I See You.

To the Mom standing at the back of the grocery store trying desperately not to cry while her toddler screams uncontrollably, I see you.

To the Mom that has just paid a babysitter to watch your kids so you can go and sit in your car up the street and read a book, I see you.

To the Mom that has just dropped her kids off at Ikea Smaland to not go shopping but to just wait at the restaurant in peace until your pager lets you know your break is over, I see you.

To the Mom that has left the television on for the past 4 hours straight just so you can lay on your couch uninterrupted, I see you.

To the Mom that is trying desperately to keep your eyes open while your kids play at the McDonalds playplace, I see you.

To the Mom that is hiding in her ensuite bathroom while her children sit on the other side of the door crying for Mommy, I see you.

Truth be told, I’ve been you.

I’ve been the Mom that is so tired that I can no longer think straight. The Mom that is looking for places to hide from all the noise and chatter that just doesn’t ever seem to stop. I’ve been the Mom that gives up on everything that I thought was important, just so I could get through the day.

I’ve been this Mom and I’m still a friggin’ good Mom. I need to remember that. You need to remember that.

This job that we’ve been blessed with is not an easy one. It truly is a gift that we have been given and sometimes it’s a craptastic gift that you’d love to return, but you don’t. Instead, you wrap it up at the end of the day and reopen it tomorrow. Tomorrow has been my saving grace on more than one occasion, and I for one am thankful that the gift of starting over is always available.

Every day I look into the eyes of my children and I see me. I see the best of me and sometimes the worst of me, and that can be a little bit scary. But at the same time, when I look into their eyes, I see how deeply they love me. How they see nothing but their Mom. They love me in spite of me. They love me regardless of how badly I screw up or how many times I’ve failed them. They are my gift.

I wish I could always remember these words when I’m in the middle of one of my really bad days, because more often than not, I don’t. But in my heart, I know them to be true. I may have moments filled with nothing but weakness but those are actually the moments that are making me better. It is during these days that I find out that I’m actually a stronger than I ever dreamed possible. It’s in these moments that I realize that being a Mom is exactly what I’m supposed to be.

So next time you find yourself desperately trying to escape a moment filled with craziness and noise, remember that you’re not a bad Mom. You’re not broken, you’re not a screw up, you’re not a failure and most importantly, you are not alone.

Welcome to the Imperfect Mom club. It’s where all the Good Mom’s hang out.

Staying Afloat – Encouragement for Foster Parents

Lots of people have asked me what I spoke about at the Adoption Society’s Caregivers Conference, so I thought I’d share some of it here. If you’re a Foster Parent, you can most definitely relate to what I had to say and if you’re not, I hope you enjoy it just the same.

I truly am blessed and honoured to be a Mom to Many and am so thankful for this journey that our family is taking. Everyday we learn a little bit more, and everyday we get a little bit better at what we do. Hopefully, some of my words below will be a help or an encouragement to you as well.

 

By the time I left home at the age of 21, I had been blessed with more brothers and sisters than I can even remember. I learned many things about myself, and what I did and didn’t want for my future and most importantly,  I swore that I was never going to have children. Ever. I was getting married, moving out, and enjoying the peace and quiet that would soon become my daily life. I wasn’t going to have to share anything, or have my stuff wrecked by short people. I was going to be alone with my new husband, and it was going to be glorious.

Well, it didn’t take long for me to miss all the chaos, and the peace and quiet of my new life was killing me. I kept a TV and radio on at all times, and I’m more than certain that I actually started talking to myself. I was bored out of my mind and just felt completely lost and alone.  I literally had no idea how to be by myself. Or quiet for that matter. 3 years later, we had a baby and 3 years after that, our first foster child moved in. My life had literally taken a 360 degree turn and I had become my Mother.

That was 15 years ago, and since then, my little family has fostered 30 different children. We currently have 3 placements and 2 kids of our own and at this moment, our home is in a really good place. We’ve found a great rhythm and the kids are a good fit for us, but it’s not always been that way. We’ve gone through a lot of really tough times with a lot of children that had been severely let down by the adults in their world. Some we were able to reach and some, we just couldn’t. But through it all, our family unit has remained strong and our mental health has endured. And that is what I want to talk to you guys about.

How I stay afloat in a sea of whining and children. These are the things that I practice at home that help me stay sane and at least one step ahead of the crazy.

Number One. Get yourself a good support system. And I’m not talking about people that will help you babysit or come over and give you a break. I’m talking about people that you can whine and complain to. People that will just smile and nod and let you cry. People that won’t be judgemental but will be a listening ear. If you can find someone in the field, or another foster parent, that’s even better as those conversations are safer and they truly get it.  In my case, I’m very vocal. I say exactly what’s on my mind and don’t hold it in. I complain about the dumb system and all the rules. I whine about travel letters and asking for permission for everything. I complain about bio-parents that say things they shouldn’t. I whine about FASD, and why in the world people would ever think it’s okay to drink while pregnant. I literally hold nothing in and I know that’s a huge part of why I’m able to stay pretty calm and level all the time. If I’m stressed, I talk about it. I actually yap so much that my support worker and social workers have told me to stop emailing them my rants because they have to print them off and save them. They’re always saying, April, you can’t say that to me, or I’m  no longer listening to you, etc.  Thankfully they know I’m just rambling, and that’s how I deal and cope and that I’m not actually losing my nut. But most importantly they respect that I’m saying it to them and not strangers, cause that’s bad. Don’t do that. Ever.  I totally recognize that so much of what I complain and whine about can’t be changed as its rules and procedures, but by acknowledging it, I’ve taken away it’s sting of stupid and I feel so much better. If you don’t have that kind of support, email me, I’ll listen and we can complain about trampoline and ATV usage together.

Number Two. Be creative. Odds are really good that the majority of the children that are placed in your home, either via fostering or foster to adopt, will have some real issues.  They will have had some kind of unhealthy influence in their lives and you’re going to have to figure out a way to help them through it. They are not quote-unquote normal kids, so don’t expect to parent them as such. Accept right now that you’re going to have to do things differently, so then it won’t be so surprising later on. You will find yourself coming up with the weirdest solutions to the smallest of problems and will, more than likely, shake your head at yourself for even trying them. BUT odds are good, they’ll work. If you need to let the kids eat on the floor so they stop throwing food off the table, do it. They’ll eventually join you at the table, but in the meantime, they’re eating. If you need to let them keep boxes of crackers under their pillows, so they stop stealing from your pantry, give them the crackers. If you have to hang a poster up on their wall showing them how to get dressed, make a poster. If you have to make up stupid little songs that teach how to brush your teeth, or tie your shoes, or how to set the table, so be it. Remember that the majority of these kids have been left to their own devices more often than not, and even the most basic and simple tasks have probably not even been taught. These little goofy systems that you put in place will stick in their brains, so be creative and use them. Odds are also really good that normal grounding or loss of privilege won’t work with many of your kids either, so alternative consequences are a great place for your creativity to shine.

Number Three. Live life in Black & White. At our house, we have no grey area. Our patterns, expectations, rules and rewards never change. Initially, it’s tough to get the kids used to, but in the long run, everything runs so much smoother. Kids thrive when there is order as they know exactly what is expected of them at all times. There’s no guessing or wondering about what comes next or what happens if I do or don’t do this. As adults, we hate been thrown into situations where we don’t know what to do, so why do we think kids are okay with it?? It’s not as harsh as it may sound, as it’s really just basic rules put into action, but it works really well. For example, bed time routine is the exact same every day.  Everything happens in the exact same order, and you don’t move on to the next step until the previous one is complete. If you do this, you get this. Period. Of course, there’s always a little bit of wiggle room within those boundaries, like staying up later on weekends, but the boundaries themselves never change. If you have a rule of not swearing in your house, it is never okay, not even when you’re really mad or had a really bad day. Acknowledge it, correct it and move on, but don’t let it slide. Different kids with different needs will need different ways of getting things accomplished, but the end result can still be the same. Be very clear about your expectations, and makes things as simple as possible and I guarantee you, your kids will surprise with all they can accomplish.

I had a child that had to be told every single day where garbage went. Every day he would ask me where garbage goes and every single day, I had to tell him. For 3 years. He would get so lost in daily tasks and school work, that he had a hard time functioning and just keeping it together. But once he was home from class, he knew exactly what was expected of him and what he needed to do. It was one of the few places he would have any success. Yes, it was just knowing how to get bathed, ready for bed and into bed, but it was huge for him as he could do something on his own. Never discount how important those little seemingly meaningless accomplishments are, as those are the moments that will bring about the most change.

Number Four. Know your limits. This one refers to two completely different things, but they’re both super important. You are going to having some crazy, bad days. Crazy bad. You will come so close to the edge of losing your mind that you need to have a plan. Decide right now what you’re going to do when you need to walk away and escape a situation. What does that “break” look like? For me, I go in my bedroom and shut the door and breathe. Or more often than not, I phone my husband and complain. When I call, he knows to just shut-up and let me talk. He doesn’t try to help me or guide me, he just listens. Figure out your exit plan, right now so you don’t have to think about it when you’re about to snap. I promise you, that day is coming so please be ready for it.  Secondly, what is your limit? What behaviours, situations, addictions or whatever are the deal breakers for you and your family? Are you willing to work through them with the children and counsellors or will you not be able to forgive and forget and move forward? Be very honest with yourself and your workers at all times. Do not push yourself farther than you can handle. Ever. You need to know when you’re at the end of yourself, and honour it. It’s okay to sometimes walk away.

We’ve had to do exactly that a few times now and walking away is an incredibly hard thing to do. We’ve always held on to the tiny little glimmers of hope that we’d see, instead of listening to what our hearts and mind already knew. We’ve held on too long a few times, and it’s caused damage within our family unit. It’s not an easy thing having to let someone go that you’ve poured so much of yourselves into. It’s heartbreaking and scary, but you need to remember that your other family members deserve the best of you too. Please make sure that you’re not always just treading water as that gets really tiring, and eventually you will drown.

Number Five. Don’t feel guilty. For the longest time, I felt guilty for not loving my foster children like I loved my own. I kept waiting to feel something deeper & more intense. On the really good days, I most definitely feel a connection but on the really bad days, I quite often feel used and hurt, and it’s really confusing and hard to deal with.  But one day, not too long ago, I let all of those feelings and expectations go. These kids will never match what I have in my heart for the children that I birthed and that’s okay. Yes, I love them and care for them and want the best for them, but it’s different. We need to recognize that, and be okay with it. The relationship that I have with my foster children is very unique and very special. They know I’m not their Mother, and they don’t love me the same way they love her. Instead, I’m their safe place and their constant. I’m their voice of reason and the new hopeful words being spoken in their ears. I’m the one tucking them in at night, and kissing their boo-boos away. I am everything that she wasn’t. That IS LOVE, it may look and feel different, but nonetheless, it is love indeed.

We’ve never had children that don’t still have a connection or visits with at least one of their parents, so I know that our situation is a little bit different. I am always the “other Mom” in their life, and their need to be loyal to her is always stronger than their need to bond with me. But, I do get to be their favourite auntie and get to fill a different role in their lives. Is it perfect, no but it works. I think the trick is to remember that we’re not  a replacement but a helper with a really important job to do.

Number Six. Plan Escape Time. This goes beyond date night with you and your hubby, this is more about honouring your core family unit. I know that fostering and adoption are a little bit different, especially if you get kids from birth. But for those of us that take older kids and/or have kids that are quite a bit older than your placements, this is very important. I was a real kid in a foster home, so I know how it felt to share my space and my family.  My house, my stuff, my family and friends now also belonged to a stranger, and these things aren’t exactly easy to share. My parents did a great job reminding us of our value, and now I make sure that my kids know how important they are to me. Especially since, so much of my free-time and attention are given to my foster children because they need so much more care, assistance and guidance. Some days, it seems like my kids get pushed to the back because they don’t need all the hands on help that the others do and that’s not okay. Always check-in with your kids, discuss their concerns and what they’re feeling. They need help processing all of the things that they’re seeing as well, and will definitely need some reassurance along the way. My children truly are my children, and they have the same hearts as their father and I, so they get it. But it’s still nice to remind them of how much we appreciate them and the sacrifices that they are making. It also makes our choices and decisions to do what we do just that much easier knowing that my kids are okay.

Number Seven. Laugh a lot. For us, this is the one thing that keeps us going. We goof around and playfully tease each other all the time. We sing dumb songs and blast music in the car. When I sneeze, I always say, Phew, I’m allergic to kids, and my kids all laugh. Every single time. When someone gets hurt or teased, we quickly turn it around with funny commentary. We eat breakfast for dinner and have cookies for breakfast. We never laugh at, but we always laugh with and it’s a great way of connecting with kids. We don’t do a lot of bonding over hugs and kisses just because of the situation that we’re in, but we most definitely bond over a good joke or a fun evening of goofing around. Figure out what works best for your family, and then do it really well. For us, its humor and it has truly been our saving grace more times than I can count.

In closing, I want to encourage you and thank-you.

You are going to have some of the worst and best days of your lives all wrapped up in one. You will hear terrible stories and see evidence of unspeakable things and you’ll need to not react. You will have to answer questions that should never even be asked. You are going to be pushed and pulled and challenged like you’ve never been before. This journey we’ve all chosen to take is not an easy one at all.

But one day, you will wake up to a note on your birthday that will remind you of why you chose this journey in the first place. It will be from your 14 year old foster son, and it will say “Thank-you for giving me hope and a family”. You will cry and you will know that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

So thank-you. Thank-you for opening your hearts and your lives to children that have been let down or forgotten. Thank-you for choosing a life that will never fully be your own again. Thank-you for seeing what’s inside these children in spite of the behaviours they’re displaying and thank-you for taking a chance at being someone’s happy ending.

Be encouraged and know that you are making a difference.

The Day I almost Died.

My heart is racing and it is pounding through me and pushing its way out of my chest. I can “see it” when my eyes are open, and can “hear it” when my eyes are closed. There’s something making my insides shake, and not a little bit, but like someone took their cellphone, put it on vibrate and shoved it inside my chest cavity.

I can feel myself breathing but I can’t seem to get any air into my lungs. I feel like something is pulling me down, and I’m drowning in water that isn’t even there. I can no longer feel my feet on the ground, but I know I’m not floating. I have never been so aware of my skin before, and I think I’m itchy. But it’s not itchy, it’s scratchy, like nails on a chalkboard.

There’s a voice in my head telling me that I’m dying. It is clear as a bell, and as loud as anything that I’ve ever heard spoken in my ear before. It has consumed me. It is winning.

Suddenly I’m sitting on my coach and I’m working out a plan. I know that I’m about to die but I can’t figure out the best place for that to happen. I go and get the telephone and finally decide to sit on the floor by the door and just wait. But then I realize that my kids would find me, so then the pounding and panic begin again. I don’t know what to do.

While all of this is happening, there’s another voice in my head speaking to me. It’s telling me I’m okay and that I’m not dying. It’s telling me to relax and calm down. It’s telling me that I’m fine. It’s reminding me to breathe and to not stop moving. It’s keeping me upright, but the strength of its voice isn’t strong enough to really be heard.

A blackness of unreasonable and irrational despair has taken over my brain, and I’ve become powerless to stop it. These words that make absolutely no sense, that have just shown up out of nowhere are starting to feel more real than the truths that I know are actually true. I have left my body.

This was me 5 days ago. The day I was supposed to die. It was the first panic attack that I’ve ever experienced, and unfortunately, it wasn’t the last. I am normally a very calm and rational person and it takes a lot to stress me out or even shake me a little bit. But this, this has been the worst fight of my life.

For me, it was brought on by a triple dosage of a strong steroid to fight an infection, so it will go away. But for the first time in my life, I have a small understanding of what my son lives through everyday, and my heart is broken.  I am so sorry & ashamed for all of the times that I lost patience with him for being irrational and “crazy”. I had no idea what panic and anxiety really, truly was until that day last week. Why in the world did I think he could just ignore this?

I think of all of the friends and family members that I know that suffer with this. The many foster children and their siblings that get completely lost within their own heads. The people that the world has labelled as crazy and I want to cry. I want to find the words to help people understand what’s going on with them, but I don’t think I can. Instead, I give you my story and hope that it will help you see them in a different light.

If you’ve got people in your life that suffer from panic and anxiety attacks, please understand that they can’t help it. They can’t stop it. They can’t explain it and they most certainly can’t fix it. What they are feeling is very real, and it is all-consuming. They know it’s irrational, but they still can’t shut it off. They “know” that they’re safe, but they don’t “feel” it. Please hug them, hold them and let them feel your presence. Be patient with them, as your loved one is in there, they’re just struggling to find their way back out again.

Thankfully, I know that my journey into panic will be short-lived and that eventually it will go away. I know that I will find my way out of this fog, and that the old me will return. But for now, my insides vibrate and my tired brain is trying to convince me that I’m not okay. Even as I write this, I can feel my skin again and the worry is trying to fight its way back in. BUT, I know that one day soon, I will wake up and it will be gone. For now, I sit and I pray and wait for an end to this nightmare.

Today, I choose Life.

* PLEASE, If you are suffering through attacks like these on your own, please get help. No one deserves to live a life this way. Tell a friend, a loved one, your pastor, or a doctor. Just tell someone, as you do not need to get through this alone. We are going to be okay.

The Road to Skinny …. Following the Rules

Well, yesterday was my bi-weekly weigh-in and the results were pretty good.

I spent the last 2 weeks actually following all of my coaches orders. I ate, and I ate, and I ate. More food than I’ve eaten in a really long time. I took my vitamins, drank copious amounts of water and did exactly what I was supposed to do.

Overall, I felt great, outside of this evil sinus infection that just. won’t. die. I slept well, still didn’t convince myself to exercise, but I made it through another 2 weeks. Yeah Me!

I lost another 9lb’s and 6 more inches. And even better news, my body fat percentage went down which means I’m not losing lean mass, which means I’m doing the right thing for my body.

This year WILL be the final chapter in my Fat April story. I know it, I feel it and I love it.

Last week, I also joined a great little group on Facebook called Mission Slim Possible. It’s a bunch of people wanting to achieve some big goals this year - health & exercise wise. They’re all there to support and encourage and lift each other up. They’re going to inspire me to exercise … hasn’t happened yet, but it will. LOL. I did manage to download a 7 minute exercise app though, so that counts for something right?? (Yes, I’m that lazy that I count that action as exercise).

I’m grateful for their honest and open hearts, and their daily words of encouragement. Our stories are all very different but our goals are the same. We all want more. We all want better. We all want change.

Wherever you are in your “get skinny/healthy” journey, find yourself a support system somewhere. If it can’t be your spouse, find a good friend. If your friends are as unmotivated as you are, find a group of workout buddies. Just find something or someone to help you get through this adventure. If you’re in the same boat as me, the journey will be long and tough, and not one you can do on your own.

Thankfully, I’m blessed with a good husband, great friends and an awesome coach. They are the voices that push me forward and remind me of my goals. They are my gifts in this world.

Who’s your helper? Go find one. Now.

See you in 2 weeks.

help

IF YOU WANT TO JOIN ME ON THIS ADVENTURE, PLEASE CONTACT MY COACHES HERE. Be sure to let them know that April sent you.

All the words I wish I could say

At this particular moment in time, I’m surrounded by people who are struggling.  A lot of people. Friends, family, acquaintances and people whom I only know via social media. These people are hurting and need to hear words that will soothe their spirits and restart their steps.

But how do you say the right thing without being a jerk? How do you help them see what you see? How do you reach a heart that has become so hard that it doesn’t even feel its own beat anymore? How do you bring someone hope when they’re swimming in despair? How do you become what they need most?

I want to scream at them, and shake them awake. I want to give them a hug and help them feel safe and secure again, but I can’t. I can’t heal broken hearts or repair old wounds, but I do have words.

These are the words that I wish I could say. The words from my heart to theirs.

I wish you knew how proud I am of you. I am proud of all that you’ve done and all that you’ve tried to do. I’m proud of you for always taking the high road when the low road would’ve been the easier way to go. I’m proud of you for being such a forgiving and loving example to your children. I’m proud to call you my friend.

I’m sorry that your life has been so tough, and the load you’ve had to bear has been solely on your shoulders. I’m sorry that you’ve been let down by people over and over and over again. I’m sorry that you’ve never been given the support you needed and deserved. I’m sorry that you’re having to tread water to just stay alive.

I wish that I could go back in time and save you from the parents you were given to, but then you wouldn’t be you. I wish that I could take away the bad dreams and the horrific stories that you now consider “normal”. I wish that you could see that you’re an amazing mother in spite of your example. I wish you would accept everyone’s love and respect for you at face value.

I’m sorry that you feel like the whole world is against you. I’m sorry that you feel so alone even though you’re actually never in that place. I’m sorry that you feel like there’s no place to turn or anyone to run to. I’m sorry that you feel so isolated.

I wish that you could look in the mirror and see the strength that I see when I stare into your eyes. I wish you could see the glow that takes over your face when you’re watching your babies play. I wish you could see the looks that strangers give you when you walk into a room. I wish you could hear the word’s of admiration and praise about you that people share with me all the time. I wish you believed the words I’m speaking now.

I’m sorry that your spouse turned out to be such a jerk. I’m sorry for the abuse you went through and for all the struggles you now face living as a single parent. I’m sorry that you’re having to make decisions alone that should be shared with someone else. I’m sorry that the person you chose failed you so badly.

I want you to know that I love you, no matter what. I want you to know that even though our lives quite often head in opposite directions that you will always be a part of me. I want you to know that I’m here to pick you up if you ever trip and fall so hard that you can’t get up on your own. I want you to know that you’re not alone.

Do not believe the words that are being spoken over you or the lies that your brain is convincing you are truth. You are not worthless. You are not ugly. You are not unlovable. Hear me when I say this. You are amazing and you are so very worthy of all the good things. And most importantly, you are not alone.

not alone

I’m guessing that I’m not the only person watching friends and family flounder about right now. Please help them. Please keep reaching out or make yourself available to listen. Be the voice they so desperately need to hear.

If perchance you’re the person feeling alone or let down, please get help. Open up to the people around you and let them in. You do not have to carry everything by yourself. You are not alone. Ever.

If you’re in Alberta, and just need someone to talk to, please give this numbers a call. 1-877-303-2642  or 780-482-HELP (4357).  If you live somewhere else, just search online or in your phone for Mental Health/Depression help.

The Road to Skinny … Keep on Keeping On

One year has come and gone, and I’m half way to my goal. I hoped to be much farther along, but half way is what I achieved, and well, I’m okay with that.

This has been my year for self–discovery and I think if I would’ve lost more, faster, I wouldn’t have figured some things out. I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to taking care of myself, and even though I always knew that, I don’t think I truly got it. Now I do.

By nature, I put others before myself. In all things, and in all ways. I don’t see that changing, but I now see that I have to find some time for me in there somewhere. I know that If I’m going to be of any use to anyone, I need to be okay. Physically, mentally, spiritually and health wise … I have to claim these things for myself and stop ignoring their importance. I’m such a twit sometimes.

I spend a tonne of time thinking about food, but very little time eating it. I had no idea how little I actually ate in a day, until I had to keep track of it. It’s such a weird thing to wrap my head around as here I was a fat girl basically living in a state of malnutrition. So crazy. Now, I struggle with the same thing but in a different way. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I can’t live on nachos and cupcakes, so I just kind of don’t really care about food. I still hate 94% of all veggies, so getting good healthy food into my body is fairly challenging some days.

I know what I need to do to be healthy, but my brain doesn’t always seem to want to agree. I know what I have to eat, the supplements I need to take, and the exercise that I must do but I still fight it. It’s so stupid, but everyday I have to MAKE myself choose better.

I’m lazy. Not when it comes to life, or business, or helping others, but when it comes to me. I have zero desire to exercise or get off the couch. Zero desire. It’s almost scary.

I’m ready to change things. I always thought I was, but looking back, I really wasn’t. I’m there now, and excited that this lifelong journey will be coming to an end. 40 years of being overweight, and not all that healthy are coming to an end. 2013 was the year I lost 70lbs, 2014 is going to be the year that “healthy” becomes my normal.

I’m officially back on Ideal Protein, and actually listening to my coaches. (I never quit the program, I just wasn’t following all the rules. As in wasn’t eating nearly enough, not taking my vitamins, etc., etc.). I still absolutely love the program and know that it’s the right thing for me, so I’m excited to continue on it.

I’m getting weighed in and measured every 2 weeks, and will report back here to all of you. Not just about pounds and inches, but how I’m feeling, how my brain is doing and the goals for the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, that little bit of accountability and effort will keep me focused on where I’m going. Thanks in advance for being a part of my “team”.

Now to stop being my own stumbling block, and to get this DONE.

Shut-up head, you’re no longer driving this bus.

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IF YOU WANT TO JOIN ME ON THIS ADVENTURE, PLEASE CONTACT MY COACHES HERE. Be sure to let them know that April sent you.

The Internet and the Kids that use it.

I love the interwebz. A lot. So much so that if I forget my cellphone or ipad when I go out, I start having heart palpitation’s. It has become my connection to the world, my friends and unlimited information. Google has “diagnosed” many of my illnesses, Youtube & Pinterest have inspired me and taught me about things I’ve never even heard of. Facebook has connected me to my past and Twitter has given me the gift of many new & amazing friendships. I love the Internet.

In saying all that, I also recognize how dangerous this big open virtual playground can be. It is filled with pictures, people, ideas and opportunities that I don’t consider healthy or safe. It has allowed us to become over-informed, over-stimulated and much more bold than we would ever be in “real life”. The screen has become something that we can hide behind and become whoever we want to be. It’s easier to be a total jerk, to bully, to tease and to just be downright annoying. It brings the whole world into the privacy of our own homes and leaves us alone with nothing but our conscience to judge or challenge our choices.

As an adult, I know how hard it can be to always keep myself in check. To guard what I post or how I respond as words don’t always relay exactly what I’m trying to say. I’ve learned to question things that I see and read. I understand that the Internets idea of reality, isn’t actually so. I’m an adult and it’s tough … imagine what it’s like to be a child or a teenager? With one click of a button, you get to see things that you’ve never seen or even heard of before.

As parents, we need to keep them safe. Not blinded without access but safe.

As my kids have grown, I’ve found lots of little ways to stay on top of their internet usage and to help them make good choices. Lots of people have commented that I’m too tough, or that I do too much “spy work” and don’t give them enough privacy. Frankly, I don’t care. I’ve got 18 years to help them become the best that they can be, and I take that job very seriously. My job is to guide them, protect them, and help them make choices that they’re not yet strong enough to make. Based on that principle, I give you this.

My Guide to Monitoring Kids on the Internet. (Super basic, super easy stuff that works).

Number One. Do NOT be so naïve in thinking that you’ll just keep your kids off the internet and block them from everything. You can probably do that to some level, but guaranteed they’re sneaking around behind your back. AND you’re not monitoring it AT ALL. Teachers also use the internet & Facebook for a lot of stuff now. Your kids are GOING to have to access it.

* Even if you’ve allowed an account somewhere, watch it. Have you noticed that it’s suddenly gone silent or the posts are few & far between. Odds are really good your kid has another account. Find it. (They’re favourite thing to do is to reverse their names, use a middle name or something really stupid. Usually, they keep at least one of their real names in their alter-ego)

Number Two. Help your kids set up the accounts that they want to have, especially Facebook. Set their privacy settings so they’re not sharing everything, with everyone, everywhere. Teach them to not list their school, address, phone number, etc. Talk about why it’s not safe, how the internet is forever, how people lie, etc. They’re going to laugh at you, but keep saying it.

* Check these settings and what is displayed on their pages on a regular basis. Facebook quite often asks for updates and they just fill them out without thinking. Also, update the privacy & restrictions in their devices and then password it. That’s the simplest way to stop explicit apps & information from being downloaded & shared. For my younger kids, I actually remove Safari/Explorer from their devices completely.

Number Three. Passwords. Know them, so you’re able to enter their account at any time and see everything. They may have blocked you from seeing some stuff, so this is the simplest way to see what you’re missing and/or to remove any inappropriate stuff.

* At our house, if I pick up your electronics or go to log into something and I don’t know the password. The item belongs to me for a week. (Not just apps, but passwords for the actual electronics as well). If I have no access, neither will they.

Number Four. Check stored photos, videos, and search requests. Lots of people don’t check there & it’s so important to do. These items can be very telling and/or very shocking. It’s also a great way to know what you need to talk to your kids about.

*If I find something inappropriate, I take a screen shot, and then delete it. I then show them what I’ve found, and we have a serious conversation about it. Full access is then completely revoked for a week, and then earned back slowly. You get wifi back, but not Facebook etc.

Number Five. Go through their Friends list, and challenge your kids on how they know the people that they’re “friends” with. If they can’t tell you, delete them. Kids will befriend pretty much anyone that asks to be their friend, and once that connection is made, strangers have access to all their info.

*If you see really suspicious or odd names, look further. I’ve found many conversations from “hot chicks” that are very exploratory & inappropriate. There are predators out there, so be aware.

Number Six. Make up a fake account with the picture of a cute boy/girl and befriend your kids.  :)  You’ll be surprised at how quickly they accept your friend request, and by being a “friend” that they consider a peer, you’ll be able to monitor things from another viewpoint.

* Yes, this is pretty sneaky and spy-ish. And yes, I have 2 separate alter-egos.  LOL.

Number Seven. Instagram. Youtube. Textplus. Skype. Are not innocent apps …. watch them. Closely. We don’t allow Skype on any of our kids personal electronics at all as it’s all too easy to participate in a “free show”.  ;)

* Check their phones/ipads/laptops, etc. and see what apps they are using. Ensure that you have passwords and that you personally follow all of their accounts. Stuff may still happen, but you’ll be aware of it and will be able to deal with it.

Number Eight. Nobody goes to bed with their electronics. Pick a time for them to be brought down to the kitchen or your bedroom. Nothing good happens after dark … especially when you’re 14 & alone.

*When they complain that they won’t be able to wake up in the morning, hand them an alarm clock. For super saavy people, you can shut down their IP addresses at a certain time so all internet access is limited.

Number Nine. Snapchat. Kik. Ask FM. Delete them, and when they re-add them, delete them again. These apps are scary, and are SUPER hard to monitor. The potential for abuse, harassment and sexting is HUGE with these ones. They are going to scream and complain about this, but don’t give in. If they need to send pictures, they can do it a million other ways.

*I’ve changed the settings in my kids phones/ipads so that they’re able to download apps and/or updates, but they cannot delete them. This allows them to receive updated versions of games, etc without me having to log-in to do that. But it doesn’t allow them to delete the evidence of using something I’d disapprove of. This REALLY makes them think because they know I’ll catch them.  :)

Read this: 4 Apps Teens Love that Parents need to Monitor

And this: Why you should delete Snapchat

Number Ten. Set up a support system with your kids friends parents. If you see something inappropriate within their group, say something. I know that I would want someone to tell me if they knew something about my kids. Be open if someone approaches you, and don’t instantly shut them down. It may turn out to be nothing but it could be huge, check it out.

*I saw a group of 16 year old kids plan out an entire bush party on Facebook. They posted the address, directions, amount owing for the 2 kegs they had already purchased, etc. This was 100+ underage kids drinking & driving in our neighbourhoods. I called the police.

MOST IMPORTANTLY. Your kids are on the internet. They’re using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, etc. FIGURE OUT HOW THEY WORK…..you need to be one step ahead of them at all times. You don’t need to become a social media genius, but you do need to learn about privacy settings, tagging, abbreviations, etc. Thankfully, our kids think we’re dumb, so with even a little bit of work, you can stay well-informed.

There’s also some great little apps that we can install on our electronics to track and control what/when our kids do online. Use these to help you be aware of what your kids are up to. They’re a great help and back-up for when you forget. Don’t put all of your trust in them, and stay diligent yourself, but use these.

Apple Users can try:  Parent Kit

Android Users can try: Funamo

Some cellphone companies also have some monitoring services as well. Ask your provider if they’re able to actually send you your kids texting conversations. If you want to know where your kids are at all the time, turn on their locator device, subscribe to a tracker via your cellphone company or try this. Be sure to not forget about your home computer, especially if it’s in a dark corner of your basement. Again, check your “internet options” and update your privacy settings but you can also use this awesome program for another layer of security.

I’m not saying that you need to do all of this or even any of it. What I am asking you to do is to be aware. Keep your eyes open, listen to your kids, monitor the time spent on their devices and don’t be afraid to say No. They do not need full access to everything at all times, no matter if they yell that you’re mean and the only one that doesn’t let them use certain things. You need to be the little voice in their head teaching them right from wrong until their voice gets strong enough to speak alone. Say No, but then talk. Explain why you’re restricting things, why it’s good for them, and why you’re not changing your mind. These opportunities are some of the best & most memorable teachers, don’t let them slip by.

I so dearly love the Internet but I love my Kids more. Even if it makes me the worst mother in the world.

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