You Are Worth More Than Your Busy Schedule

I made a resolution a few years back to not be “busy”. I decided I wasn’t going to use the word and I wasn’t going to seek out the security that came with it.

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When You’re Left Feeling Unworthy

When I first made this resolution, I was coming out of a period of my life that was utterly unbusy. There’s no need to go into details; suffice it say, I was a first-time mom in the midst of frequent moves, a tight budget and an unreliable car often out of service. I was at home. A lot. Like, almost all of the time.

Along with those homebound days came feelings I couldn’t seem to shake. I felt lonely and isolated. I loved my baby and knew taking care of him was important, but I struggled with feeling inadequate in a world that idolizes productivity and busyness. My worries or my desire to find friendship were difficult to express. Who had time to make for me, and why should someone like me ask for it?

There are specific circumstances that make up my personal story. But when we’re honest with one another, most of us face these same fears of inadequacy. We live in a society that equates busyness with value. Who we are is often synonymous with how much we do.

When we’re asked how we are doing, or what we do “for a living”, there’s that lingering pressure to prove our worth to others – to spout off a long list of responsibilities or achievements. We worry that if we don’t appear to be adequately performing in life we may be judged as unworthy.

Our children often have this same weight on their shoulders. They’re told to be “over-achievers” (whatever that means). Those who are recognized as “good” students must perform well at school, seek out extra-curricular activities, and promote how much they volunteer (which, let’s face it, sends conflicting messages on why we should be helping others).

In the pressure to achieve, it’s no wonder that in almost every basic interaction we have the following exchange:

“How have you been?”

“Oh, busy.”

It’s a reply that is almost as safe to say as that other go-to response, “fine”. Fine and busy make up our safety net. They are socially acceptable. They also do not reveal how we’re actually doing. It is an odd kind of game, where we all must be busy to be fine and fine if we’re feeling busy.

Saying No To the Busy Game

After a few years, circumstances made it possible for me to have a fuller schedule. I relished the activity and the ability to form community. But I found my heart still ached over those dark insecurities. And there was a growing awareness that others around me were going unnoticed in their struggle to feel worthwhile.

I also started wondering how to best help my children form healthy self-images. Was there something I could do to relay to them that they should be seeking an authentic life, not necessarily a busy one? Could they value what they did as an extension of who they were, but not let it define them?

I made a resolution to just say no to being “busy”. And it’s one I renew each year. Life certainly gets chaotic, messy and overwhelming, but the “b” word is not a part of my family’s culture. Here are some things we’ve learned along the way:

You Realize That Being Busy Doesn’t Add Value to Your Life

When you opt-out of the busy game, quantity doesn’t determine quality of life. You’re not trying to be the busiest or most important person in the room. Your kids do not have to be the busiest kids in the room. Your family’s activities are extensions of the people who make it up, but you value those around you for being who they are more than what they do. And you become proud of the time you’ve carved out to not be busy. It’s liberating and gratifying to reinforce a mentality that values people both big and small as human beings, not human doers.

You Become a Better Listener

I learned first-hand that when you don’t have a lot to say about your life, you use your time to better listen to others. That’s not something that has to stop with having a full schedule. When you take the pressure to appear busy or impressive off the table, you can be more present to others. The word “busy” can at times come across as too busy to be present. But there’s a way to merge the relaying of your life with others in compassionate listening.

We Are All Worthy

Let’s face it, most of our lives are made up with the things that just need to get done. We do our best to pay the bills and put food on the table. We all have hopes and dreams and are doing what we can to make our lives happy and meaningful.

We’re also all different. We have different things that make us stressed or proud, excited or overwhelmed. Our differences make comparisons or the need to out-busy or out-perform one another futile. I want my children to pursue their interests and work hard in life. But it would break my heart to hear they are doing things to escape feelings of insecurity.  I want them to know that no matter what they do, they always have value. It doesn’t matter how much they achieve – they will always be worthwhile people.

In all sincerity, I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty for being “busy”. It’s often our reality. But for anyone struggling with “keeping up” with it all, and especially for those who are feeling less than adequate, this is a reminder that you are worth more than a busy schedule.

Why My Kids Won’t Hear Me Knock The Baby Boomers

When it comes to the Baby Boomer vs. Millennial drama, it seems every week brings with it another act of intergenerational indignation.

It happens on Twitter and it happens in the conference room. Here is the familiar script: one generation is blamed for economic destruction and thwarted hopes, while the other is accused of unmitigated entitlement and laziness. Any commentaries that encourage generational cooperation often do so through the use of condescending “coping” techniques, as though one group or the other is just too much to bear.

We can go back and forth pointing fingers at which generation is responsible for this spectacle. We can even use what we hear from others to excuse our own participation. But is there anything that we’re actually gaining from a conflict that choses to ignore context or understanding?

As young parents, this scenario holds another layer of meaning. Sandwiched inbetween our parents’ and our children’s generations, we are modeling ways to treat people of different ages.  In our discussions, in the things we now write that will one day be read by our children, are we assuming roles we want them to mirror? Will our attitudes about this conflict help our kids make their productive and hopeful way in the world?

An obvious way of quelling the Boomer vs. Millennial conflict is recognizing that there is nothing particularly new about intergenerational disputes. Our newfound platforms on social media may lead us to believe that this is a uniquely hostile situation, but when all is said and done, social media’s tendency to highlight extremes makes the antagonism seem more prevalent than it actually is.

What we know deep down is that every generation has played out this same tired drama.

A generation is simply human DNA dressed up and thrust onto the stage of a particular era. Every generation has been brought into a world set in frantic motion by the previous one. While contending with the challenges they inherit, people raise a new cohort group who eventually grow up to discover that grave mistakes have been committed, and things ought to be done differently.

But is there a way for generations to reflect and confront mistakes without making sweeping generalizations? In wanting change, can we also see another generation with understanding for what they’ve experienced?

I’d argue that there is no better way to dispel the myths about millennial entitlement and laziness than to work hard toward fixing the unique challenges of our age without seeking special status for our predicaments. And even when we’re presented with unfair characterizations, the ability to rise above them shows maturity that is a force to be reckoned with.

Millennials are contending with great conflicts and challenges. Many of the institutions in which we were taught to place hope have turned out to be disappointments. Other institutions which should have been better preserved and nurtured in recent decades have deteriorated and negatively impacted our lives. We can and should articulate our current situation and work toward reform.

But Baby Boomers can claim a similar narrative. Although their generation came of age in different circumstances, those circumstances were not any easier. They grew up under the perceived constant threat of a nuclear holocaust. They endured the bitter conflict in Vietnam. They had to advocate for basic civil rights for huge portions of the population, all the while contending with economic recessions. These circumstances shaped both their positive and negative legacies and can leave us feeling a sense of compassion, which would make an important lesson for our children.

As millennial parents, perhaps the most meaningful result of this historical narrative is the awareness that our generation will also leave both positive and negative legacies. We don’t know exactly which legacies will be for better or worse, but it’s a humbling thing to keep in mind. Our political, economic and social trends, even our screen time, may one day be as strongly criticized by our children as we have at times criticized our parents.

With that being acknowledged, I don’t want to teach my children to model bitter frustration at older generations. I’d rather my children try to understand them. Through intentional actions, we can teach them to analyze, criticize and commend.  We can show them how to seek intelligible change and reform, even in the face of resistance. All this can be achieved without being embroiled in back-and-forth drama with another cohort group. I’m not going to make sweeping negative generalizations about my parent’s generation and I hope my kids avoid one day make sweeping generalizations about mine.

Ultimately, what I want for my children is the ability to confront inherited societal flaws as well as things within themselves that need changing.

When the finger pointing stops, our time here becomes a story of parents and children sharing a world they both inherited. Our thoughts, ideals and pursuits are so intermingled with the other that even the very barriers that separate one generation from another are blurred and eroded.  We are here because our parents brought us into this world, and our children are here because we chose to join this fabric of old and new human experience. It can be both beautiful and tragic to behold.

This essay was also featured by

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Let’s Talk to Our Children About Our Smartphone Habits

There is going to come a time when my children want to speak to me about my smartphone use. It’s a time I both anticipate and dread.

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As parents, we are in the midst of an ongoing discussion on the use of screen time and its effects on childhood development. At what age to begin, how frequently to expose, and the possibility of “addiction” is now a well-woven thread in our parental consciousness.

But with the average adult spending approximately four hours a day on their cellular device, our own use of technology, and our concessions to our overuse, are also slowly coming to light. We acknowledge collectively that a massive shift in the way we relate to the world around us has occurred, but our ability to adapt is impaired because there is simply no precedent for this. We are learning the rules as we go. Adults relating to one another while continually checking devices are having to dialogue and work together to find the right balance to maintain healthy relationships. And it’s a tough balance to find.

Our children’s generation is coming into a world already immersed in handheld technology. They have not yet had real opportunity to voice their perspectives. To be a child raised by adults who frequently interrupt human interactions to look at their phones is something to which we as parents cannot relate.  As our children mature and reflect upon the ramifications of the age in which they grew up, it is certain that we will receive both appreciation as well as criticism for the childhood they experienced.

It took me years of parenting before I realized that helping my children develop a healthy relationship with technology is a significant role I will play as their mother. Like eating habits, it is something that for all intents and purposes will be an integral part of their lives. And however much I attempt to follow the recommendations for their exposure (or lack thereof), I need to acknowledge that my own example will be a pivotal, and perhaps paramount, factor in shaping these relationships.

So how can we use our experiences to intelligently educate our children on healthy habits? Where should we begin as parents in discussing technology use with our children?

I believe these conversations must begin with compassion. Though not a word commonly associated with technology, teaching our children to see this issue through a compassionate lens can be a conduit for their own self-awareness and positive change. From there, other important aspects can be discussed:

We Do Not Know How This Will Play Out

Like every other generation which has lived through a technological revolution, we have the task of wrapping our minds around a reality that has shifted dramatically from the past. And just like every generation before us, we will make great advances and terrible mistakes with these new abilities. Acknowledging this duality to our children teaches them to place themselves in the context of an ongoing story without a clear ending. We do not have the whole picture, and we are learning as we go. We are trying our best, sometimes failing, but in feeling compassion for this thread of our human history, maturing children may be able to more effectively navigate their own emotions in a perpetually changing world.

Our Use of Technology Is Rooted In Our Humanity

Whether it be a desire to connect, learn, make an impact, curb anxiety, or share emotion, we use (and over-use) technology because of our humanness. We are a social species in a world that often demands frequent changes and diminished community connections. In using technology, we are seeking to find the same human necessities our ancestors sought in a world free of technological devices. That we are often left feeling unsatisfied with time spent on our phones is a harsh reality with which we are still coming to terms. Seeking compassion will inspire our children to explore the potential of technology without sinking into the negative emotions that frequently plague their parents.

People Are Always More Important

About a year ago, while I was doing something on my phone, my oldest son (four at the time) asked and then persisted in asking me for a snack. Finally exasperated by my delay, he stated, “Mommy, taking care of me is more important than looking at your phone.”

Regardless of the importance of what I was doing, or the respect children must have for the other tasks their parents must complete, what struck me about my son’s statement is his inherent knowledge of his value over technology. He has grown up surrounded by it, but it has not curbed his awareness that his mother being present to him matters.

I do not want me children to ever lose sight of this – that our interactions with one another are more important than the gadgets that we hold in our hands or on our laps. I was happy my son felt this so intensely, and I hope that he, and every other member of his generation, does not lose sight of this truth as they grow.

I hope that as my children maneuver through this technological era, compassion will enable them to explore the potentials which technology holds without losing sight of the humanity which makes it all worthwhile.

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Finding Strength in Civility

How daunting it is to raise children in a society so fraught with conflict. When our differences are more pronounced than our similarities and the future seems all too uncertain, it’s difficult to know how to guide our children toward their roles as responsible citizens amidst a bitterly divided nation.

In the face of great cultural and political divide, standards of civility have taken on an antiquated, if not controversial, status.

Those who wield political power and social influence are rewarded for abandoning all pretense of civility in favor of condescension and derogatory name-calling. This behavior is often reflected in our own day-to-day desire to prove our point and condemn our opponent. And all the while we are left wondering, in a collectively exhausted state, if rhetoric and dialogue which retain respect for our perceived opponents has any skin left in the game.

It’s easy to see how civil behavior is losing a popularity contest. When communities feel trampled upon or threatened, when people are made to feel belittled or forgotten, our natural reaction is to fight it out and defeat our opponent. If there is something for which we feel strongly, it may feel weak and superficial to be civil in our interactions with people who we believe are gravely wrong. It may even seem subservient to “their agenda”. Thus we assume the role of warrior in order to “combat” their presence in our society.

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The thing is, when I look at my young children, I realize my job is not to raise combatants who rally against their neighbors. Rather, my responsibility is to raise civilians who tirelessly and peacefully strive to build a safe and just society for all.

However much I want my children to pursue justice, I cannot teach them that this pursuit entitles them to treat others uncivilly. In fact, despite the growing controversy surrounding this behavior, my children are taught that they must try to be civil. Always.

When engaging in any kind of social matter, I want my children to appeal to the best which is within themselves, as well as those with whom they disagree.

This commitment is not showing weakness, frailty or privilege, but rather an inner strength which holds that all people are created equal and thus deserving of a recognized inherent dignity. If I want my children to promote justice, I need to provide them with as much of this strength as humanly possible for the arduous task. The belief in the inherent dignity of all can provide a will to carry on when everything seems to be going against them.

Radical love, or radical justice, calls us to embrace a consistent code of civility. Consistency in its application to all humans, regardless of whether we believe they merit it or not, is to embrace true equality and a fervent belief in humanity’s ability to apply reason and intentionality to our words and actions. If what my children believe is good and true, then they need to employ all that is good and true to bring about this vision. Regardless of what they are facing, the strength of their positive message must be the victor, not their pride.

These days, my young children want retribution for every unfair thing that happens to them. An eye for an eye. But in teaching them that civility means laying aside the desire for self-gratifying retaliation, I hope to alleviate for them the exhausting and toxic cycle we now find ourselves in today. If we continue as we are, no one will have the last word or obtain reconciliation. 

And though humanly impossible not to struggle with the urge to be uncivil, I hope that the majority of my children’s energy could be directed toward greater things.

They could rely on wit instead of vulgarity in advancing their beliefs.

They could use their knowledge instead of their biases to discuss the issues.

They could have the courage to listen instead of always having to prove a point.

And perhaps most radical of all, they could recognize that kindness does not negate truth, but often facilitates the conversion experience toward real and meaningful change.

So, I teach my children that strength lies in civility. And I know I’m not alone in teaching this.

This essay was also featured on The Institute for Civility in Government blog