October 2020

Empowering Our Kids

When we’re having trouble empowering ourselves!

By Suki Wessling

These are tough times to be a human on earth. And parenting magnifies all of our challenges. Not only do we have to figure out how to get ourselves through pandemic, fire, and corrosive politics—we’ve got our kids to think of as well.


If you’ve found yourself descending into despair for the future, you’re not alone. Santa Cruz County is a hard place to be right now if you aren’t the world’s most stubborn optimist.


But parents have the responsibility to raise kids who will be ready to tackle the problems they’re faced with. And that means our kids need to feel empowered.


Back to the basics.

I asked a bunch of moms to shoot out their best ideas about how to empower kids in these times. The striking thing is that they all seemed to focus on the very basics of existence. Each of them focused on how we support our children’s health, kindness, and connections.


Start small
“We set small goals and build on them,” explains Jenn Schacher of Watsonville, who is 46 and mom to five and eight-year-old girls. “We teach life skills—cooking, putting things together, gardening, self-care, etc.”


“When we had to evacuate, we gave our eight-year-old one of the huge tupperware boxes we were packing things in and told him he could fill it with whatever he wanted,” remembers Amanda Mehl West of Felton, a local mother and musical artist, who also has a 2-year-old. “When we thankfully got to go home again and unpack it, it was of course full of things that had no value to us as adults, but I think it really helped him have that feeling of control in the moment.”


Rebecca Picker, 41, of Santa Cruz is mom to a ten-year-old son. She points out that brain research backs up focusing on the simplest of life’s pleasures.
“[We give] tons of physical contact, aka snuggles, hugs, kisses and/or wrestling,” she explains. “Our kids are not getting the subliminal or overt intimacy and contact they normally would—they are no longer playing tag, holding hands with friends, sitting hip to hip on benches, hugging, hanging on and leaning against each other at recess, sitting in laps, brushing up against each other.”


Enjoy nature and sports
Right now when it seems that nature is our enemy is the time to embrace it, moms say.


Midori Tetreault, 44, mom boys, 5 and 9 years old in Felton, points out that sports build confidence, which is sorely needed in this world. “Nature immersion, skateboarding, and being in the ocean. I absolutely see them stand up taller after pushing their limits.”


“Anytime we get outside and move (walk/run/bike) the mood of everyone is improved,” says Jessica Hassani of Soquel, owner of FIT4MOM and mom to a seven-year-old daughter. “The She.Is.Beautiful 10k and 5k kids challenge was a great motivator for us this last month, and we are looking forward to their October and November challenges, too.”


Positive action
Jenn Schacher’s family takes enjoyment of nature one step further. “We also talk about things like plastics in the ocean and on the beach and how they can change those things. It brings out creativity and problem-solving. My little one says she is going to invent a robot that will rid the ocean of all the plastic!”


Vaiva Bichnevicius, 49, of Santa Cruz has kids 20, 17, and 11. She points out that activism can take many forms.


“Hazel is making BLM signs to post,” she says of her 11-year-old. “I have one in my office window, which faces the street. It gets a lot of attention. Ily (17) and I sewed several hundred cloth masks to donate. We ‘sold’ each mask for a donation to a food bank or to Delaveaga Elementary school. We raised a gob of money!”


“We sprung into action to give supplies to the animals that were at the fairgrounds,” explains Yvette Contois, 49, who has kids 17 and 20 and owns The Art Factory in Aptos. “That took the feeling of helplessness away and generated feelings of empowerment and purposeful work.”


Focus on achievable educational goals
In these trying times, mom-teachers are definitely getting back to basics (and humor). Vaiva Bichnevicius had multiple students at Ocean Grove Charter School who were evacuated or lost their homes.


“For my students that are displaced right now—one has thrown most curriculum out the window (or would have if they had a window) and they are photo journaling and writing narrative of what they see in their neighborhood,” she explains. “Some students lost all their curriculum and have to start from scratch, so, for this year, I’m asking them to think about what they really want to learn about right now and rebuild their curriculum around that.”


“Children can set goals for themselves, whether it’s to improve their handwriting, their drawing, their math facts,” says Yvette Contois. “They can take charge of when and where they ‘practice’ on a regular basis.”


Remember that you are the role model
“I feel like a lot of the work is in myself, trying to find a positive spin to put on things,” Amanda Mehl West reminds us. “Today when the skies were so dark, I tried to minimize my ‘oh my gosh this is SO weird!’ expressions, and instead made it a fun, winter-like day. We baked and made popcorn, watched a movie together. Empowering kids means we have to empower ourselves—find ways to see the silver linings, and do our best to offer rhythm and stability.”


“I remind them there are always silver linings, there is always hope and happiness, health, fulfillment and joy come from multiple avenues,” says Kierstin Cummings, a self-employed bookkeeper in Aptos and mom to kids 11 and 14. “I also remind them that their best is absolutely good enough because they are the ones blazing a new trail into the future.”


More than anything, empowerment is learning to forgive ourselves and move on.
“It is okay to make mistakes but we grow from them and move on to our next lesson in life,” says Jenn Schacher. “Compassion is not weakness. It gives us fortitude and strength to change what we see and do. Self-esteem, self-reliance, critical thinking (exploring the outcomes of scenarios) is what we believe empower our children.”

 Suki Wessling is a local writer, musician, and teacher and mom of two grown children. Read more at SukiWessling.com and at Suki Wessling’s Parenting and Education Facebook page.

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