Posted in education, know better do better, mental health, mindset, parenting

Shaming isn’t useful

A few years ago, I bought a course by Brené Brown through Udemy. The course is no longer available for purchase, but I still have access to it and go through part or all of it from time to time.

At one point, she said (paraphrased), “85% of adults interviewed remember something so shaming from school that it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners.”

That’s a lot of power. “Forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners.”


I know more people than I’d like who were explicitly told by their music or choir teacher that they can’t sing. My mom was told to stand in her spot and lip sync.

That horrifies me.

People discouraged from taking certain classes or career paths, regardless of content or grade level. (I know stories kindergarten through grad school.)

(There are just as many stories of people who were totally lifted up, inspired, or saved by teachers as well. And there’s a difference between “these are skills you need to work on and it’s going to be a lot of work” and “you’re not good at this and shouldn’t bother.” The second is both mean and pedagogically lazy.)

Of course, it’s not just teachers. Parents use shame all the time. There are awful (and, unfortunately, widely celebrated) videos of parents publicly shaming their children.

Culturally, shame is a national pastime.

The thing is: shaming is not an effective means of punishment. It doesn’t work—not the way we do it. And it’s strongly connected to addiction. (Coincidence that we have an enormous addiction problem in this country?)

My therapist told me once that we’re the only animals who shame their offspring and don’t follow up with love. The shame becomes internalized. We learn that this failure is who we are instead of something we did.

Unless you’re feeling secure in what that love follow-up ought to look like, bypass shame as an intentional attempted motivational technique.

What people feel shame about varies; different people feel shameful about different things. Your family of origin is typically where those seeds are planted, though as we just learned, school can do it as well, or really anywhere/anyone influential in childhood. So something that doesn’t seem shaming to you could feel very shameful to someone else. (There are oodles of cultural examples of this, no? Ask people if they change by their locker at the gym…)

As teachers, as parents, as people in a civilized place—skip the intentional shaming. We’ll all be better for it.


Posted in differences, ebb & flow, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation

Judgement and baggage, bravado! Oh my!

Things about me that make me “weird”:

  • don’t watch TV
  • don’t eat meat
  • don’t eat much fried or sweet food
  • don’t drink coffee
  • don’t drink alcohol
  • rarely drink other delicious crap (I miss you, chai latte!)
  • avoid plastic
  • don’t typically spend much time, energy, money on “girl” things (hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, purses)

I have been judged for all of these things. I’ve been spoken to harshly for all of them (some more often or more recently than others) and ostracized at one point or another for most.

Finally I’ve learned that those sorts of reactions are not about me.

Many people are defensive about what they’re eating when I’m with them. But the thing is—unless you’re my son or you’ve hired me to help you with your eating, I’m not concerned about your diet.

Your defensiveness comes from something in you. You feel like you should be eating differently. You feel like you would like to be eating what you think I think you should be eating and you’re not.

Some people take that discomfort and explode it out onto me. They assume I’m taking a position of moral superiority and try to defend themselves and knock me down a notch.

The thing is: there’s evidence of this defensiveness all over the place, not just in immediate reaction to a personal situation.

Bumper stickers I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks:

  • Yours may go fast but mine can go anywhere (on a Jeep)
  • My [dog/kid/weaponry] [is smarter than/can beat up/can kill] your honor student
  • Lots of creative ways to kill a back window stick family

The backlash against people (usually women) who are competent at Pinterest-type crafting and baking is enormous. So is the backlash against people who do maybe silly creative work (videos online and such).

People. It’s OK for other people to have interests and strengths that you don’t have. You have interests and strengths that they don’t have.

If you feel shame about not having their skills, that’s your baggage, not their bravado.

Shall we get into motives for a moment?

Crossfitters, vegans, runners/triathletes/obstacle racers, MLMers, Realtors among others have a reputation for talking incessantly about their Thing.

Why do people talk a lot about A Thing?

Maybe they’re insecure and bragging about their Thing makes them feel a little bit better for a moment. (I wasn’t intending to talk about penises, but when I went back to edit, you could make it go there if you need to.)

Maybe they don’t actually like the Thing but they really want to like it so they keep doing it and keep talking about it to talk themselves into it.

Or maybe they’re just really excited about their Thing.

When I talk a lot (maybe too much?) about a thing, it’s usually because that thing has taken over my brain. This thing that I’m trying with my kids at work. This thing that is going really really well or really really badly at home. This thing that is perplexing that I’m trying to solve. This thing that I’ve gotten into and am suddenly loving. This thing that challenges my thinking. This thing that just delighted me and I want to share my joy.

Regardless, if it’s not something you’re interested in hearing or talking about a lot, politely set a boundary. But you don’t need to assume negative intent, and it might not be about them in the first place—it might be about you.

So. Let people be good at stuff that you’re not good at without putting them down. We can’t all do All The Things—there’s not enough time (and truly, are you interested in doing all of it??). Skill you wish you had? Work on it. Otherwise? Be glad someone else is doing it.

Posted in mental health, mindset, parenting, physical health

Free time isn’t free: the sequel

So yesterday I wrote about the consequences of giving kids free time at school.

Those thoughts definitely 100% do not apply to kids at home.

Kids need free time.

Kids need free time to play, to be bored, to imagine, to create, to be with friends.

Also, adults need free time to play, to be bored, to imagine, to create, to be with friends.

We all need down time. Not crash-on-the-couch-in-exhaustion time.

If you’re having time finding it, schedule it. Make it a regularly-scheduled non-negotiable appointment.

It’s rare around here to have a day when The Kid doesn’t have some unscheduled time. Even with his crazy track schedule, he had some time after school to play or read or do whatever he decided to do that day.

(He doesn’t have homework, and he is, sadly, at an early-start school, so he had an hour after school. Those are variables I don’t have control over that happened to work in our favor. I’ll write more about homework soon.)

I have some unscheduled time at least three days every week, often more. (That’s not writing time, or time when The Kid is here but not directly supervised, which is often spent in tasks around the house.) The Climbing Daddy gets some unscheduled time regularly; he’s getting better at not protesting that there are other things to do.

So. Make time for yourself to play. Make time for your kids to play. (That includes the big kids!) It’s worth it.

Posted in cancer, connections, mental health, physical health, vulnerability

It’s not you, and you can’t fix it

I wrote yesterday about things that people said to me during my cancer journey and in the time since (though one could argue that it’s all the same journey).

I wanted to talk about it a little more.

I don’t think people are intentionally being mean or dismissive or any other unpleasant thing.

I think people are trying to protect themselves, to give order to events where there is none, to relieve themselves of guilt for it not happening to them, to relieve themselves of the discomfort of “what the hell do you say to someone who was just diagnosed with cancer?”

(I can help answer that last one. Will get to that but not going on that tangent yet. Also, all of this applies to all sorts of sudden life unpleasantries, not just a cancer diagnosis.)

Our brains’ mission in life is to keep everything predictable which makes us comfortable. This is why people who are miserable with their lives don’t change—they’re comfortable in their misery. Change is scary, and what if it’s worse on the other side? The demon you know versus the one you don’t kind of situation.

So when we’re handed something that immediately provokes change, we don’t like it. So we resist (consciously or not). And offer platitudes to the person/people who are at ground zero so we can feel better about ourselves and our position in life and shrug off how close it came to being us.

Is there a growing number of people who “need” cancer to learn a lesson, or to grow, or to change? No, I don’t think so.

Are there plenty of people who go through it and come out the other side without having learned any positive lessons, without having grown, without having changed for the better? Yes, there are.

And of course, there are plenty of people who don’t come out the other side.

It’s nearly guaranteed that you’re going to be at the center of a horrible little universe one day. Whether a medical diagnosis, the death of someone close, financial ruin, something, someday is going to knock your legs out from under you and kick you while you’re down.

While I don’t advocate for worrying about it, I also don’t advocate for blowing off other people’s pain to help you ignore the possibility of it showing up at your door.

For another day, you’re not at ground zero. It’s not you.

Is it awkward and uncomfortable to be with someone in that space? Yes. Yes, it is.

Do it anyway.

Your people need you. Step up. Be brave—just by showing up.

You can’t fix the problem.

Once more:

You can’t fix the problem.

You’re not going to say something that magically makes them feel better about their situation. But you can make them feel better for this moment. Be present. Be real.

What do you say? I’m sorry. That sucks. When do you want/need company? What meal can I bring you or your family? (Or, if you already know what would be welcome, What day can I bring you xyz?) When do you need me to watch your kids? Give me your grocery list and let me take care of it for you. Let me come over and vacuum (or dust or clean bathrooms or do laundry) so you don’t have to worry about it. I know it feels weird to get help with things you’re used to doing, but please let me help you so you can take care of you. I can’t kill tumors but I can wash socks and watch kids.

Depending on the person, maybe they’d just like to have conversations about other things. Maybe living with this and talking about it as much as is necessary is enough, and they’d like a bit of time back in normal life. Maybe they’d like to play a game. Cards, or a board game for few players.

Find something to help them pass time when they’re alone. Puzzles, magazines, a subscription (Netflix or similar) if they don’t already have one (even I would have watched TV through chemo). Books if they can read (I love reading but couldn’t get through a paragraph of a book because: chemo brain). A journal and a nice pen. Tools for a skill maybe they’ve been wanting to learn: knitting, crocheting, playing an instrument, drawing, painting, etc.

And then—a few months later, when most people have fallen off (because life events are longer than attention spans)—check in again (if you haven’t been all along). Same offers. New offer. Whatever. And then again.

Any questions?


Posted in connections, mental health, mindset, socializing, thoughtfulness

What is our responsibility?

People need people to thrive. Numerous studies in the last decade point to social networks as a critical variable for longevity, and for general functionality and thriving.

As both a teacher and a parent, I see articles and videos about special needs kids, and to teach your kids to be kind and to be friends with them.

Kindness is reasonable. Getting to know someone who seems different than you is reasonable. But if you get to know someone a little and really just don’t care for them, are you going to be friends with them because they’re different?

As we get older, we don’t generally spend social time with people we don’t like (unless maybe we’re related to them). It seems we don’t even spend time with people we do like! I don’t know anyone (that I know of) who is friends with someone they don’t like just to provide a friend.

It’s not limited to special needs people. We have an epidemic of loneliness and isolation right now, causing or feeding record numbers of people with depression.

Where is the balance? Whose responsibility is it to be the social network for people who don’t have one?

We, collectively, can’t even agree on helping people who need money, which is (or seems like it should be) less complicated than helping with social-emotional support.

What do you think? Whose responsibility is it to provide the village, now that villages are gone?