Encouraging our Kids to Dream Big (Despite our Fears)

My friend Jill recently posted a link on her Facebook page to How to Mentor a Kid with Big (Possibly Unrealistic) Dreams by Lori Pickert from Project-Based Homeschooling. The article touches on something that I’ve struggled with in the past. What’s the “right” way to respond to your kids when they have dreams that are beyond what you think they can accomplish – either now or ever? Do you encourage them even though you *know* it’s not going to work? Do you attempt to let them down gently to avoid disappointment and tell them you don’t think it’s possible? Maybe we are trying to save them from embarrassment or even save ourselves from embarrassment. Maybe we are afraid of failure — either for ourselves or our kids.
What’s a mom to do?

For example, my 6-year-old son has often said when he grows up he is going to invent a machine that makes him become a kid again or he’s going to time travel or become a super hero that does X, Y, or Z. When he first started voicing these lofty goals, I wasn’t sure how to react. My first thought was, “that’s probably not going to happen, buddy” but I didn’t say that out loud. Instead I’d try my best to encourage him, even if I felt like his ideas weren’t based in reality, but it was a struggle for me. Was I doing the right thing?

Pickert says:

Before you move to stop your children from trying to do the impossible, take a breath and remember what your job is: to mentor and support, to brainstorm and listen, to remind and reflect. Your job isn’t to step in and tell them their ideas won’t work and their plans are doomed.
Remind yourself:
You don’t know what your kid can do.

One example shared in the article is about a child who wants to write a novel and have it published by a real publisher. Something similar came up for my daughter a few years ago. Unfortunately, I hadn’t figured this all out yet and rather than encouraging her and then (potentially, but who knows?!) see her fail, I thought I was being a good mom and tried to prevent disappointment by explaining how hard it would be to do or something along those lines.

Pickert points out that when you respond that way, “You haven’t prevented disappointment — you’ve only brought it from the misty future to the right now, and you also killed all the learning and skill-building that would have happened in the interim.

Choose to deliver your bad news — that her dream is statistically unlikely — and what will happen to her ambitions? What will happen to her idea of herself as a writer? Will she wait and start her writing career at 15? At twenty? Never?”

Had I encouraged her, who knows what would have happened. But I’m not beating myself up over this either. I live and learn, just like the next person. All I can do is hope to do better the next time.

There are a lot of great examples and quotes in Pickert’s article (and comments following it). So many that I want to quote here, but I will just recommend that you click over and read it yourselves. If you have a big dreamer in your life, it is worth the read.

You cannot predict the path an authentic, self-motivated learner is going to take. When you guess — and then decide to go ahead and pull the plug because you know it won’t work out — you eliminate all the learning that happens along the way.

It really goes along with the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” The journey is all about the learning, the trials and tribulations, the mistakes and the triumphs, the tears and the joy. When we tell our kids, “This just isn’t going to work,” we remove the opportunity for them to experience all of those things.

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Just when ya think you’ve got it all figured out…

We’ve been unschooling for a relatively short period of time, but over the past couple of months I felt like things had really started falling into place. I felt like I gained an understanding of what unschooling is all about — and what it isn’t. Like I was saying YES more often than saying NO and it felt good. Like I could let go of the little things and not sweat the small stuff. Like I started to really “get” what my kids needed from me and how to provide it. And we were all getting along SO. WELL. And it felt great. And perhaps I started to get a little self-righteous ’cause I knew what I was doing (or at least I thought I did). That’s where I made my first mistake — thinking I had it all figured out.

And then this thing happened that shattered my confidence in my skills as an unschooling mama and as a parent in general…


The long and the short of it is that there was a misunderstanding between me and my 8-year-old daughter Ava and it turned into an ugly, UGLY, sad battle of wills (good Lord, we are both stubborn as hell!) that left both of us in tears.

I thought my husband had told her one thing and I was trying to support what I thought he’d said. Turns out (I learned the next day) that he never said it. (Had I just asked him what he had told her instead of assuming, I’m pretty sure the whole thing could have been avoided. Yes, that is what you get when you assume.)

That night I pretty much went against everything I had learned and been doing for the past couple months and I’m sure that caused an enormous amount of confusion and frustration on my daughter’s part. And once we were in the thick of our “battle of wills,” I didn’t know what to do. Should I “give in” and rescind what I told her? Will that be “letting her win?” Do I stand my ground no matter what the price? Does it really matter if she does X, Y or Z? Do I even know a damn thing about anything right now??

Ugh. UGH!!!

We were obviously not going to get anywhere continuing what we had been doing. I felt terrible and was at a total loss. I had no idea what to do other than to pick up my phone, retreat into my bathroom, close the door and ask for help.

I texted my good friend Rebecca (also an unschooling mama) to ask for her advice. She listened. She reassured me. And she gave it to me straight, but without judgement. It helped me sooooo much. I also let myself feel my feelings (something I think my sister Carrie would have been proud of) and let myself cry. And I had a little talk with myself, “You don’t have to know what to do 24/7, Amy. It’s OK to make mistakes.”

Once Ava had calmed down and I had taken several deep breaths, I took Rebecca’s advice and talked with her (Ava). I let Ava see that I’d been crying. I told her how I was feeling. I apologized for our fight and told her that parenting can be hard stuff and I don’t always know the “right” thing to do. She came to me for a very welcome hug and we sat together for a while.

Eventually I asked her if she had any suggestions on what we should do (one of Rebecca’s tips). Guess what? She did! We came to a solution together and it all worked out — not the way I had thought it would when our “fight” first began and probably not the way Ava anticipated either, but it worked out and nobody was in tears. Nobody felt that they hadn’t been heard. Nobody went to bed that night feeling defeated.

I later came across this quote from Buddha that I think illustrates nicely one of the things I learned that night:

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.– Buddha

Although that night didn’t go “according to plan,” with the help of my friend, working through my feelings and talking with Ava, I conquered myself. And that kind of victory was pretty sweet.


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The Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree

The fact is, that to do anything in the world worth doing,
we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger,
but jump in and scramble through as well as we can.
–Robert Cushing

It’s no secret that anxiety has played a big role in my life. It’s something I’ve blogged about time and time again over the past two-plus years as I diligently tried to find a solution that worked best for me and to let others who might be dealing with this know they aren’t alone.

Around the time when I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), I recall asking my (then) therapist, “Why is this just showing up now out of the blue?” And she replied that it was probably something I’d been dealing with for a long time, but it took time for the symptoms to compound in number and severity until I reached the point where I sought out help and was eventually diagnosed. At the time I wasn’t sure I believed it, because the whole thing still felt like it came out of nowhere to me. However as time has passed and I’ve reflected on various events in my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that anxiety is something I’ve dealt with since childhood — I just didn’t know it then.

This is where this blog post gets a little tricky for anonymity reasons. How much can I share without sharing too much? Ya see, I have my reasons to suspect that one of my children also is dealing with anxiety. I had hoped that this wouldn’t happen to either of them and certainly never expected it when they were still so young, but now here it potentially is — staring me right in the face (literally). And why should I be surprised, right? The apple never falls far from the tree and all that, but yet I sure hoped those apples would.

While there has been no official diagnosis, after talking to a friend, reading the book “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Anxiety,” reading the blog Child Anxiety Mom, and searching my soul, my suspicions have certainly not lessened. When I compare some of the things I did and experienced in my adolescent years with some of the things my child is experiencing/doing now (but at a seemingly accelerated rate than I did), it seems obvious to me that anxiety could be playing a factor. I won’t go into detail as I don’t think that would be fair to my little person, but if you have questions email me directly and we can discuss it further there.

I’m not sure what the next step will be, but this is a subject that certainly weighs heavily on my mind. Everything I’ve read says the sooner anxiety is dealt with, the better. And I believe the more I read, the more likely I will figure out what direction we should take. I’d been considering therapy, but perhaps other things — such as The Anxiety-Free Child Program or simply reading more of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Anxiety (I admit I just started it) or perhaps another visit to the pediatrician (now that I feel I have more pieces of the puzzle) — would be useful as well.

“Courage is saying, ‘Maybe what I’m doing isn’t working;
maybe I should try something else.’”
— Anna Lappe

Then again it’s entirely possible that anxiety isn’t what’s going on with my child or perhaps it is just one part of the whole picture. After all, I’m not a psychologist or doctor, yet I am a mom who knows her child better than anyone else. I also know what it’s like to live with anxiety and if my child is experiencing this, I want to figure out what’s going on sooner than later. I don’t want to just assume X, Y, or Z behavior is “just a phase” and it will pass or that he/she is simply acting out or trying to manipulate me. I’ll continue to do my research and try to get to the bottom of this. Nobody should have to live their life in fear.

Photo credit: apdk via Flickr

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If you are wondering if I’m back to blogging again on a regular basis, I have to say your guess is as good as mine. ;) I will continue to write when I feel moved to write. Now that I’ve gotten my first “return from hiatus” post written, perhaps that will be more often. :) Like I do with many things in my life, I will take blogging one day at a time. Thank you if you’ve stuck around in my absence. It truly does mean a lot to me. xo.

How We Came to Home School: Guest Post

I’m currently on hiatus from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but want to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

This guest post comes from a good personal friend of mine named Jen who blogs at The Evolving Homemaker.

How We Came to Home School

I had always been fascinated in the idea that kids could learn MORE than what they learned in conventional classrooms.  I think the first time I had ever heard about homeschooling I was in college and heard about a little girl who was attempting to fly across the country solo.  While the trip ended in tragedy, I started to wonder why it was we arbitrarily sent our kids to school and how much more excited they might be about learning, if they had a little flexibility, more time to explore things they were interested in, and more freedom to discover themselves.

As I was becoming a new Mommy, I thought for sure we would home school.  I had lofty dreams of how our days would be and how much smarter my kids would be than so many others.


And then motherhood gave me a reality check.  Toddler-hood.  Woah.  Would my kids learn from me?  Was I patient enough to teach them?  Patient enough for even the hard days? Was I creative enough?  Organized enough?  Would I be able to still do laundry, home school, and have any iota of a personality and passions to call my own?

Then I started being haunted by panic attacks.  I was under a lot of stress and doing a lot at the time.  I was volunteering, heavily involved in the political season, lobbying, and raising two small children and trying to be a ‘good enough’ house goddess too.  Whatever it is that looks like.

So I sent my son to kindergarten at a local Montessori that had just opened.  I was sure they would be able to do it better than I could.  After all, they certainly knew more than I did about educating young minds, this would be better for him.

Except it wasn’t.

He began to show signs of anxiety.  He wasn’t learning to read there.  I sat in one day to find him not partaking in the ‘works’ but playing ‘cars’ with the tape dispenser instead.  He didn’t like to go.  Every morning he would ask, “Is today a school day?” and if I said, “Yes.” he would yell, cry, and be mean to his sister.  He would come in the car in the afternoon like a pressure cooker and burst in a fit of energy.

With two weeks left in the school year, they told us he should be held back in Kindergarten.

We decided instead to try it at home like we always thought we would.  With both kids.

It has been fantastic.  And hard.  And scary.  And frustrating.  And fun.  They both have time to play, they are learning to read, and they are exploring their own interests.  We are all learning more about ourselves and our passions.  I am learning that I can do it, that doubt and fear are not infallible.  That I am a ‘good enough’ Mom, and that yes they need math, but they also need my presence.

I wanted to home school because I wanted my kids to learn to think outside of the box.  That life isn’t just about going to school, getting a job, and then working for 50 years, retiring, but all the while hoping you make it to retirement without a heart attack or cancer.  Nope, the marrow of life is at their fingertips any second they decide to find it.  That is what I want them to learn, that they are the creators in their own journey, and while we use some textbooks, I don’t think they need a textbook to understand that.

Jen Parsons is Mama bear to two babes 7 and 5.  While she would like to be better at parenting, crafting, farming, sewing, ceramic scouring, knitting, homeschooling, travelling, book writing, domestic laundering,  boxing refereeing, spousal engagement, etc., she is learning to realize she cannot do it all but blogs about the journey at www.theevolvinghomemaker.com.

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Chicago schools’ garden produce forbidden in the lunchroom

A school garden can be a wonderful outdoor classroom. Children can learn a variety of subjects while working with others to grow their own food. But in some school districts the children have the gardens to grow the food, but are forbidden from eating it in their lunchrooms.

When I first read that the Chicago Public Schools are not able to use the produce grown in their more than 40 school gardens in the lunchroom, I was shocked. Why grow it if you can’t consume it? The truth is that due to rules set by the district and its meal provider the food must be either given away, sent home with students, or sold.

“In order to use food in the school food program, it would need to meet specific/certified growing practices,” CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

These requirements would include eliminating all “pesticides and insecticide” applications and using only “commercially prepared organic compost and fertilizers,” said Bob Bloomer, regional vice president of Chartwells-Thompson.

Commercial vendors, though, don’t have to abide by these rules. They can sell the district produce treated with several pesticides and grown in nonorganic fertilizer.

But produce grown by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences on its 25-acre farm wouldn’t make the grade because, for example, it treats its corn with a single pesticide.

The school district touts using some local produce in its lunch program, but the produce that is most local of all — grown right outside their doors — is off limits. Children are being denied the most local and fresh produce of all. How does that make any sense?

According to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults (over 72 million people) and 17% of U.S. children are obese. For Chicago children ages 6-11, the obesity rate is 28%. So in an area where more and more children are overweight or obese and, as evidenced in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, some American first graders can’t identify vegetables, the system is denying them healthy, local food.

Unfortunately, this is happening other school districts as well. Sybil who blogs at Musings of a Milk Maker told me on Facebook that this is also the case at the public school she is trying to get her daughter into.

Andrea Ward isn’t surprised by any of this. She had this to say on Facebook, “Lunch food is a big time business with big time rules and greed. Education is never about the kids (unless you are the one in the trenches–then that’s all you care about). Otherwise, it’s about politics. And politics is about money.”

However, other school districts across the country, such as Auburn School District in Washington state, have been able to adopt a garden to cafeteria plan. The school district’s 1 1/2 acre organic garden and orchard produces “fruits and vegetables for student lunches and snacks in 10 elementary schools. In addition to garden produce, the Auburn School District purchases from local farmers for all 22 schools.” This single garden produces food for all elementary schools during the growing and harvesting seasons.

Joanne White who blogs at Media Mum told me about her son’s elementary school in the Boulder Valley School District, Colo., where the school garden provides produce for its own salad bar. Joanne said, “The kids are fully involved from garden to table. No way Jamie Oliver would find any of them not knowing what a tomato is!”

In other school districts, the students eat what they grow, but not necessarily in the lunchroom, however not for the same reasons that the Chicago Public School District gave.

Karen from Eternal Maternal said her son participated in a school garden program at his elementary school located in Vancouver School District in Washington State. The children ate what they grew, but due to a variety of reasons including not enough of any one ingredient, lack of preparation time, etc., the produce was not used in the school cafeteria. Karen said, “I think it’s very important that kids learn where their food comes from and what it takes to get it to the point that it can be eaten. Providing food for oneself is a basic need. Typically, we don’t have to do it for ourselves until we’re in college and what do we do then? Go to the grocery store and buy a case of Ramen. When children learn to grow food that can sustain themselves, even if only partially, it gives them a sense of accomplishment, raises their awareness of the environment and, whether they realize it or not, raises their level of security because it’s a way they know of to care for themselves.”

At Stylin Momma Katy’s daughter’s charter elementary school in Maryland, all of the children participate in the school garden in one way or another. Her daughter is in kindergarten where they are in charge of pollination. The garden food is not used in the school cafeteria food (which is brought in) and most students bring lunches from home. However, Katy said, “they will sometimes have a sampling station in the lunchroom where the kids can try the foods picked from the garden, or they will use it in cooking class. They also have a school produce stand as a fundraiser.”

After hearing about the practices of different school districts, I have to say I find the reasoning behind Chicago Public School District’s ban on garden food in the lunchroom appalling. I have to agree with Andrea above who said, “it’s about politics. And politics is about money.” If the district had these kids’ best interests at heart, they would find a way to allow the locally grown garden food into the cafeterias.

Despite all of this, I am pleased to hear that many districts — especially inner-city districts like Chicago — have implemented school gardens. Perhaps even if the children are not allowed to eat the food in the lunchroom, they still are learning the valuable life lesson of how to grow it and perhaps are able to take some of it home to their families to enjoy.

Do your children have a school garden? Does the school use the produce in their lunchroom? How do you feel about Chicago’s policy?

Related articles:

Photo credits: Flickr StevenDePolo and Sarz.K

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Newly Identified Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Leach into Food Packaging: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

Today’s guest post is from Alicia Voorhies who blogs at The Soft Landing.
Post image for Newly Identified Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Leach into Food Packaging

Newly Identified Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Leach into Food Packaging

Emily Barrett of Environmental Health Perspectives recently provided a great synopsis of an updated review of food contact materials and their potential to leach endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s) into our food.

Author of the review, Jane Muncke, didn’t mince words when issuing her findings, calling into question the current means of estimating the true level of exposure to EDC’s through food contact materials.  Her conclusions included the following major points:

  • Food packaging is an underestimated source of chemical food contamination
  • Migration into dry foods can be considerable
  • Substances of concern, like endocrine disrupting chemicals, are widely used in food contact materials
  • Risk assessment of endocrine disrupting chemical food contamination is challenging because exposure and effect assessment are not always straight forward

Muncke’s insights have caused me to carefully reconsider which food packaging I choose for my own growing children. Based on her article, I’ll be investigating benzophenones (a known carcinogen) and organotins, two groups of suspected EDC’s, which are legally used in the United States and European Union.

And as Barrett pointed out, we now have even more motivation to choose fresh foods over processed ones.

The guidelines do not consider the collective numbers and toxicity – alone or in combination – of all of the chemicals that can leach from the packaging, the author points out.* In a chemical mix, individual health effects may be magnified. Printing, ink, adhesives, recycled cardboard and the plastic containers can all introduce unwanted chemicals into a single food product, creating a mix with additive or synergystic effects. What’s more, the chemicals may degrade over time or form new compounds that migrate into food. These can go entirely unmeasured since it is nearly impossible to identify and test for them all.

Kids may be at particular risk. Not only are their bodies still developing and hence susceptible to environmental insults, but they tend to eat more packaged foods, a more limited diet and more food for their body weight than adults do. There are similar concerns for pregnant women and their fetuses, as well as obese adults, whose bodies may process these chemicals differently from their trimmer counterparts.

Tips for Reducing Your Exposure to EDC’s in Food Packaging

  1. Avoid PVC in plastic food wrap:  ask your butcher to prepare the cuts of meat you want and wrap it in paper.  Most butcher or freezer paper is coated with wax or polyethylene which are better alternatives. As for blocks of cheese, look for packages with Ziplok style closures, and plastic packages that have been heat-sealed, because most of these bags are made from polyethylene.
  2. Buy fresh or frozen produce packaged in polyethylene bags:  BPA is found in most epoxy linings of aluminum cans, glass jar lids and the bottom of some frozen cardboard boxes – although there a few BPA-free options available
  3. Choose jarred foods when possible – especially those with space between the lid and the food
  4. If you do choose to purchase foods packaged in plastic, do not reuse, cook or heat food in them – even if recommended by the manufacturer; this may include some microwavable meals, so just remove them from the plastic container and heat in glass
  5. Look for non-recycled cardboard boxes when ordering takeout meals like pizza, as they are less likely to contain BPA.
  6. Bring your own reusable coffee cups and to-go containers for leftovers and skip Styrofoam altogether

>> Read the complete research study: Endocrine disrupting chemicals and other substances of concern in food contact materials: An updated review of exposure, effect and risk assessment in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

>> Related link: The Breast Cancer Fund has recently released a new study about BPA in food containers.

Photo Source: Flickr via _anh

Alicia Voorhies is a Registered Nurse who left the rat race to pursue her dream of owning a business. She traded working as Director of Nursing in an organization for disabled adults to relax and enjoy her love of medical research in alternative health ideas. She was immediately attracted to the mysteries of toxic plastics and their effect on children and quickly learned that avoiding endocrine-disrupting chemical in common household products can be overwhelming.  While searching for safe alternatives, she quickly realized how limited the available information for parents was – and that’s how her education-based company, The Soft Landing, was born.

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