got her tongue pierced a few years back and all I could think was, “Ouch!” (And, “Stop lisping!”) Yet she was happy, and who were we to tell her who to be? Admittedly, she was over 18 and could make her own decisions, but she still lived with us and I suppose we could have “laid down the law”. But that would have only bred frustration and animosity. [Fast-forward a few years and she figured out on her own that the tongue piercing made it difficult to get the jobs she wanted – and there is a hole in her tongue that remains to this day].

It can be even harder when your child is not 18 yet but still desiring the freedom to express themselves. We certainly put limits on it, such as restricting piercings to ears only and forbidding tattoos before 18, because we do feel the kids need to be emotionally mature enough to make permanent or semi-permanent decisions about their bodies. But if the kids want to dye her hair random colors, or wear crazy outfits that don’t suit my OCD-inspired need to match from head to toe, so what? Hair grows out. Styles change.

All of our children have their own personal style which they embrace and love. As long as it is appropriate and they have good behavior, to us there isn’t a problem.

The thing is, looks are definitely deceiving. Some of the nicest people we have ever known have been covered from head to toe in tattoos and piercings. As children we have to restrict their expression to some extent but parents need to remember that outside appearances don’t tell the whole story – and teach our kids tolerance and appreciation for difference.

A teenager who likes the gothic style is not guaranteed to be depressed. Listening to heavy metal music, as Parker does, does not make him an angry person. Being blonde does not make you unintelligent.

Perhaps if we all celebrated our own unique and wonderful selves a little more we’d be less inclined to judge.

Fighting the Zs with Better Habits

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Plenty of SleepSometimes that morning coffee just doesn’t do it for you. We’ve all had days where we are just dragging, whether we are low on sleep, overworked, or just plain worn out. But if you’re having a hard time shaking sluggishness in general you might need to make some changes.

Some people can’t recall the last time they didn’t feel somewhat tired, which may be a sign that something is a little off. Chronic sleep problems could be a symptom of something other than stress. Constant fatigue is also a potential sign of depression. These are things to look into if you think there may be a serious cause.

But before you go running off to the doctor you might want to try out some simple fixes. Your diet can have a major impact on your energy levels as well as your level of activity. Incorporating exercise and healthy eating could not only boost energy but help you sleep better. Also, some people react differently to caffeine. That soda with dinner may not be much but it could be keeping you up at night.

If you find yourself fighting exhaustion all the time try to figure out why. A few changes to your day could have you feeling healthy, energized and ready when the sun rises.

United You Stand

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

parenting togetherWhen there is more than one person caring for a child there are bound to be disagreements. It can come down to personal preference or may actually be differing values based on how your were raised. But the disagreement itself is rarely the problem; it is how that disagreement is dealt with.

Communication is key when raising a child, and can perhaps be even more crucial when in a blended family. When Dave and I first married, Kira was norotrious for asking first me, then her dad about doing something and then taking whichever answer she liked best. It left us wondering what happened, and often frustrated with each other because we each thought the other had undermined our authority. Yeah, Kira was a sneaky one, but it taught us a lot about having a united front.

We started to realize that we had to talk to each other when the question was asked. We would tell each other, Kira just asked me about going to the park, but I said no because she hasn’t finished her homework. Then, when she went to the other parent to ask the same question, she’d get the same answer – and we were able to address with her the innapropriateness of trying to pull a fast one by being so sneaky.

Before we worked out the need to have such open communication, we would end up frustrated with each other in front of the kids. The disagreements only fueled the motivation of the kids to take advantage. They weren’t being bad; they were just being kids. It wasn’t their fault; it was our need to improve. We learned quickly how unpleasant it is to have your opinion undermined in front of a child, even if the other person does have a point. It doesn’t encourage respect and breeds dissatisfaction in relationships.

Dave and I learned to talk about our disagreements about discipline in private. It gave us time to listen to and respect what the other was saying without an audience. We could work out differences and come to a consensus and feel good about it, while also demonstrating to our kids that we were a team.

It didn’t take long for Kira to realize her approach would no longer work, and it forced Dave and I to confront and overcome some of the differences in our parenting styles. As we realized that we were both operating from a place of love and concern, disagreements about what to let the kids do or what kind of house rules we would have became minimal.

Sugar High

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASugary treats are fun. I have a hard enough time saying no to ice cream for myself, so imagine how hard it is when the kids want it. Dave and I could give in each time the kids want some sort of dessert but it’s really not the message we want to send. We try to restrict treats for all our sakes, because it’s definitely not the healthy choice.

Too much sugar is not good for you or your kids. Cavities are a huge risk with a high-sugar diet. Childhood obesity and other health complications have been directly linked to sugar consumption.  Worst of all, the habits your kids form now will likely influence their health and habits as adults.

The easiest way to limit sugar is to keep it limited inside and outside the house. Set the right example, and show your kids how to have balance. A couple of cookies after a healthy dinner? Sure. A whole package of oreos for an after school snack? No way.

It’s all about moderation and balance, teaching our kids to make healthy choices most of the time so that a treat is a treat and not a habit.

Something to Fear

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

pebThere are rational and irrational fears. Children especially can be fearful because there is so much they don’t know. As a parent it can seem silly, but not taking a child’s fear seriously can make things much worse.

Your child might be scared of the dark, a stuffed animal, loud noises, swimming, or the color of peanut butter. As a parent, you don’t want your child to be upset or scared. Your first instinct might be to turn the lights off or toss them into a pool to show them that nothing’s wrong. Well-meaning, but forcing your child into an uncomfortable situation can potentially be traumatic.

Solving a problem always starts with a conversation. Find out why your child is frightened and discuss ways to either lessen their fear or at least work around it. A nightlight could make a huge difference and “special” goggles might make the pool approachable. See what your child is willing to try and the problem might fix itself. You are their safety net and you always them to think of you that way. If that means an extra check under the bed every night, then why not. There’s no harm in it.

Stress Management for Kids

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

parkerI have a confession. Every weekend, Dave and I play Mario Kart on our Wii. It’s more than just a video game. It’s a way to recognize that it is the weekend, that the work week is over. And it’s a way to relieve stress. During the game as we race, we get wildly competitive, scream and yell, and really let loose. It’s a wonderful stress release, much like our morning walks during the week.

When your children get upset, regardless of age, they feel many of the emotions that adults do, including anger and stress. Things get messy (sometimes literally) when your child has all of these emotions flying around but doesn’t know how to handle them yet. Younger children especially might throw toys or lash out physically.

Teach Your Child to Manage Stress

Even when a child is too young for critical thinking, there are better ways to handle a tough situation besides kicking mom in the shin and throwing legos. Expose your child to some harmless forms of stress relief.

  • Engage your child in physical activity. Run around outside, crank the music and dance, or jump up and down to release stress in a healthy way.
  • If screaming tends to be the release your child turns to, give them a safe outlet to get it out. Teach them how to scream into a pillow when frustrated, or have a 2-minute yell zone that helps them get the stress out.
  • If your child is prone to throwing things when frustrated, take them out and throw a ball with them or even let them throw clods of dirt at a tree or something.

Finding safe outlets for your child will give them relief and the ability to understand that their anger and stress is ok. How they handle it is what is important and soon they will hopefully be able to use more words than actions.

On the Road …Again. The Ultimate Travel Experience

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

In 2001, after being married for less than two years and having added a child number four to our growing family, Dave and I decided to move from Boise, Idaho (where each of us had spent a good chunk of our lives) to his hometown of Bath, New York. We made the decision before 9/11 but arrived only a month after, when everyone – even in our small village five hours from the city – was still numb. We grieved and healed along with the rest of New York and the country. We made Bath our home, bought a house, and started traveling in the area. I even returned to school.

My mom, in the meantime, had been diagnosed with cancer. As her health deteriorated, the longing to be near her grew stronger.

So in 2005, we once again packed everything up – except for our oldest son who had graduated and joined the military but including child number 5, who had been born in New York – and, turning down a fellowship offer from Cornell University, headed to a grad program at University of Nevada in Reno (my hometown). Living in Reno would put me in much closer proximity to my mom, who still lived in Boise.

In 2006, as Mom’s health continued to decline and I was spending more time flying back and forth than attending the political science classes I detested at UNR, Reno was no longer close enough. In the space of a week shortly after the new year, we’d packed and moved back to Boise.

My mom passed away three weeks after we arrived. I cherish the time my kids and I had with her, and loved being back in my old stomping ground. The thing is, we’d left Boise on purpose, to escape the growth and chaos of the big city it was becoming. We longed for small town life. So, we decided to move back to New York, but our then-16 year old daughter insisted we stay long enough for her to graduate from high school. We never really unpacked everything, and saved all of our boxes. We knew the two and a half years in Boise was a transient stop.

In 2008, shortly after the twins’ graduation, we packed and once again made the cross-country move to Bath, New York.

If you’re keeping track, that’s three cross-country moves plus a Reno to Boise move in the space of 7 years.

It’s now 2012. I have been in the same place for four whole years.

It’s unnatural.

I’m restless.

I can feel deep in my bones that I should be moving.

But do you know what a pain it is to pack up a house and move that far? And how expensive it is?

Besides, I love my home, our community, and our life here.

So to feed my gypsy soul and allow me to reconnect with the family on the other side of the Mississippi, we’re not moving…but by the time we’re done, it will feel like it although I’m quite certain it will cost less).

Dave is THRILLED <~~ note the drips of sarcasm that are falling from this statement.

This summer when the kids get out of school, Dave and I are loading up the family (minus Derek, who is still in the Army, and minus Kira, who says she loves us but not enough to be stuck in a car with us for a month) and setting out on a journey.

It’s not much different than one our ancestors might have taken, except the ride will be much more comfortable, as will the food and the lodging. We will be leaving New York and traveling 6,540 miles through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa, then back through Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and home to New York. 18 states. 33 days. 6,540 miles.

It’s  once in a lifetime trip made possible by a year of frugal living (we can make the toilet paper stretch if we all limit ourselves to three squares) and saving (empty your pockets into the jar on your way in the house) along with the flexibility I have to work every day while we’re on the road.

(Oh how I love my job).

(Currently seeking mobile internet access solutions).

At least I don’t have to pack up and sell a house this time, right?

I’ve already started compiling my “things I must remember to pack” list – and hoping I will find a way to make everything (plus a wheelchair) fit in our minivan (we are removing one seat).

I’d love to hear from you about your favorite travel products and must-haves when on vacation, as well as your suggestions for things you must have when traveling.

We’ll be blogging, tweeting, and posting on Facebook and Google about our journey – sharing amazing pictures of everything from Pike’s Peak to Mount Rushmore – and talking about the travel gear and products that make it easier to travel with two kids and an adult disabled child who relies on a wheelchair for mobility.

The countdown is on…we leave in less than 10 weeks.

Keep your fingers crossed that the gas prices don’t get much higher.

(For those of you who might think, wow, she’s advertising to the whole world that her house will be empty for a month, it won’t be. Our dear friends from Florida will be escaping the summer heat and making good use of the house in our absence!)

Comment below with your favorite travel tips, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of the book, “Bed & Breakfast and Country Inns” which includes a certificate for a second night free at one of more than 1,400 participating bed & breakfast and country inns in the U.S.

Checks Aren’t Safe and Neither Is the Post Office – Generational Differences

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Our 21-year old daughter is moving to Long Island for the summer. On the one hand, we think she’s crazy to spend every drop of her money to live in the most expensive place in New York for a three months. On the other hand, we’re incredibly envious of the opportunity she has to stretch her wings and have such a wonderful adventure.

Ostensibly, her decision to move to Long Island rather than coming home for the summer is to conduct a thorough search for the right grad school, but the fact that her boyfriend lives there certainly doesn’t hurt.

She’s been searching long and hard for the perfect place to live, and finally settled on a furnished room in a house overlooking the beach. The home is in a very safe area and is owned by a wonderful woman who makes us feel that Kira will be in good hands.

They agreed on the rent and the terms and the length of the stay and the rules about company (no overnights, woot! but her best friend from high school can come visit).

And then, the woman had the audacity to ask Kira to drop a check in the mail for the deposit.

A check.

In the mail.

Kira became rather irrationally insane about the idea.

Dave and I were pretty well dumbfounded. Of course you would send a check. In the mail. The cashed check would serve as proof of payment, a form of protection for the housing.

What we discovered was that Kira does not write checks. Neither do any of her friends. They send money through Paypal. They don’t trust the post office. They don’t use it.

Mailing a check seemed like the riskiest choice in the world, to the girl who is moving to a city she’s never lived in to live with a person she’s never met.

Times are changing – electronic payments, electronic media, and electronic conversations are replacing paper money, checkbooks, and mail.

The post office is already struggling, and if this youngest generation of adults has anything to say about it, it will likely cease to exist.

Have you seen this trend with your older teens or young adult children?

One Letter Makes All the Difference

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

One little S. That’s all you have to add to “mothering” to make it “smothering.”

The “s”mother is a close cousin of the helicopter parent.

But what do you do you’re not the smotherer?

I didn’t take it so well, myself.

There’s a teacher aid at the school – not my son’s aid, but in many of my son’s classes – who has that heavy-handed “I know best” personality.

She brings out the grrr in me.

First, it was little things. Parker carries a 3-ring binder with him to write song lyrics in when he has free time. Mrs. Smother decided it was keeping him from focusing on his Social Studies class, so rather than talk to his teachers or us, she forbade Parker from carrying the notebook, even making him take it back to his locker when he brought it to class.

We intervened, touching base with the teacher, who said, “Parker is my best student. He has a 99%. His lyrics notebook is not a problem and he is welcome to bring it to class.”

I was nice that time.

Then, she thought maybe Parker’s hair was too long. That one didn’t even have to come to us because Parker’s school counselor intervened on our behalf.  Parker has since had his hair cut, but it was his decision, and we let him get their on his own. He discovered that long hair was a pain because it got in his mouth when he was eating, and that rock stars can have short hair.

But when Parker came home from school frustrated because even after telling Mrs. Smother that he didn’t want to organize his things in a certain she took his property and did it for him anyway, I wasn’t quite as nice, although I did manage to edit the cussing that was occurring in my brain from the email I sent to Parker’s teaching team.

Kids in middle school are trying to learn independence. They won’t do everything the way we want them to. They won’t do everything perfectly. But we absolutely should be supporting them in their budding independence, respecting their space, and valuing their individuality.

As a parent, you can help your child by teaching him or her be respectful but to have the power to say NO. No thank you, even. But NO. And the younger you allow your child a little bit of personal control over his or her environment, the better. Empowered kids are independent thinkers with a strong sense of self-esteem and the self-confidence to say no to other things – like peer pressure and bad choices.

So whether you’re adding the “S” to mother or someone else is for you, take it back.


Lifestyle Changes That May Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

Courtesy of the Army of Women

What can I do to prevent breast cancer? What is the best way to find my cancer early, before it has spread? These are two of the most common questions women have. Here’s what we know:

There is nothing that you can do to ensure that you absolutely do not get breast cancer. However, studies suggest that some lifestyle choices may help reduce breast cancer risk.

These include:

  1.  Eating a healthy diet that is low in animal fat and high in whole grains and fruits and vegetables. There is no data indicating that a specific diet, per se, can help reduce breast cancer risk.
  2. Taking a multivitamin and make sure it includes adequate folic acid.
  3. Having your children before 35, if you have a choice.
  4. Breastfeeding your children.
  5. Avoiding unnecessary X-rays.
  6. Drinking alcohol in moderation and make sure you take folic acid when you do drink.
  7. Losing weight (if you are overweight).
  8. Not gaining weight after menopause.
  9. Getting regular exercise.

Using hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms for the shortest time period necessary, it at all.

You should also be sure to:

  • Evaluate any breast symptoms or changes that develop.
  • Have mammograms when appropriate.
  • Consider raloxifene if you are postmenopausal and need to take a drug to prevent bone loss.
  • If you have a family history of breast cancer or for other reasons are at high risk of getting breast cancer, visit our section for High-Risk Women.

To help us learn more about breast cancer prevention, you can:

This post is courtesy of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, dedicated to eradicating breast cancer and improving the quality of women’s health through innovative research, education and advocacy.  To support this important cause and donate, visit www.dslrf.org.