Category Archives: Fostering

What Mother’s Day Means to Me.

Mothers Day. 

It rolls around every year with super cute memes’, the best handmade cards and the most ridiculous but epic school art class presents. It’s the day that our little angels actually try and act like angels while bringing us breakfast in bed and offering, but not always doing, to clean the kitchen.

Overall, it’s a sweet day filled with hugs, kisses and thank-you’s. It’s a good day.

For me, and the many other Moms to Many like me, it’s also a really, really hard day.

It’s the day that reminds me of all my littles that no longer have their Mommy’s. Of the Mom’s that are missing their babies because of circumstances and bad decisions that you and I could never truly understand. 

It’s a day of tears, broken hearts and memories that fade a little bit more each day.  It’s little faces looking at pictures of the Mama they so desperately love but will never get to see again.

It’s trying to figure out who to give that amazing Mother’s Day gift that was made at school to. Save it for Mom, just in case? Give it to Grandma at an upcoming visit? Or give it to Auntie or Foster Mom that takes care of them now? It’s such a simple thing but the pain & confusion it causes is very deep and very real.

It’s the day when I remember the 30+ faces that have called me Auntie or April or Mom. And the milestones that I’ve shared with children that I did not birth. It’s the first’s and the victories that Mamas long for and then celebrate when they finally arrive. It’s looking into the eyes of children and knowing that their hearts are longing for another time, another place and another face. It’s being okay with being Mom for now. It is joy and pain wrapped up in one Sunday. 

It is the day that reminds me of why I do what I do. Mothers Day is my ‘why’. 

Every kid, everywhere, needs a Mama. They need THEIR Mama but when that’s not possible, we need to step up and fill that space. We can’t all be foster parents, I get that. But we most certainly can take a moment and love someone that so desperately needs it.

This Mother’s Day, be that safe place for someone in your world.

Your Mom would love that. 

    

A little bit of Hope.

The phone call arrives from the jail that I’ve never visited. I can’t go there, because it’s the place that I’ve been fighting to keep kids out of for so long. Somehow it’s become a part of my story, and I hate it. I hate that everything I fought against has now become a comforting and safe place, and seeing that particular number on my call display gives me peace somehow. She is safe. Again. I hate it.

The words are a blur as they’re always filled with bravado and slang and nonsense. There are stories of conquests and bad choices and just plain stupidity. There are tears and apologies and promises of doing better this time. There’s fear, and sadness and the loss of hope. There is nothing that I can say or do anymore, so I just listen. I listen and pray and hope and wait. I hope that her desire for change will someday outweigh her desire to be cool and fit in. I hope that she’ll realize that her “friends” aren’t friends at all and that bad ideas and having each other’s back, does not a family make. I hope that she’ll grab onto that tiny glimmer of light and hope that is buried deep inside of her and not let go.

I hate it. I hate that I can’t fix it, that I can’t go back and redo her start in this world. That I can’t heal her hurts or help her forgive and move forward. That I wasn’t able to change her life.

He looks at me and says, “it sure is nice not having to do my job anymore to get food for everyone”. What job, you’re not old enough to work. “You know, going to people’s doors and asking for money for charity”. What charity? “Well, I just said that so I could get money for food for my brothers and sisters”. Okay. I’m glad you don’t need to do that anymore either.

He looked at me and asked “why don’t you lock me up in the closet when I’m bad”? Because I don’t do that. “But why”. Because that’s not how people should be treated. “But my Mom does that and she loves me”. Your Mom didn’t make a very good choice, but I’m glad she loves you. “So I won’t ever get put in a closet here”. No sir. “Okay, can I have a sandwich”?

They called their Mom on the phone, and begged and begged to see her again. They ask question after question that Mom just can’t answer. They collapsed in my lap sobbing, confused and torn by the feelings and knowledge of being completely safe and warm here, but being pulled by a love that they can’t deny. They can’t be little kids because the burden that they carry is so strong “Is Mommy safe, does she have food, where is she sleeping”.

She has done nothing wrong. She makes good choices and has achieved many great things. She has hope and a very bright future, and because of that, she’s been forgotten. Somehow, the darkness and bad choices that are all around her got more acknowledgment and support, and she’s forgotten. She works harder and harder to get their attention, but still the “bad stuff” seems to have more value.

I hate it. I hate that I have to do what I do. I hate the conversations, I hate the stories, I hate not being able to reply exactly how I want to, I hate that I must protect a relationship with a person that no longer even deserves that relationship anymore. I hate that their normal is so abnormal. I hate that someway, somehow I have to find a crack in their tough little amour’s, and find a way in. That I have to redefine a role in their lives that has already been filled by someone else. That my “right thing to do”, is so completely foreign and distant from what they know that they believe I’m wrong.

I hate that they have to be here in the first place. Not because I have them, but because the world, their parents, drugs, circumstance, alcohol, despair, depression, and abuse has failed them. It is so not fair, and how in the world am I supposed to “fix them”? How do you teach a 12-year-old something that most kids learned when they were 3? How do you make someone really truly feel safe?

So many of our days are spent running like a hamster on a wheel. It’s just a-round and a-round having the same conversations, working on the same skills, teaching the same things over and over. Many days are just about surviving and making it to bed time. I can spend hours open hours questioning my sanity and why I choose this life for me and my family. More often than not, I feel like I’m getting nowhere and that I’m not actually making a difference anymore. I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, or if there’s any point.

And then I get something like this.

thenote

And I’m reminded. I don’t need to be perfect or change them completely. I just need to be their Mom. I just need to give them a little bit of hope and a whole lot of family. I need to remember that.

So now when I get the phone calls, and have the conversations, I need to remind myself that I’m not trying for perfection or that I have to fix all that has been broken. That burden does not belong to me anymore, and I think that I’m finally okay with that.

Our children, mine, the ones that I’ve borrowed and yours as you read this, deserve a safe place, and we owe it to them. My hope now is that when they leave us and move on that their wings will be strong, that they’ll know their worth, that they’ll always know that “home” means safe, and that they will KNOW that they are loved and belong to someone. This isn’t about being a foster parent, this is about being a parent. We all need to stop focusing on the stupid piddly pointless things and focus on what really matters.

Take a moment and look into your children’s eyes and let them see YOU. Let them see your heart, feel your love, and see that you’re on their side, no matter what. They’re not expecting you to be perfect, or even care if you screw up and do the wrong things. They don’t see our mistakes or bad choices, they see YOU.

Don’t ever question how strong that bond is, and never take it for granted. I’ve seen kids that have been abused beyond belief that still love their parents madly and deeply. They’ve forgotten about all the mistakes but they remember the love. So, as a Mom or Dad struggling with guilt and questioning if you’re doing everything wrong, remember this connection and honour it.

I fight every day to make that connection and some days I’m successful and more often than not, I fail miserably. But now instead of focusing on fixing, I’m focusing on strength, joy, safety and a whole lotta’ hope.

You should try that too.

Happy Trails

If you know anything about our lives over the past few years, you know it’s been tough. We’ve had some tough kids in some tough situations and we’re tired.

Tired of fighting, and fixing and waiting for things to change. Tired of hoping for different outcomes to the same situation that just plays out, over and over and over. Tired of trying.

So, we’ve decided to run away for a little while. We’re taking two weeks off to enjoy our kids and do no thinking. No fighting. Just being a family.

Teachers, employers and coaches aren’t overly thrilled with us but this HAD to happen. Our kids need time to breathe and refocus too. Kevin and I chose this path for our family, and we don’t regret it for a second. But we have to remember that our choices became our kids choices and when we struggle, we ALL struggle.

I know that we’ve made it through the worst of it, and feel like we’ve now found a good groove again. The kids have all gelled and are getting along pretty well. The bigs have become much better friends, the littles are happy to have a home, and the bigs are adjusting to the millions of questions per day that the littles continually ask. Overall, we’re finding our way back to ‘normal’.

Not sure what our normal is exactly, but I feel like we’re getting there. I finally feel like I can breathe again and that’s such an amazing feeling. A fresh start is a wonderful place to begin, so we’re making one now.

As I write, the three are sound asleep as we cruise down the highway. They are beyond thrilled for the adventure that is to come their way. They’ve talked non-stop and are planning their shoe purchases and photo ops. They are already making us crazy with how much further questions and calls for more food. They are happy and laughing, and its good to see. But for now, we let them sleep and we enjoy the peace and quiet of just ‘being’.

We are 5 barreling down a highway, in a motor home heading towards sunshine, outlet malls and naps. Junk food, stupid tourist attractions and Carl’s Jr. are calling our names. An Akita, a dog sitter and some very amazing friends & family are watching over our home and the new pieces of our hearts.

At this moment, I can feel our blessings and I am so very, very thankful. Let the Happy Trails start NOW. I love my life.

Unanswered Questions

Have you ever been asked a question that warrants an answer but you know you can’t answer it?

Today was that day for me, and unfortunately, I couldn’t answer how I wanted to. I had to redirect the conversation and basically avoid the question completely. I had to be comforting and reassuring without saying what they wanted to hear. It is such a horrible position to be in, and it’s one of the things that I can’t stand about being a foster parent.

I believe that I know what’s best for the kids that live with me, but it doesn’t really matter. There are rules and laws and procedures that must be followed. There’s right and wrong, and a whole lot of grey areas all over the place. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense, and quite often it seems downright wrong. Unfortunately, my opinion doesn’t matter. Instead, I smile, give a little hug and keep on keeping on.

My heart is broken but I must bite my tongue and hope for the best.

Today I’m going to think of the unanswered questions as blessings. I cannot answer them, but for now, they are here, they are safe and they are mine.

This post is part of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge. If you want to follow along with all of us “challengers”, click on their links below.

Liam ~ Natasha ~ Zita ~ MagzD ~ Peter ~ Christine ~ Cliff ~ Hethr ~ Tracy

A very important CHOICE

Can you imagine what it would be like to wake up every day and not know the things you knew yesterday? You can sense that somewhere deep in the recesses of your mind,  the answer is there, but the question has you so confused that you can’t figure it out.

You “know” that you need to tie your shoes, and you know that you can do it, but for some reason, you can’t remember how.

You are constantly getting in trouble, for the same things, over and over, and don’t understand why.

Your “friend” tells you that it’s a good idea to jump off the roof of your house if you hold your coat open like a parachute, and that seems like it makes sense, so you do it.

You have a really hard time “feeling” your body, as in, you don’t really sense how much space you fill. Because of that you’re constantly getting in people’s way or sitting way too close.

You try to sit still and watch TV, but your body just wants to do something else. You can’t stop bouncing and wiggling, no matter how hard you try.

All of your friends seem to be much older than you, even though you’re the exact same age.

You’re at school sitting in your desk, and your teacher corrects something you’ve done wrong, and you instantly start crying. You can’t help it, and you can’t stop.

Your life is a constant battle and everything seems to be out of your control. You feel lost and confused the majority of the time. You are very emotional. Your forget how to do simple tasks. You don’t understand the instructions that are being given to you. You are stuck inside a body that just feels “lost”.

This is what your life could be like if you have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Your life has been forever changed by your Mother’s choice and your disorder was 100% completely preventable. It is not your fault, but you have to live with it.

Every day, I look into the faces of children that have been affected by alcohol. They struggle more than they succeed and it’s heartbreaking. They’re victims of a crime that was committed before they were even born, and it makes me crazy.

This disorder isn’t saved for alcoholics or regular drinkers, it is much bigger than that. It can be ONE drink at a particular MOMENT and still have dire consequences.

FASD is the leading known cause of preventable developmental disability among Canadians. It is estimated that FASD affects approximately one percent of the Canadian  population.

FASD cannot be cured and has lifelong impacts on individuals, their families, and society. Effects, including alcohol-related birth defects,  can vary  from mild to severe and may include a range of physical, brain and central nervous system disabilities, as well as cognitive,  behavioural and emotional issues. – Public Health Agency of Canada

Today is FASD Awareness Day. Please don’t drink when you’re pregnant. That one simple act can effect your child’s forever and frankly, that’s just not fair.

fasd

Photo courtesy of:  http://fasday.com/

For more information, please go check out the Health Canada site. If you’re pregnant and drinking, please stop. If you need help stopping, please seek help immediately. Your baby is counting on you.

This post is part of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge. If you want to follow along with all of us “challengers”, click on their links below.  Please go and give them a read … writing every day for 30 days is TOUGH to do.

Liam ~ Natasha ~ Zita ~ MagzD ~ Peter ~ Christine ~ Cliff ~ Hethr ~ Tracy

Stuck in a Story

Raising other peoples children always makes for interesting conversations. More often than not, it’s a bad interesting and not good at all. Sometimes I hear happy, fun stories and they’re awesome but they’re few and far between.

Some of the stories sound like they’re exactly that, stories. There is no way that they can actually be real, there just can’t be. But then I learn that they’re true.

Many times I want to throw-up, or scream or hit someone or just cry and cry. But I can’t, instead I just sit and listen quietly and try to digest what I’m hearing. I try and figure out ways to help them see that their stories aren’t normal and that life can be so much better.

They speak of hopes and dreams and what they want to become. It breaks my heart to hear that their
“dreams” are things that you and I take for granted. Food, shelter, new shoes. Or that Daddy will be out of jail soon.

It’s hard to do any future planning when you don’t know what their future holds. Especially when they’re begging to live with you for always, as long as they can just visit their Mom every now and then. And knowing full well, that they will be going home again.

I wish I could find the words to empower them for when they’re no longer with me. But it’s hard to teach right from wrong when to do so would mean that you’re saying that their Mom is wrong. But how do I say it’s not okay that Mommy locks you up, without actually saying that? How do I say that it’s never okay to choke someone when they say that was Daddy’s favourite game? How do I teach them that it’s a parent’s job to take care of their children when they answer with “that’s not how it works in my house”.  How do I help them feel comfortable in my world, when it’s completely opposite to all they know?

It’s been 14 years of trying to find the right words, and I still feel like I haven’t found them.

 

This post is part of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge. Click on the links below to check out some of the other awesome bloggers involved in the challenge. So much awesome.

Liam ~ Natasha ~ Zita ~ MagzD ~ Peter ~ Christine ~ Cliff ~ Hethr ~ Tracy

Everyday, Ordinary People

As most of you know, my husband and I are foster parents and have been for the last 13 years or so. We’ve had over 20 kids enter our lives and that number continues to grow.  My parents started fostering when I was 12 years old so I’ve also been blessed to have many foster brothers and sisters to call my own. This has been my “story” for the past 28 years and frankly it’s all I know.

People tell me all the time that the job we do is amazing. How much they admire us, and how they could never do what we do. I’ve heard that the world needs more people like us. That we must have the patience of saints. People thank us, congratulate us and pat us on the back.

But here’s what I have to say to all of that.

We are no different from anyone else … we just chose to try.

What we’re doing isn’t rocket science, or anything that’s really all that out of the ordinary. We are parenting the exact same way but with extras. We are still the same parents as we were before they moved in. We are exactly like you.

Our lives are so not perfect, just like yours. We have really, really bad days, just like you. We pray for more patience, more income and more free time in our days. We laugh, we cry and we have complete and total meltdowns. Just like you.

We have struggles and challenges that are “different from yours, but that’s all they are, they’re different. We see hurts and pain up close and personal, but we’re all surrounded by that, we just don’t always notice. We have more bodies sitting around the table at meal times, but who doesn’t like having company over? Our world is quite often chaotic, but isn’t yours? We just call it for what it is….Life.

Being a foster parent isn’t something reserved for a “special kind of person”, it’s a journey worth considering. It truly is an honour and a privilege to be able to say that I’m someone’s Mom. And in my case, those blessings are many.

If you’re even remotely considering giving it a try, send me a message. I’d love to help you make a difference. All it takes is everyday, ordinary people willing to give kids a chance. Are you that person?

This post is part of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge. If you want to follow along with all of us “challengers”, click on their links below.

Liam ~ Natasha ~ Zita ~ MagzD ~ Peter ~ Christine ~ Cliff ~ Hethr ~ Tracy

Finding the Words

This week, I’ve really been struggling with words. I’ve needed to respond to some things and just couldn’t figure out the right words to say. I’ve had to redirect, change the subject and sometimes flat-out ignore what was being said to me. And I hate it.

I can’t stand the idea of not being able to help someone through something and having to leave them in a place of questioning. I’ve felt lost and confused before, and I don’t want anyone to have to go through that. I want to help them, but the words just seem to be escaping me.

I need to find the words to help my little’s find their way but I don’t know how to say that your Mom was wrong, without actually saying that. I don’t know how to tell them that abuse doesn’t equal love without bashing all that they know. I don’t know how to be a good Mom without making them feel like their Mom is a bad one. I don’t know how to reach them without screaming, when screaming is all they know.

I need to find the words to reach a boy who is intent on pushing people away. I need to find a voice that he can hear, and trust and believe. I don’t know how else to say that you’re amazing exactly how you are, stop trying to be something else. I don’t know how to say that you can still love your Mom, even if you want nothing to do with her. I don’t know how to honour her when all I really want to do is rip her to shreds.

I need to find the words to help a friend see herself in the way that I see her. I need to find words that will help her take her focus off the world and to stop putting walls up to keep people out. I need to not hurt her but be able to answer her questions of “why”? I need words so full of grace that she won’t feel judged but will find freedom.

I need to find the words to still the negative voice in my head. I need to figure out how to be proud of myself and the amount of weight that I’ve lost already, and not think it’s not good enough. I need to find the words to remind myself that I’m in a better place today then I was yesterday.

I guess that as I sit here trying to find the right things to say, maybe I just need to quit trying and let the words find me. But how do I do that? I’m so not good at waiting.

Heaven help me.

This is Day Three of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge. If you want to follow along with all of us “challengers”, click on their links below.

Liam ~ Natasha ~ Zita ~ MagzD ~ Peter ~ Christine ~ Cliff ~ Hethr ~ Tracy

To Medicate or Not to Medicate … That is the Question

The story of one of my worst days ever ….

Dr.: He needs to be on medication to make him sleep and take away his anxiety.

Me: He’s only 18 months old.

Dr.: He needs to sleep, you and your husband need to sleep. This will help him.

Me:  He’s only 18 months old.

Dr.: When was the last time the two of you slept longer than 30 minutes at a time?

Me: 6 months ago.

Me: Will he be on them forever? Are they addicting? Do people actually give their “babies” drugs like this? Are you sure this is okay?

Dr.: Please trust me.

Me: OK.

That day, by far was one of the hardest days of my life. I was being faced with the decision of putting my little boy on a drug that was normally used on adults in psych. wards. He was 18 months old and something was very “not right” with him, but this was terrifying.

When I left the office with a prescription, and had a few minutes to process my decision, I can distinctly remember breathing a sigh of relief. I knew that my boy needed help, and was hopeful that this would make a difference. That night, for the first time in 6 months, he slept for 6 hours in a row. It took me a few nights to trust that he would actually sleep and stay in his room and not wander my house, or escape or hurt himself or whatever else “awake” toddlers did. But it worked, it actually worked.

That day changed my little boys life and mine. It was our first step into “real change” and our first try at correction with medication. It was terrifying and life saving all at the same time.

5 months later, we were back at the doctors office, as my son had taken a turn for the worst. He had stopped talking, stopped walking, and was in an anxious state of “craziness” (for lack of a better word) all the time. Just being at the doctors office was challenging as he threw himself around the room, crying, yelling and refusing to sit still. I explained everything to the Doctor, and he said the words again. Let’s try some medication. Ritalin. As soon as he said that, I froze. Ritalin for a 2-year-old. Really? He proceeded to tell me that he felt like my little man was a perfect candidate and that it would make a significant difference in his life. He told me that if Ritalin works, the changes are obvious within a day, so if it doesn’t work, we stop. That gave me an “out”, and I agreed to give it a try.

At noon, I gave my boy his first dosage. He was 23 months old. By 6:00 pm, I had a different child. It was the first step towards “calm waters”. He was walking and talking normally, and he was happy. He was letting us touch him and hold him without lashing out. It was amazing.

The next morning, I called his doctor and we had a telephone party. He was just as thrilled as we were, and had only ever heard about the miracles that Ritalin could accomplish, but had never seen it before. He was “the kid” that this drug was developed for, and I’ve never been so thankful for something in all my life.

As the boy got older, his needs and issues grew and/or changed. Over the years, we’ve tried many different drugs, dosages, and therapies. Many, I flat-out refused, and many we tried. For every one that worked, 2 didn’t. It was a very long and trying process, but it was worth it.

He’s almost 13 years old now, and still takes 5 different drugs every day. His dosages are less than half of what they were though, which we are thrilled about.  My goal is to get him off them completely, but for now, he’s doing incredibly well, so we will maintain this course. For now.

I can say 100% without question that if I hadn’t agreed to that first step so many years ago, that I would not have the boy that I have today. These medications changed his life.

Lots of my kids have been on medications for some reason or another but 2 of them stand out in my mind to this day. I will never forget when one of them came home from school and asked me “if I knew that his teacher had brown hair”?  It was February. She had been his teacher the entire year, and he had never noticed her hair colour until he was on meds. The other boy also came home from school and told me that “his teacher has a really squeaky voice”, again, it was 6 months into the school year.

I asked them what it felt like to be on the meds, as I truly was curious because my little 2-year-old couldn’t tell me. Their words were simple, but very insightful. They both said that they felt like they could finally focus and actually see things. Words and faces and sounds were no longer jumbled about and just “bouncing off of them”. They felt normal, or what they thought normal should feel like. They felt free.

At that moment, I knew that these medications weren’t about me, and whether or not they were right or wrong to take, but about them. They needed some success in their lives, and that became my focus.

I’m not saying that all kids should be on meds, NOT AT ALL. In fact, I believe that many children are over-medicated or improperly medicated. I think that pills are many doctors’ first response as opposed to real diagnosis or treatment. BUT, I do believe that medications can truly change their lives, if handled correctly.

Meds shouldn’t be seen as a way to make your child be good or quiet or turn them into little robots. Instead, look at them as a way of giving power back to your child. If he can feel even a tiny bit of success or peace, he’s able to focus more and work on what he needs to work on. Imagine that your head is spinning out of control and then someone asking you to read a book or do some math. Imagine that the sounds that we hear have been amplified 25 times and being expected to sit in a desk and focus on your work. Imagine what it feels like to always be in trouble for acting out, not sitting still or bouncing around in your desk. Now imagine spending your days being confused, scared, anxious, embarrassed and isolated and being expected to somehow be “normal”. As adults, that would take many of us down, but those are expectations we put on our children all the time because we refuse to “put them on meds”. No, pills are not the be all to end all, but they should be an option.

If you are presented with putting your child on medication, my challenge to you is this. Do not immediately shut it down. I’m not saying you go blindly into an appointment, and just put your child on whatever pill is handed to you. What I am saying is to listen to your doctors words, do some research, ask friends that are dealing with similar things and then make a decision. If you’ve tried meds and they’re not working, try a different one or switch up a dosage. If you feel like they’re making your child worse, or giving them horrible side effects, take them off. But most importantly, be prepared to change “you”. Do not expect medications to make you a better parent. Kids with special needs, learning issues and challenging behaviours need a different kind of parenting. You MUST change and you must do better as well. Pills or no pills.

If you’ve started your child on meds, do not feel guilty about it. Ignore the judgemental words and ignorant comments. Only you know your child and what they need. Watch them and see if they’re actually helping, watch for side effects, take note of changes. Ask them how they’re feeling, do they feel better or worse, happy or sad? Ask teachers, caregivers, family members if they’ve seen changes. Make sure that you are very “present” in their therapy and treatment. Don’t just hand over a pill and wait for a miracle. It’s going to be work.

If you are the friend to a parent that has chosen medications or some alternative type therapies to help their children, be gracious. Ask questions but respect their choices. I can guarantee you that they’ve already struggled and wrestled with their decisions, and don’t need any more guilt thrown their way.

Look at your child’s face. If they need help, get them help. If you’re given a scary diagnosis, it’s okay. Look at that as the first step to something better as knowledge is always power. Our kids deserve to have us fight for them, and give them the best of everything that we’ve got. If that “fight” involves meds, so be it. If you choose a different path, that’s okay too. Just please know that there are many, many healthy success stories that involve prescription medications. Not everything you’ve read about or heard about is bad. My son is living proof of that.

Want to stop bullying? Then stop it.

I’ve written a couple of different blog posts about bullying … one explaining my take on the situation and another one showing how I’ve tried to deal with it in the past. In both of them I talked a lot about building our kids up so that bullies don’t have to power to take them down. I still wholeheartedly believe in that but I think it’s time that we as a society stand up and take responsibility for our part in perpetuating this insanity. Children look to us to lead them and guide them. They copy what we do. We are their guides and leaders. We need to take that more seriously. Now.

I’m thankful that people are finally really acknowledging bullying and the horrific ramifications that it brings about. What makes me sick is that it took the death of a young girl to make people take notice. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first death as a result of bullying. We should’ve taken better notice a long, long time ago. My hope is that these same people who have jumped on the “bullying is bad bandwagon” will actually do something to make a change and not just use this event as a way to make themselves look righteous. Please let that be what happens.

If you want bullying to stop, we as a society need to stop bullying. Stop telling and laughing at fat jokes. Quit pointing out “gingers” and making ignorant comments about them. Stop commenting on buck teeth, freckles, greasy hair, pimples, etc, etc. Quit pointing out the faults of everyone around you and/or laughing along when someone makes ignorant remarks.  Next time you get the urge to call someone fat or ugly, picture your daughters face on their shoulders. Not so appealing now is it? Grow Up.

Don’t post on Facebook how upset you are by bullying and how awful it is, and then go and post ignorant “jokes” or pictures. Don’t say that bullying is terrible and then start all of your sentences with “I don’t mean to be rude”, or “no offense”.  Don’t shove people out of your way in the grocery store, don’t butt in line, don’t belittle people in lower positions than you. Be respectful. Be polite. Be a decent human being.

When your children make ignorant comments about peers or people in their world. Correct them. When they tell inappropriate jokes. Correct them. When they comment that someone is poor or stupid or ugly. Correct them. Please don’t agree or laugh with them. You are their example. When the opportunity to teach your children arises, use it. Talk about how we’re all different and that it’s okay. Discuss how some people look different because they can’t help it. Teach them about money, and how not every has as much or has more than your family. Explain to them why they’re being corrected. They’ll get it sooner than you think, and their bad habits will be replaced with kind and compassionate ones.

Really teach your kids their worth. No one should ever think that they need to lift their shirt and bare their breasts to make someone like them. Teach them that they don’t need the approval of others to be valuable. Show them that they don’t need to be “sexy” to get attention. Teach them that the number of friends they have on Facebook or the numbers of TBH’s they participate in, is in no way reflective of their value. Kids need to be built up and reminded DAILY of how awesome they are. If they are getting approval and encouragement at home, they’re not going to seek it out everywhere they go. Kids still want to fit in and belong, that’s never going to change. But if they feel secure and “know” their worth, it’ll be a lot tougher for someone else to take advantage of them or beat them down. Period.

Teach your children that they don’t need to share every little piece of themselves with others. Facebook , Instagram and Twitter are not diaries. Pictures and words are forever, help them understand that. Talk to them about online predators, and REALLY talk to them. If you’re going to allow your children to use social media, take the time to figure out how it works. Learn what texting shortcuts mean. Never assume that your child is smart enough to know when they’re being lied to or scammed. And on the flip-side, don’t assume that your child would never behave inappropriately online. Kids that are normally shy or quiet will quite often open-up online because it’s so anonymous. They can hide behind a fake persona and become anything their minds can imagine.

Consider setting up a “fake account” with a picture of someone cute. Pretend to attend another local school, pick common “likes” to your kids – food, sports teams, video games. Then send your child a friend request and see what happens. If they don’t initially accept it, try again. Add a note to your request saying something like, “we used to play ball together” or whatever.  Once they befriend you, starting asking questions. Will they give you pictures when asked for them? Will they tell you where they go to school, share their phone number, address, etc, etc? If you invite them to an awesome party, will they agree to go? Maybe your kids will surprise you and will never accept your request but if they do, use this to show them just how easy it was to get them talking. Predators do this EVERY DAY.

We need to change what is normal. And what is expected. Children aren’t sexy. Physical appearance doesn’t determine your worth. Money does not equal power. Domestic Violence is not cool and should not be ignored. Movie stars, pop icons and their lifestyles are not reality. Please figure out a way to help your children see that and believe it. We need to set higher standards for our children and ourselves. Stop accepting wrong behaviour as normal.

Frankly, we as adults also need to recognize the power that we have. Our words bite just as much as those of a teenager. We are just older and “smarter” and a little bit braver. We somehow find ways to justify our behaviour because we “know” that we’re right. We’re educated, churched and have lots of life experience. Quit mistaking those things as “rights to abuse or bully”.

Politics, religion, ideals and opinions will always be fodder for bashing. Instead of joining in on the bandwagon of crazy behaviour, listen. Hear what people have to say, and then agree or disagree. If you have a concern or you don’t understand something, ask about it. So many of our “fights” are a result of mis-information or blatant gossip. Before you make a judgement, make sure you have all the facts. Agree or Not, doesn’t really matter. Your response is what’s important. Hatred should never be an option.

Bullying is a horrible, horrible thing but it’s just a symptom of something bigger. As we all move forward, working towards change, please think of this one simple word. Respect. Respect for yourself, and respect for the people around you. If we could all just focus on that, the world would be a much happier and safer place.