10 Books for Young Women

Young women today are distracted and over-scheduled. They are confused and made anxious by our modern turmoil. Rarely do they find time to ponder the deep things of life. Yet, a powerful book, read in youth, can shape a life and calm a stormy heart.

This summer let’s encourage our daughters to read and to read deeply – not shallow and meaningless literature, but a book that will make them see the world anew. For years I have given Mere Christianity to graduating seniors. I have had a few of my young friends write me years later telling me about the book’s impact on their perspectives.

Below is a list compiled by Lucinda Grow, 18, of her most loved books. Lucinda is my niece but is also one of the best-read, deepest-thinking, and well-rounded women I have the pleasure of knowing.

Joseph Farquharson (Scottish,1846-1935), “Summertime”

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery is a cute romance story about emerging into emotional womanhood. This is my favorite romance book because the main character changes drastically. She is walked over and ignored by everybody until she becomes a woman who takes up a role in the world. 

Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle is a fantasy novel following a young girl named Meg. The story is about the battle between good and evil and the ultimate triumph of God’s love.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald is a beautiful child’s fairytale on the surface but has allegorical elements that point to the unseen truths of the Kingdom of God. The story left me feeling more thoughtful about how faith influences daily life. 

The Light Princess by George MacDonald is a fairytale romance about a cursed girl who lost her gravity. The actions of the heartless girl display the necessity for sorrow in order to deeply experience both love and joy. 

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is the biography of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini as he lived through becoming a pilot during WWII and a prisoner of the Japanese Navy. The themes of dignity, resilience, redemption, and forgiveness are powerful and profound. Humor and amazing historical facts also make it compelling.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is written from the perspective of an older devil guiding his nephew as he leads a mortal man to Hell. The ways in which sin is disguised by the demons and made excusable to the mortal man have helped me become more conscious of the importance of daily commitment to God.

Mere Christianity by C.S Lewis lays out the logical necessity for the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ. This book helped me fully realize that logic and reason are in harmony with faith in God. 

What Men Live By is a short story by Leo Tolstoy about a shoemaker named Simon who helps a freezing man on the street. This act of selfless compassion is shown to be true Christian love through which God is able to bless His children. 

John Scott’s Treasured Volume is an anthology of poems that were once popular with the American public. Reading a couple of poems when I was too busy to commit to a book gave me a daily dose of philosophy and beauty. 

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss is the account of a girl’s daily life as she matures and develops a relationship with God. This book taught me to be more patient with my own imperfect efforts toward being more Christlike. 

A Disappointed Supporter

There are few men I respect more than Dr. Jordan Peterson.  Anyone familiar with my writing knows that I have written many pieces relating his work to motherhood and femininity.  I have listened to and followed him regularly for years.  While I don’t agree with all his views and am aware of his flaws, I still find myself often amazed by the brilliance and depth of his wisdom, compassion, and intellect.  Through my website, I have tried to introduce more women to his insights.  I hope I have been successful and I hope I continue to be.  

However, I am disappointed in Dr. Peterson.  Two days ago he tweeted out an image of a model on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition – she was much heavier than most models featured there so this cover is controversial.  His tweet was simple “Sorry, not beautiful.  And no amount of Authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.”

Changing Standards

When I saw this tweet I wasn’t confused by his meaning – I knew immediately that he was getting a deeper philosophical point.  In conversations with Stephen BlackwoodRoger Scruton, and Bishop Barron he has delved into the philosophical idea of “beauty”. He has discussed the parts played by postmodernists and Marxists as they attempt to tear down all traditional and objective measurements – creating a world of pure relativism.  I agree with many of the points made by all these men and have written on these topics.  I believe that beauty is real, I believe there is objective truth, and I have seen how brutalist architecture and postmodern art have turned what was once a beautiful and glorious, artistic creation, into a narcissistic charade.

I also know that this woman, in posing for a magazine cover should perhaps expect such treatment. I would never want my daughter or anyone I love to pose for a magazine like this and I wish she hadn’t.  I know that likely she was chosen as part of a larger ideological push to redefine or leave undefined any human ideals.  

And yet. There in that image was my fellow woman, my sister. I might not agree with her choice to be on the cover, but she is precious nonetheless. His words burned. Even knowing his thoughts were deeper than his statement..still, as a woman, I expected better. 

Truth and Goodness

Some may say – well that’s just your feelings.  Look at the facts, look at how destructive all this culture-shifting has been!  To that, I say, As we seek truth should we cast aside our love and consideration for one another?  We certainly shouldn’t affirm what we don’t believe or accept, but he could have said nothing or phrased his critique in a less personal way. Should we be “stupidly” honest and lose hold of those few open-minded souls left, those who in seeking truth expect it to be accompanied by goodness?  What of Christian charity?  Truth untethered to goodness, with no concern for the individual, will not change hearts and minds.

Should we speak the truth in a pitiless way so it is rejected before being considered? JBP has taught me to always consider the alternative view, and to be humble enough to assume I am wrong. Often we hear the famous Ben Shaprio tagline “Facts don’t care about your feelings” and it rings true. Too often the concern over feelings have meant a trampling of truth. But for a man of great sensitivity like Jordan Peterson, he knows that feelings still matter. Positive reinforcement of good behavior is always more successful than harsh criticism.

The Beauty of A Soul

His statement – “Sorry, not beautiful”, while likely not actively chosen to insult this real woman, was it actually true? Is she, because she is overweight, really not beautiful? 

Peterson is a deep person – he sees things from many angles and states that he “is very careful with his words”. He knows that the “beauty of a person” cannot be lumped into the same category as the beauty of architecture, art, or music.   A person was not designed under postmodern philosophy or Marxist ideology – people have souls, and they are complex, and beautiful in many ways.  Imperfections of the face or body can be miraculously forgotten as the beauty of living souls come forth. But I also believe there is a more subjective preference for physical attractiveness than Jordan Peterson is admitting. The woman pictured surely had a beautiful face – is that to be discounted because she had larger thighs? Do we paint her with an ugly brush because she doesn’t meet every criterion of beauty?  

If we look at this woman and say – she is overweight, she can never be beautiful- we are exposing a materialist view of the world. This view sees us all as worthwhile only by our position in a hierarchy, and our ability to succeed by some evolutionary measurement. Those with excess weight are at the bottom of the beauty hierarchy. This is certainly one way to view the world, an increasingly common one.  The materialist view obscures every woman and man’s true worth and true beauty, it is sterile and unfeeling.  The materialist sees each person as a mechanism among mechanisms – more or less productive than others. 

Yet much of Jordan Peterson’s appeal is his ability to speak so beautifully and clearly about an alternative view, a more holistic, spiritual, and perhaps feminine view of the world. The view that sees the Divine worth of every soul, that says we all have value – despite our weaknesses and imperfections. As women, we should not be, and rarely are, ignorant of social standards and hierarchies.  We should seek out improvement in our physical lives. There are emotional and social benefits to seeking to improve ourselves, Jordan Peterson often advises us on how we can improve through small and consistent efforts.  Yet I believe, and Christianity teaches us, we should gain our worth from a higher plane that performace or outward beauty.  Transcendent truth acknowledges the beauty of our soul.

The Cross Women Bear

Women give birth to new life – we raise precious spirits and, if we are mothering properly, we don’t let their standing on a hierarchy alter our love and concern for them.  If our little girl has ears that stick out, or our son has a big nose – they are still beautiful.  This feminine perspective is what encourages us, imperfect beings, to progress. It should be integrated with the more masculine concern for competence and action.  An integrated world is not found on Twitter – so we should not be surprised by brutal criticism of a woman’s body unleashed there. There every post seems to be quickly defined as leftist or alt-right, ultra-feminist or misogynist. So we shouldn’t be surprised by a statement like – “Sorry, not beautiful”. I just didn’t want it to come from Dr. Peterson. 

Perhaps what I felt most disheartening about his tweet is it portrays Dr. Peterson as a cruel man, and he is not.  While Dr. Peterson has never claimed perfection and few but his most ardent supporters would make such a claim – we could always count on him to care.  He is brought to tears when speaking of the struggle of others.  He takes time with anyone that stops him on the street. His years of providing therapy, working with students, and struggling with his own depression have made him empathetic and kind-hearted.  But here was an image of a woman, a real person – and he opted for, “Sorry not beautiful.”

Women are not naive to the standards of beauty. We all know that thinner is generally more attractive. There is certainly a push to change these standards, because “ideals” are judgemental – and none of us want to be judged. Some of our pushing away from ideal standards of beauty may actually be beneficial to women – considering only a handful of women actually look like pinup models.  However, perhaps this cover is too far – it seeks to ignore the natural preference and attraction to those we view as “healthy”. The editors were likely leaning into the realm of domineering social engineering. The hypocrisy of Sports Illustrated is quite alarming. Their swimsuit edition has been objectifying women and setting up a false and unattainable standard of beauty for years, one plus-sized model will not correct that.  We should look to other sources as we seek out beauty.  

Women want to be beautiful. But rare is the woman that is not plagued with self-doubt about her “beauty”.  We never seem to feel good enough, pretty enough. This is a cross we must bear.  But crosses can be made lighter by the brotherly love of others, they are made heavier by their condemnation.  This is a cross Dr. Peterson could certainly make lighter through his empathy and wisdom.  Yesterday he made it heavier.  

Finally, I am saddened because now fewer women will trust Jordan Peterson. Calling a woman ugly to an audience of millions will have an effect.  Unfortunately, in one hasty statement he confirmed the lies his critics say of him – he is a misogynist, he has no compassion, and he is ideological.  But none of that is really true. He is so much better than that tweet. He is not some internet troll.  I wish we didn’t live in a world where people can take one tweet and turn it into a sign of your true character. It was a moment of haste and I believe he likely sees the error in it.

So why write this essay about a silly tweet? Because even in errors I think we can learn a lesson from Dr. Peterson. We can learn that even the wisest and compassionate among us may at times get caught up in their own intellectual web.  Even the best of us may forget the humanity of those we label our ideological adversaries.  Jordan Peterson is a good man and he is doing good work. He has flaws, he is impetuous, and perhaps not fully in tune with the feminine perspective – but he has much to teach.  I just hope that perhaps – as he has taught me so well – he will remember to “be precise in his speech” and perhaps look in the fog from which this tweet came – and bring that shadow into the light.

Ally

On Pessimism…

An Optimist and a Pessimist,
Vladimir Makovsky

As the world becomes more materially prosperous and safe we, strangely, see a rise in pessimism. We doubt the good-will of our neighbors, we look back at our history with disdain, we fear bringing children into our chaotic world. Cynicism and doubt are often justified, but do they tell the real story? What follows are the thoughts of some wise thinkers that may help us as we contemplate the proper orientation towards life: optimism or pessimism?

….

“Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless.”
G. K. Chesterton

“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”
James Branch Cabell


“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”
Antonio Gramsci

“A pessimist is a man who thinks everybody is as nasty as himself, and hates them for it.”
George Bernard Shaw

“If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence, or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?”
Arthur Schopenhauer


“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.”
George Bernard Shaw

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Oscar Wilde

“They cannot indulge in any detailed or merely logical defense of life; that would delay the enjoyment of it. These higher optimists, of whom Dickens was one, do not approve of the universe; they do not even admire the universe; they fall in love with it. They embrace life too close to criticize or even to see it. Existence to such men has the wild beauty of a woman, and those love her with most intensity who love her with least cause.”
G.K. Chesterton

“My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it’s more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is the reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. People first paid honor to a spot and afterward gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they loved her.” G.K. Chesterton

“Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when Joy is the fundamental thing in him, and Grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive state of mind; Praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; Joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.” G.K Chesterton

“The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

An Answer to Fragility

As we see our society become increasingly divisive, intolerant, and materialistic we see a rise in mental and moral weakness. This weakness comes in many forms. The mentally weak find it hard to cope with the intrinsic difficulties of life. But a moral failing is growing alongside this fragility of the mind, an inability to empathize. Many, rather than feeling concern or empathy, turn in judgment upon the “snowflakes”. Rather than seek solutions, they condemn them and criticize their sufferings. When things fall apart we need people to step up, show concerned-strength, and help fix it. This clip gives a short overview of one man demonstrating this concerned-strength, Jonathan Haidt. He has researched and written extensively (The Coddling of the American Mind, The Righteous Mind) on the trend of increased fragility in young people. I want to recommend this YouTube Channel, Dad Saves America, which has great resources for those, particularly men, who want to do more than judge our world, but help it.

Philosophy of Motherhood: Preparing for Suppression

Unfortunately, we live in a time where all “creators” fear the day they will be prohibited from sharing their work. It seems the Philosophy of Motherhood has been targeted. Two days ago one of my pieces was taken down from Facebook for several hours for promoting “human exploitation for personal gain”, without any indication of how it did so. (I will let you be the judge of the piece.)  My only guess is that the phrase “Life isn’t Fair” was deemed inappropriate.  And considering the fact that my site makes no money, ‘I’m not sure what “personal gain” I could be reaping). I was locked out for two days and now I have several strikes against me, with reduced distribution.  Facebook has warned me that at any time they may delete my page.  I now have 5,000 followers on Facebook and it has become my main avenue of spreading the work of Philosophy of Motherhood.

I hope my readers will agree that I try to be balanced.  I do not believe in being vindictive or personal in any arguments. Most of my writing is an attempt to dig deeper into philosophy and ancient wisdom for the benefit of mothers and all my readers. I am generally skeptical of many conspiracy theories and the general paranoia prevalent today, and perhaps all this was a misunderstanding.  However, the experience has been an eye-opener for me. 

“Ideologies are substitutes for true knowledge, and ideologues are always dangerous when they come to power, because a simple-minded I-know-it-all approach is no match for the complexity of existence.” Jordan Peterson

It seems that anyone who shares the belief in the reality of objective truth, the benefit of traditional or religious morality, or who questions modern postmodernism or materialist philosophy is now at risk of being kicked off social media platforms. I do not see the attack on free speech as a left-right issue.  It is human nature to want to suppress what we see as dangerous.  Honest attempts at discovering the truth can be seen as dangerous when they threaten others’ worldviews. But we must be allowed to look outside our own limited perspectives and preconceived notions.  Progression can only occur when we can freely exchange ideas and question one another. ++

Woman at the Window, Caspar David Friedrich

Yet, this is the world we live in and we must prepare and be ready.  If you find our site beneficial please do the following:

  1. Follow us on WordPress for email updates (click the lower right corner of the website page to follow)
  2. Give a review of Philosophy of Motherhood on Facebook and share any pieces with your friends that you have enjoyed (the more popular a site the less likely it is to be shut down without pushback)
  3. In the event my page is deleted – my website notifications will become the primary method of communication, please ensure emails do not go to spam.

I will stop publishing my long-form articles in their entirety on Facebook. I have done so for ease of viewing but will now simply add excerpts. The main piece will be found on the website, with added resources. I hope readers will take the time to click the link. 

I pray that the Philosophy of Motherhood will continue for years to come.  If it is God’s will, we will find a way.  This site has always been dedicated to researching topics that may help young women, mothers, and all parents look deeply at the meaning, value, and purpose of life and parenting.  We will continue in that endeavor. Thank you so much for your support. Any suggestions you may have on how to secure the future of our site are welcome. 

Ally

The Value of a Woman’s Inattention

“The function of ignoring, of inattention, is as vital a factor in mental progress as the function of attention itself.”

William James

As mothers and wives, we are called to notice, discern and introspect. However, with every act of noticing, we must leave something unnoticed. And that’s okay; in fact, it may be beneficial. As William James points out, inattention can be a powerful tool in improving our mental health.

Perhaps we are guilty of noticing too much – of noticing what is best unnoticed. Are we overwhelmed by our own judgmentalness and sensitivity? So many offenses weigh us down – could we have let them fly by? Are we too quick to affix labels on others? Could we instead let them develop without the burden of our judgment? As we become aware of the benefit of inattention, of letting go of the ultimately unimportant, we may see an increase in our mental wellness and a strengthening of our relationships. 

Self-Created Reality

What we focus on becomes our reality. Technically that is true. Look at the view out your window. Now, look at any smudges you may have on the window. When you looked at the view, you didn’t really see the smudges. When you looked at the smudges, you couldn’t really see the view. You were in control of what you looked at. If today you went around and looked at smudges all day, you could get some cleaning done. But as you focus on the smudges – you won’t see the view. Reality is based on perception. So when things don’t seem to be going so well – one strategy is to shift our focus away from what we have been focusing on and attend to something else.

A Woman Seated At A Table By A Window, Carl Holsoe

“Reality is created by the mind, we can change our reality by changing our mind.”

Plato

We hear a lot about the danger of “repression” – the bottling up of feelings or impulses. Repressed trauma, for example, may manifest in subconscious and distressing ways. But we mustn’t confuse repression with self-control. I have heard many claim that stifling a sexual impulse is repression. Not confronting that woman at the bank that cut you in line, that’s repression. It is not repression to make a conscious decision to let some emotions, grudges, thoughts, and desires pass away – that’s self-restraint. Not every thought requires rumination and not every impulse should be acted upon.

Moments Chosen for Joy

“Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along: and there is room for very little in each.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Let’s not hold onto things that are of no use to us – there is little room in our finite moments. Often we attend to trifles, misunderstandings, and offenses when we could be putting our attention on more important matters. It is certainly true that some details do matter and that continually sweeping things under the rug can lead to resentment. However, the alternative view seems to be neglected in our modern times – sometimes it’s okay to just let go of an offense, a grievance, and a judgment.  This is particularly true in raising children – if we held onto every misdeed perpetrated by our children, there would be few moments left for joy.

Psychologist Philip Osborne writes of the benefits of having “No problem areas” with our children. “No problem areas ” are times when we can enjoy our child where there is no threat of “seeing the smudges”, and no problems are discussed.* Instituting these “no problem areas” with my children has helped me build relationships that are light-hearted and understanding. I get to take life less seriously, and they get to have a mom who will sometimes take a break from the difficult but necessary corrective duties of motherhood. We don’t want our children to think motherhood is all difficulty and no enjoyment, all judgment and no acceptance, all unselfishness and no love. 

Shoes, Vincent Van Gogh

 My eldest son is a wonderful kid who is generally low-maintenance but he likes nice shoes. I have been somewhat bothered by this emphasis on fashion. In my upbringing, we didn’t get brand-name shoes and so I tend to see such extravagances as excessive. He kept asking for Crocs, which you may have noticed is a new fad among the 12-16 year old demographic. I pushed him off for months. He only had enough to pay for half but was eager to get them. Every bone in my very-frugal body told me, “This is a rip-off and I don’t want him to follow fads!” Yet, I felt my spirit tell me something different, “He doesn’t ask for much, help him get the Crocs.” So one day I surprised him and we went out and got some- and I bit my tongue when I saw the price tag. He was so excited! Now every day at school when I pick him up, he tells me in excitement what gibbets (Croc accessories) he has traded, how valuable the basketball gibbet is, and his plans for future trades. It has become a point of bonding for us as I show genuine interest in this childhood adventure. As parents, we want to teach our children important lessons – lessons like not following fads, but we also need to sometimes ask, “Is this important enough to my child that perhaps I should seek joy rather than judgment?”  

It feels nice to just enjoy the view and build some bonds with our child or spouse. To take a break from strife. When we return from our vacation from judgment, we may see that some of those smudges add character to the window. At the risk of taking this metaphor too far – too clean a window is a hazard for passing birds.

A Focus on Trash

Growing up, my father had one clear-cut household duty – taking out the garbage. I got married and in my mind, garbage was a man’s job. Within weeks of our marriage, we had what I feel is an important conversation for every new couple to have – the division of duties. My husband agreed to trash duty. But for years, he would chronically forget. When cleaning up the kitchen, I would often find an overflowing trash can. I started to see this as a sign of his lack of respect and consideration, and resentment started to grow.  He will only do things when I ask. He isn’t keeping his promises.  I saw a Facebook post where a woman decried her husband’s “toxic” inconsiderate behavior, her sentiment further cemented my own view. As women, we can let our thoughts get away from us. We argued about it. “You can be so inconsiderate!” I said. His response helped me adjust my perception. “You are right, I can be better – but when I give you a break and take the kids to the store, or shovel the walkway – why doesn’t that show you that I am considerate?” 

 I was putting my attention on one thing – the trash. I was letting that frame my perception. I was going down a dark road. His inconsistency with the trash was one reality, a true one. But it wasn’t the only truth. Sure, he was forgetful and didn’t always have my desire for empty trash cans forefront of his mind. But there was another much more important and profound truth – he is a good and loving man, and I am blessed he is my husband. With time, we have learned to communicate and negotiate over each other’s annoying trifles – while also putting them in their proper perspective.

“At every trifle take offense, that always shows great pride or little sense.”

Alexander Pope

The modern bandwagon says, “Cut toxic people out of your life!” Many now label others by their flaws rather than their positives or potential. Our definition of “toxic” is usually based solely on the perspective of the smudges. It is tragic to see people label family members who truly love them as “toxic” because of imperfections or disagreements. If I had let my mind run away with me, I could have created a world where I saw my husband as “toxic”. But when we realize, as William James did, that inattention is just as important as attention, we can create a different reality. We can clean the smudges that need cleaning, while not forgetting to also take a break and focus our eyes on the glorious view.  

‘“Choice of attention–to pay attention to this and ignore that–is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.” 

W.H. Auden

Resources:

*Book: Parenting For The ‘90s, Phillip Osborne https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0934672733/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

Below: Excellent Q&A with Jordan Peterson. Minute 9 begins some wonderful relationship advice.

What We May Miss in our Struggle With Our Children

From Guest-Author, Jana Squires Flake, Child Development Psychotherapist

Monte Crews, Problem Child

As parents, we may struggle with our children.  This struggle is real and often intense. It may become so intense that we begin to seriously question, “Is there something “wrong” with my child? “Is there something “wrong” with me, and my capacity to parent this child?” We don’t want to struggle, – we want peace and confidence.  As a counselor focusing on brain development, I have worked with hundreds of struggling children and struggling parents. This work has led me to conclude that there are simple things we often “miss” as we seek solutions for our children. In this essay, I hope to highlight the questions we must ask –  and answer before we can realistically address our child’s emotional or behavioral challenges. These foundational questions are both physical and environmental: “What is physically going on with this child?” “What is happening in their environment that could be underlying this problem?”  

Maybe some examples will help me make my point. 

* Little 5-year-old Emily is having a very difficult time controlling her emotions.  She becomes unreasonable and difficult to handle.  Talking to her just makes her more angry and she is demanding and moody.  There are times, however, when Emily is pleasant and agreeable.  Her parents wonder if she is bipolar because of what they have read and her mood fluctuations.  They are concerned that she will have a difficult time when she starts school. 

*Eric is ten years old and is easily overwhelmed.  He is having trouble focusing in school and when asked to do tasks like clean his room, he just sits in the middle of the floor unable to begin the task.  When he is trying to do his homework, it is very difficult for him to stay on task.  His parents wonder if he needs medication to stay focused.  

As parents struggle in their duties, they can fall into maladaptive behavior as well, so let’s use an example of a parent that needs to look at physical/environmental causes:

*Sarah, a mother of three, is serious about her mothering and has studied the influence a mother can have on the emotional intelligence of her children.  She is concerned about her inability to remain calm when things are hectic around the house.   She has a lot of guilt because she sees herself “losing it”  and her children show some of these same high frustration levels when they are stressed.   She observes her day and records when she is feeling calm and focused and when she is feeling anxious, irritable and manipulative. (It is very important that she records her specific behaviors and emotions during her times of high frustration.  She will never know if she is making progress if she isn’t  mindful of the specifics).   She realizes that her worst times are whenever she is in a time crunch and specifically between the hours of 4:00 and 6:00 pm.  By the time her husband gets home from work, she is a basket case.  She wonders if she may be depressed or have anxiety – should she go on medication?

All of these individuals need some intervention, but let’s start first with looking at their environment and how their body is functioning.

* Let’s look at Emily.  Her mother tracks her mood swings/irritability and finds that they occur specifically when she first wakes up in the morning and in the early afternoon. She also gets angry and “controls with negative emotions” (meaning she uses her emotions to try and get the outcomes she wants).  There is a history of insulin resistance in the family so we wonder if there is a blood sugar issue, it usually gets worse when she hasn’t eaten for a while.  To test out our hypothesis, Mom goes in first thing in the morning, and gives her a little smoothie.  Emily has been given lots of treats – sugar – as a reward for her “being good”.  Instead, mom fills the house with healthy treats; she makes sure Emily doesn’t go too long without eating; and encourages Emily to notice when she first begins to get irritable.  Mom teaches Emily to be self-aware – to notice when she is feeling frustrated.  Mother and daughter then come up with a list of interventions that Emily can use to help her gain control like getting something to eat, taking deep breaths, physical exercise  or listening to music.  Mom also notices that Emily doesn’t drink water – she always wants juice.  She refrains from buying juice and ensures that Emily has a drink of water when she feels stressed.  Through tracking, Mom realizes that Emily’s  mood swings and irritability are often worse after she has had a lot of screen time, his new awareness leads to environmental changes – less screen time and more physical movement.   Emily has ownership in her solutions and feels empowered.. (The issue of emotional manipulation can be addressed with other interventions, I suggest the book Smart but Scattered” by Drs. Peg Dawson and Richard Guare) 

*Eric has another issue going on.  He can’t stay focused in school and is overwhelmed by tasks that are beyond his ability to handle.  Eric is a creative little boy, what some would call “right-brained”.  He has lots of great qualities – he is intuitive, sensitive and can take things apart and put them back together.   However, when he is stressed, he checks out into his imaginative brain. I was a school counselor and saw this play-out many times.  For example, a teenage boy could take an engine apart and put it together in auto shop class, but sitting in a class with a teacher lecturing  and having to memorize facts was very difficult for him.  So why can he work so well with hands-on tasks  and struggle in math class?  It is likely due to his brain dominance.  We all have a right and left hemisphere that work together.  However, when one is under stress, we lean too far into our dominant hemisphere.  Iain McGilchrist has brought the differing functions of the brain back into public awareness.   Because of how Eric’s brain functions, being asked to clean a messy room is  a lot for his brain to handle.  He needs more structure.  His mother decides to do some work to help him succeed.  She organizes his room, ensuring there is a designated place for everything.  Then she puts a chart on the wall which shows the four things he needs to do whenever she says, “Go clean your room”.  She is acting as his left-brain (the detail-oriented side) until he can learn good habits and develop a more structured approach himself. ‘When you decide to help your child develop more effective skills, you should always begin by changing things outside the child before moving on to strategies that require the child to change.” (Smart but Scattered, p.73.) Remember Supernanny?   Her first intervention was always making a schedule.  In his difficult school subjects, Eric gets extra help to organize the ideas and use his creativity to make learning more active.  As Eric is helped by his mother to succeed, he gains confidence that he is capable and intelligent.  Dawson and Guare (Smart by Scattered) make a vital point in helping children be successful:  intervene just enough for the child to be successful and then slowly back off so overwhelm and discouragement are minimized.  Provide the structure the child lacks until he/she begins to develop it themselves.  Be patient with your child, realize that their brain may not work in the same way yours does, and there are many advantages to their more creative view of the world. Right-brain learners* often struggle in our modern school system and may lose confidence in themselves.  This is a tragedy because there is so much a parent can do to help a child like Eric succeed.  Give them the tools they need to succeed, and their apparent weakness can become their strength. (See Smart Moves, Why Learning is Not All in Your Head,” Carla Hannadord, PhD. 

*Sarah becomes mindful of her environment after she has identified the times of highest stress and resultant frustration as between 4 and 6pm. Her children come home from school and want to talk, she is trying to figure out dinner, homework needs to be done, the children fight…she unravels.  But what are her key triggers at that time?  The study of brain organization and sensory integration shows us that some people are more negatively-affected by noise than others. Excess noise can send them into stress mode as cortisol runs through their body.  Their prefrontal cortex for observation and rational thinking diminishes.  Sarah remembers as a student that if she had lots of noise around, she could not focus. For her, rest and relaxation always involve peace and quiet.  Now that she has identified that noise is highly stressful for her.  She begins to discover where the noise is coming from.  During the day she has the dishwasher running, as well as the washing machine and dryer.  She often listens to music with words as she works.  Her children play and fight; they demand attention;they have many questions. All these noises, good or bad, build up in her brain.  They cause Sarah to go into stress mode. When she is stressed, she raises her voice, her children raise theirs and she “loses it”.  (Even the voice quality of a person who is yelling, harsh or demanding can cause people with this hearing issue to react negatively.)   Sarah makes a plan, she prepares for those two “witching” hours, between 4 and 6, by making dinner early.  (When she is in stress mode, she can’t even think about what to make for dinner).  She explains to her children that she has a problem with noise, she wants to be a patient mother so she is going to make some changes.  She buys noise canceling ear-plugs when machines are running (or runs them at night) and she cuts out any unnecessary noise. When she wants to listen to a child,  she takes them into another room so she can focus exclusively on them.  As Sarah accepts her physical limitations, she begins to find more peace in motherhood – she lets go of the unnecessary, and enjoys more peaceful moments with her children.  When she is less able to control her environment, her knowledge of her limitations helps as she attempts to control her reactions.

In our fast-paced and impatient world we are often too eager to label, to medicate, to despair.   But there is hope.  So much of our anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, inattention, and emotionality may be helped when we take the time to examine our environmental and physical realities and work toward solutions. There is purpose in our struggle, if we seek the causes. As we come to understand our children and ourselves, we can find peace and joy in parenting. 

Resources:

Smart But Scattered https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QAMfDEafz8     

Kids and Screen Time, https://www.eehealth.org/blog/2016/02/too-much-screen-time-and-kids-mental-health/

Hypoglycemia, https://naturopathicpediatrics.com/2015/05/15/blood-sugar-hypoglycemia-child-behavior/

Supernanny, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jopbys6iikM  

*The phrase “Right-brain learners” is simplistic.  We all use right and left brains, however some people do tend to rely more on their left brain (detail, logic) and other right brain (big-picture, creative) particularly under stress).

Jordan Peterson on practical solutions for anxiety and brain fog. https://youtu.be/GuQxOxVq3eY