Thursday, November 19, 2015

Perfectionism: A Blessing or Curse?

It's the age-old standard interview answer you are told to give when your potential employer asks the dreaded, "What's your greatest weakness?" question.

"Hmmm," you're supposed to say, wrinkling your brow, thinking hard. "I guess I'd have to say my perfectionism. I have a never-ending need for everything to be perfect."

"The job's yours!" The interviewer is to respond joyfully, amazed by the fact that you must not have any real weaknesses (and that they've never ever heard this response before).


Now to real life.

For those of us who really do constantly feel the need to be perfect in many (or all) of our endeavors, it can technically be a weakness. And also a strength.

I've been thinking a lot about perfectionism recently-- what it means and how it affects my life.

I've come to this conclusion: It affects my life a lot

To tell you the truth-- and it makes me feel quite vulnerable to reveal this-- it is challenging for me to find one single area of my life where I don't strive to be as close to perfect as I can.

Perfect at writing? A must. Perfect at being a "good" parent? A must. Perfect skin/hair/style? Ideally, yes. Perfect friend/wife/daughter/sister? A constant need. Perfect at whatever hobby I'm pursuing? You guessed it-- I'm relentless. I'm tired just re-reading this list.

[The one area I do tend to let go? A clean house. I simply can't do it.]

Everything else? Letting go is very hard for me.

I don't always succeed at all my perfectionist goals, of course. Logically, I know it's impossible. There's no such thing as Perfect.

More times than once, for example, I've fallen short on the style factor (I've gone to preschool drop-off in slippers, forgetting to switch to normal shoes). And as the rational side of me also knows there is no such thing as a perfect parent, I am still hard on myself for those times I royally mess up my role as a mother. Plus, I could always be a better friend/sister/daughter/wife, couldn't I? In fact, there are a million ways I could be better at X,Y, and Z.

So is perfection a crippling weakness, making people like me incessantly spin the wheel like frantic little hamsters? Not totally, I think.

Yes, the drive within us is tiring, and it can be self-defeating and deflating, but then again, don't those of us with that intense care to excel tend to create more, produce more, and even experience more success (at least, professionally)? I hope so!

Still, when falling short of perfect brings me down (emotionally, mentally, physically), ah that's when perfectionism becomes my achilles heal and I daydream about being a Type B.

Therefore, my second conclusion? This trait is a blessing and a curse. Given the choice to have it or not, I guess I wouldn't give it up, but it would be pretty awesome to "turn off" if I needed a break.

What about you? What's your achilles heal?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Holidays with a Highly Sensitive Child

My post on successfully celebrating Halloween with your highly sensitive child (HSC) struck a cord with many of you, so I'm sharing ideas I've learned over the years to help you and your HSC enjoy the busy, overstimulating, often stressful holiday season.

For many people, of course, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah-- whatever you celebrate-- is simply full of loud, busy, exciting FUN. There are Santa laps to sit on, feasts to eat, parties to attend, and best of all-- no school!

However, for those of us with HSC's, ALL of that 'excitement' makes our blood pressure rise as we think of the challenges inherent in all of those stimulating, crowded, busy encounters.

Like I mentioned in my Halloween post, I think the most important thing for parents of HSC's to remember is that just because our children don't participate in every single holiday tradition doesn't mean there's anything "wrong" with them or with our parenting. In fact, It's our job to protect our children while also encouraging them to enjoy themselves and participate in traditions when they can.

Try not to play the comparison game or think of what your neighbor, cousins, parents, etc., are doing this season, and try-- like I do-- to remember that every family is unique and we all must do what is best for our own families.

Here are a few hard-earned strategies I've learned to help my son, now almost 5 and a half (how is that possible?!)-- and therefore our whole family-- enjoy this time of year:

1.  You don't need to attend every party or event. If you're an extrovert, this will be hard for you. After all, you love parties, right? And isn't sitting on Santa's lap a rite of passage? I can see how it would be difficult to reframe all of this, but take comfort in my own experience: we haven't had my son wait in a busy mall line and sit on a strange man's lap since he was 6 months old and looked at us like we were insane for handing him over. And we are okay with that. In fact, I think he appreciates that we have his back. While some parties-- with family, for example-- are probably required, the ones that aren't, I think, are okay to kindly decline to preserve some quiet time for your HSC.

2. No school or preschool means lack of routine and structure. This is a hard one for all of us. Whether he can understand it on a conscious level or not, my son, for example, is a happier person when he is in a familiar routine, like school. What to do with all this free time? My husband and I try to make sure we have one activity in the morning and one in the afternoon, with a quiet time in the middle of the day. The activities are not huge or involved if we can help it-- it may be taking a family walk, going to the grocery store, picking out the Christmas tree, going to the library-- just enough to get out of the house without killing ourselves in the process. Movie nights are also not out of the question when we all need extra downtime!

3. The Food. [Collective grunt.... ] Parents of HSC's are no strangers to sensitive, picky eaters. But try to breathe a sigh of relief. I'm going to give you permission to let go of the pressure here. While your extended family may be gobbling turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, your HSC might not want to partake in all the new foods. While others will likely regard this as rude or as you being 'too easy or soft,' I'm here to tell you that it is perfectly fine to bring your child's favorite meal or side dish. After all, isn't the point of a family gathering for everyone to happily spend time together? Is it so bad to bring mac n' cheese for your HSC if it means she'll actually eat and feel good about herself, sitting along with her cousins and grandparents? If you receive judge-y looks, try to shrug them off and remember I'm right there with you. You are doing what's best for your family-- and that will look different for different people-- though there are some who will never, ever understand this.

4.  Rehearse. Prepping your HSC for likely encounters or experiences will go a long way in smoothing out the season. Role play opening gifts and how to say 'thank you' even if she doesn't like a present (it's bound to happen!). Explain what the day will look like, especially if there's travel involved. Likely, your HSC will sense that others disapprove of their strong reactions or observational nature, so remind him that you are proud of him and that he is loved, even in the midst of a hard, stressful day; this helps all of us get through it, even if there are tantrums or tears along the way.

Finally, to anyone reading this who doesn't have an HSC, thank you for trying to better understand our children! Please try to remember that at least a few of your loved ones probably are highly sensitive (whether they know it or not), and try to cut them some slack during this crazy time of year.

It's my wish for ALL of you to experience Happy Holidays!

Suggested Further Reading: Elaine Aron's, The Highly Sensitive Child.
My post about Highly Sensitive Children.

What about you? How have you changed holiday traditions to meet the unique needs of your children?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Coming to an InBox Near You

Hello Frantic Mama friends!

I've [finally] started a Newsletter for you to enjoy. My favorite part of blogging is 'meeting' and connecting with people from all over the world, so I hope you'll sign up!

Just put your e-mail address in the box below, click "Subscribe," and about once a month you'll get a great little e-mail from me with personal updates, cool stuff I've found around the web, published articles, featured blogs and readers, social media finds, and more! (And no, I will never share your e-mail address with anyone ever).

Thanks for your support!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

I wish I had one of these old school typewriters...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Thrifty DIY Lighting Update

Do you have one of those outdated brass lighting fixtures dangling somewhere in your home? If so, I've got an [almost] free update for your house.

Fixing mine up added some sparkle and glam to our dining room. I completed this project several months ago, and it still makes me happy every time I look at it.

Here's what I did and how you can do it too!

What I started with: A dirty old brass chandelier with gobs of crystals. It wasn't even hanging up. The former owners had left it in a closet, and I hadn't gotten around to tossing it yet.

Step One:
I'm glad I didn't throw it away because with a wet washcloth I was able to wash away the dirt and grime that had built up. I removed all of the crystals to clean them too, and to prepare for the metal to be painted.

Yeah...kind of an eyesore.

Step Two: 
Paint! First, I used painters tape to cover any electrical spots. Then I used this Black Hammered Finish spray paint by Rustoleum. I took the project outside and sprayed two coats on it. One can was enough for the entire fixture (and cost about $8).

 Crystals removed; Outlets taped up.

I like this paint.

Step Three:
I let it all dry for 24 hours; then I reattached about half of the crystals. I like sparkle, but I don't like too much.

Painting in progress...Don't let little fingers touch it!
Whew! It's looking better...

Step Four:
Ta Da! I had a friend who is trained in electrician work come over to attach the fixture to our ceiling (to replace the existing drop chandelier), and I was pleasantly surprised that all of the electricals actually worked!

See? A touch of GLAMOUR!

Have you tackled any household projects or home updates recently? I'm currently painting an old unfinished hutch my husband's parents didn't want. Photos to come!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

P.S. My newest article for HorseChannel is up, and I'm THRILLED that it has over 10,000 shares! You can check it out, here.

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween with a Highly Sensitive Child

Ah, Halloween, the intense, incredibly stimulating holiday adored by children everywhere. Or is it?

For many of our more unique children, it's not such a simple, happy-go-lucky celebration as the media would like us to believe.

This was my fifth year celebrating Halloween with my son who I consider to be highly sensitive. (For more on this trait, see Elaine Aron's fantastic book, The Highly Sensitive Child, and my post, here). In the most basic terms, highly sensitive children feel things more deeply-- both physically and emotionally. They do not have a disorder, but they do need a careful attention. With this trait, you will find conscientious, observent, perceptive people; I would say that they often possess that "old soul" quality from a young age.  

You will also find strong, often difficult reactions to situations that would barely register in less sensitive people. They are both challenging and incredibly rewarding children to raise. Aron estimates that about 15-20% of people have this particular temperament trait.

So needless to say, we had not done much trick-or-treating with our young son until last year, when he was four. Other families start when their children are very little, with dolled-up babies that they bring around from house to house, and that may work well for them. But not for us. I'm guessing other parents with sensitive children also hold off longer than 'average' families.

The good news: I have some Halloween suggestions for families who have highly sensitive children. I think they could also be worthwhile tips for those who have children with sensory processing challenges, autism, or behavior challenges. If you don't have children like this in your brood, I urge you to read on anyway: my ideas will hopefully help you to better understand our children and to not make (the all-too-common) assumptions that our children are impolite, shy, undisciplined, or 'weird.'

The more people who can be open and understanding to our unique kids, the more we all benefit. All children have special gifts, but some children's gifts can't be appreciated unless we try a little harder.

Without further ado, if you are planning on taking your highly sensitive child trick-or-treating, here are a few tips that have helped us:

1. Wait a little longer. Is everyone else in your neighborhood waddling around with their easygoing, sociable toddlers? It can make you feel left out, right? Like 'what are we doing wrong?' You are doing nothing wrong-- and in fact, you are doing something very right-- by waiting until you have a strong sense that your child will actually enjoy it. There's no fun in dragging around an anxious, overstimulated child.

2. When you do decide your child is ready, let him choose his costume. No, they probably will not choose an elaborate, crazy, uncomfortable costume. They will likely want to wear something already within their comfort zone. My son chose to be a tennis player this year, which was fine by me: he simply wore sporty clothes he already likes and carried his tennis racket (his favorite sport). I didn't really care that other people spent 50 bucks (or hours of their time) on fancier costumes if my son was happy and confident in his simple homemade one.

3. Role play and prepare. If you have a highly sensitive child, you are probably already accustomed to thoroughly explaining and preparing her for new situations. Do this for Halloween too! Practice answering your door and letting her say "trick or treat." Prepare her for the (often loud, in-your-face questions people will ask (What are you dressed as? How old are you? Only take one candy!). Have her practice saying thank you (even if they don't like the candy). I can't even imagine taking my kid to trick or treat without rehearsing all of this. It will truly help your child be less surprised and caught off guard.

4. Keep it short. My husband and I always try to quit while we're ahead with both of our kids, but especially with our son. I believe that ending on a positive note so they form happy memories of the new event is key for future success. We went to about five houses when he was four, and under 10 houses when he was five, and that was plenty! No Halloween parties for us!

I'm happy to report that my son loved every second of Halloween this year. The role-playing, the rehearsing, the costume-choosing, the waiting-- it was all worth it to experience the fun of Halloween as a family, in our own way.

Remember, no matter what your unique situation is, what other people do is not what is always best for your children, and that really is okay.

How have you changed holiday traditions to better fit your children and your family's needs? 

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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