Posts in Parenting
Searching for the Broken Ones

[Originally published in the Simple Parenting Column by The Dispatch]

Each day when I drop my 4-year-old daughter off at school, I kneel down to look her in the eyes. I tell her, “I love you, Sis. Tell me again, what makes you beautiful?” To which she replies, “How I love people and how I treat others.”

I kiss her and, before she runs off I remind her, “Look for the broken ones, look for the ones that may be struggling today, love them hard and be EXTRA kind today, okay?!”

Before I had my first child, Rosalie, I had many set notions of what good parenting looked like. Most of my ideas were based on what I saw on mommy blogs. From my internet research, I started judging good parenting based on whether a parent chooses to breastfeed, bottle feed, co-sleep, homeschool or send their child to public school, to name just a few of the contentious parenting topics that ricochet around the blogosphere. For the first two years of my parenting journey, I became obsessed with mastering all of the parenting methods I found online. It was tiring, relentless, and I often felt as though I was just touching the surface of what “good parenting” actually was.

All of these judgments on parenting began to shift after I gave birth to my son, Elias, who is now two years old. Seven weeks after he was born, I held my infant son in my arms watching him nearly bleed to death due to complications of an undiagnosed rare disease. The week that followed changed everything for me when it came to my perspective on parenting, and even life. I would hold him at night so that he could sleep comfortably while connected to all of the IVs and machines, and while he aid peacefully in my arms my mind ran through all of the “good parenting” measures I had learned and practiced on Rosalie. I thought about how none of that mattered anymore. In that momen, I still was not sure if my son would survive, and I thought to myself  “If he did live one more day, or even ten years, would it honestly matter whether he was breastfed, bottle feed, co-slept, homeschooled or sent to public school?”

This forced me to ask the questions. “If Elias lived through childhood, what type of childhood do I want for him and Rosalie?” “What does good parenting look like now?” “How am I going to raise my children so they don’t turn out to be selfis ouchebags who expect perfectly-prepped school lunches in the shape of panda bears and care more about how they dress than how they act?”

In the two years since those life-changing nights, I have shifted my idea of what makes for good parenting. Instead of emphasizing the external, I now believe that good parenting is empathetic parenting, which encourages emotional development that will inevitably produce kindness, grace, and unconditional love.

A 2002 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology that investigated the connection between how much a parent invested in a child, and how competent a child was, found that how emotionally involved a parent is truly does matter. If we care about our children, our children are more likely to care about others. So we can’t be parenting from the sidelines or distracting ourselves with the unimportant flash of whatever’s buzzworthy as the moment. Empathy starts with us.

One way that I approach teaching empathy to my children is by teaching Rosalie and Elias to look outside themselves for people (mostly kids) that may be having a hard time. I often tell Rosalie that, “people who are hurting will often hurt people.” I reinforce over and over that it’s not our job to judge another's actions, but it is our job to love them deeply regardless. My hope for them as they grow into this idea is that they will have the ability to see people with their eyes closed. The more I teach my children empathy and kindness the more empowered they will be to look past the hurt of others and to intervene with love.

There is no blog, book, or guru that has all of the answers when it comes to parenting, and I am not a perfect parent, but I truly believe the simpler we make the art of parenting, the better the outcomes will be. The more we focus on sowing seeds of kindness and empathy, the closer we’ll get to giving our kids a better future. Every lesson we teach our children is also a lesson for us. Every day we, too, have the opportunity to look up and notice the world around us, notice the real live people in front of us.

Look for the broken ones.

The Twisted American Dream

[Originally published in the Simple Parenting Column by The Dispatch]

For the past 100 years, we have been fed lies by marketing and advertising schmucks about what it means to be free and prosperous. Tragically, we have been passing those same lies down to our children. Lies that say that to be successful and free you must own a house with a picket fence, own a car, dress a certain way, pay to attend a certain college, wear your hair teased approximately 2.5 inches above your head, successfully produce one male and one female spawn (in that order), and probably own a happy golden retriever that fetches your mail for you, too. What we have learned to believe about this “American Dream” is that what we own determines our worth.

The founding dream for America was based on a very limited, but still forward-thinking for the time, concept of peace and opportunity. During the 1920's, that dream changed from being about freedom to being all about consumerism. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald illustrates how the American Dream transformed. Suddenly, it was all about money.

When I was 21 years old, I was living in Portland, Oregon and finishing up two degrees in Education. These were not degrees that I wanted, but they were the ones I thought I needed to be successful. I was also working in an office right in the middle of downtown. Every morning, I would begrudgingly get my ass out of bed, drag myself over to the mirror, and give myself a morning pep talk. “This is what life is all about, right? You are good, right? You are happy, right?”

Then I put on a corporate costume to play a game that I didn’t even want to play. Fake it until you make it.

The internal dialogue came with me on my commute. “I have everything I need to be happy. I am 21! I have an apartment, a car, a closet full of clothing and shoes, I can buy whatever I want or need. I have the freedom to do whatever I want or to go wherever I want to go….or do I?” The questions poked out from the shadows of my mind until I heard the ding of the elevator doors opening on my floor. Day after day.

Until one day when I arrive to work early, but my boss said I wasn’t early enough. To that, I thought, “Fuck this!”

Fuck this so-called Dream. If this is it, it is not for me. I quit and took a part-time barista job. I cut my hours in half, and cut my pay by more than half. In return, I gained freedom, sanity, and more than anything, I gained time to live. I traded money, materialism, and possessions for living.

Ten years later, this is still how I live and how I parent. My Rosalie and Elias are only 4 and 2, but I remind them that we don’t need much to be happy. They have a few small toys in their room, a basket downstairs, and that it is it. Rosalie is starting to understand that the less we buy, the more adventures we can go on, and she likes the adventures best.

The original American Dream was for freedom and peace. Whether it has ever been achievable is up for debate, but at least the concept has gone far off of the original track. As parents, we get to reteach the “Dream” to our children. We can teach them to accumulate, or we can teach them to value. We can live fast, or we can show slow. We can pass down our values by explaining why we buy less so we can prioritize time together. We get to teach them that peace and freedom are found in simplicity and that we’ll never reach an internal dream if we measure ourselves against someone else.

The Crowding Out Method
Lillie Duncan Writer

[Originally printed in the Simple Parenting Column by The Dispatch]

Last month, I had a conversation with a friend over text in which they explained how they only liked wearing colored socks. Ever since that conversation, I have seen advertisements on my phone via Facebook, Google, and Instagram for fancy socks, work socks, and even for a monthly colorful sock club.

This strange coincidence makes me giggle. By giggle, I mean that I have developed a slight conspiracy theory that someone is reading my conversations.

It may just be a theory, but I’m aware enough to know when someone is trying to sell me something. My four-year-old daughter Rosalie, though, has no idea that some of the cute Youtube shows she likes are made by influencers who are paid by brands and products looking to hook a younger audience.

Kids as young as two are spending nearly two hours a day looking at a screen. For American children eight and up, that number nearly quadruples to more than seven hours. Nearly all of this time staring at silly cartoons and colorful screens is chock-full of advertising. In the 80’s companies spent $100 million marketing to kids. Today, they’re spending nearly $17 billion. Whether on the television, a computer, tablet, or walking down the street, American children are inundated with advertising.

The data shows that marketing strategists are targeting our children, and even Advertising Executives admit it. In the article “How Marketers Target Kids,” former Advertising Executive Barbara A. Martino, said straight up, that advertisers are “relying on the kid to pester the mom to buy the product.”

This makes me mad, so I’m trying to protect my children. When I say “protect,” I don’t mean that I’m burning every TV they come into contact with and throwing my mobile devices out of the window. No, I’m just saying that we need to make things simple.

Let’s take advantage of every moment with our children and fill our time with things other than screen time. I like to call this the “crowding out method.” In my home, we fill our days with so much in-person face-to-face play, art time, music, mud pies, cookie making, food eating, and serving other people activities that, before you know it, no one has even twitched towards the tv remote.

During this time, I get to shepherd their little minds, helping them understand the world around us, including the inner workings of mobile devices, advertising, and marketing strategies. It is in this time together, not in front of a screen, that I am preparing them for the world that they will one day be free in; free from the bondage of advertisements, social norms, and social media, which is less social these days and more marketing anyhow.

So let’s be known for what we are for, not what we are against. Let’s crowd out what is ruining childhoods, and fill the time that magically opens up with memories that don’t include screens, remotes, or ads designed to direct us to the sugary cereal aisles. Let’s keep parenting simple.

Things to  do together instead of allowing marketers to get to your kids earlier and anywhere:

  • Bake cookies for your neighbor

  • Ask your other neighbor if you can wash their car for them.

  • Have a dance party.

  • Write cards or letters to friends or family.

  • Volunteer at an animal shelter.

  • Make a cardboard box house.

  • Go camping in your backyard.

  • Learn about a different culture then have an international dinner.

  • Visit the fire station.

  • Then play with fire. (just not without supervision)

  • Plant a garden.

  • Learn to use a compass.











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