Free Yourself Friday — Saying No Without The Guilt

The other day a friend and I were chatting on the phone when she told me about her daughter going to the prom.

Exciting, right? But then she mentioned how her daughter asked if she could have a “coed sleepover” at the home of one of the boys. Together. All the boys and all the girls. In one house.


Oh, how proms have evolved…

“Back up the bus,” I think I said. Now kids are doing Prom sleepovers?

She explained that the parents said the girls would sleep on one floor and the boys another. It was most likely innocent, but as the parents of this extremely trustworthy, responsible 16 year-old girl, they were not quite ready to say yes. It did not fit the values they were trying to teach her, it did not match up to the rules they had in place, and it just seemed unnecessary. There were better options.

And apparently, they were the only parents saying no.

A similar situation happened at Homecoming earlier in the year, but when they put the kibosh on the sleepover, the other parents buckled and also said no. Unfortunately, this time it looks like her daughter will be the only one not attending the Prom Pajama Party. Ouch.

So, of course now my friend has a little guilt. It’s hard to be the only one to say no when all the other parents say yes. Especially when you have a good kid.

I feel this way a lot too. Not with co-ed sleepovers yet, thankfully. But with a lot of other small things that I find important, such as not drinking soda, limiting what movies I let my daughters watch, no unsupervised YouTube, etc. When I hear other parents — or their kids — talk, sometimes I wonder if I am being too strict, am I too Pollyanna, am I just a stick in the mud parent? Will my kids be mocked because they are the last kids in their grade to watch Pitch Perfect or because I will probably not buy them an iPhone on their 10th birthday?

Now, I’m not here to debate whether coed sleepovers are okay (because I’m guessing they are in certain situations) or what age is right for a cell phone. These are personal parenting decisions. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some guilt when you are the parent that always says no or has more rules than others.

When my kids were younger, it was much easier to say no, and I had zero guilt about it. ZERO. “No you can’t have another cookie,” or “no, you can’t ride your scooter down that gravel hill” is a no-brainer. But before, all I was risking was a potential temper tantrum that could easily be combatted with a big glass of chardonnay.

Now, as my children get older, saying no can have social consequences. It can make them feel alienated.  It can alienate me from other parents. It can make me feel guilty.

When I was growing up, I was one of the few in my social circle who had an early curfew (or sometimes a curfew at all.) My mom stayed up until I was in the house and she would check with other parents to see if I was where I said I was. I got grounded if I wasn’t (not that this EVER happened.) She said no. A lot.  At her heaviest fighting weight, 101 pounds, she scared the crap out of me. And I don’t think she felt an ounce of guilt.

And I’m the better for it. Having a curfew probably saved me a few times from getting in big trouble or doing something stupid. Saying no when I asked to do something ridiculous like go to a sleepover where she knew the parents were out of town probably was the right decision. Not indulging in my every request — and more importantly — making me pay my own way on such things as car insurance, gas and some social activities, made my transition to college smoother and ensured I understood the value of a dollar.

She had rules, and she wavered when she thought it was appropriate. Although sometimes, like any teenage girl, I thought she just plain sucked, as a mom myself now, I admire the steadfast approach she took. And I think she’s pretty okay with the way I turned out.

Get rid of guilt

Can we ever free ourself of guilt when parenting?

In today’s world, we have to let the guilt go when we say no for a good reason. It might be for a safety, moral, spiritual, financial or just-because-our-gut-says-so reason, but as parents, we have to stick to our guns — to what we feel is important and what will shape our kids into being the people we believe they can be. There’s no reason to feel guilt when you’re acting in the best interest of your children.

A bonus: sometimes all you need is one parent to say no to get every other mom and dad on board with you. And there’s certainly no guilt in doing that.

Free Yourself Friday. Go forth and enjoy.


How I Told My Kids About “The Gays”

Recently one of my daughters and I were making dinner and had some sort of home improvement show on in the background from Bravo, HGTV or something to the like. In it, a male couple was looking for a new house and saw a stunner of a master bedroom closet. One of the gentleman exclaimed: “Well, you know how the gays love their closets!”

I glanced over at my daughter, but she didn’t even blink. I had never talked to my children about homosexuality, transgender issues or anything to do as it relates to sex. I had a whole speech ready though, if the issue came up, and it was good. But nothing was said, so I just went back to chopping my onion.

That show turned into another detailing amazing beach houses. A few minutes later, a woman with a British accent was showing the most luxurious closet I had ever seen. That’s when my daughter turned to me and said: “Wow, Mom…the gays would totally love that closet.”

“Wha-, what did you just say?” I stammered. This was not the way I thought we would be entering the conversation. Did my own daughter just mock  homosexuals?

“The Gays. You know, that family from the last show. The Gays family, the ones that loved their closets,” she said without taking her eyes off the television.

God bless that sweet child. She thought “The Gays” was their name. It was hard to contain my laughter.

But later that night I decided that I wanted to discuss the issue of homosexuality with my children. I wanted to do a preemptive strike to ensure they understood how I felt about it, before anyone else did it for me.

You see, I was raised in a very socially conservative family. Despite being the most generous person I have ever known, my dad also never proclaimed to accept nor understand a person who had a varying sexual orientation than his own. And I proudly followed in his footsteps.

I read books from Ralph Reed from The Christian Coalition and Rush Limbaugh (please don’t stop reading yet!) I believed homosexuality was wrong, because the Bible said so (despite the fact that we only went to church a few times a year.) Now, I did not espouse these views publicly or participate in any agendas to stymie the LGBT movement, but it’s what I thought. Even though at the time I did not know anyone who was outwardly gay. Or so I thought.

When I moved to D.C. right after college, I lived with a  friend of the family for a few months. Each Sunday she met one of her friends for dinner, and sometimes I joined. And sometimes so did his life partner. They were awesome, funny, generous and smart, and had been committed to each other for more than 20 years.

Then I met a woman who was outspokenly gay and equally awesome. So were the handful of other people I met that had differing sexual orientations. But they also liked to drink wine, have fun and all wanted to start a family. I started to get it. They were more like me than not. And they liked to drink wine.

I started paying attention to the rash of ridiculous Hollywood marriages that lasted all of a millisecond, including Britney Spears and Jason What’s-His-Name-Again, Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman, J-Lo and Chris Judd, and Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett, among the myriad of others. Was I seriously going to defend that only heterosexuals should be married? Talk about taking the moral low-road.

And then I joined Facebook, and saw so many of my favorite people from my past living happy and full lives, and a few were now living it openly and honestly. I was so very happy for them.

And I was ashamed for what I used to think. I still am. I have opened up my mind, but more importantly my heart. I now believe that human rights are for all humans, not just the people who believe what I do, or act the way I act. Most importantly, I believe that everyone is entitled to be with whomever they want to spend their life with, because that is the only true path to happiness. And everyone deserves to be happy.

So, I know first-hand that as a parent my views — politically, spiritually and socially — impact how my kids will see the world. A lot. I don’t believe my father was a bad person. I think that, like me, he was unaware, underexposed, and just thought like his parents did, because he didn’t know any differently. If he had the experience I did, I think he would have expanded his views. It was pretty hard not to.

Fortunately, my kids have grown up watching strong gay couples on television, and even Disney recently showed a two-mom family on “Good Luck Charlie” last season.

Image source: Disney Channel.

Image source: Disney Channel.

That’s why when one of my other daughter’s exclaimed loudly at the end of an episode of Property Brothers: “Are they kissing?” — I knew it was because she always says that when she sees people kiss, not just because it was two women that just moved into their dream home.

But this time I seized the opportunity.

“Yep, they’re kissing, because they are married. Boys can kiss boys, girls can kiss girls and boys can kiss girls. Love is love, and you should kiss and marry whomever you love.”

I expected some questions or dialogue about it, but instead all I got was, “Yeah, I know. Can we watch the Disney channel now?”

I sighed, and begrudgingly switched the channel to yet another episode of “Dog with a Blog” or “Jessie” or some other mind-numbing show. It was okay though, because I didn’t need a big speech for my kids to accept other people. I realized that simply by my husband and I not talking poorly about any “group,” my kids have learned to judge by behavior…not race, creed, religion or even (unknowingly) sexuality.

I wish I could say it was some part of our master parenting plan, but it wasn’t. Apparently sometimes the best parenting tactics do come out of dumb luck.

And that was how I talked to my kids about “The Gays.”

Have you had conversations like these with your kids? How did you handle it?

Are you wondering how to discuss this issue with your kids? I encourage you to read this article written by gay dad Jerry Mahoney in the blog Scary Mommy awhile back. It offers honest, humorous, refreshing tips on how to answer any questions your kids may have.

Disclaimer: I understand that this post will not appeal to everyone. I know that I have friends, family and readers who feel and believe differently than I do, and I can only say that I respect your right to your own viewpoints, just as I know you have always respected mine. 

One Love.

Free Yourself Friday-Overparenting

Well, you certainly heard enough from me this week, so I’m excited to have my friend Carolyn Menke as my first guest blogger today. Yep, she’s my guest. I’m just like Ellen now.

Carolyn is what I call a “real” writer, which means she has already written two novels, one of which is in submission,and has multiple awards for her fiction works. Picture her as Jane Austen and me as Chelsea Handler. She also has three daughters just like me, including a tween. I encourage you to follow her at as you can see from the below, she is a beautiful writer — and she’s pretty wise too!

It’s Free Yourself Friday, so it’s the day to let you parenting guilt go and enjoy your weekend!

Modern parenting comes with a gluttony of guilt. We worry about how happy our kids are; their emotional, academic, and spiritual growth; their productivity. We worry about spending enough time engaging them—when, at least in the tween years, their peers trump Mom and Dad, as they should.

Are we enough? No, we couldn’t possibly be doing enough for our kids. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe our over-involvement is the problem.

Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun was recently featured on The Brilliant Book Club blog. In her book, she explores how family dynamics are changing in terms of parenting and gender role shifts, and she points out how the role of children has transformed from “useful” to “protected.”


That’s when I handed my energy-sucking kindergartner a wet dish rag and pointed to the family room end tables. Guess what? She’s a dusting queen! She’s far more thorough than I’ve ever been. And she felt good about helping me. It occurred to me that I am guilty of doing too much for my kids.

This became glaringly obvious when I was at a friend’s house and her kindergartner was emptying the dishwasher. Her older daughter was helping to fix dinner. Even her preschooler had chore chart responsibilities with fun titles like sanitary engineer. She told me how giving her kids these jobs gave them confidence.

She had me at dishwasher.

It’s easy to do everything for our kids and then complain about it. I do it. I don’t like that I do it. And often we don’t realize that as our kids are growing physically, so are their capabilities. The next stage sneaks up on us. We’re thrust into navigating strange new parenting territory all of the time. That’s where swapping ideas with other parents is awesome—Whitney’s Playdates on Fridays comes to mind. Even for parents of tweens. Keep up the “playgroups” at every age. Think of it as parenting career development and networking.

And never feel guilty about sending your preschooler to someone else’s house for a playdate.

Jennifer Senior says it’s actually healthy for kids to work out stuff on their own. When they fret over the friend who suddenly won’t talk to them or the unfair grade a teacher gave or the kid who spilled a secret—these are not our battles to fight, people. We can’t control it all. Senior suggests by doing too much, we stifle our kids’ creativity, resiliency, and independence.

We gotta let go.

But I don’t want this post to be about another thing for us to feel guilty about. Instead, my message is to free yourself to not feel guilty. When your child is unhappy, maybe that’s when she grows. Maybe those uncomfortable situations that we can’t possibly protect our children from are actually useful. Of course we need to be involved and know when it is important to step in, but in general maybe we hang back in the recesses a little more often, ready to catch our little ones when they fall, but generally: back off.

My guess is we’ll all be happier.

Changing My Reflection

I’ve had a hard time with my 40s. All 429 days of them. But who’s counting?

It’s not just the wrinkles, first gray hairs or saggy skin. Okay, it’s totally the wrinkles, grays and saggy skin. I just don’t like what is staring back at me in the mirror. I don’t even recognize it sometimes.

I have always been fairly comfortable with my looks. I know I am never the best looking woman in the room, but I certainly don’t think people are repulsed by the sight of me either. And because historically I’ve always been pretty comfortable in my own skin, I always imagined myself growing older with more self-confidence than I feel lately.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not spending my days wallowing in self-pity searching for the Fountain of Youth (although I did invest in a bottle of Nerium recently), but I am just not happy with my own reflection lately, especially since I’ve made a lot of other positive changes in my life.

Recently, someone we just met shared something very kind. “Your daughters are all so beautiful, and they look just like you,” she said.

This photo doesn't count. I was still 39...

This photo doesn’t count. I was still 39…

Because I always take the self-deprecating route, I replied: “Oh, I don’t know if they all look like me. They look more like other members of my family…the better looking ones!”

“You think?” she said quickly. “I don’t know, I see so much of you in each of them.”

I hear this a lot, but as we sat at the dinner table that night and my kids were discussing the riveting plot twists in Frozen, I took a long look at each of them. I mean I really looked.

I did see my eyes and thin-lipped smile in one of my daughters, and she radiated joy. I saw my giraffe-length legs and thick hair on another, and it was hard not to marvel at how strong she appears. While I don’t “see” myself in my youngest, I certainly hear it. I hear it in her giggles, her jokes, her uncanny ability to be sarcastic at just the right time, and how she cries when she sees someone hurting and cheers the loudest when someone — anyone — does good.

In one moment, I saw myself in each of them. And it was beautiful. They were my reflection, and I loved what I saw in that mirror.

And while I still struggle with what I see in the bright light of the bathroom looking-glass sometimes, I am learning to love my appearance again. Because I love what I see in those three beautiful faces, and they are the best of me.

How do you change your reflection?



When Does The Violence End in Our Schools?

I am posting for a second time today, something I have never done. But I have to get it off my chest, and I have to do it now. Because my heart is breaking and I have to do something. If you are looking to laugh, please don’t read on, because I’m not laughing today. In fact, I’m crying.

Today, there was a mass school stabbing at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, PA, a town not that far from where I lived and raised my children for five years. A quiet town where things like this don’t normally happen. A town like Newtown, Columbine, or Aurora. Or the multitude of towns where these events have happened. A town like I live in right now, and I’m sure you do too.

A young male, a 16 year-old sophomore, was walking down the hall stabbing kids. STABBING KIDS. Nineteen of them in fact. While we don’t know all the details yet, early reports say that he was a target of bullying.  And even if he wasn’t, he clearly is mentally unstable.

I’m not writing this because I support gun control (although I do) or that I think principals should be carrying weapons (which I don’t). I’m writing this because I don’t know why we as parents are not screaming from the rafters that something needs to change. Common Core math doesn’t matter a lick if our kid is forever traumatized in an incident like this. Making the all-star travel soccer team doesn’t matter a bit if your kid knows their classmate got shot in their school. Whether or not your kid passed AP anything, well, what does it matter if your kid has post traumatic stress disorder from having to run out of the school doors for fear of her life.

Does this bother anyone else? What the hell is going on?

This is more than just making our schools physically safer. I think if we install metal detectors, incidents will start happening in school parking lots. I think we can put up bullet proof glass, and there will be more physical assaults. Put a safety officer in? Sure, as long as he is exactly where the incident is occurring before a kid hurts an entire classroom. In fact, there were two safety officers close by as this incident was unfolding. Did they help reduce the amount of victims, absolutely. But that is not what I want.

What do I want? I want to help kids. I want programs in place that help identify children who are at-risk for volatile behavior, starting early, like elementary school. I want school district task forces assigned to help bullying victims cope with what happened/is happening to them. I want mental health professionals to review files and incident reports. I want schools to stop worrying about their reputations and take ownership for what goes on inside their doors when bullying is concerned. No tolerance is a nice buzz word, but not when it isn’t universally applied.

And I want these things in every school. Now. I want them more than I want field trips or band or art, which are all extremely valuable things that I treasure and support. But nothing, and I mean nothing, is more important to me than my children’s safety. And if I can’t trust parents to either seek help or understand that their child has a problem, then I need someone else to do it. Because this can’t go on.

A beautiful friend of mine in Pittsburgh who knows people at this school said this: ” If only we could clearly see and know how to help those among us that are most damaged inside, before they unleash their pain on others.”

Yes. This is what we need to do. And we need to do it now.

We need our smartest leaders to help and our best teachers and administrators to come together. Because my kids go to school, and I don’t want to live in fear of what could happen to them. There is enough bad stuff in the world already. Going to school — what used to be the safest place for our children — should not be one of them.

Franklin Regional Senior High School has all my thoughts and prayers today. But I want to do more.

Who is with me? What can we do to make this stop?

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