Parenting Lessons: Words vs. Actions

Whoever said, “Actions speak louder than words” obviously had children. How do I know this? Because the two little people who showed up on our doorstep one day and call me “MO-OM!” have made me painfully aware of every little thing I do.

I see my own actions in the way they talk to each other, in the words they use and more importantly, in the tone of voice they speak with. If they are more whiny or harsh than usual, it’s a good sign that I’m being more whiny and harsh than usual. Also, if they are being extra considerate and kind, it’s likely because hubby is home and treating them with consideration and kindness (and I am out doing some retail therapy, haha).

But something C said to me the other day really stopped me in my tracks. E and hubby were playing Mario downstairs and she had asked me to go upstairs with her to get a toy. As we were walking up the steps, I heard her sweet, innocent voice ask, “Do you want to do some work, Mom? I won’t bother you.”

I turned to her and immediately replied, “You don’t bother me! No, I don’t want to do work. We can snuggle!”

Her whole face lit up as if someone had turned on a fountain inside her body. Joy bubbled up and brightened her big brown eyes and her voice climbed up an octave. “Snuggle?! Okay!”

She grabbed my hand and soon after we sat on the couch with our arms wrapped around each other. No words, just a sweet time of being together.

That conversation with C made me think of just how much of what I say and do gets ingrained into her thoughts and beliefs. I cringe right now as I wonder how she got the notion in her head that she could be a bother to me. I don’t want my kids to ever think they burden, annoy or inconvenience me. But if you were to peek inside my heart during any given day, you would see the impatience and resentment I harbor there. And how those emotions spill out sometimes when I’m tired or frustrated. Which explains why C assumed I would rather spend time with a computer screen than with her.

Yikes. What a good wake up call.

There’s a verse from Proverbs that says:



It occurred to me that training up a child involves as much what we say as what we do. Do we emphasize the importance of listening, but pay more attention to our phones than our kids? Do we want our kids to understand grace and forgiveness, but criticize them when they do wrong? Do we tell kids to love each other, but neglect to spend time with them?

I am so guilty of all this and more! But I am also thankful for the chances I have to be made aware of my shortcomings. And to keep trying and growing into a better, more loving and gracious parent. A parent that E and C need and deserve.

This song by Steven Curtis Chapman, “One Little Heartbeat at a Time” is just what a tired mom needs to hear. 🙂

How do you use your words and actions to influence the kids in your life?

Monday Mentionables: Inspirational Stories

Hi everyone! I apologize for the lateness in getting this post up. It was a busy weekend with a preschool open house and a birthday party to attend – I feel like I’m only now catching my breath!

So before it becomes Tuesday, here are today’s mentionables, which I hope you will find inspirational and heart-warming.

1. Bus Shelter. This bus shelter set up by Duracell (the battery makers) is not powered by electricity, but by people. Check out this video of how human touch warmed up some Canadians in the middle of winter.

2. Homeless Shelter. This story featured on the Today show tells about a couple who both fell on hard times and happened to meet at a homeless shelter where they were staying. They eventually got back on their feet and moved out of the shelter, got married and started their own organization helping people stuck in the cycle of poverty. They even passed out food to people on the street on the day of their wedding. Check out their tale in this video.

3. Storm Shelter. This story is not about storms in the weather sense, but in the trouble sense. This CNN article (with video) features a teenager named Charles who faced and endured many dark days in his life with the help of his adoptive family. There are no words adequate enough to describe the love and strength his parents and siblings extended to him during his short life. Read and watch his powerful story here.

May these stories inspire us to love and reach out to others this week. Oh and Happy St. Patrick’s Day, too! 🙂

Image courtesy of lamnee/

Image courtesy of lamnee/

Stuck in the Muck

I write a lot about change on this blog. This space is after all dedicated to makeovers of all kinds and the “befores” and “afters” surrounding change. I tend to focus on the “afters” in my posts because they are wonderful and whole and new, but it would be remiss of me if I didn’t also talk about the “befores”. So that’s what we’re going to do today.

(Now let’s roll up our sleeves and prepare to get dirty.)

Let me take you back to a day I remember well, my appointment with my very first client. I was a graduate student with many hours of classes under my belt, but absolutely no experience putting what I learned into practice (in other words, working with a real human being). I was half terrified/half curious about what it would be like to sit in the therapist’s chair. Thankfully, the young man I met that day looked just as unsure and nervous as I felt; we both entered the room with wide eyes and fidgety feet. I asked a lot of questions and he answered them. His reason for seeking counseling? To work through his experience of childhood molestation.

We started off that first session reliving in detail what had happened when he was five. Each session thereafter ended up being a replay of the previous one; we talked about what he did that week, how he struggled with depression and anxiety, and suggestions on what he could do to feel better. Over the course of several months, there were some “a-ha” moments, where he would connect his current self-destructive behaviors with his experiences from the past, however we never reached a major turning point. We kept circling around the same issues and the same behaviors over and over, like we were lost in the middle of a desert. Everywhere we turned, we saw the same thing – miles and miles of bare sand surrounded by an endless blue sky… and no way out.

Image courtesy of think4photop/

Image courtesy of think4photop/

I think the whole experience was frustrating to say the least, for him and for me. It came to a point where I suggested putting the brakes on therapy after he had canceled a few sessions in a row. It became obvious to me (and my supervisor) that this client was – to put it in fancy counseling terms – stuck in the muck.

Unfortunately there’s no easy way to get unstuck. More often than not, it takes time, pain and more time to want to get out of a messy situation. It’s not that people don’t know they need to get out of the slime and filth they’re in; the truth is they would rather stay in it. When you’ve been covered from head to toe in mud and dirt, you get used to it. You don’t mind the wetness between your toes or the grime caked in your hair.

I couldn’t really blame my client for being stuck because I was stuck once, too. As a prerequisite for graduation, I had to fulfill 30 hours sitting in the client’s chair. I’m sure I more than likely frustrated my own (way more experienced and qualified) therapist as I kept “wandering in my own desert”. During one session she told me I needed to read a book which, according to my history, I purchased on October 24, 2003 (it’s scary how much the internet remembers!). The title of the book said it all – Hiding from Love: How to Change the Withdrawal Patterns that Isolate and Imprison You – and it said more than I wanted to hear at the time. So what did I do? I skimmed the first two chapters and then hid the book underneath my bed (real mature for a counseling student, I know!).

Being stuck is not fun, but it is a crucial part of the process of change. In order for things to get better, they have to get worse first. I’m talking about yucky, dirty, crazy, as low as you can go, bad. There will come a day when you’ve been sitting in the muck for so long that the mud has hardened. The sludge and waste you’ve accumulated over the years have finally weighed you down. You can no longer take a step forward because you are that stuck. Only when you get to that end of your rope – your long list of excuses, your facade and your self-medicating behaviors – will you be willing to crawl out of the muck.

But in the meantime, if you feel like you’re stuck in the muck – whether you’re dealing with an unhealthy and destructive way of thinking or behavior – sit a while and take it all in. Experience the ickiness and the pain that you’ve tried to keep hidden away by being busy. Allow yourself to feel. And may this awareness move you to make the decision to change.

This post was actually inspired by Bastille’s song “Pompeii“. The lyrics are a good analogy for being stuck in the muck.

Remember a time you were stuck in the muck. What motivated and helped you to get unstuck?

Shedding the Past

A friend and I were sharing over breakfast the other day how we feel like we finally know ourselves better. It’s taken 30-something odd years for us to know our likes/dislikes and everything else that makes us who we are, but here we are – older and wiser. 🙂

I used to think I’d have it all figured out by the time I turned 20. I mean, come on, 20 years is over 7,000 days. That should give you enough time to grow up and be your own person, right? But ironically, I think those first two decades (which we hope would mold us into adults) may actually be the years we need to shed before we can mature.

A girlfriend asked me recently, “Why do you feel like you have to be perfect?”

I answered, “It’s how I was raised.”

Let me correct that – it’s how I was born and raised. Genes definitely play a part in who I am. I can’t help but be organized, cautious and structured (just like my son). But the way I was raised really “did me in” and locked me into a box I’ve been trying to make my way out of the past few years.

Image courtesy of Stoonn/

Image courtesy of Stoonn/

I don’t have many memories of my childhood, but the ones I do have center mostly around the emotion of fear. Fear of speaking up, fear of the consequences if I didn’t conform, fear of being myself. One memory I do recall well happened when I was twelve. I had been eating breakfast at the kitchen counter under a fluorescent bulb. The sun had not yet broken through the dark sky outside the window. I heard the phone ring and thought it odd that someone would be calling at six in the morning. My mom answered and after a brief exchange, she came over with shock and sadness written on her face.

“Your cousin passed away.”

My teenage brain couldn’t digest this news. My dear cousin who was only 2 months younger than me had died. He had been my closest relative till then. My family had lived with his for a while after we immigrated to the U.S. and we had become good friends. Good enough friends that he once stuck a tic tac up his nostril in hopes of making me laugh.

The tears started falling as soon as I realized he was gone. My grandmother who lived with us at the time heard what had happened. She stood next to me, all five feet of her, and fixed her eyes on my face.

“Why are you crying?” she spit out, contempt dripping from every word. “Don’t cry.”

And just like that I wiped away my tears and tried to swallow the rest of my emotions down with my soggy cereal.

Now I don’t share this memory to paint my grandmother as a monster. She didn’t have an easy life, and circumstances (and likely genetics) played a part in making her who she was. She was in fact a very tough woman who raised four children after her husband passed away. She was also the person who raised me.

Knowing what I know now about child development and attachment and so forth (my degree in counseling wasn’t all for nothing!), I understand why I am the way I am. Why I’m so hard on myself. Why I’m so hard on other people, too (namely my kids).

But the more distance I have from my past, the more I am able to see myself apart from it. It will always be a part of me, but its sticky, tar-like grip on my heart has loosened over the years as I experience grace and love from God, my friends and my family. I know now that it’s okay to feel, to express myself and to be who I am.

It’s good to keep learning about yourself and to keep growing. That’s the beauty of growth. It’s never too late and there can never be too much.

Take a listen to Katy Perry’s song “Roar“. I can really relate to the opening lyrics.

What would you like to shed about your past? In what ways do you hope to keep growing in adulthood?

Monday Mentionables: Green Smoothies, Cool Bikers & Editing Wizard

Welcome to Monday! It’s been raining here in CA (finally!) and it’s a great blessing. This might be the first year where I’m okay with winter lingering around a little while longer. What’s the weather like in your neck of the world? 🙂

Here are today’s mentionables:


Look at that bubbly green goodness!

1. Green Smoothies. Before you start gagging at the thought of drinking a green smoothie, you should try one! They are really quite tasty and easy to make (I use a Magic Bullet). Hubby and I started drinking them regularly this year as a way of detoxing from all the grease and sweets we devoured over the holidays. It’s a super easy way to get your intake of veggies and fruits in a couple (or more) gulps – no chewing required! I used this recipe for a kale/cilantro/apple smoothie, but you can really just make up your own. To make a smoothie more refreshing, try adding cilantro or cucumber and to sweeten it up a bit, try adding dates or any fruit.

2. Cool Bikers. I saw this very touching story on Yahoo recently about a group of bikers (of the motorcycle variety, not the pedaling kind) who are on a mission to help children who were abused. They use their tough guy/gal image to offer physical protection and emotional support to these kids by driving them to court hearings and even camping out in front of their homes overnight so the kids can sleep peacefully! Watch this video to see how they changed the life of one little girl.

3. Editing Wizard. For all you writers out there, there’s a great tool my critique group leader found online to help you edit your work. You just paste in your manuscript, click a button and it analyzes your text to highlight things such as overused words, cliches and redundancies. Some of its features are free to use, but you can also subscribe to their site (in other words pay money) to use the rest of them. I think this tool would actually be good for students as well. Check it out here.

Have a good Monday!

Measuring Love

Recently, E asked me, “Who do you love more, me or C?”

Not this again! Didn’t C just ask me this question the other day, too? My eyes opened wide in exasperation and I, like any other smart parent in the world, replied, “I love you bloth!” (Bloth is how the kids pronounce “both”, don’t ask me why.)

Why is it that kids like to make us squirm with their probing questions? If it’s not about the birds and the bees, it’s about equality and justice. I for one think the former topic might be easier to address than the latter. It’s easier to remain objective when discussing facts (ie. “Well, God took a part from me and a part from Baba and put them together to make you”), especially when you can still remain vague about the details (whew!), but it’s much more difficult to talk about the ambiguous stuff.

Like stuff you can’t quite measure with a yard stick or a scale. Stuff you never thought you’d have to justify, especially to your kids.

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/

Stuff like love.

Even though this four letter word can be hard to quantify, I thought I knew the answer to E’s million dollar question (in my head of course, not out loud). My initial response was: The kid I love more is the one who is more cooperative, obedient, easy to manage – really, the one who makes my life easier. Makes sense, right? But then I realized there are several ways to answer his question. Merely giving that first answer only trivializes the true meaning of love.

To love someone means more than just accepting them on their good days. To love your child means not giving up on them when they are having their fourth meltdown in a day; deciding to stay calm when their whiny voices grate on your nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard; choosing to not yell when your child screams that the parking space you chose at the library was too sunny and the next space you chose was too far away (true story, by the way). If you are talking about that kind of love, then my answer would be: The kid I love more is the one who teaches me to be more patient, forgiving, unselfish – in essence, the one who pushes me to my limits and deepens my understanding of love.

However the more I thought about E’s question, the more I realized neither of these answers were true. Who do I love more, E or C? Well, to be honest, I love myself more.

How do I know this? Because often times I value my needs more than theirs. I love myself more when I’d rather check Facebook than play with them; when I don’t accept them for who they are and want to change them; when I choose not to empathize and understand the reason behind their actions; when I hold them to standards they cannot meet.


This realization has been very humbling and challenging for me. I know there is no perfect parent, but I still struggle with guilt over how far I fall short in loving my children. There’s the perfectionist side of me that keeps count of the number of times I sigh in annoyance or speak harshly to them. I even find myself hesitant to say “I love you” to E and C because I feel like my actions don’t match up to those three weighty words.

But I’m trying not to get stuck in the negatives because guilt is the last thing I need yelling at me on the sidelines of this marathon I’m running (which is what parenting feels like at times). So I remind myself to focus on progress, not perfection. To put my phone down more often than pick it up. To make eye contact and listen, really listen to my kids when they talk. To put myself in their place and imagine how scary it must be to have someone twice their size yelling at them. To appreciate their unique personalities, including the strong willed parts. To enjoy their presence each and every day because they are growing up so fast.

The bottom line is this: I’m learning to love myself less in order to love them more because they are so precious and worth it.

The song for this post is Katy Perry’s, “Unconditionally”. I like this lyric: “I’ll take your bad days along with the good.”

In what ways have you learned to love yourself less for the sake of loving your loved ones better?

Pushed Out of My Bubble


Image courtesy of Feelart/

Image courtesy of Feelart/

Every morning C and I have a routine for getting up. Actually to be more accurate, C has a routine and I get dragged along for the ride. It goes something like this:

Me: “It’s 7:30, time to wake up!”

C: “Push it out, mom! Push it out!”

Then she proceeds to use her feet to propel me towards the edge of our family bed. I groan as her miniature sized toes poke indentations into my back. I also marvel at the strength of her pint sized will to do so. Even though she may be small, she doesn’t let her size or age stop her. That’s how she likes to do things, with purpose and passion. Ever since she was a baby we noticed she knows what she wants and she goes for it. When she has an objective, she formulates a plan to achieve it.

Which is why I was not completely surprised when she said this the other day as we were getting into the car, “I’m not sitting down until you say we can go to M’s house.”

Are you serious? But I could tell from the determined look in her big brown eyes that she was 100% serious.

We had been invited to her classmate’s house for a play date, but there was one glitch in the plan that would prevent us from going. E had a dentist appointment scheduled that same day.

Grrr! I really didn’t want to give in to her demands, but not for the reason you may think. It wasn’t so much about picking battles with my kid or having to rearrange my schedule to meet her wishes. The real truth I wasn’t all gung-ho about the play date was this: I didn’t want to meet new people.

In that moment, I realized how much my little girl pushes me to do things I don’t want to do. Things that make me uncomfortable like getting out of bed in the morning. Things an introverted and cautious person would rather not do. Things like pushing me to make new friends.

Would you believe I have met more people through my alter ego in the past few months than I have in all my years as a stay at home mom? For some reason (probably due to the X chromosome she didn’t get from me), she likes to talk and socialize. She has two really close girlfriends at preschool and several other female and male friends, too. E, on the other hand, never got invited to any play dates when he was in preschool and when he did receive an invitation to a classmate’s birthday party, he chose not to go. And I understood his decision perfectly. C, however, is a whole other mystery to me. 😉

But because I love my daughter and the fact that she is not like me in many ways, I changed E’s dentist appointment and said yes to the play date. I said yes to meeting three new moms and their seven sons. I kid you not. It was C and seven boys that day because the other girl who was supposed to go got sick. But my little fun-loving and brave daughter had no problems fitting right in and even said, “That was fun!” afterwards. And I admit it was. Once I pushed myself out of my little bubble of safety and isolation, I had a good time. I enjoyed talking to the other moms and learning about their families. I even talked about myself a little.

Now when I pick up C from preschool, I actually say hi to some of the other moms instead of keeping my eyes pasted to the ground. I’m learning to take baby steps to put myself out there and it feels good. And it’s all thanks to a little voice that keeps telling me to “Push it out, mom!” 🙂

I picked Wham’s song, “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” for this post because C wakes me up every day and it’s also fun and upbeat, just like her.

In what ways have you (or someone else) pushed yourself out of your comfort zone?

Human Beings, Not Doings

I was listening to a sermon the other week when something our pastor said hit me like an overturned bucket of icy water on my head.


“Why do you say you’re just a mom?”

I raised my eyebrows and my eyes darted quickly to my right and then to my left. Is he talking to me?! I wondered. How does he know?

Yes, how did he know? How did he know that ever since I quit my job and became a stay at home mom 7.5 years ago that I have labeled myself as “Just a mom”? That when people ask me, “So what do you do?”, my immediate reaction is to respond in a hesitant voice, “I, uh, stay at home.”

Why do I (and people in general) feel the need to base our worth on what we do? For moms, why is staying at home with the kids not enough? Maybe because in this world, we have been conditioned to base our value on what we do. We grow up thinking we need to get the best grades, go to the best school, secure the best jobs and make the most money. We do, do, do… until we are no longer human beings, but human doings.

With that in mind, another thing our pastor said that made me ponder was this: It’s not just the bad we do (that should concern us). It’s also the good we do that we do with the wrong motives.

For me, it’s the hectic scramble to clean the house – even at the expense of ignoring my kids – before guests arrive, so I look like I have it all together.

It’s the effort to say everything’s fine and redirect the conversation to the other person, so I don’t have to share about my struggles.

Lately, it’s the need to tack on a “I do some writing on the side” to the “I stay at home” response, so I can make myself sound more important.

There is nothing wrong with tidying the house, extending a listening ear to a friend or sharing about my writing endeavors. But when the reasons I do these things stem from a place of fear or pride, I fall into the trap of doing and not being.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of being a human doing. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve had plenty of experience doing all the right things at all the right times. What I’ve learned is that when you’re constantly doing, there isn’t much room for error… or for enjoyment. You end up kind of like a zombie – alive, but not really living. And if you’ve ever seen a zombie movie, you know those usually don’t end well.

So I’m on a quest to start being – to be okay with who I am, to make mistakes, to let go of my need to appear calm, cool and collected all the time. It’s time to be a human being, not a human doing. I hope you will join me, too. 🙂

Demi Lovato’s song, “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen” is a great song for this post.

What do you need to let go of in order to be a human being, not a human doing?

Monday Mentionables: MLK, Jr. Quotes, Elephant and Piggie, Baked Salmon & Frozen Medley

Hi everyone, welcome to the start of a new week!

Here are today’s mentionables:

1. Quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. In light of today’s holiday, I wanted to share 15 of MLK, Jr.’s most inspiring motivational quotes. He was truly a man who understood and lived out the power of love, change and perseverance. It’s hard to pick just one quote from this list that is the most inspiring to me because they all make me pause and reflect. Which one touches you the most?

2. Elephant and Piggie Books. My kids love these books by Mo Willems. In this series, you get to meet best buds Gerald (the elephant) and Piggie (the pig – haha). They are opposites in their personalities – Gerald is a bit high strung while Piggie is more laid back – which makes for lots of funny conversations. E and C both love We are in a Book and have borrowed it three times from the library already (which means I have read it at least nine times). 😉 You can check it out in this read aloud video of it here.

3. Easy Baked Salmon. I love baking because it’s the most no-hassle form of cooking in my opinion. I recently googled for a recipe that uses salmon, spinach and tomatoes (which I had in my fridge at the moment) and found a really easy and tasty one.


The salmon came out super moist!

4. Frozen Medley. Have you seen the movie “Frozen” yet? I actually haven’t, but I feel like I have after listening to the soundtrack NON-STOP for about three hours at a Chinese restaurant yesterday (I was there having afternoon tea with a girlfriend). I think I know all the songs now, word for word – almost. 😉 Here’s a fun medley of several of the songs from the movie sung by three members of Pentatonix.

Alrighty, I’m off to rescue my munchkins from the TV! Have a great week!

A Better Spouse

Hubby recently told me that one of his friends said, “You married a good wife.”

My reaction to him was, “Huh, what are you saying about me behind my back?” and the one to myself was, Yeah, you go, girl!  😉

I think everyone enjoys getting complimented, right? We all like to feel good about ourselves and to look good to other people. So I was more than happy to hear that someone would think I’m a good wife. And to be honest, I’ve thought the same thing myself on occasion.

I cook, clean, do laundry, buy groceries, take care of the kids, listen to hubby vent, put up with his crazy work schedule, etc. 

I am a good wife!

I’ve even gone to the point of thinking, I’m not just good, I’m better. I’m the better spouse. I’m easier to live with. I don’t leave my socks in random places around the house. I’m so easy going. The list could go on and on. (And my head would grow bigger and bigger.)

I would likely have a very huge ego by now if it were not for an incident that happened one morning. I had just stepped out of a nice, hot shower and grabbed my towel off the rack when something in the trash can caught my eye. Lying on top of a bunch of wadded up tissues was a clump of long, wet hair. I leaned down to take a closer look and realized the black blob had once belonged to me. Over time, I had shed a long lost relative of Cousin Itt in the shower and someone had picked it up and thrown it into the trash. That someone had been my hubby.

In that instant the reality of the situation hit me as strongly as the cold air that had met me when I stepped out of the shower.

Are there things about me that annoy him, like my hair always clogging up the drain? Is there a slim possibility that I’m not as easy to live with after all?! (Gasp!)

Image courtesy of winnond/

Image courtesy of winnond/

I know my tendency to shed in the shower (and all over the house) is not that big of a deal. Just the fact that hubby discarded my hair without mentioning it shows it’s a minor issue for him. But likewise, hubby’s tendency to shed his socks around the house shouldn’t be a big deal either, yet I confess I have made it into one in the past. This got me thinking – could it be that one reason I believe I am a good wife is because hubby often chooses to overlook my imperfections? In actuality, I know there are things that I do or the way in which I do them that cause him to sigh and shake his head. However, he is quite patient with me and gives me grace as I grow. I, on the other hand, am not so kind. I would rather downplay my shortcomings and focus instead on his. Clever, huh? It’s the classic speck and log scenario, which I admit I fall prey to quite often throughout our marriage (Matthew 7:1-5).

What I’ve come to realize though is that marriage should not be about criticizing or comparing, but about cooperating and giving grace. When two people share the same roof, conflicts and disappointments are bound to happen. A harmonious relationship takes a lot of work and time to achieve. As a marriage goes through its growing pains, the point isn’t to figure out who is doing more or less in the relationship (cause it will never work out perfectly fairly). What matters is keeping the right perspective of our spouse.

When we choose to see our husband or wife as good – essentially as valuable and lovable – a lot of the things that annoy and irritate us will go by the wayside. It will become more natural to show patience and understanding on a daily basis. It will become easier to see the planks in our own eyes. It won’t be a big deal anymore to pick up socks off the floor or hair from the shower drain.

Because when it all comes down to it, the goal of marriage is not to focus on who is or is not the better spouse, but to become a better spouse.

Take a listen to John Legend’s song, “All of Me“. I like the line about loving all the “perfect imperfections”. 🙂

What perfect imperfections have you come to love about your spouse?