Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Holiday steps and missteps

December 8, 2015

I’m head-down focused on my teen novel. Come first of the year, El Niño or no, it’s going to my editor. Who cares if I’m sitting on a coach adrift in dog hair? Or wearing the same socks five days running? It’s Food Truck Tuesday and I’m in the zone. And like yesterday’s Chinese leftovers, I’m serving up reheated holiday blog fare today. Tuck in! 

It's dark out there. Spread your light

It’s dark out there. Spread your light

T’is the season for spreading light in the darkness. And goodwill. Yeah. So why not go out of your way to be nice?  Or, at the very least, watch out for missteps. Some can’t be undone. Like when we make choices that negatively alter the course of a relationship.

Fortunately some missteps can be corrected before we royally muck things up. I got one of those the other day as David and I walked to the post office. We passed a neighbor wearing a thin blue dress, bedroom slippers and an agitated expression. She shouted something at us, but with the guy across the street running his leaf blower I couldn’t make out what she said.

This woman is… how can I put this? A bit erratic. Over the years I’ve seen her standing in front of her house screaming at cars (“SLOW DOWN!!”) and at me (“DID YOU SEE THAT GUY? JUST LETS THE DOG RUN AROUND! NO LEASH! NO SENSE!”) Because I never know what I’ll get from her I keep my distance. At that leaf-blowing moment I could easily have pantomimed: Sorry, crazy lady, can’t hear you!  I’ll just shrug, smile, wave and keep walking…fast.

But that felt like a misstep. And I had the weird sensation a campus rep from Karma College was taking notes… so I crossed the street and talked to her.

LADY: Did you see the mailman up the street? Has he come down the hill yet?

ANNIE: I didn’t see him, but we already got our mail.

LADY: So did I. But I wonder if he’s passed by yet.

ANNIE: Yeah. I think he’s gone for the day.

She stood there, frowning. The wind picked up and her feet went bluish in those flimsy slippers.

ANNIE: Was there something you wanted to mail? Because we’re walking to the post office right now.

She ran into the house while I imagined her coming back with a twenty-five pound box and a handful of stamps. I thought about leaving. A moment later she re-appeared waving a white envelope… Christmas card size.

LADY: It’s for a man in a nursing home. You’ll take it to the post office for me?

Sure thing.

Misstep unstepped. Right foot forward.

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Blogging for Huffington Post

December 22, 2014

Just started blogging for Huffington Post. Long time goal on my bucket list… check! I haven’t been at it for long, so you haven’t missed much. If you’d like to catch up, here’s where you can subscribe to my RSS feed and/or read the three articles I’ve posted so far.

Since I’m starting this gig during the holiday season, I’m seasoning my posts with holiday spirit. Like this one, from today: This Holiday Season Have Compassion for Relatives Who Drive You Nuts.

It’s a little funny and a little serious. Bottom line, we’ve all got folks in our extended family who can push our buttons like all get-out.  (Not sure where that expression comes from but I’ve always liked the sound of it.) Don’t know about you, but when I get my chain yanked I’m at least as unpleasant as the aforementioned button-pushers. No fun for me or anyone else. So in this post I give tips for turning irritation into compassion. Why? So you (and I) can spread a little love in Aunt Gertrude’s direction while teaching our kids that there are times when we all need to put on our ‘company manners’ and be pleasant to everyone.

Time to get together with the family...

Time to get together with the family…

Go ahead, read it and you just might have a happier holiday. I hope so!

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Mom, why are you being such a B#$@%?!

December 4, 2013

Lots going on this time of year. (Props for taking time to read a blog.) We feel pressure to make the holidays “perfect.” Pressure to spend. Pressure to save. Pressure to get the kids to behave. We all have moments when we trade “nice” for B#$@%. We’re human and we get stressed. But when we show more Beast than Loving Parent, we are damaging our children. That’s a problem that keeps making problems. The good news? We are key to the solution.

The following article is an excerpt from my book: Teaching Kids to Be Good People (If you’re interested, it’s 50% off for the holidays Code 3MZQS83F)

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Simmons the Wise for my podcast series. We talked about her book The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. We also discussed how often parents engage in meta-conversations with their children (i.e., parent says one thing and an unspoken message churns just below the surface).

With all that doublespeak how can a t(w)een learn to be authentic and express the truth of her heart? Not very easily. And it isn’t just parents and daughters. As Rachel put it, no matter who you’re talking to or what relationship you’ve got, “there’s always a meta-conversation going on.”

Parent: Oh, you’re still playing that game.
Meta-message: I just know you won’t get your homework
done tonight and then what? You think I like being on your case? Well, I don’t! But if I don’t keep after you how are you ever going to get into a decent college?
Mini meta-message: You’re lazy and I’m disappointed in you.

________

Parent: Don’t you think your other jeans would look better with that top?
Meta-message: Those jeans are too tight and too low cut. They make you look fat and slutty. What will Grandma say when she sees you wearing that? She’s going to think I’m a terrible mother to let you dress that way!
Mini meta-message: You’re fat and you embarrass me.

________

Parent: How’s your buddy Ryan these days?
Meta-message: Are you two still friends? Did something
happen between you? Are you now hanging out with people I should be worried about? (Sigh) You and I used to be able to talk about stuff. Now you don’t tell me anything. What else are you hiding from me? Maybe I don’t even want to know!
Mini meta-message: You’re disloyal and untrustworthy.

________

I’ve been thinking about meta-messages and how I use them. Whether they’re conscious or not, communication patterns between people often determine who we like to hang out with and who doesn’t make our FAVS list.

Josie 2009-2012

During the holidays a few years back, Josie and I snuck out of the house before anyone else was up. Because she was still full of puppy beans and needed her off-leash time, we headed for the nearby hills. She instantly vanished through the trees tracking deer and squirrels and nosing the underbrush for ticks thumbing a ride. While she was gone I walked on, enjoying the quiet light and the colors. Every so often I’d whistle for Josie and she’d reappear, sometimes from behind me on the trail, sometimes way ahead. We’d smile at each other and wag our tails. “Yes! Good dog!” Then I’d give her a treat. After each reunion she’d take off again and I continued hiking.

 

So it went for an hour. When I finally put her back on leash I thought about the meta-conversation we had and why Josie happily kept returning to me. The way I figure, it comes down to this . . . each of us, dog and human, prefers to hang with those who tell us we are good dogs.

It also helps if they give us treats.
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We’re in the darkest days of the year, so how about lightening up? Catch someone you love in the act of doing something right. Drop the meta-messages and smile.

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Why I’m not blogging this month

November 3, 2013

November is National Novel Writing Month: Write a 50,000 word novel by midnight the 30th. It’s not a contest, just an awesome opportunity to do more than talk about that book you want to write.

Inspired and egged on by my daughter and son (both professional writers) I began the challenge last Friday. Now all I have to do is write 1667 words per day every day for thirty days. And voila a first draft of a novel is born. No guarantee that every word will be brilliant or even spelled correctly, but I’m pushing ahead because a) I’m an overachiever, b) I’ve got a story squirreling around in my head and invading my dreams and c) it’s the only way I’ll ever get a good night’s sleep again.

So I’m plugging away at this novel and won’t post new blogs this month. But I will be treating all you lovely people to some seasonal golden oldies. Starting with:

Need Some Help, Mom?

The following essay is an excerpt from my book, Teaching Kids to Be Good People

What do you MEAN we have to help?!

Not too long ago I read a letter to Dear Abby from a distraught martyr . . . oops! I mean a mother who signed off as “Alone in the Kitchen.” She plaintively described how her adult daughters arrive for the holidays each year expecting the guest treatment. For some mysterious reason, these two able-bodied young women never think to offer dear old Mumsie any help with the annual banquet she produces for 20+ guests. Their work avoidance goes on for a day or two until Mom, frazzled and frantic, slumps to the linoleum and whimpers like a pathetic dog. At which point the princesses roll their eyes and deign to lift a sponge for a fleeting moment, before disappearing again.

As I read the column, my blood pressure spiked. But my target wasn’t the daughters as much Mom. I mean, really, where did she think her lovelies learned to act like guests at home? How in the world had they reached adulthood totally lacking the common courtesy to pitch in?

Abby called out Mom for overindulging, but I gave her answer a C+ because she neglected to offer the woman any suggestions for fixing the problem. If it had been my column, here’s what I would have said:

Dear Alone in the Kitchen,

Wondering where Drizella and Anastasia picked up their royal sense of entitlement? Look in the mirror because it’s self-reflection time. If you really want to change the dynamic in your family this holiday season and forevermore, start with an apology. I’m serious! You have failed to teach your children the first thing about being helpful. Instead, you’ve taught them that their job is to sit back and let you cater to their needs. You’ve also held them back from developing a cooperative spirit by rewarding them for being self-centered. Admit the ugly truth. Forgive yourself. Apologize. And move forward, quickly, because you’ve got a turkey to stuff!

In friendship,

Annie

There are always things that need to be done to make a home livable. (Of course, it’s our living in it that makes it messy, but we can’t get around that, can we?) Whether you’re prepping for a special family event or needing to dive into seasonal household chores, make a master task list. Gather the troops, post the document, and announce to your family, “Here’s what needs to get done. Which tasks are you taking responsibility for?” (Speak as assertively as possible. No shouting, asking, pleading, guilt-tripping, etc.) If you have no confidence in someone’s promise to help (due to past flakiness) then get it in writing. After each self-selected assignment, smile, and in your best coach voice say, “Thanks. We’re all counting on you.”

My personal, unscientific research clearly indicates that when we want something done, the chance of compliance drops to less than 20 percent when our request comes in the form of a spineless question like “Can someone please help me?” (“No thanks.”) “Can I ask you a favor?” (“Sure, but I’m not doing it.”) “Do you have a minute?” (“Not now.”) See what I mean? Instead, try this: “Hey guys, I need some help in here.” See? It’s a statement, not a question. Practice it on your own so there is no trace of pleading in your voice.

Breaking patterns isn’t easy, but it’s easier than breaking your back doing all the work with little or no cooperation from anyone. It’s also better for your soon-to-be young adults to learn to notice the needs of others—essential in teaching them to be good people.

As for any male or female martyrs within the sound of my voice, that would be anyone who believes if s/he doesn’t do it all single-handedly, s/he won’t be a “good” parent, nor be loved and appreciated: You are already loved, appreciated, and admired. And when it comes to holiday celebrations, if you do much more than your fair share, you may end up with a sore back and feelings of resentment, and where’s the holiday spirit in that?

So teach your children to help. Otherwise, how can they possibly learn to make a killer Thanksgiving dinner on their own some day? And how will they teach your future grandkids to be helpful people at home and out in the world?

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