Joyfully Staring...

My Fear-Based Choice

I do not vaccinate my children.

What thoughts come to mind when you discover that? Rage? Fear? Confusion? Compassion? Understanding?

What thoughts jump into your mind? She must be an uneducated person who thinks they cause autism. Obviously she just follows the media hype and the Jenny McCarthy crowd. How can she be so selfish? Clearly she just wants the "Natural Mommy" stamp. I hope she keeps her kids locked indoors.

Or maybe your thoughts jump to the other side: Good for her for fighting the FDA. I am so glad she isn't another "sheeple" endangering her child. If other people care, they can just vaccinate their own children. Way to stand up to Big Pharma!

Don't worry. I have heard them all. I have listened to the flings of hatred toward me or "them" for years. I have stood my ground as people have filled in the blanks of my line of thinking after only hearing one statement. I have been lumped into a massive grouping of individuals who presumably have no brains.

And I get it.

I understand why you feel that way. I understand the passion that this topic brings about because we all have the exact same intentions: keep children safe. I am the first in line when it comes to advocating for the safety of children. I will preach from the hilltops that they are human beings who deserve human rights. I am filled with sadness, and sometimes anger, when I hear of circumcisions, spankings and public humiliations. These children need a voice and I think it is amazing that there are so many people to give them that voice. That is what we need.

But the simple fact is that life is not as black and white as our passions want them to be. The blanks that our brains fill in when we hear a choice another has made are not complete, if they are even remotely accurate.

What leads us to fill in those blanks? To jump to such extreme and anger-inducing conclusions?


Pride is what prevents us from showing compassion. Pride ceases our ability to see the humanity in others. Pride shuts down our empathy and raises our voices. Pride lumps people into groups as opposed to separating them into souls, with minds, backgrounds, experiences and individualities.

Pride fuels the anger and destroys the discussion. The very same discussion that may change minds where they may need to be changed and soften hearts where they may have hardened.

Getting vaccines is scary. Not getting vaccines is scary. These tiny lives are in our hands and the first major decision we need to make with their body is scary.

I can only imagine choosing not to vaccinate and infecting a child who did not have the choice. I can only imagine how it feels to want to vaccinate your child and choosing not to because of a medical condition or a family history.

I can only imagine the outcome of vaccinating a child who has a family history of death from vaccines. I can only imagine what would happen if a child with a serious, rare allergy was vaccinated at birth and injected with a large direct dose of that allergen.

I can only imagine making the wrong choice.

Whether we vaccinate or we do not vaccinate, we all have to make a choice. A terrifying, potentially life-altering choice. No matter which side of the debate you are on, for the sake of children, I urge you to take your stand with compassion and love. Generosity and charity. There are people out there who need to hear what you have to say but no one listens to anger, attacks or pride.

Each one of us is working through this fear-based choice. And as long as children's lives are at stake, I pray that the fear never ceases.

The Problem with "Good Touch, Bad Touch"

Teaching our children the differences between "good touch" and "bad touch" has been preached about for quite some time as a means of protecting those children from possible sexual abuse. It sounds good and makes a great deal of sense to the parents. Good touch referring to hugs, kisses and gentle brushes meant out of love and bad touch means touching any private areas. Sounds simple and effective, right?

In reality, however, most parents and sadly even some mental health professionals and law enforcement are very uneducated in the typical child sexual abuse scenario where phrases that seem so clear to adults are easily blurred and skewed once in the mind of a child through no fault of their own.

Most sexual abuse cases occur from an individual who is close to the child and has access to them over a period of time. Through this time, the adult is seen as an important figure in their lives, becoming both trustworthy and respected. Often times they are the "fun" adult and while the parents, in their role of protecting and caring for them child, can turn into the "meanies." Due to this arrangement, the abuser can easily "groom" the child by spending a great deal of time mentally preparing them to accept the abuse, expect the abuse and believe that they deserve the abuse.


A key part of the abuse is that most children who do not immediately disclose have been led to genuinely believe that they deserve the abuse and are at fault. They are conditioned to think that telling anyone would lead to swift punishment for what they "allowed" to happen. By applying clear cut terms such as "good" and "bad" to what is occurring, the well-intentioned parents have played right into the abuser's game.

When they condition children to believe they deserve the abuse, the word "bad" carries with it the shame used to keep the children quiet:

The touch is bad. They deserve the touch. They are bad.

The shame is effortlessly placed by the abuser and the child is now left vulnerable and feeling guilty. Each time the parents reinforce this phrase to their children, they are unknowingly reinforcing the shame that keeps the child quiet while the abuse continues.


Another problem with teaching children the differences between good touch and bad touch is that in some cases it may conflict with their feelings leaving them confused about the truth. As adults who know the difference between positive, loving touch and abusive, unwanted touch, the idea that abusive touch can feel good seems baffling yet it occurs all too often, usually during the early stages of grooming and touching.

When someone a child has been taught to trust and admire begins touching their private area in a way that makes them feel good, they are left wondering why this is considered bad touch. Suddenly the parents words seem untrue and the abusers words make more sense. In the innocent mind of a child, this credibility strengthens the abuser's case and weakens the parents' words.


When taught the difference between good touch and bad touch, the boundaries are usually private areas versus non-private areas. As parents, of course we want to ensure that our children's private areas remain their own, but sometimes being touched or touching in non-private areas can be just as abusive.

Not all abusers are focused on the classic sexual behaviors that come to mind. Sometimes they force or coerce children into sexual behaviors aside from private areas like tickling, kissing, ear-licking or stroking other non-sensuous body parts. Each of these behaviors are still sexual in nature yet do not match the profile that good touch, bad touch covers.

In order to break down what is good touch or bad touch, parents would have to tackle a wide range of behaviors and actions that may not necessarily be complete nor appropriate for the child leaving the catchy phrase lacking at best.

What You Can Do Instead

Educate Yourself
This point cannot be stressed enough. There is far too much misinformation about child sexual abuse and sexual predators running rampant. Whether or not you believe your child is currently at risk, obtaining as much information as you can on the signs of abuse as well as signs of a predator, the better chance you stand in protecting your children.

Please, never assume that your children will come and tell you that someone is abusing them. This is far from reality in most cases.

Educate Your Children
Rather than focusing on good touch and bad touch and other catchy phrases, consider just talking to your children regularly about their bodies. I in no way mean that you should prematurely jumped into the birds and the bees, but teaching your children the basics can make it easier for you to recognize signs of abuse as well as helping give them the language to disclose.

Making sure your children know the appropriate terms for their body parts is especially important. If your son knows that he has a penis and suddenly starts referring to it with strange pet names, that is a great time to nonchalantly bring up where those names came about. Most predators are not going to use "vagina" and "penis" during abuse. If your daughter comes to you and says, "uncle hurt my vagina," what occurred is more clear than if she approaches you with "uncle hurt my tummy" (a common term girls will use when they have been sexually abused).

Teach them their body is theirs
Between school rules, church rules, etiquette rules, house rules and the punishments associated, children can sometimes be left feeling as though they are not in control of their own bodies and others are free to dictate what is right and wrong. By living in a way that they have full say over their bodies and their choices (within reasons of safety), they will know their body is fully theirs.

Spanking children, forcing them to hug or kiss loved ones, making them comply to any adult as authority, no matter how well-intentioned, are all ways children learn that their body and their needs do not belong to them. These actions are all too easily skewed by the abuser. Consider the following common phrases parents use with good intentions:

"If you didn't keep doing [X] then I wouldn't have to spank you."
"If you really loved Nana, you would give her a kiss."
"It is disrespectful to not listen your teacher. She is the adult and in charge."
"Be good and do whatever the babysitter tells you."

Each of these phrases so closely resembles the methods used in classic abuse cases:

"If you didn't keep doing [X] then I wouldn't have to hurt you like this."
"If you really loved me, you would let me kiss you here."
"It is disrespectful not to listen to me as an adult when I ask you to [X]."
"Mommy said you have to do whatever I tell you."

Now imagine if the child was taught that they have full control over their body:

"You deserve to be safe which is why I have asked you to stop doing [X]."
"Nana knows you love her whether you choose to give her a kiss or not. Only do what makes you feel comfortable."
"You can always inquire 'why' when I ask you to do something. If you do not like my reason, we can talk it through and consider more options."
"You know our house rules. Please follow them while the babysitter is watching you."

Those phrases are much less likely to be twisted as they give the child safe control over themselves without shame or conditions to love.

While there is no guarantees that your child will not be met with an abusive situation, educating ourselves, educating our children and keeping communication open without shame, labels or manipulations can help them understand that the abuse is never their fault and lines of communication are always safely open. If you would like a catchy phrase to end your conversations about abuse with your children, may I recommend:

"I love you unconditionally and am always here to listen without judgment or shame."

Be aware, not afraid.

When Shame Has No Power

I have been thinking a lot lately about the different paths to personal discovery and self-improvement. The continuous stream of emails, comments, reviews and connections from readers keeps me aware of the many different places we each are in life. It is no secret that everyone is in their own place on their own journey, yet I feel as though this notion is pushed far back in our brains rather than right up front where it may best serve us.

Not one of us is perfect. We all have our demons rolling around. To add to those demons is the shame of them being exposed, no matter how small. When they are exposed, the last thing anyone wants is for them to remain a permanent fixture, coming back to them in critiques or reminders from loved ones or strangers...perhaps worse, enemies.

But an amazing thing happens when we let go of this shame, when we remove the fear and expose as many demons as we can. In that moment, we can live the feelings to their fullest, discovering that these demons, these fears, these shameful pieces of our broken selves hold zero power.


I have been publicly writing for several years, everything from superficial housekeeping and recipes to exposing personal thoughts in my book. I can tell you honestly that not a week goes by when I want to hit the delete button on my blogs and unpublish my book. These are pieces of me, some I hold with pride while others bring me shame and they float around for others to read at their whim, critiquing as they will sometimes without a second thought of my humanity.

But each piece I have written exposes me during a certain place on my path and all those around me are each at their own place. Despite the fact that picking up my book and glancing through it makes me want to edit it to pieces to show where I am at now, that would serve no purpose to someone reading it who is in the place on their path where my words may help them. It shows the old me no compassion and shows those who relate to those moments no compassion either.

I am still no where near perfect. I raise my voice at my children. I eat too many cookies. I gossip after church. I judge those around me. I am a sinner, daily. To publicly hide those sins gives them power. To run back through my written past and cleanse each piece is insulting to my soul, to my reality. Living in secrecy, fear and shame serves purpose only to Satan himself. Hiding our faults fuels his use of them.

I grew up conditioned to live in secrecy and shame and it did me no good. I thought I always had to be perfect lest others judge or condemn the core of me. I vowed to myself to never go back to that.

Thus, my words will remain out there for any who wish to view them, complete with my sins and my glories. Everything from my thoughts, to my budget, even down to my waistline because I have nothing to hide.

I realized years ago that writing is my calling from God to help those who need to read what I write. He chooses whose hands my words land in but those individuals choose what they do with those words. My responsibility is just to show up and write. Write honestly. Write purely. Write without shame.

So when you stumble upon the words of another, whether mine or the millions of others who God leads you to, recognize that, like you, they are imperfect beings on a journey. And before you jump to point out their failings, consider that their words may not have been meant for you. Or better yet, consider that they may be.

"Re-examine all that you have been told...dismiss that which insults your soul."
- Walt Whitman

(As I sit here, pondering whether to leave this post as one I wrote just to make me feel better or to press the publish button to allow others to read it, I recognize that it is shame, fear, worry, anxiety that runs through me. No matter what I tell myself, these feelings are still there, plaguing me. So with that, I will publish it as the only way to take away their power. They have no power. Zero.)

I'm a Real Woman, Too

Well, I recently saw the latest article circulating reminding me that I am not "normal." It was a very thorough account of what a normal house with children looks like.  The woman is a mother to 3 boys under the age of 5 and she lists all the aspects of her home that are clearly the norm and ensures that anyone who does not fall in that list is lying, trying to guilt other mothers or, my personal favorite, living a "clinical delusion" for having different standards for their homes.

These types of articles are becoming all too familiar.  The ones that discuss what a "real" woman's body looks like and how "normal" mothers behave.  Complete lists pointing to what each one of us supposedly feels or exhibits and if we claim otherwise, we are certainly lying or living in some fantastical dream.

Quite frankly, these articles are getting old.  And I have finally reached my breaking point where I have decided to speak out. 

I am a 5 foot 10 inch woman who wears a size 10.  My house is clean and clutter-free on a regular basis and my beige carpets are stain-free despite having 4 children under the age of 6.  I bake my own bread and make all our meals from scratch.  And I rock my lifestyle proudly and unapologetically.

I am real.  I am normal.  I am a human woman and mother.

If you are 5 foot 3 and wear a size 20, have a continuously cluttered home, hate dusting, and eat fast food and boxed dinners regularly, you too are real, normal and human and should be rocking your lifestyle proudly and unapologetically.

We all should be because we are all real.  We are just all different.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

I understand that societal norms covet being "thin" and being a Suzie Homemaker.  I get the need to speak out against negativity that is spoken about not looking like a magazine model or having a Martha Stewart kitchen.   I understand and whole-heartedly respect those who are proud of who they are despite what the world says about them.

But calling those magazine models and Martha homes abnormal, unhealthy, ridiculous or unrealistic is not the way to get society to where it should be.

It would be like ending racism against African Americans by turning hate on Caucasians.  Or standing up for homosexuality by stating heterosexuality is sinful or an abomination. 

Shaming those who are not like you in order to lift yourself up will get you no where on your stance against shaming. 

I fully support writing articles that help other women, other mothers, other people see that they are not alone.  I embrace it completely and am beyond grateful to many out there who have written their truths and helped me realize that I am not alone in my struggles.  But to do so by attacking, belittling or looking down on others is just not right.  Calling these women abnormal and unreal, or going so far as to call them clinically delusional does not make you the winner in life. 

There is no winner.  There is no "normal."  We are all different personalities with different priorities.  Different successes and different struggles.

So by all means, share your stories and lift up those who relate to what you write, but stop tearing down others in your attempt to "normalize" what you wish.

We are all normal.  We are all real.  We are all human.

Parenting an Empathic Child: Tips for Recognizing and Coping With an Empathic Child

Recognizing an empathic child can be quite a challenge, especially if you are not an empath yourself. Often times their abilities go overlooked and they are left to cope with overwhelming emotions and a lifetime of feeling broken.

When we as parents are able to recognize the signs that our child may have empathic abilities, we can set them up for a lifetime of wholeness and success, despite the challenges they may face.

Know What to Look For

The younger the child is, the more difficult it will be to determine whether or not they are an empath. Some signs to look for are:
  • Unexplained tantrums
  • Teenage-like moodiness
  • Extreme shifts in behavior
  • Emotionally distant or the appearance of "shutting down"
  • Difficulties focusing, especially in public or crowded places
  • Excessive shyness
While these signs can point to a variety of things, when paired with the parent's observation of patterns in behavior in relation to the child's surroundings, over time you may want to look into the possibility of empathic abilities in your child.

Listen and Accept
If you do suspect that your child is an empath, the best step you can take is to actively listen and offer sincere acceptance and validation to your child. Some of the feelings they experience can be overwhelming, frightening and confusing. Dealing with these large feelings on their own is very challenging for a child. By listening to what they are feeling and validating it rather than belittling it, dismissing it or writing it off as a behavior problem, you strengthen their ability to handle the feelings and give them the confidence they need to cope with them.

Acceptance is so important as they already feel weird and different among their peers. It is necessary to help them recognize that they have a unique gift (like a natural at baseball or a talented artist) and that they are not broken

Help Them Understand
Often times, empathic children are not fully aware of where their feelings are coming from. It can be difficult for parents to decipher it as well. All the signs listed above may come across as disobedient, difficult or moody, but by listening to your child and observing the situation, you can begin to pick up on cues that will help you both understand the sudden shifts or waves of emotion.

For example, if your child becomes angry for no apparent reason, consider your surroundings. You may notice a man upset with a cashier, a child not getting a toy they want, or even a grumpy face on a passerby. Point out your observations to your child. Tell them, "you may be picking up on their angry energy."

If the child protests and becomes more upset, don't push it. They may be genuinely upset and you can risk dismissing their emotions. By simply pointing it out, you can help them learn how to assess their emotions on many levels rather than just letting the feelings overtake or confuse them.

Teach Coping Skills
A helpful tool for all children, healthy emotional coping skills are very important in teaching a child that, not only are they responsible for their emotions, but that they can take control of them. Without appropriate coping skills, a child can become run by their feelings, stunting their emotional maturity. Because empathic children have to cope with their own emotions as well as those of others, coping skills are key to remaining balanced and emotionally mature.

Some examples of coping skills that will help your empathic child are:
After you help your child balance themselves emotionally, you can then return to listening and sharing your observations with your child. When they no longer feel overwhelmed with emotions, they can more clearly determine the cause of them, whether by sharing with you why they were upset or by recognizing that they may have been picking up on someone else's energy.

Living as an empath certainly poses many challenges that are hard for the non-empathic to understand, but even if you cannot understand what your child is going through, being there, supporting them and trusting in them will help them to learn about themselves and their gift as well as how to live a balanced life.

While the beginning of their journey may be rocky and confusing, as you navigate the waters together, over time they will become more emotionally stable and better able to control and cope with the overwhelming energies. Continue to listen, accept and give your child healthy coping skills and you will watch them flourish into amazingly gifted, emotionally mature adults.

How to Deschool So You Can Unschool

Unschooling can be a difficult concept to wrap one's mind around, especially if they have not yet "deschooled." Since most people spent their youth traditionally schooled, whether within schools walls or homeschooled with a curriculum, it is hard to comprehend what life without school would be like, let alone attempt to live it. The deschooling process is the act of relearning how we learn in order to recognize that school is not, in fact, the only way to do so.

Deschooling is a process that is important for both parents and children. If your children have never been to school, the process will lie mainly within yourself. However, if your children have attended school, even for a year, then it should be a mutual process of deschooling together.

The ultimate goal of deschooling is to recognize that you are built to learn on your own and do not need teachers, curriculum or specific guidance in order to fill your mind with the wondrous knowledge the world has to offer.

Since life without school is so abstract for so many, here I offer some techniques to get you started on your road to rethinking education and building confidence in your innate ability to teach yourself.

Avoid all things school. This is very important for children if they have been in a school setting. It is difficult to comprehend life without something if we are still immersed in it. Simply stepping away from school may not be enough. Instead, try to avoid anything that registers in your mind as "school-y," from textbooks and worksheets to PBS specials to science experiments. If your brain recognizes it as something from school, skip it unless you are absolutely enthralled and fascinated by it. Consider behaving as you would on a weekend or a school vacation, but do it all the time.

The important thing to remember is that there is no time line to this. Some children may need a year or two of genuinely doing nothing of importance. It can be hard for parents to handle this stage as fears of laziness set in. But that is where step two comes in.

Categorize everything into subjects. While you are actively avoiding all things school, try to look at everything you are doing and put a subject label on it. Math, science, history, language arts. Whatever subject you can apply to your actions, apply it. This will be hard at first because we are taught that subjects exist separate from everyday life. But after a couple of weeks of consciously labeling everything, it will flow so easily that you will find almost everything you do, from waking up to going to bed, is filled with subject labels.

Playing outside? Register the science lessons, physical education and team building. Video games? How about reading, problem solving, mathematics and even more science. Watching your favorite sitcom? Look for lessons right in the show: history, current events, social studies.

Everything you and your children do is filled with lessons if you actively look for them. Get really creativity and don't sell anything short. Try not to look for future applications or varying levels of importance but instead, just recognize the subjects at every moment.

Learn something new. To a schooled mentality, this may sound counter-intuitive to avoiding all things school but it is a very important step in deschooling oneself. Choosing something that you have always wanted to learn but never had the chance, whether it's knitting, learning a new language or building a model airplane, and then starting from scratch to figure out how to learn it will teach you so much about building confidence in your abilities. Searching for YouTube videos or articles, heading to the library to check out a how-to book or even buying the materials and jumping in head first are all ways we can educate ourselves about something new.

From making the choice about what you want to learn, taking all the steps to learn it and ultimately recognizing the knowledge (no matter how much or how little) you have gained are all steps that show you how you learn and that you can learn. It shows you that you can take control of your education and succeed. The more you attempt this, the more confidence you will gain and the more you will question why you ever thought you needed school at all.

Give it time. School is a very powerful mentality. Its existence relies completely on its ability to make us think that we need it. Not too long ago, no one thought it was a necessary tool to learn anything. Everyone had confidence in themselves to learn what they needed to know for life and centuries of history was proof of this. The basis of school is to falsely educate us that we need school.

Submerged in a society that believes this and after years of being taught this mentality, shaking it will not happen overnight. It can take weeks, months or even years to completely remove the mentality that we cannot learn all we need to know without school.

Anytime you waiver or question your own confidence in your abilities, start back at the beginning. Avoid school, categorize everything you are learning at every moment and, above all, actively learn something new. Overtime your confidence will explode, your abilities will flourish and your thirst and passion for more knowledge will fuel you day to day. From there you can enter the world of Unschooling.
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Jennifer Soldner is the author of A Look Inside a Rare Mind: An INFJ's Journal Through Personal Discovery. She is the founder of INFJ Anonymous, a website devoted to helping other INFJs along their path of personal discovery as well as Joyfully Freefalling. An INFJ, Empath and Highly Sensitive Person, she is also the author of the wildly popular article Top 10 Things Every INFJ Wants You to Know. You can find her on Pinterest, Twitter and .