zen fam LRThe world has gone mad.

Whether you believe it’s because of environmental, weather, political, religious or scientific reasons, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the feeling of it being “the end of the world as we know it.”

The stress cannot be avoided, and it’s trickling down to people of all ages- how can it not?

Keeping informed feels necessary, but definitely does not help ‘calm’ the mood – and one of the biggest sources of strain is the misinformation from every form of media around.  “Fact” is no longer something that is ironclad and can be counted on, like two plus two equaling four.  Now it seems that two plus two might equal three or seven depending on which media outlet you are using.

On top of which we live in a society where the media feeds off of negativity and pumps trash pieces about the deterioration of mankind rather than giving us stories of hope and humanity.

The fear and stress and worry don’t benefit anything and rather only feed into this wheel of depression; and I have found myself asking and wondering: is there something that can actually help this pit we all feel in our stomach without using forms of self-medication as a solution?

I have tried completely disconnecting myself from all forms of media; but ‘unfortunately’ as I don’t live on a remote desert island and do have contact with people daily, it only really made me feel uninformed and more on edge, living in the ‘unknown’ – not that anyone really knows anything.

Looking back throughout history, there have always been disasters surrounding us.  We seem to glamorize and idealize certain periods of time and cultures, forgetting the awful things that were actually happening behind the glamorous images we might be flipping through, but humanity is no stranger to evil and tragedies, hello, Noa’s Ark…But the shit storm seems to really be coming down right now – doesn’t it?

One of the overwhelming issues for me has been the feeling of powerlessness.

It’s like when you are driving. You can be doing everything right: kids strapped in the car seat correctly, driving the speed limit with 2 hands on the steering wheel and 2 eyes on the road; but then a bird crashes into your windshield or a truck driver sends a text message and smashes into you, and just like that, it’s all over and your world changes forever.

The feeling that you have no real control  over your own life, and the inability to truly make a difference and help, it’s debilitating.  And then there’s the kids… Imagine how children must feel in general, essentially they are powerless and ‘out of the loop’ most of the time.

The feeling of being powerLESS is so powerFUL that it makes me want to scream, kick, punch and act in a completely irrational way – but it’s also completely pointless, unhelpful and damaging.  Little eyes and ears of the future are looking at me to see and understand what they can do with these emotions they feel much of the time as well; and it’s up to us, the adults, to show them how to handle it.

So what can we do with this wasted bucket of negative feelings that just feed into the worry and don’t produce anything helpful for the person experiencing it, the people around them or the people, animals and things that actually need help?  Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to just throw it faraway never to be heard from again?  Wouldn’t it be great if we could just stop worrying when someone told us not to worry?

Oh how I wish this was an option, and I wish I had a real answer…

However, after speaking to a few therapists and making some real changes in my own life this past year; I wanted to share some things that have helped pull me out of the ‘dark pit’ and allowed me to become what I feel to be a better person and a more positive influence on my children.

1. Helping others.

Ironically, sometimes the only thing that makes you feel better about yourself is getting involved in organizations and people outside of your life.   For me, volunteering has actually helped ME.  It helps make me feel like I am making some positive difference, whether big or small.  And there is no need to wait for a disaster to take action, though it doesn’t seem you would have to wait so long.  Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a closer look at your own community.  Maybe there’s a single mother who could really use an extra hand every now and then?  Being just one other person’s ‘light’ is so powerful that it can give you more energy than any amount of drugs every could.

What has been even more amazing for me is actually getting my kids involved as well.   Starting can be overwhelming and confusing for sure though, so baby steps are key.  Here are some ideas that you might be doing already, and if not, won’t completely change around your life.  See what works for you and your family:

  • Do one nice thing for someone else per day.

We have a talk every morning before going to school reminding each other that we must do at least one nice thing for someone else everyday.  This could be something as simple as helping someone get up after falling, welcoming a new or shy student, smiling at a stranger, offering a kind word to someone who looks as though they are having a bad day, offering and/or sharing a snack, etc…  It’s such an easy thing to do, and we have a chart where we write down each person’s ‘act of kindness’ at the end of the day as we talk about it.  Every week there needs to be a minimum of 7 acts completed by each person, and I can tell you from my personal experience there are always more than the minimum.  My kids love coming home and talking about the thoughtful thing they have done that day – and on those days that my kids haven’t done something, they feel so bad that they end up doing many things the following day – and same with me.  Looking for a way for me to do something nice for someone else daily (outside of my family) has changed my life.  And on days when we don’t have interaction with people outside our home, we make it about doing one nice thing for each other – and this has also been a lovely improvement in our lives.  Don’t get me wrong, we still have plenty of ‘internal wars’, but it has made us all more conscientious and sensitive to each other.

  • Donate. Donate. Donate.

I used to clean out our home 2 times a year and pile things up for donation, it’s something that I always did on my own.  However, while doing it on my own might have been easier and definitely faster, it was a mistake.  Now I pick a room, closet or area and one child to go through all the things with.  Together we decide what stays and what goes.  Sure, it’s hard for my young kids to part ways with items that they haven’t touched in years and clothes that are obviously way too small, and I am not being sarcastic; but when we discuss that these items will help someone, a child who doesn’t have shoes for example, they actually get excited about the giving.  They love knowing that they are helping someone; and what was once a 2 times a year thing has led to now, where we have a donation box in the house all year round that they put things in completely independently – and it fills up fast, sometimes with new items as well.  My 5-year-old has even asked me to plan his next birthday party where all the gifts are donated directly to a child in need – he just wants to unwrap some of them ;-).

Of course it’s even better when we have the opportunity to bring the items directly to the people we are donating to, seeing real people receiving the items rather than an organization makes the whole experience that much more meaningful and is worth the extra effort if you can make it happen.

  • Don’t throw away leftovers!

Remember when you didn’t finish your plate as a child and your parent’s would talk about the hungry kids in Africa?  Well unfortunately we don’t have to travel as far as Africa to find hungry people.  We have now started to put aside a plate or two of food when we prepare a large meal for holidays or are just hosting a meal.  We put aside a little of everything, wrap it up and at the end of the meal as part of “clean up” or the next day, we go find someone hungry and offer them the plate.  We still get to enjoy our leftovers, but we also get to feed someone hungry.  We happen to live in an area where it’s not so difficult to find homeless and hungry people, but unfortunately I am sure there is access to hungry people in every state.  Sometimes on a “rainy day” the kids and I even spend time making sandwiches and then go to an area and pass them out, the whole process of choosing the type of sandwich, making them together and then passing them out is pretty wonderful.  Have there been some questionable moments?  Yes.  But the good definitely outweighs the bad and my children have benefited greatly from these experiences.

  • Clean up time!

No, I’m not talking about cleaning up your home.  I am talking about discussing pollution and littering, and picking a public spot that is near you – a beach, a picnic area, etc… – and cleaning it up together as a family.  Discussing the plastic problem, and how littering ruins things for everyone.  You will be cleaning up a mess that you didn’t make, which will carry on as a helpful point later at home as well when one of your kids doesn’t want to clean up because he/she didn’t make the mess.  It’s OUR house, it’s OUR mess; it’s OUR planet, is OUR mess.

  • Adoption or Fostering.

Obviously if you have the patience and means to foster or adopt a child that is amazing, but if not a child, then there are plenty of animals looking for homes as well – and a more loyal and thankful friend you will never find!  If you are not sure you and your family are ready, fostering a pet is a great way to see if you are.  Maybe you know someone who has a pet, offer to watch it while they are away – this is another good way to see if you are ready.  Pets are a wonderful vehicle to teaching your children about compassion, caring and responsibility.  Obviously make sure you choose the right pet for your family; the right type and the right breed.  Just remember, a pet is not a doll, whether it’s a fish or a horse, they require care and maintenance, so it’s better not to bring one into your family if it won’t be well taken care of.

  • Get Political.

I get it – I hate politics too – HATE.  But unfortunately we live in a world that is run by these corrupt people and system, and at minimum we can vote, call, sign, join or organize whatever rally, petition or cause that is important to us.  Will we change the world?  Probably not, but if we are able to help change a bad law or pass a new needed one, that’s a step in the right direction – and it CAN be done.  Remember, the government is supposed to be working for us, it doesn’t feel like that I know, but we are their bosses, so let’s start directing and managing these politicians!

If you need some help getting started, finding your congressman/congresswoman and congressional district, here are some good online resources that can help:

http://congressional-district.insidegov.com/

https://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

2. Find a positive outlet.

This is so important, for both kids and adults, otherwise this pit can turn into rage and translated into violent or negative behavior.  A positive outlet is something different for everyone.  For me, taking my dog on a walk in the forest, writing stories, reading my kids stories and bubble baths really helps me to get rid of “the noise”, but make sure you and your children have and know what theirs are too.

  • Meditate

My goal for years has been to meditate, and while I definitely don’t do it in the way it was meant to be done; I recently have started a 10-15 minute sessions before bedtime with my kids where we close our eyes, breathe, and I bring up calming words and sounds.  I know this sounds very “tree-hugger”, but I must say that this has improved all aspects of our life, including the bed time and sleep routine.

  • Draw

Art is a big one in our house, for the girls and boys alike.  It doesn’t have to be something extravagant like ceramics, wood shop or painting.  Even something as simple as drawing or coloring can be a wonderful outlet for kids and adults, regardless of the level of talent.  It’s a classic, but for a reason – it’s simple and a wonderful way to express yourself, be creative and get in touch with your inner-self for a bit.

  • Punch

Sometimes you just want to punch or kick something, and physically get it out.  But obviously we can’t have people just punching and kicking aimlessly.  Know yourself, and know your family, if you or your kids are in need of letting out physical aggression, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing – set it up!  Buy a punching bag, an adult punching back or one filled with air, get a mat, a jump rope, there are so many ways to set things up so that one can safely kick, punch and physically ‘let it out’.  For me sometimes, I just need to run.  What’s important is that we don’t keep it bottled up inside and that we focus it in the right direction.

  • “Dance”

You don’t have to be a dancer or particularly flexible or talented to dance and basically ‘go nuts’.  My kids and I have weekly ‘dance parties’, we put on a mix of songs and just jump around and go crazy for 30-60 minutes.  Will we be recruited into any dance groups?  No.  But we have a GREAT time, and sing and dance and enjoy ourselves completely.  What’s important is that everyone feel completely free to be as silly as they want (without harming anyone else of course) and not subconscious in anyway.  When things get too tense, sometimes we have an additional dance party or 2 on that week – it really does help to release tension.

3. De-Clutter Your Life

This one might not seem very related, but from personal experience I can tell you that it is.  It’s extremely difficult to appreciate all the great things we have when they are covered in a pile of crap.  And it’s almost impossible to enjoy the good times when we are always on a time limit and packed schedule.  In a world that is out of our control, this is something that we can control.  For me, this is a constant challenge as my family has always had a jammed pack schedule and I tend to have a bit of a hoarding personality – but I recognize that it’s really important.

  • Too Much Stuff…

The one with the most “stuff” when they die does not win.  Look around your home, how many items in it do you really use and do you really need?  Why do we pack our lives with so many things, and keep buying and buying and needing more?

My family and I had to recently evacuate our home, like many others.  When we returned our house was flooded, many of the items in it were ruined, but our home had minor damage – we were absolutely one of the very lucky families.  But it really emphasized our dependency on all these ‘things’ and how awful it is.  We had to throw away 60-70% of the items in our house, and while we have missed a few, for the most part I am embarrassed to say that it has been a blessing!  Don’t wait for a flood, declutter your space; you will not believe how freeing it is to get rid of these possessions.

  • We’re Just Too Busy

Our schedules are so jam-packed, each of my kids, mine, my husbands – even on the weekends.  I feel like we are running around from one thing to the next with our tongues hanging out.  Getting to school on time, getting to work on time, activities, play-dates, meetings, birthday parties… it’s so overwhelming that it’s hard to enjoy anything.  Doesn’t it feel like when you are finally starting to enjoy something it’s time to leave and run off to the next thing?  And I don’t know about you, but I am always under the pressure of being late for something.  My wake up call was recent actually.

I had planned a weekend trip that my children were so looking forward to for almost a month.  When we finally arrived to the park, after about 30-minutes there, my daughter comes and asks me where we are going next.  I was so confused, we had just arrived, we were midst an activity and she was already thinking of the next think rather then enjoying what we were doing and where we were at that moment.  It wasn’t the first time this had happened, but it was the first time I took a step back and examined it.   What a horrible thing that we are so busy, that we can’t enjoy what we are doing and where we are while we are actually there.

I started cancelling plans, activities, and freed up our schedules – a bit.  And last Saturday and Sunday we stayed home for the first time in a while with no plans, all weekend long.  No where to run to, no schedule of any kind.  We laughed, played games, took a walk, hung out – and ironically my kids told me that it was the best weekend.

 4. Vacation Time

Make a vacation truly memorable, pick your passion and region, and visit a new place while also helping – the best of both worlds!

My family is about to embark on our first volunteering vacation, and we can’t wait – GoVoluntouring is a great resource and the one we are using for our upcoming trip.  I will of course update about our experience when we return, but I don’t think there is a greater gift I can give my children or a better way to really expand their horizons.

These are without a doubt, overwhelming and hard subjects to deal with as an adult, let alone to discuss with children.  The feeling of powerlessness, darkness, loss – it’s not the typical things we discuss with kids.  However, they are real and ignoring it is not an option.  There are 2 stories available that are a wonderful way to help start the conversation that I greatly recommend:

balloons2 (2)

Balloons

This story can be interpreted in many ways.  At it’s core it’s a story about loss, something that every person has to face at some point, and how each person deals with it.  But it’s simplistic enough that a child as young as 2-years-old can enjoy it.

What child doesn’t love balloons?  And what child has not experienced losing a balloon?  Rinat Gilboa’s illustrations are so much fun and the children in the book are diverse and relatable.  This story will soon be available as a printed book, but right now easy to download on The Library of Miss Gadish app where you will get the full story, an interactive story and a game.  Read the story and then discuss it with your kids and see what they took from it.  Each child has a very unique interpretation, usually based on their own experiences and outlook, and it’s very interesting to hear.

rhino storm

The Rhino That Swallowed The Storm

Levar Burton has written a book that really covers this difficult and confusing topic with your kids.  The little rhino’s world is torn apart and he has no control or ability to stop it, there is nothing he can do.  He falls into a deep pit which only gets deeper and deeper, one of which he cannot climb out of himself.  Finally, just when things are at there darkest and the rhino is ready to give up, his peers are able to pull him out of the hole and into the light.  His world has changed, but he learns he can overcome it.

These stories are a great way to start speaking about some tough subjects with kids, and helps give them an image to darker feelings – and are especially relevant if they themselves are already going through a tough time.