The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #91 - Melanie Dale
Melanie Dale is the author of four books, including Calm the H*ck Down: How to Let Go and Lighten Up about Parenting. She’s a staff writer for Coffee+Crumbs, hosts the podcast Lighten Up with Melanie Dale, and has contributed writing to everything from the (in)courage Devotional Bible to Shudder’s Creepshow. She lives in the Atlanta area with her husband of twenty years and their three kids from three different continents.
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10:00 - Melanie's Background
13:00 - Focusing On the mindset of parenthood
14:00 - expectations vs reality
15:40 - non-Negotiables And Places Where you Can give in a little
16:30 - parenting in a pandemic
17:50 - parenting styles for different kids
19:25 - age appropriate chores and Independent activities
25:30 - teaching with movies
28:15 - kids and social media
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34:15 - Setting Rules
35:35 - the importance of honesty
38:25 - how to stay calm when you're overwhelmed
39:45 - G.R.A.C.E: gratitude, read, adapt, create, engage, & the value of laughter
45:00 - the story of the stolen golf cart
47:55 - how to react when your child is attention seeking
51:50 - the role of therapists for parent and child
55:30 - body image and insecurity
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59:50 - Food, Diet, And Eating
1:06:15 - Kids & Bedtime
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1:11:10 - Working Parents
1:14:30 - religion and spirituality
Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends, welcome back to the show. I am so excited about the conversation that I am about to have. I'm going to tell a little backstory to this episode. It was either the agent or the publicist or somebody on this fabulous author's team reached out to me about her new book, which is about a topic that I am personally not that familiar with, which is parenting. At first, I wasn't really going to consider it, but then I decided to poll my audience and see if they would be interested in the topic. The response that I got was overwhelmingly positive and excited. Listeners, you just wanted this episode so bad. I was like, “Okay, I'll read the book.”
So, I read the book, which is Calm the H*ck Down: How to Let Go and Lighten Up About Parenting. Okay, first of all, I honestly think it was the funniest thing I read in the entirety of 2020. I mean that from the bottom of my heart, it was really hysterical. Second, I am not personally a parent, I don't anticipate being a parent in my near future but I feel like I learned so much about parenting, and it was really the mindset and approach that really, really resonated with me, and I think will really resonate and really help our listeners as well. I'm just so excited and honored to have today's guest on the show, which is Melanie Dale. Melanie, thank you so much for being here.
Melanie Dale: Melanie, thank you for having me.
Melanie Avalon: I know I've never interviewed a Melanie before.
Melanie Dale: I'm like, “Is this what people with the name Jennifer always feel like?” It's so exciting.
Melanie Avalon: That's so true. Sarah or Emily or, wow, I feel like Melanie is actually a really rare name. I don't meet a lot of Melanies.
Melanie Dale: I don't either. I meet just enough of them to be excited. It's pretty rare to encounter one out into the wild. So, hi.
Melanie Avalon: Hi. Actually, I have to ask you one more Melanie question. I’m named after Melanie in Gone with the Wind. Do you know who you're named after?
Melanie Dale: Hello, like the famous Melanie. That went into part of it. Also, my mom said they went to school with a Melanie, and she always liked the name. I personally liked the name Melanie and have adopted it because it means wearer of black and black darkness, and I wear a lot of black and I'm into like the macabre, so feel like it fits.
Melanie Avalon: Wait, it means that?
Melanie Dale: Like mela. Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: I wear-- black is the only thing I wear. I'm so excited. Okay, we are off to a great start.
Melanie Dale: Yeah, I'm super into gothic horror. Whenever people ask me about, I'm like, “Well, I had to be, I mean, look at my name.”
Melanie Avalon: I am too-- Well, that was one of the things I read your book, and I was like, I feel like, “I'm reading a book that I wrote.” I don't know, just so many things that you talked about, like Nancy Drew fan girl, and Epcot and just so many things. In any case, for this episode, I think what I'm going to do is a lot of the content, even as me not being a parent really, really resonated with me and I would love to ask you questions about it. Then, I also polled my audience for questions, I have a lot of specific questions from listeners for you as well. If you like we can just see where it goes.
Melanie Dale: Oh, yeah. Let's jump in. All right.
Melanie Avalon: To start things off, for listeners who are not familiar with your work, because you're also the author of four other books. You're a staff writer for Coffee + Crumbs. Do you like to tell listeners a little bit about your personal story? I guess what brought you to, to writing and being an author, and particularly what made you decide to write a book about parenting, which you talk about in the beginning of the book, but you'd like to tell listeners?
Melanie Dale: Totally. I have three kids from three different continents. Let me just break that down for you really fast. I went through a long battle with infertility. Then, at the end of that, finally had my son Elliot, and he is 13 now. Then, we adopted our youngest daughter from Ethiopia. Her name is Evie, when she was 2 and she's 11 now. Then, we adopted our oldest daughter, Anna from Latvia, when she was 9, and now she's 16. So, we have three kids from three different continents, we adopted them out of birth order, we messed birth order, we've had a lot to calm the heck down about. My road to parenting and then parenting has been very different. Then, once we accrued all of our children after about 12 years of hard work, the doctors and lawyers and paperwork, we thought okay, “Well, that was hard, but now the fun begins.” Then, we encountered a season that I call Label Palooza, when I found myself sitting across from teachers and specialists, and therapists giving me labels for some of my kids. I realized that parenting was going to look different than I thought it was. That set me on this journey of how to figure out how to lighten up and how to have fun in the midst of the hard stuff, because the hard stuff is just always going to be with us. That was how the premise of the book came to be.
It's my fourth book. All four of my books are within the personal growth category, I'd say. I've always talked about parenting, but this is my first full-on parenting book. I was like if I was going to write a parenting book, the one thing that I have learned over the last decade and a half, or whatever, is really how to calm the heck down, whatever life throws at you. That was the big thing that I wanted to be able to pass on to other parents, all of my tips and tricks and strategies that we figured out as well as just a lot of really funny stories from the archives. Yeah, that's how it happened. I live in the Atlanta area, I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for 20 years, we're celebrating 21 pretty soon. I'm a writer by day. I also do a little screenwriting, a new thing in my life, which is fun. I've gotten to write a little bit for the TV show, Creepshow, so that's been fun. But yeah, pretty much just spend all day in my basement on my computer.
Melanie Avalon: I love it. I love it so much. It's funny, because I obviously wasn't seeking out-- I wasn't reading a lot of parenting books, and I wasn't looking for, “What would be the parenting book I would want to bring on the show?” But when I read your book, “I think this is the parenting book I would want to bring on this show,” because something you just talked about, which is the focus for you, Calm The Heck Down, so much of this shows episodes are about health and diet and fitness and lifestyle, but the thing that I think is honestly most important in the end is the mindset surrounding everything, and maintaining that sense of calm and dealing with stress. I just think that is so important and that's a through line throughout your book. I think if I were to be a parent, just knowing myself and knowing how I act with everything, I tend to go crazy with research and information overload. I think probably the thing I would struggle with the most would be wanting to do everything perfectly. I can just foresee a lot of stress. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that, and expectations versus reality.
Melanie Dale: Yeah, and I think that's so normal. I did not write a book called Stay Calm, because I very rarely start from a place of calm. There are people out there who are these amazing unicorns who are just naturally calm people, but I am not that, like I have had to learn to work on how to calm the heck down. I do think most of us tend to approach parenting or get caught up in parenting, and we can get freaked out. Pre-COVID, I got to go around the country and talk to different groups of parents around the country. All of us had that in common where we were all freaking out about something. That's really, really normal and common. Definitely, when we go into parenting, we think it's going to go a certain way and we have the best hopes and dreams for how we think we're going to parent, and at least for me, I was highly disappointed in myself. I was like, “Whoa, I am not as good at this as I thought I was going to be.” Early on, I had to learn to adjust my expectations on what I thought parenting was going to look like and how I thought I was going to be as a mom. I do think that lowering our expectations and mourning our expectations has been really important.
Mourning our expectations for how we thought parenting was going to look and how we thought we were going to be as a parent, that's really important, because that then frees us up to embrace the parenting we actually have. If you mourn the unicorn kids who never did anything wrong, you can mourn those fake children that never existed, and that frees you up to then absolutely love the incredible, unique kids that you actually have. I do think expectation management is a huge first step to figuring out how to calm down.
Melanie Avalon: Does that apply to absolutely everything or are there certain non-negotiables when you're raising kids, where it is really important to do things a certain way? Where should you focus on how-- I don't want use the word ‘perfect,’ but how perfectly you should be doing different things?
Melanie Dale: Yeah, no, that's a great question. I definitely think for each family, you have your non-negotiables, you have the things that aren't going to go away. I have some kids with some special needs and there are certain things in our lives that are non-negotiables, we have to have them. What has really helped me is being able to let go of everything else. Those non-negotiables that are going to be your super important things, that's what you want to spend your time and attention and focus on, and you can let go of the other things that are maybe draining you that you don't actually have to have. I think parenting here in a pandemic now, that has been especially true of the things that we have to have versus the things that we don't really have to worry about right now. That's been really big.
I like to separate out what I can and can't control and focus on the things I can control because you can't control everything, especially as we've seen in the last year that there's so much out of our control. If I focus on trying to control the things that I'll never be able to control, I'll drive myself bananas. Whereas if I focus on the things that I can control, then that frees me up to be able to be a little bit calmer and feel like I have things that I can do. For instance, as things were shutting down, I could not control whether or not my kids had their sports, their activities, I had no control over that. It was really hard. The kids were looking to me, like, what's going on with their lives, I had no answers. What I could control was whether or not my kids got exercise. I began to let go of what I can't control, I can't control our city league soccer, I can't control the swim team, but I can control whether or not my kids get exercise. All of a sudden, I'm doing yoga with my youngest, I'm going on walks with my oldest, I'm making my middle child go on bike rides. That allowed me to feel like there is some control, there are some things that we can work on, even when we're letting other stuff go.
Melanie Avalon: I love that so much. That actually taps into two different questions that I had from listeners, you already touched on it. With your kids, have you found that you have to have different parenting styles for the different kids? Deb, for example, she said, “How do you balance different parenting styles, such as adapting the needs to meet ADHD kids versus being overly militaristic or being rigid?” Have you found with your own kids that you have to have different parenting styles for the different types of kids?
Melanie Dale: Absolutely, yeah. I have three kids. They're not biologically related, they have very little in common, and I parent them each very differently. I tell them that like, “Hey, what I did for one of you, I may not do for you the other one.” I treat them all fairly, I treat them all equally, but I'm going to parent them differently, because different tactics work for different kids. I might have one kid who doesn't have a hard time getting the schoolwork done. I might have another kid where school work’s got to be the first thing and I've got to dangle that carrot to make sure they get it done. That goes for privileges as well, like, some kids have the responsibility to be able to take on things earlier than others, others need a little more time to develop before they can do the thing that they want to do. Whatever it is, I definitely think treating our kids and really having individualized attention to each kid. That's true in the schools where kids have an individualized education plan sometimes. I think it could be true in our homes as well, where we have individualized parenting plans if we need to depending upon the needs of our kids. My kids know that, and so we're really open about with them.
Melanie Avalon: Actually, that's so perfect because Deb's follow up question, actually, I don't know. It might be the same Deb, it might have been a different Deb.
Melanie Dale: Hi, Deb.
Melanie Avalon: I know, Hi, Deb are Debs. She was wondering about age-appropriate chores and age-appropriate activities for independence. She said, for example, riding a bike alone in the neighborhood or playing unattended in the yard or playing on the iPad unsupervised. One of the things I found really interesting in your book that ties into this was you did talk about our perception of safety today and how we feel like the world is less safe, but it's actually more safe. That's a few different topics, but the age-appropriate chores and activities, what are your thoughts on that?
Melanie Dale: Yeah, I have in the book I talk about the boomerang method. I basically look at as treating my kids like boomerangs, that does not mean I'm throwing my children. This idea when you have a boomerang and you throw it out, and it comes back to you, and you toss it back out, and it comes back to you. When I'm thinking about my kids and what they are ready for and what they're able to do, maybe it's riding their bike down the street, it applies to young children as well as once they get into the teen years. They want to be able to ride their bike down the street too. You say okay, “Well, we're going to try that. Go halfway and can you get there and come back to me safely and on time?” What I'm looking for with the boomerang is are they going where they're say they're going to go? Are they coming back when they say they're going to come back? Whatever that is, whether it's riding your bike, or for the teen years when I'm handing them the keys, and I'm going okay, “Are you going to go where you say you're going to go? You can come back when you say you're going to come back?”
If the boomerang comes back and does great with that, then the next time maybe it's a little further, maybe the next time it's a little further than that. You treat each kid differently. Each boomerang is going to have a different trip. But if the boomerang takes a side trip or the boomerang doesn't come back, then that's when you know you need to tighten up and work on reestablishing trust, work on reestablishing responsibility. Whenever my kids are asking me for a privilege or an opportunity to do something, that's what I'm in the back of my mind like, “Well, where are we with this Boomerang?” Have I been able to trust them in smaller things? Or, do we still need to work on the small things before we move to the big things. That's what I would say about responsibilities.
Then, as for chores, I love chores. I don't personally like doing them, but I really love assigning them to my children, for sure. I would say start the earlier the better because when kids are little, they don't even realize that it's like work that no one wants to do. Usually, when little kids are happy to help you sweep next to you, or I hand some of the plastic dishes from the top rack of the dishwasher and say, “Hey, go put those away in those drawers over there.” Even when they're small, be teaching them how to do chores alongside you. I used to just like, have my kids sort the laundry, like, “Here are 16 different socks, practice matching them.” It's great. It teaches the little kids how to match, you get your socks sorted, that's a whole afternoon's activity right there sometimes. Then, as the kids get older, you can increase the responsibility of what chores they have. I break chores out into different categories. Some of the chores are just their standard daily or weekly chores that they're doing that they know they're responsible for. Then, sometimes there's just the drive-by chore, like, “Hey, you're standing there with nothing to do, I need help with this.” My son is awesome at that. He's the kid who like if I come in from the grocery store, he's like, “Do you need help with those bags?” I'm like, “Okay, you're amazing.” “Way to butter me up. What do you need? Yes, the answer is yes.”
As they get older and stronger, they're able to do more. My son can now take out the garbage and he's tall and he has big muscles, and he can like lug these big bags, and it's awesome. As the kids get older, you can entrust more to them. A lot of times if they want something that they want to go out with their friends or they want to have screen time or whatever it is, you can sneak a chore in there first, like, “Hey, do this, this and this, and then you can have what you want.” We do chores every day around here, and then we have usually a little list on Saturday morning they have to get through. My kids do their own laundry. They've been doing their own laundry since really as soon as they're tall enough to reach the laundry, then they're doing their own laundry. Even before then, they might be helping me put the laundry away or helping me fold the laundry. I hate laundry, so the sooner I can get them to help out with their own clothes, the better.
Melanie Avalon: I love that. I love reframing it as fun, and even me thinking back on my childhood, I feel like the first time my mom taught me how to do different chores, it was always really exciting. It was like learning something new. I loved how you said in the book that-- didn't you give one of your children for Christmas like a vacuum cleaner or something?
Melanie Dale: A singing broom. Elliot got a singing broom and dustbin for Christmas one year, he thought it was super cool, and so did I. [laughs]
Melanie Avalon: I love that, it's incredible.
Melanie Dale: We have our standard ones, but then also if they need to earn extra money, like if they want to save up for something, then I have a whole list of chores and varying amounts of money they can earn if they want extra money. If they're like there's a video game that they want, or they want to go get a new lip gloss or whatever it is, “Well, here's a list of chores to do, and then I'll pay you for that.” I think the idea that work is valuable, and that we all contribute to the family is really important. Sometimes, when things are not going well around here because it is not perfect around here at all-- We've learned everything in the book the hard way, you guys. Sometimes I can start to be, like, “Mommy is not a house elf. I am not Dobby or someone give me a sock, I would like to be set free.” I make Harry Potter jokes but I do always just want to remind everyone that we are a family that pitches in, we all want to pitch in. It takes all of us to make this house go around because there are five of us here, if we don't all pitch in, it begins to get a little crazy around here. We have to all hold up our end, in order to keep the house going.
Melanie Avalon: I love it. Then also while we're still in the safety topic, I feel like you and I have very similar tastes in movies. One of the things I love in your book was the constant reference to movies and how you actually engage with movies with your children, this was completely different from how I was raised with movies. I really liked your approach, in particular, how you would use horror movies to teach about safety in the world. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you handle movies with children, especially things like age-appropriate content and discussion of that and movies.
Melanie Dale: Yeah, and I'm probably a little more lenient than other people. It totally is up to your own family values and what you're okay within your own family, that's going to be different for each family. As my kids have become teenagers, I've really loved to embrace horror movies, especially my son is really into them, so it's so fun to watch things with him. When I'm not sure, especially for my youngest kid and when my kids were younger, when I'm not sure about the content of a movie, I love Common Sense Media. You can just google Common Sense Media whenever you have a question about either a book or a movie, and it breaks down all of the main movies and it'll break down exactly what's in there. It'll tell me like where every boob scene is in a R rated movie, or like, every gory detail about-- it'll break down what kind of violence. If you're ever not sure about a movie with your kids, that has been a great resource.
Then, as far as the content of movies, even when there are some things in movies that I'm a little iffy about, I like to do a post-movie breakdown with the kids like, “Well, we're going to watch this together, but then we're going to talk about it.” An example would be early on-- my son loves to read. He read The Hunger Games books when he was really young. Then I let him watch the movies, we watched the movies together, and I love The Hunger Games. For a young child, I think it's important to have those conversations of like, “Hey, violence is not okay. These kids are killing each other. Why is that bad? Let's talk about the ramifications of that, and the society that that they're living in, and what led to that and why that's bad.” Rather than just like, “Yeah, we celebrate violence.” I think there are some really cool conversations that you can have with kids as they're figuring out their worldview, with even the most unexpected movies.
Melanie Avalon: I love Harry Potter as well. I remember when Harry Potter first came out, my mom gave me the book. She was like, “You can read this, everybody's reading it.” Then, there was all the controversy. She took it away after I started reading it. Then it took me a few years to be able to read it again. I just thought that was a really, really smart approach about the discussion of the content and learning from it because that wasn't like how I was raised. I think I personally probably would have really benefited from that. Also, in the world of movies and activities, this is a topic that I do talk about a lot on the show, and that is social media. I can't even imagine, because social media, when I grew up wasn't really a thing. So, I can't even imagine now being a kid with social media, especially like at school. I feel like with cliques and everything that was intense enough without social media. I can't even imagine existing in that world now. How do you handle that with your kids?
Melanie Dale: Yeah, it is a lot, and it can be very freaky. In order for me to be able to calm down about the social media, we have gone slowly with it. It's not all or nothing. That's what I keep telling people is that you don't just hand your kid a smartphone and go, “Here are all the apps in the world. Here's the unopened internet for your browsing pleasure.” I like my kids having smartphones, because it's like mini low jacks, you can find them in the Life360 app, you can find them anywhere they are, you can tell if they are going where they say they're going to go. When you have older kids, when you've got teenagers who are off on their own, I love being able to know where they are. I do like them having that resource, I like to be able to reach them, I like for them to be able to reach me if they need me. It's great. Everyone is different. We have given our kids smartphones right before they go to middle school, but they keep them in their lockers, the middle school has a rule that the kids can't have them in classes, so there's a little bit of protection there that the school provides, so they keep them in their lockers all day.
Then, we set time limits on our kids’ social media and their phones in general. They have only a certain amount of time per day. When they use that time up, that app shuts down. Part of the problem is just the unlimited time that the kids can be on it, they can get into trouble and a lot of drama and social media. Social media makes me feel bad sometimes, and I'm a grown adult. So, having limits in place is helpful. We didn't allow social media for a long time. I think our daughter got her first social media app, maybe like halfway through eighth grade or beginning in ninth grade. We let her have the first app and we gave her three rules. We said no swears, no slurs, no sexiness. Just the general-- you're about to start creating a digital footprint for yourself and so future employers will see this and friends will see this and human beings will see this, and so we want to make sure that you're behaving yourself. Everything is a locked account first of all, but we explain anyone can screenshot anything. When you put something out there, you can't take it back. No swears. Let's don't go crazy with the swearing on social media and no slurs, let's be kind, let's make sure that we are not participating in anything that is hurting someone else. No sexiness, let's don't have like the sexy in your bed pictures posted online. Those were our rules, and we said, “If you don't follow our rules, we're going to take it away.” Sure enough, that did happen. We had to follow through on that and shut the account down because there were just a few times that she just didn't follow the rules and so e needed her to know like we mean business. We need you to learn how to do social media in a healthy way. We had a reboot, where we took it away-- the boomerang idea. The boomerang didn't go where it was supposed to go and so we came back, we reestablish trust, and we set our back out there again. She has a few different social media apps now.
We do not drive ourselves insane by checking on them constantly. We do just once in a while, just give a check and make sure like, what's your digital footprint look like? Are you doing okay? Does this look okay out there? Are you putting out good things into the world rather than negative things into the world? I would say it can be really scary, but it doesn't have to be, and you can go slowly and take it one app at a time. Each kid is going to be different. Again, if you're treating each kid a little differently, it just depends on when they are ready, and some kids might not be ready for a while.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, that was one of the things I hadn't considered was the value of being able to track your kids wherever they are with the location with the devices. You're speaking about the rules, in general with rules, do you err on the side of more or less rules? I know you talk about simple rules in your book. Rules.
Melanie Dale: Yeah, I generally try to focus on one thing at a time, especially when the kids are little. Focusing on one thing at a time helps them learn the one thing. Figure out what's the most important thing right now that we need to be working on and focus on that. That has been really beneficial for us. For instance, one of my kids is an arguer. It's obey the first time, obey the first time, obey the first time. That is the thing that we say over and over again. We keep our words short, Alex, my husband and I we're both really wordy people. We love to talk, we love to hear ourselves talk, we can get into lecture mode, and just go on. We've tried to train ourselves to keep those words short, especially when they're younger, and just focus on tapes that you can repeat. Obey the first time is an example of that. That just cues their brain like, “Oh, I'm not supposed to argue right now, I'm supposed to do the thing that mom has asked me to do.” Then, once they get that down, then you can move on to the next thing.
I've noticed with my small children, and as my kids are now teenagers, I've noticed that when I'm throwing a ton of stuff at them, they short circuit and freak out on me. If I just keep my words small and I focus on one thing at one time, it helps them process what I'm asking of them, and it keeps us calm.
Melanie Avalon: Also, tying into that, as far as words, and the importance of, this makes sense, where you're putting the importance of things, I know for me, personally-- I feel different families and parents often will emphasize, like, what are non-negotiables of things you should just never do. For my family growing up, the one thing that was just no, you never ever do this was lie. I reflected on that a lot. Then, I found really interesting because you talked about the importance of not lying in the book. I think that value, at least for me, is so important in how I see the world because I think having that, even if it's a white lie, lying is just a no. I think honesty and trust is just so important. I was wondering what your thoughts were on lying.
Melanie Dale: Yeah, as the kids have gotten older, especially we do tend to have more conversations, rather than just hardened fast rules. We do have some rules, but we do try to just approach each kid and have conversations about whatever it is. We tell them that lying is the worst thing you can do, because that breaks the relationship. Now, my kids still lie. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. In fact, one of my children just garnered themselves a worse punishment, because they lied on top of the first thing that they did, and this has happened several times where they do the thing, and then they lie to try to get out of it, and then we catch them in that, and the punishment is so much worse than if they had just come clean to begin with. We also really try to emphasize your integrity is the most important thing, you're going to mess up, we're going to make mistakes, but we've got to come clean about it and admit it, instead of trying to cover it up or lie about it. Deception is the worst. It's a work in progress here, I'll tell you. It definitely is a work in progress. Some kids I think are more wired to truthfulness than others. For some, it doesn't take very much to get them to be truthful. For others, it's a little bit more of a journey.
Melanie Avalon: That part just really, really resonated with me. After this, I'm going to call my mom and be like, “Thank you, mom, for always emphasizing that.”
Melanie Dale: In fact, my kids are learning because there have been several times-- I've even noticed there have been a few conversations in the last couple of weeks where I noticed like, “Ah, they just came clean. They just admitted the mess up. Thank you for your honesty, and we can move on.” When I do catch my kids being honest, I really try to acknowledge that, like, “Awesome job being honest. I really appreciate your honesty. I know that was hard for you to admit and I'm so proud of you for doing it.”
Melanie Avalon: I think we see in the world today. We just see how people react when they suspect they might be lied to. I think it just goes back to the importance of what you just said, which is the relationship between people and the importance of a sense of integrity. When things are not going well-- I have a lot of questions from listeners, for example, Megan. She just says, she wants to know how to not flip out on my kids. Sarah says, “Especially right now, when I am home all day, every day with my kids, how can I deal with the constant mess or clutter? I end up at my wit's end by 6 o’clock, which makes the evening not much fun. How do I help them feel loved?” What do you do when it just feels like a lot with kids?
Melanie Dale: Yeah, it's okay to put yourself in timeout. Sometimes, especially because we've all been on top of each other for so long, under really difficult circumstances, it's okay to put yourself in timeout. Sometimes, I just have to say, “Mommy needs a timeout,” and just take a minute. Depending on how old your children is, where that time, how it can be. If they're little, they may still be clinging to your legs while that's happening, but if they're a little older, you can shut yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes. My kids are old enough that I can go actually take a 30-minute bath and just stop and reboot and reset. Or, if your kids are little, do that after they go to bed, or during nap time. I think we have to figure out how to say yes to ourselves, that's on a daily basis. That's not just once a month or whatever. How can you say yes to yourself every day, something small that you can do for yourself to help manage your sanity and your emotions in the middle of all this because it is challenging.
There's an acronym I'll share with you, Melanie, that I've been doing since the beginning of the pandemic that has really helped me just stay-- I struggle with feeling gracious towards the people in my home right now because we're all on top of each other and giving myself grace. So,, m acronym is actually GRACE. It stands for gratitude, read, adapt, create, and engage. It's just a five-point thing that I run through every day for myself to make sure that I'm doing these five things, and that has helped me-- I think, when I feel like I'm going to freak out. With gratitude, even in the midst of the hard things, when everything feels like it's falling apart, what are you grateful for? I actually did this this morning, I was working out and I was really mad at one of my kids, like so mad at one of my kids. I just started going, “What am I grateful about with this child? What do I like about this child? Let's focus on the positive here as I'm ready to kill this child.” Gratitude. What are you grateful for? Read, rather than just doom scrolling all of the bad news every day, let's make sure we're reading a good book as well. Adapt, let's celebrate how we're adapting every day, there's a new way to adapt.
I feel like every week I'm getting a new email from the schools telling me there's a new version of how we're doing school now. That's been really challenging. There's lots to adapt to, so I want to celebrate. Create, I want to make sure I'm creating, for me, that's my writing time, but also, sometimes it's trying a new recipe, doing something fun in the kitchen, whatever makes you happy with creating. Then engage, engaging with our friends, engaging with maybe our neighbors, shouting across the yard, social distance, or a Zoom call with family or whatever that looks like, engage your community and serve people in need. Those are some things that have helped me when I'm consistently doing that entire acronym on a daily basis, that has helped me calm down a little bit in the midst of all of this hard stuff.
We have to celebrate the wins with our families that sometimes we can get really caught up in the losses or the struggles we're having with our kids, the struggles we're having to parent, the frustrations. So, I do want to make sure I'm taking time to celebrate the wins. Sometimes, that happens around our dinner table, where we go around and we're like, “Okay, what were the wins for the day?” Some people say like highs and lows. “What's working right now? What are some things to celebrate?” Rather than thinking about, especially, especially during this pandemic, rather than thinking like, this is going to be awesome. We're having an awesome year, like, we think we were all like, “Yay, 2021.” We're like, “Oh, no, it's the same as 2020. Shoot.” I try to focus on collecting mental snapshots of happy moments rather than “This is all going to be awesome,” or “This is all going to be horrible.” It's usually somewhere in between. Those moments, it might be chaos around you, and everything's falling apart, but there's like that moment, maybe one of your kids throws an arm around the other kid and they side hug for a second, and I'm just like click. Mental snapshot, that was beautiful. Finding those happy moments, those mental snapshots and I just create a bank in my mind.
I think laughter makes us brave. Laughing is so important. I want to cultivate a home filled with laughter. I actually have a list on my phone just in the notes section, and I keep a list of things that make me laugh. Then when I hit a day where nothing is making me laugh, I can go to my list and go, “What's made me laugh in the past?” I want to make sure that we're laughing that I'm teaching my kids to laugh, that I'm laughing at myself. I'm teaching my kids to laugh at themselves, that we don't take ourselves too seriously. Those are some things that helped me when I feel like everything is falling apart.
Melanie Avalon: One of the facts or-- yeah, I guess it's a fact that has stuck with me, ever since I heard it was that our brain literally cannot be in a state of fear and in the state of gratitude at the same time, it just can't be in both. So, you can instantly turn off your anxiety with the power of gratitude. I love that idea about a laughter list. I have a gratitude list, but I'm going to start doing that. That is brilliant. Brilliant.
Melanie Dale: I have a gratitude list too, I'm like, “I should have a laughter list.” One of the things on my list, Melanie, is I was out walking on-- I live in a city that has a golfcart paths everywhere. I go running and walking on these paths that people toodle along on their little golfcarts. I was out on the golfcart path. This man passes me on this-- it looks like a rocket-powered skateboard. He looked like The Flash, he had on his shiny helmet. He was like, probably a man in his 60s or 70s, and he was like, had on all this shiny armor and this fancy skate thing. He was like, laughing and like, “Wee.” I was like, “Good for you.” It was during lockdown, when you couldn't go inside anywhere. I was like, “He is just living his best life right now.” It happened months ago, but it's all my laughter list. I'll read it every now and then, remember this man in his shiny armor [laughs] on the golfcart path in a skateboard, and I was like, “You're so cool.”
Melanie Avalon: Actually, speaking of laughter, just to give listeners an idea of the hysterical stories that you tell in your book and how it will bring laughter, could you just tell the story about the golfcart, with the kid that stole the golfcart?
Melanie Dale: Oh my gosh, yeah. Happy to. When we first moved-- we moved here from Washington DC. We live in the Atlanta area. My husband's from Michigan, I'm from the Cleveland area, I'm from Ohio, and so we're northerners and we worked our way down the country. Then we were in DC for about eight years. Then we ended up in the Atlanta area. We love it down here. We were brand-new southerners. We got our golfcart and we had our new little baby, we were new parents, and a new part of the country. We took our golfcart out one night, and we came across this boy who was in need of help on the golfcart path, and his golfcart wouldn't work. We stopped, and my husband was like, “Are you okay? Can we help you?” He's like, “No, no, I'm fine. I'm fine.” We're like, “No, we'll help you, let us help you.” We wanted to be friendly. We were in the suburbs now. We were going to be friendly people. That's what people did in the suburbs. We were sure of it.
We got out of our cart and my husband helped him wheel this golfcart down the golfcart path. It's late at night and, and he's like, “What happened to your key?” The kid was like, “I lost the key.” We're like, “Oh, my gosh, well, let's wheel this back to where you live.” They're wheeling it. I'm following in our golfcart, and they're wheeling it, pushing it into this neighborhood. My husband looks on, he's like, “What happened to your shoe?” The kid is missing a shoe. He's like, “Oh, I lost my shoe.” We're like, “Oh, this poor boy. What a difficult time you're having. No key, no shoe.” We got him pushed up into his neighborhood, had the golfcart. We're like, “Alright.” He's like, “Thank you.” You could tell he was ready to ditch. We're like, “Okay, well, no problem. We're just your new friendly neighbors in the suburbs. We're doing awesome.” We got back on our golfcart, and we're driving home and we're like, “Oh, there's his shoe.” We found it. We drove it back and we went back to the neighborhood and he jumped, gave us this look like, “You're back. Oh my gosh, why are you back?” We're like, “We found your shoe.” He's like, “Thank you.” Then we left and we're like, “What would even make him lose a shoe and not go back for it? How come you wouldn't have a key to this golfcart?” We drove home and we're like, “Honey, I think we just helped him steal a golfcart.” We aided and abetted. We were like here for a month, and we'd already aided and abetted in crime, and we didn't even mean to. Yeah, we were just trying to be nice.
Melanie Avalon: Dying, laughing, helping the child steal a golfcart. [laughs]
Melanie Dale: Yeah. Whenever my teenagers are doing crazy things, I'm like, “Well, we helped one teenager steal a golfcart, so we're not that much better.”
Melanie Avalon: I love it. I think I'm going to add that story to my laughter list. [laughs] It's funny. One more question while we're talking about reacting to kids, or how kids might be acting. I have some listeners from questions about how to know how to react to kids, because I'll just read the question. You'll see. For example, Sarah said, “How do you tell the difference between attention seeking and actually needing help? My daughter is seven and she can be stubborn, demanding, and always trying to get us to do things for her. Sometimes, she says things that I think she's saying just to get attention but I'm never sure if I should take them more seriously. I don't want her to think I don't care if there's really a problem but I also don't want to indulge her if she's trying to be manipulative.” Then pretty similar to this was, Didi said, “How are you patient with the constant criticism and mood shifts? I struggle knowing when to help and when to hug. Sometimes, she just wants me to sit there with her while she's in pain. I struggle with that. My mind naturally wants to do stuff to help, or to do something to ease my pain but I can't ease hers.” I guess these are two different questions, but as far as like interpreting kids, how they're acting, when they need help, how to engage with them, what is the guidance there?
Melanie Dale: Oh, my gosh. We are right in that. We have a kid who is very dramatic and has a lot of big feelings. I so understand what you're saying about whether or not what is it, when do they need attention versus when do you need to be with them. Yes, we deal with that as well. I would say there are several things that I do. I always want to let my kids know that it's okay to feel that way, validate their feelings, it's okay to feel that way. If they're having a bad feeling, if it's fear or anger or whatever, you're in a safe place, it's okay to feel that way, you're in a safe place. Those are regular tapes that I say to my kids. Sometimes, when it's a problem they're having, I put it back on them, “How are you going to solve that?” I want to think of it as being their guide, not their sidekick.
Then, a lot of times, it's just a physical need that needs to be met. Sometimes, if a kid is having big feelings, drinking a glass of water, or giving them a snack, or having them do jumping jacks, or we would have our kids run laps around the house a few times, to just reset their brain, sometimes that helps or a big strong hug, just something to reset their brain. Sometimes, a physical need helps with those big feelings. Then, with my daughter with the feelings that are very large and very constant, I want to validate the feelings, I want to be there for her with the feelings. But then, I have to say, “Okay, you can keep having those feelings, I'm going to wrap you up in a big fuzzy blanket, I'm going to give you a big hug, you can be right here sitting near me. Now, I have work to do. I'm going to go back to work, you can still have those feelings right there. I'm there for you and hold yourself in that big fuzzy blanket. I love you so much. Now, I'm going to go get dinner ready, or I'm going to go sit at my computer,” or whatever it is.
There does come a point where like, “I'm done.” [laughs] I think it is about validating the feelings and not ignoring them or not belittling the feelings because some kids just are big feelers. Validate them, but then it's okay to then wrap them up in a blanket burrito or meet a physical need, give them a snack, give them a glass of water, whatever it is, and then go do what you need to do to, you don't have to sit there for hours with them in their daily drama. Yeah, be their guide, not their sidekick. I always think about like, I'm going to throw them a rope and help them climb out of the pit. I'm not getting down in the pit with them. I tell my kids all the time, like, “Well, I've already done fifth grade,” or, “I've already done seventh grade.” These are their problems and I'm not going to have the problems too, but I'm going to be there for them and support them while they have the problems.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, and also in the world of feelings, one of the most valuable things in my personal life is having a therapist. I think it's really funny because I just think it's completely normal to have a therapist. I was in LA for 10 years and I feel it was pretty normal there. I feel here in Atlanta, I feel sometimes I'll mention my therapist and you still get a slightly nuanced reaction where that seems like a weird thing to have a therapist, like, “Oh, you must have problems if you have a therapist.” You talk about the role of therapists not only in parents’ lives, but also with your kids as well. What are your thoughts on therapy?
Melanie Dale: Several of us have therapists, and we've been in therapy for a long time. I love therapy. If there's one thing I can do is to normalize therapy, both for us as parents and for our kids. It's so good. It's so healthy. I do have therapists for several of my children, and a lot of the calm-down strategies that we have learned from years and years of therapy are in the book, because I’ve got to pass this stuff on, it's really helpful. I am not naturally wired to being great at feeling stuff. I have a hard time connecting with my own feelings. So, when my kids have big feelings, that's hard for me. Therapy has been so invaluable. A safe place for them to go to process their feelings, for them to learn strategies or behaviors. It's been key. Then, for me to go to my therapist and be able to just let it all out there, has been one of the most important things that we've done for our family. I definitely encourage therapy. I wish that everyone could have the access to therapy that we do because I know that's a privilege and not everyone has that.
I definitely encourage, especially if your kid is having big feelings and having struggles or if there's any childhood trauma or if they are empathic, and they just have a lot of feelings, or for any reason at all, if they're struggling with anger, or if they're really worried or anxious, for any reason, getting your kid into therapy is so great. We've done all kinds of therapy. When the kids have been little, they've done a lot of play therapy. They just feel they're going in there playing and having fun, and it's fantastic. Then, now that we have teenagers, just talk therapy and having someone that they can go to as a resource has been really helpful.
EMDR therapy has been really huge for several of us, which I'm not even going to try to explain it because I'm not a scientist, but EMDR, if you have any kind of trauma in your background that you need to process that has been invaluable for us. I highly recommend therapy.
As a family-- we learned in our training to become adoptive parents, we learned that love is not enough. Love is wonderful. Love is important but sometimes it's not enough. Sometimes, there's other things going on. There's more than love can conquer, and we have tools and resources. If our bodies are sick, we take them to the doctor. If our kid gets sick, we take them to the pediatrician. If our feelings are sick, or if we are struggling with stuff in our brain, in our emotions, then we should be able to take those to a doctor to and get the help and the strategies that we need to be healthy and thrive. So, I'm a big fan.
Melanie Avalon: I will join you on that mission to normalize because there is a stigma around it still, I feel, and I just think it's so valuable. I will just say for listeners two things. One is that if you haven't done therapy before, sometimes it can be hard to find a therapist that you really connect with. If you have a not so ideal first therapy experience, keep looking until you find the therapist that works well with you. Also, if people haven't done therapy, it's often covered on a lot of insurance plans, people might not realize that.
Melanie Dale: I worked hard to find therapists within our insurance, and that's a privilege, and we are very grateful for that, for sure. It's great. Therapy is good.
Melanie Avalon: Also, in that world, one of the things I work on a lot with my own therapist is body image. Being a female and body image, how do you handle-- because I love what all you were saying about, especially when it comes to raising girls, there's such a complicated relationship that girls often have with their bodies. How do you feel about telling girls that they're pretty? I just feel like there's a lot there.
Melanie Dale: Sometimes, if I read all the blogs-- and I started as a blogger, I love blogs, but if I read all of them, I can feel like I can't say anything because it'll be like, “Don't tell the girl she's beautiful.” Shoot, and I’ll be afraid to say anything. I think there is a balance. My girls want to know that they're beautiful, my girls want to hear that they ask me, “Mommy, am I pretty? Mommy, am I beautiful?” I obviously want to validate them and tell them they're beautiful. I just don't want to stop there. I also want to ask them what books are you reading, I want to develop their minds as well. You're not just beautiful, you have all these other things too. I think maybe rather than an either or it's a both and. With body image, I've really focused from when the girls were little till now is on, rather than the shape that you are focusing on being strong and healthy.
I'm not biologically related to my girls, all three of us have very different body types. So, I don't want to focus on one body type being better or worse than other body type. I just want to focus on, “Are you strong? Are you healthy?” “You're getting so strong,” rather than like, “You're so big.” No. “You're so strong and you're so healthy.” Or, rather than, “You're so little, are you strong? Are you eating healthy foods? Are you drinking enough water?” I have a teen and a tween girl now and body image in a whole thing. Even when they are talking about things that they're seeing on Instagram or on TV or whatever, I really want to be careful of that, and teach my kids no fat shaming. If anybody's snickers about the way someone looks like that, we process that and go, “Here's why that's not okay. We don't ever want to judge somebody based on what they look like. We want to be kind and we want to be kind to ourselves as well.” It's a process of teaching them that, I know. Then, you send them to school and somebody says something mean, and it's just layer upon layer of teaching them to love themselves.
That really starts with loving yourself. I have to do the work to love myself, so that my girls see that I love myself, and that I'm confident and that whatever body image issues I've had that I have done the work there. I have a history of an eating disorder, and that was very challenging for me and I've been in recovery for a really long time. I want to pass healthy things on to my girls. Not all of the unhealthy thoughts and patterns that I had growing up.
Melanie Avalon: I love hearing the content of everything that you just said as far as not the either or, and bringing in the health, which actually goes into a huge topic that we do talk about a lot on the show, and which I got a lot of questions from listeners about. That is, how to handle diet and food and eating with kids. Emmy says, “How do I teach kids healthy foods without making them have a weird relationship with food?” I asked-- this was on Facebook so people could respond to each other. Dana said, “I'm struggling with this too. My eight-year-old daughter is 20 pounds overweight, and I'm trying to teach her about health and good eating habits without giving her a complex about her weight or body.” Then, Barbara said, “How can we not destroy the natural intuitive eating? I battle with this a lot. I don't want to force my daughter to finish her plate or to eat when it's time to eat, but at the same time, I need to ensure she has a good substantial meal. Where is the balance? Do you have any tips?”
Melanie Dale: It is challenging, we've tried a whole lot of different things here. That's a struggle for so many people and us included. One thing that I have tried to do, my kids want to snack all the time. I try not to limit the snacking, but I try to swap out what the snacks are, if that makes sense. No foods are bad. We eat sugar, and we eat dessert and ice cream, and carbs, but I also want to make sure that kids are eating protein and vegetables and fruit. For us, it's really more about balance than about one is bad and one is good. I tend to preach everything in moderation around here. Teaching my kids that, and because my kids are all different, some of them struggle with that, and some of them do not. Everything in moderation. I say that except for murder and heroin, which those things should just probably be avoided in general. But everything in moderation.
My kids hear me say that all the time, and that goes for even the way that like Alex and I model alcohol, that everything in moderation for when they're of age, and so they see us doing everything in moderation. We're like, “I might have a little chocolate, but I'm not going to eat the entire bag of chocolate.” If I have a kid who's snacking a whole lot, I'm like, “That's great. You've had a good amount of carbs, now I need you to get a veggie.” I make sure that I'm stocking things, we've got a lot of like grilled chicken and a lot of carrot sticks and a lot of apples and bananas and just always making sure that they have a lot of options so that they can grab and munch on. It's not just all going to because if-- I have a kid who would just only eat crackers all day long. That's not healthy, because you need protein and fruits and veggies.
The main thing is teaching everything in moderation and having a variety of things. Crackers are great, but you've had some crackers, so now let's also have carrots, or let's also have an apple, or, “Hey, I love that you're going to have a cookie, those are delicious, you should totally do that. Before you have a cookie, I need you to eat this chicken strip. Let's get some protein in there so that you don't get a tummy ache.” Then, the other thing that I've done that I think has helped my kids start to take ownership of their own choices as they get older is that I have them really check in with their bodies, like, “Oh, you say your tummy hurts? Well, tell me what you've eaten over the last couple of hours? Ah, well, that might be why your stomach hurts right now.” Helping them be little investigators of how food and their relationship to food affects their body, so that that helps them then be empowered to start making choices for themselves.
I've really seen that in my son, especially. He's a swimmer. He's a really good swimmer, and so he has these really big workouts that he has to do. He was eating a whole lot of dairy and all kinds of stuff, right before workouts and then getting so sick during his workouts, and so he figured out like, “I’ve got to lay off of this stuff.” He has changed up his diet based on how his body was feeling. I just got to provide the assist and buy him what he needed to make sure that he was running healthy. Anyway, I hope that helps.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, it does. When I have contemplated if I ever were to have children, it's something I've thought a lot about just because I personally follow-- I do a whole-foods, paleo-type diet, and I react really strongly to foods and I feel-- you already touched on this. I feel really strongly about not attaching morality to food at all. I think that's a really slippery path and it gives food just really negative connotations and fear.
Melanie Dale: That's how I ended up anorexic because every food, there was a rule against it and I realized there were no foods that I could eat then. It was like, “Well, apparently all the foods are bad, so I'll just stop eating them.” I don't ever want people to feel like any food is bad.
Melanie Avalon: 100%. When I thought about it, I was like, “I think this is what I would do if I had kids.” I love the moderation idea. I also think that a lot of my listeners, some of them might feel more strongly about not even providing access, at least within the home to certain foods. Say a person does feel really strongly about certain foods being inflammatory, because I think what I would probably do-- and again, I have no experience with parenting, so I just want to hear what you think about this. I think I would probably only have in the house the foods that the whole anti-inflammatory foods that I feel would be the most nourishing for my children, but then I wouldn't have rules about they can't have these foods outside of the house. I don't know how you feel about that.
Melanie Dale: Yeah. We all have trigger foods. I have a kid, Nutella was the trigger food. Once that jar was open, they weren't stopping until they were at the bottom of that jar. I just stopped buying Nutella because I was like, that's easy. I mean, I'm putting the trigger food right there. Then they feel sick to their stomach, there's no reason for me-- I'm enabling their pain right now. It's horrible. There are things that-- and then occasionally, I would buy the little mini-Nutella cup as a treat that I would send in a lunch or something. Rather than, “Here's the whole jar, and I expect you to just regulate yourself.” No. For sure, I think we can save our kids from themselves if there's a food that's especially triggering, or where they just can't say no to it, and they're making themselves sick eating too much, then we just take that out, for sure. Yeah.
I've had to do that with juice too. Juice was a thing where it was just they were constantly drinking juice. That was just pure sugar, and there wasn't just like, “I'll have one glass.” It was like, “Nope.” Okay, they just drink the entire thing of juice.” I got rid of the juice for a while, and all of a sudden, “Oh, they're drinking more water,” because that's their only option. Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: Something similar to diet and just that it's something that we humans do every-- well, hopefully we do every single day and it's super important in our health. That is sleep. Sleep both for the kids and for the parents. Oh, this must be the same Deb, she must have had a lot of questions. She wanted to know about bedtime for sleep-resistant kids, but then also for herself. How does she get me time and still get enough sleep? Dorothy wanted to know if you had any thoughts on sleep training, pros and cons to that, sleep. Do you sleep?
Melanie Dale: Yeah, I'm perimenopause, so I don't sleep at all, it's a mess. Women in their 40s, good times. No. Okay, for my kids, once they learn to read and were reading books on their own, my rule of thumb is, you don't have to sleep, I'm not going to make you sleep, but you do have to be in your room quiet, and you can read until you fall asleep. That cut out the bedtime fighting. Most of the time, I would come in later and find my kid with a book planted on their face, asleep. You can have the light on, I bought everybody a reading lamp. They could have the reading light on, and they could read as long as they want. I'm not forcing them to lay there in the dark and be wide awake, which did not work. It doesn't work for me, so it doesn't work for my kids either, but they can read and they could read as long as they want.
I have a kid who is a big-time reader. He read and read and read. As he's gotten older, I've been able to then go in and negotiate like, “Dude, you’ve got to go to bed because you have a test tomorrow and let's knock it off.” Reading as opposed to a hard and fast, “You have to be in your room by certain amount of time in bed with a book, but I'm not going to force you to fall asleep,” because you can't force someone to fall asleep.” That's helped us with a bedtime situation. That's helped us calm down about it, actually, because it's not a fight then, like, I'm saying yes to staying up. “Yes, you can stay up as long as you want, as long as you're in bed with a book. If you get out of bed and you're bothering me while I'm having time with daddy, then no. We're turning that light off.” That has been really effective for all my kids. Then with sleep training, when they're babies that did not super work for us. I would say we fall somewhere in between the very regimented schedule-y version of parenting babies and the loosey-goosey nursing on command. We were somewhere in between, and that is pretty much par for the course with me. I'm like, “Oh, calm the heck down both sides of that, we're going to be somewhere in the middle.”
I have friends who have done sleep training with their kids. It was wonderful. I have friends who tried it and it was horrible. It's about what works for your own family. For us, something in between where we were on a schedule, but we weren't rigid to the schedule is what worked for us.
Melanie Avalon: Random tangent, but have you ever used blue light blocking glasses?
Melanie Dale: No, everyone keeps talking about them. I feel like I'm the person who never quite knows about the new gadget. Then, I go online, I'm like, “What's everyone talking about?” [laughs]
Melanie Avalon: Okay, from one Melanie to another Melanie, they are game changers, especially I imagine, are you a night owl?
Melanie Dale: Yeah, I mean, I think I would be but I have to get up so early with my kids that I start to conk out early.
Melanie Avalon: Basically, what they do is you wear them at night and they block blue light, because blue light when we're exposed to it, it instantly shuts off melatonin production. When you wear them at night, it keeps your circadian rhythm in line, and it really just combats our modern lifestyle. I've been using them, people are starting to learn about them now, and my audience knows all about them. But I've been using them for, I mean, I don't even know, eight years maybe. I will never not wear them--
Melanie Dale: Well, I'm willing to try anything. I will get them immediately.
Melanie Avalon: I am going to get you a pair. We both live in Atlanta. If we ever meet up, I'll bring you a pair. They're amazing because I never thought about blue light blocking glasses for kids. I think actually that could be really valuable, especially if they're reading a night.
Melanie Dale: Totally. I write for Coffee + Crumbs. For those of you listening, Coffee + Crumbs is a wonderful blog and podcast for moms. I have written for them a monthly essay since they started back in-- Oh, gosh, 2014, I think. Anyway, a lot of the moms, we talk amongst ourselves. A lot of the other writer moms I know from there, they love their blue light glasses for their kids, because now with all the virtual learning, the kids have had to be sitting there staring at screens all day, and so they're getting blue light glasses for their kids, and they love them. So, good to know. I didn't even think about them for myself.
Melanie Avalon: For listeners, I'll put a link in the show notes. I have a coupon code. I use the BluBlox brand, and they come in all different styles and different types. I love them. Actually, that ties into you're speaking about moms and working. How do you feel about working moms, working parents? That whole thing.
Melanie Dale: I am one. I love them. First of all, all parents work. I stayed home with the kids for a few years, and it was the hardest work I ever did. Several of my best friends are stay-at-home moms and they work so hard. I work from home as a writer, and I also have a job where I am working away from home quite a bit as well. Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or you leave to go to work, you have work outside of the home as well, I think the most important thing is that we modeled to our kids that work is a gift. That's what I want my kids to learn, no matter what I'm doing, is that work is a gift that we get to work. There's a line from the old Minnie Driver movie, Return to Me, where Carroll O'Connor says, “I'm blessed with work.” I love that because I do think work is a blessing. We know that better than ever now, don't we, Melanie, because this year, so many people have been out of work. So many of our industries have been-- we've had to sit home and not work. We are so excited when we do get to work and do the work that we love doing.
Whether I'm working from home, or I'm working my writer work or anywhere else, I want my kids to see that I love my job and that I'm grateful for my job and then I'm going to do the best I can at my job. That's really what I want to give to them. Really just figuring out the labor division in my home, I have a partner and we both work from home. We've really every week, like, put our heads together and figure out who's doing what, so that we're balancing our parenting work as well as our non-parenting work. My husband's a graphic designer, I'm a writer, and then we also are both parents, and dads are parents too. We both are trying to go, “Okay, what can we do to partner in parenting, our job as parents as well as our day jobs?”, our jobs that we're doing that earn money, and so on and so forth. We don't ever just want to assume that things are going to, like, “Oh, the mom is going to do everything,” or, I'm not going to just assume that Alex is going to drop what he's doing to go pick up a kid for something. It's an ongoing conversation for us every week of figuring out that labor division within our home.
I do think yeah, if you have a partner, having those open conversations about who's working when, where they're working, how you're coming together to get it all done. Then, of course, if you're a single parent, then you're doing all of it, and blessings upon you. I hope that you know you have a community behind you to help out as well. I think we all within the community, we don't have to do everything. I say no a lot to the things that the school needs, because I'm busy with other things, but the I want to find places where I can say yes. Other parents are helping my kids with some of their stuff. Then, where can I help other people with their kids? I think as a community, if we can all come together and help each other out, we can all raise our kids, like it takes a village.
Melanie Avalon: I know for me personally, just in my own life, not having to say yes to everything, and realizing where to put your energy, I think, is so important. One more last big and this is very big in the sense of big topic, religion and spirituality. When I think about how I would raise my kids, I think the two things I get stressed the most about is how do I handle the diet and then how do I handle the religion, spirituality. I was raised Christian, I still identify as Christian, but my religious beliefs-- the way you talk about in your book is how I felt, is just as far as like evolution of spiritual beliefs. I talked to my sister a lot about this. If I had kids, how to raise children in the whole spiritual religious world, so if you'd like to touch briefly on that.
Melanie Dale: Just a little light topic about God. It's totally easy. No one has any issues with this topic at all. Yeah, I mean, it is challenging. I debated putting it in the book, because it's a sensitive topic for a lot of people but I really think a lot of parents are figuring this out. One of my neighbors who I absolutely love, they're Hindu and they were raised Hindu and they were having a baby and figuring out like, “Well, are we going to pass this on? How are we going to pass this on? What does this look like at our home?” We had such great conversations. I am a Christian, but I know that people of all faiths, and probably people even who have no faith, would say they have no faith, all of us are figuring out well, where does belief come into play with our kids? How do we raise them in a world where there are various beliefs, and we have various beliefs?
For me, one thing that I teach my kids a lot is that it's okay to doubt, and that's really important, because my kids have doubts. I have doubts. I have been overhauling what my Christian faith looks like over the last few years and trying to figure out what I believe and how that practice comes into play in my family. It's okay to doubt, it's okay to have questions. You can bring your questions to us. You can ask your questions. This is a safe place for questions. I resonate so much with the Gospel of Mark in the Chapter 9, there's a dad, who actually says, “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” Who am I most like in the Bible? I'm like the dad who's struggling with belief. That is my Bible character. Some people say, “We like Jesus,” I like Jesus too, but I got to go with the dad who's struggling. He's the one I resonate with. I want to model my own faith to my kids.
My faith is important to me, even though it's confusing to me right now. It's important to me, it's been a huge part of my life, my whole life. I want to model to them what that looks like. One thing that they see me every morning, when they come downstairs for school, they see me with my Bible, and I'm just reading a chapter of it. I used to come downstairs in the morning, and my dad would just have his Bible out. He was fancy, he had different color highlighters and all of this stuff. He never preached to me out of it. He never was like, “Let me tell you what this says and why you need to do this immediately.” He just quietly was reading his Bible every morning, and something in me said, “Hey, that's cool. That's an important thing.” I've taken on that practice. I'm passing that on to my kids. I'm not going to make them do it, whether or not they choose to get up every morning and read their Bibles but they're seeing me do it every morning. They're seeing what's important to me. I think building faith practices into our routine has been important. When we're in my big, smelly minivan together, we pray in the van, I might read a scripture at dinner when we're all together. When I already have the kids together, that's the time to just build in a faith practice, rather than forcing them to come together at a weird time or do something. Just make it an effortless part of when you're already gathering as family.
I'll tell you, Melanie, I'm not afraid to bribe my kids. I pay my kids or I bribe my kids with things that are important to me. I will bribe my kids. If there is something I want them to read or a video that I want them to watch, or a discussion I want to have, I am not afraid to be like, “Hey, we're having ice cream for dinner, and we're going to watch this little video while we do it.” Or, “Hey, I would love for you to read the Gospel of John and I will pay you 10 bucks to do it,” or whatever that is. Especially as the kids get older, they're like, “What's in it for me?” I'm like, “Let me tell you what's in it for you. [laughs] I'll pay you $20 to read this book right here, and then to have a discussion about it, I'm not going to force you to believe what it says but I would like to interact with you about the contents of this book,” whatever it is. I've done that several times, because I want to put things in front of them and go, “Hey, I this is important to me. I am willing to compensate you for your time. I want to have a discussion about it. You can choose whatever you choose. I'm not going to be overly adamant or get red in the face about it, but it's important to me, and here's why.” I've had really good conversations with the kids through things like that.
Then finally, the thing that I'll share that's been helpful is to ask for help. We are not enough for our kids, and that is hard to say and it's hard to admit, but it's true. I mean, were your parents enough for you? I needed other people in my life besides just my parents. When each of my kids turned 13, I had little gathering with other adults and I had each adult who was important. These were aunts and uncles, and grandmother and grandfather and some key neighbors and people who my kids knew, I had them all write letters to my kids saying life advice, or encouragement for them as they move into the teen years, and letting them know some of these people like share their cell phone numbers and said, “You call me if you need me. If you can't tell your parents something, call me or if you're ever wrestling with something, I'm here for you.” We've done that with two of our kids now. We have one kid left to do this with here. Here is just a big binder filled with letters from people who love you, who are resources for you. As you encounter things, and as you doubt, and as you're struggling, whether it's with your faith, or it's with people at school, or a boyfriend/girlfriend, or whatever it is, you have all of these people in your life who love you, who care about you, they're safe people for you. If you don't feel like talking to me and dad about it, these are your people. You're not alone. We want to just give our kids as much help as possible.
Frankly, sometimes, I'm out of prayers. I mean, for those of us who are just boots on the ground parenting right now, sometimes my prayers come out more as guttural moans, while I'm finished putting my kids to bed, like, “Argh.” Amen. Sometimes, I reach out to the grandmother, the person who is great at praying, who has more bandwidth right now in that area and be like, “Hey, can you pray about this particular thing right now?” It's okay to ask for help spiritually. It's okay to ask for help in general, frankly. Those are a few things that have helped me when it comes to lightening up about belief, lightening up about passing it on to my kids. I don't think it has to be this thing that we freak out about, but I think it is okay. Also, to admit like, “This is important to me. I'm going to do what I can to teach my kids something that's important to me. But then, I'm going to relax about the results and not freak out if they don't agree with everything I say by the time they're eight.”
Melanie Avalon: It's so incredible and so beautiful. I just think a really wonderful mindset to have surrounding all of it. That actually brings me to my last question that I ask every single guest on the show and brings everything full circle and it just speaks to why I think mindset is so important surrounding everything. That is, what is something that you're grateful for?
Melanie Dale: Hmm. What I'm grateful for right now? I want to say the vaccines coming. Get me out of my home. [laughs] Honestly, after this year, I am so grateful for-- and I get just weepy thinking about it, like, the frontline workers and the scientists and the doctors and nurses and medical staff, the people who have kept us going, the people stocking the grocery store shelves. Sometimes, it just hits me with how hard people have been working this year to keep the wheels on this thing called life. I'm really grateful. I'm grateful for-- I have a handful of neighbors who we socially distance around a fire pit every Saturday night. I call it Church of the Fire Pit. We get together, usually, we're drinking some kind of bourbon and just, we sit far apart and we just share about our day and we maybe moan about our kids a little bit, and we encourage each other, and we laugh ridiculously. We share the latest memes and YouTube things that have been hilarious. It makes me feel normal and it makes me feel like we're going to get through this. So, I'm really grateful for my neighbors who I just sit distanced from and hang out with and feel like it's going to be okay.
Melanie Avalon: I love it. It's wonderful. I'm so grateful for your work, Melanie, your book. Listeners, if you are at all parents, thinking of becoming a parent, this is the book that you want to get. Again, it's called Calm the H*ck Down. I'll put links to everything in the show notes. How can listeners best follow your work?
Melanie Dale: The book is available anywhere books are sold, and I have a website. You can get to it by melaniedale.com. Of the social media as I tend to hang out on Instagram the most, @melanierdale. I'd love to connect with anybody who wants to.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well, again, it’ll all be in the show notes. I really, really enjoyed this, Melanie. I was so nervous going into it because I was like, “I don't have any experience in any of this.” Your book was just amazing, and I think you're doing really amazing things and I thoroughly enjoyed this, and I know my listeners are going to love it. I'm really, really excited.
Melanie Dale: Well, thanks for having me, Melanie. It's so cool to talk to you and I really enjoyed this.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well, I will talk to you again in the future.
Melanie Dale: Okay.
Melanie Avalon: Bye.