setting-a-positive-example-to-children

Setting a Positive Example

I haven’t had a parenting post in a while, so it’s time for one. If you are like me, and a parent with a chronic illness, thoughts of “how can I be a better parent” come up in moments of self-reflection. A constant concern I have is, am I setting a positive example for Jai? Am I being a good mother, especially in the moments my illness seems to take over?

I feel like there’s a lot of expectations placed on mothers, especially on how we project ourselves in public and private. When we have moments where we are vulnerable, we get frustrated. Coupled with a chronic illness, especially invisible ones where society forgets we are ill, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

For myself, in the moments I feel overwhelmed, I feel like I struggle to set a positive example. With my MS, I feel obligated to set an example about the importance of handling things out of our control in a positive way.

When we have a Little Clone

It isn’t always the case, but have you noticed being closely aligned with a parent in personality? More like your mother or your father? Or a nice blend of both? If you are a parent, you may notice your child favors you or your partner more in personality.

This may be frustrating because two strong personalities in the same home is a recipe for conflict. But it can be a wonderful bonding experience if approached properly. The parent whom the child favors is able to identify personality quirks and be sensitive to particular needs. Rather than being an adversary, the parent can be a valuable alley within the home.

When a child is similar to us, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see our own behaviors in their purest form. Children can provide a deeper insight to ourselves.

I find that Jai teaches me how to behave better. Observing his interactions on the playground, he does not get upset when another child steals his toy. Rather than getting upset, he’ll move on to another toy. It’s an opportunity for me to learn from his wisdom: focus not on the loss of the toy, but the opportunity to do something else.

I recognize his behavior is age/developmentally based. In a few months, he may not behave so passively in a similar situation.

In those moments of adaptability, I encourage his behavior. Likewise, I want to make sure he doesn’t pick up my bad habits. Rather than swooping in and letting Jai know that something negative happened, I try to be as non-reactive to keep the situation calm and under control. My instinct is a bad habit developed over the years: take the toy back while reprimanding the offending child for not knowing how to share. This teaches Jai to be aggressive in a negative way and I don’t want to encourage that.

If Jai is upset over losing something, it is better I show him how to ask for a toy back in a nice manner, rather than fight bullying with bullying.

Setting a Positive Example to Children

Children, even in their worst moments, provide us with valuable insight to our own behaviors. They observe our every moment, behavior, and style of speech. A few weeks ago, when I braked the car suddenly, I heard from the backseat, “what are you doing?” directed at the driver causing me to brake.

I knew in that moment I needed to be more aware of the language I used while driving around the city.

Consider this: next time your child behaves in a manner you find problematic, step back and see where that behavior was modeled for them. Was it from you? A co-parent? A secondary caregiver? School? If you find that it is a reflection or response to your own behaviors, consider finding a way to change it so you model the behavior you want your child to have.

This might be particularly difficult to achieve with a chronic illness, but it is still possible. Use your illness as a teaching moment: sometimes we cannot control our own behaviors because of an exacerbation, but we are doing the best we can with what we have.

When you mess up, rather than ignoring it, sit down with a child and explain what happened. Do not excuse it. Provide a reason to your thinking and behavior, or admit you don’t know why. Walk a child through how you plan to approach the situation in the future and acknowledge that you may not remember/achieve it the next time. Admit to your imperfection, and reassure the child that it’s okay to be human but not okay to hurt others. Finally, make sure you apologize to your child if necessary.

Treat your child, no matter their age, like the human they are with all the respect that goes with it. You’ll find that the example you set, no matter when you start, will eventually payoff with some patience and compassion on your part.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton

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how-to-self-reflect-as-parent

How to Self-Reflect as a Parent

This year, as we move towards self-improvement, not every goal is managing our chronic illness. I know that some of my secondary, unwritten goals are to be a better parent to Jai. Self-reflection is still essential, but how do you self-reflect as a parent? What are some of the crucial steps or changes you should make? Are there any changes that need to be made?

Parenting is one of those areas where there is no right answer.

Each person has their own style and belief, and because there’s this instinct built into the process of parenting, it’s hard to move beyond the hardwiring. But as with everything in our life, we should take a moment to reflect on how we parent.

Who am I as a Parent?

This is the number one question to start asking yourself: who am I as a parent? Am I gentle, unstructured, helicopter, snowplow, fighter jet? How does this style of parenting impact my child? Do I walk away from each interaction feeling positive about how I handled the situation or do I feel like I lost control?

Take a moment and be honest. Self-reflection isn’t easy and the answers to those questions may be difficult. But remember, it’s never too late to make changes to your parenting style.

If you have a partner, ask them how they see you as a parent. You’ll want them to be honest, so while you might get defensive by what they say, try to be open. The truth can be hard to hear, but it is the only way to reflect on the changes that you want to make.

Take the time to write down all that you come up with about your parenting style and abilities. Separate the positive aspects to your parenting with the negative aspects.

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Kids as Self-Improvement Motivation

Kids as Self-Improvement Motivation

Monday, I talked about not using children as your main goal for self-improvement. Instead of working towards being a better parent, figure out why you struggle with the aspects you want to improve and work on that instead. Improved parenting becomes a secondary benefit when you feel better about yourself. So when I say, kids as self-improvement motivation, it feels like I am taking a step backward from Monday’s post.

But I’m not.

Because children are a part of our daily lives, they can also be a part of our motivation. Seeing your children born and grow may motivate you to become healthier to live longer. Or they reflect behaviors that you do but know needs to change. Their appearance in your life may be enough for you to say “I need to make some changes!”

With that in mind,  kids can work as self-improvement motivation.

A Clarification: Parental Responsibility

Before I go any further I need to make some clarifications and disclaimers to contextualize the rest of this post.

Your children are not responsible for motivating you. They do not create or affect your happiness or ability to succeed. Only you are responsible for yourself and your behaviors. Things in your past may influence your current behaviors, but you are responsible for your own actions. Therefore, your children are not responsible for your ability to make and achieve your goals.

What I do suggest is to use their natural behaviors and inclinations to achieve your goals. If you have a toddler it’s near impossible to keep them still, so if you want to exercise, try to take advantage of their energy.

Jai loves to exercise and run around the house. One of my short-term goals this year is to do more yoga. Why not combine his need to burn energy and my need to practice? Using his natural need to expend energy as a means to motivate me to exercise is using him as a motivator. I am placing no expectations on him, no responsibility, he doesn’t even know that he is helping me out.

Likewise, if you are looking to de-stress and improve how you react to your children under stressful circumstances, do not expect them to behave any differently. Look at how they react to you when you react to them. Sometimes seeing a look, that look, that they give can be motivating enough to work harder to avoid getting it next time.

You are placing no expectations on the children, no responsibility on them to help you through your journey. The only responsibility your children have in this journey is being their own, individual person, enjoying their childhood, and reaping the benefits of the work you do for yourself.

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Self-Improvement and being a parent

Self-Improvement and Being a Parent

Type “parenting & self-improvement” in a search engine of choice and you’ll come up with thousands of blogs, articles, and studies on ways to improve your parenting. But what about a separation of the two concepts? Self-Improvement AND being a parent? That’s something I want to examine in today’s post.

For some, it’s because of our kids that we decide to take the time to become a better person. I know that’s what I did. I want to examine the importance of taking the time to focus on ourselves with the end-goal of becoming better parents. Any self-improvement we do for ourselves will help improve our abilities to be a parent for our children.

As I discussed last Monday about happiness, if you want to improve your parenting, consider making the end-goal not about your parenting but about yourself.

Make the Journey About Yourself

Type in “ways to improve parenting” and many of the sites to pop up are ways to be a more active listener, be patient, and take time to get to know your kids. All of these are fantastic suggestions, but hard to sustain if the work behind a lack of listening, patience, or communication isn’t addressed internally.

In this year of wellness, if you are a parent, make the journey about yourself first and not about improving your parenting.

If one of your goals (discussed in last week’s newsletter) this year is to improve parenting, this isn’t me saying you need to reconsider your goals. Rather, I am suggesting that you consider the reasons and alter your perspective before going any further.

If you focus too much on something that will deepen your frustration, if you find that you aren’t meeting your benchmarks, you will get frustrated. Frustration leads to discouragement and possibly giving up before achieving your goals.

Therefore, make this journey first about yourself and about your children second. If you’ve done air travel or seen it in a movie/TV – remember what the flight attendants always say: take care of your oxygen mask first before helping anyone else, specifically your children.

If you aren’t able to help yourself, it’s going to be very hard to help your kids. 

So if a goal is to be a more attentive parent, ask yourself what might be at the root of that? Make the answer to that question your goal for the year. Quick to snap at a child? Focus on your anger or negatively associated feelings with yourself instead of saying “raise my voice less towards my children.”

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2018: A Reflection

Reflecting on 2018, it was another decent year for me. It had relatively few downs and quite a few ups. I learned even more about myself, some of the stuff I already figured and other things that surprised me.

In what is becoming a tradition for the blog, I’ve decided to reflect upon the bigger lessons and victories I learned throughout the year and some personal goals I have for 2019.

The Down Points

  • I did a lot of emotional heavy lifting this year. I realized I had several friendships that left a negative impact on me. I documented what I learned about this in my two posts about toxic friends (Part 1 & Part 2) and what I learned about my role in these relationships.
  • My limitations were made obvious at several points throughout the year. This ranged from temporal limitations, i.e. not having enough time in the day to accomplish everything I wanted; to fatigue still being a major roadblock on a day-to-day basis.
  • I did have a few mild flare-ups this year, but nothing major or of huge concern. I found a spot in my vision that was more of an annoyance than anything else, though it went away rather quickly as soon as I de-stressed. A few moments of numbness, and my L’Hermittes Sign making an appearance when I was particularly stressed and sleep-deprived. I did experience a new symptom: MS Hug and that wasn’t very loving at all.
  • I wasn’t as strict with maintaining a healthy diet throughout the entire year and have gone back to some very bad eating habits for the holidays. My mindset shifted half-way through the year of how I viewed myself (more on that below), but my eating habits haven’t followed.

The Positive Points

  • In reflecting on the negative impact of toxic friendships, it hurt to lose what I deemed to be decent friends, but I found that by no longer allowing the negativity I had less stress overall. It was particularly freeing to start recognizing that I could choose to be with those who treat me well, rather than settling to be around those who didn’t.
  • 2018 was a less stressful year for me overall. That isn’t to say there wasn’t stress in my life or stressful periods (many of my own making), but I found that I handled stress so much better this year than I have in the past which has led me to feel more content with myself.
  • I officially spent the entire year in a healthy weight range which was a first in a long time. In fact, I don’t remember when was the last time I spent such a long period of time in a healthy BMI. Besides feeling good emotionally, I feel fantastic physically with more energy to keep up with Jai.
  • Ash and I were talking a while back and he made a great point about who I am now physically speaking. I am a runner and an athlete, something I never thought I would even consider myself, especially growing up with asthma. I completed 2 half marathons this year, PR’d in several of my races and have a full year of running planned in 2019. That said, my eating habits haven’t necessarily matched the runner’s lifestyle, but I have a plan on handling that this coming year
  • On paper, I always viewed my MS as an opportunity to refocus my priorities and to a certain extent I did. But this year I really committed to turning my diagnosis into something positive thing. I finally made the “someday” changes I’ve wanted to make for a decade or so.

MS Mommy Blog

The blog still is such a positive influence in my life and I’ve learned a few things about myself because of it. Without the ability to truly reflect on my relationships and MS, I probably would still be stuck in an emotional rut. But because I decided that I needed to write about my MS story and how I was coping with some heavy emotional concerns, I did a deeper self-reflection that I think made a lasting impact on my overall attitude.

I found that while it was nice to share some of my parenting thoughts and experiences, the blog really needs to refocus itself on healthy living and living with a Chronic Illness. I wanted that to be the main focus of the blog when I started it, but I got off track in 2018. I have begun the process revamping the blog with that in mind, and all will be revealed in the new year.

What I’ve Learned in 2018

To truly let things go, not just say that I am letting it go.

When I let things go, it makes for less stress in the long-term. I also recognized there is a lot of negativity in the world and my contributing to it by being negative back or dwelling too much on the negative wasn’t helping anyone, nor providing a positive example for Jai.

I have learned that the best way to be stress-free is to plan ahead in many aspects of my life. Not regimented with no flexibility, but being more prepared, writing things down either in a list or as a plan, and therefore minimizing stress. When I have a list or plan of action for the day, I find I am more efficient which makes me happy because I dislike feeling unproductive.

It sounds cliche, but I finally understand – or rediscovered – what they mean when “you can do anything if you put your mind to it.” It takes a lot of work, but I am finally seeing the personal reward for the running, blogging, and self-reflection. I’m finding it’s feeding into itself and I want to keep doing more.

Making 2019 My Year

For 2019, this is where I want to be:

  • Accept that I am an athlete now and that I should really commit to an athlete’s lifestyle. This includes eating habits, training, and making decisions that will help me reach my personal running goals.
  • Additionally, I want to continue to be meeting and exceeding my personal records in running. I don’t think I will ever place in any races, but I will push myself to get times I never thought I would imagine for myself. Several years ago I couldn’t imagine sustaining a 10-minute mile. I ran that for Thanksgiving. How fast will I be this time next year?
  • Continuing to embrace a calm, positive, and stress-free living. Learning to not feel guilty when I decide that this mindset is more important to my overall health than giving into previous behaviors.
  • Having a more “ant” attitude in life. Remember Aesop’s fable about the Ant and the Grasshopper? I have become more ant-like as a means of managing my life, blog, and parenting, which is to say that I plan & prep ahead of time in order to make more time for Jai throughout the day. I will be more focused on getting ahead as a form of disease-management.
  • Becoming the person I saw myself being when I reflected on my life-goals at 15. I will be elaborating more on what this means over the upcoming weeks, but I want to be what 15-year-old me wanted me to be at 35.

2019 As a Teaching Opportunity

Last year I gave 2018 the motto keep letting it go, no distractions, and push forward.” I found that I stuck by this motto pretty closely and it helped keep me moving forward emotionally, mentally, and physically. I want to keep this motto in the back of my mind and add a new one:

“I am the only person who can make the changes that matter in my life. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, if I work hard enough, I will see a positive outcome in all the work I do.”

I am going to embrace all that 2019 has to offer, for good and for bad and see where the coming year takes me.


Want to join me in a successful 2019?

Before you go, please sign-up for the new MS Mommy Blog newsletter. It will be sent out once a week on Fridays in lieu of my normal Friday posts (no spam or excess emails, I promise!). In the newsletter, you’ll find the 2019 Wellness Challenge, tips, articles, and freebies exclusively for newsletter subscribers.

This challenge will be specifically geared towards people with a chronic illness (not just MS), though people who do not have a chronic illness are welcome and encouraged to join us this year.

This challenge is based on making gentle and gradual changes both superficially and on a deeper level. No judgments will be made and this challenge will be tailored to you and your needs. At MS Mommy Blog, we’re about being supportive and loving to ourselves and others.


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