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.

Some INFJs Just Suck

There is one thing that is fairly common among the INFJ boards, forums, blogs and discussions: we all love to discuss that we are a special breed.  We are unique, intuitive, compassionate, selfless, filled with love for all things, have tulips growing out of our ears, rabbits and deer frolicking at our feet and rainbows are glowing out of our backsides.  Conversations are filled with the assumption, whether blatantly or as a subtle undertone, that all INFJs are altruistic saints that should be loved by everyone.

But let's be honest here.  Sometimes INFJs just suck. 

No one wants to read information that tells them they are less than great and INFJs are no exception to this rule.  I've seen many articles and discussions that highlight the negative sides of being an INFJ and the comments are always less than friendly as they attack the person for painting broad strokes over personality flaws that may not apply to every INFJ, and of course most certainly not to them. 

As a person who writes with little desire to hide the imperfections of myself and a great want to paint an entire picture of my personality type, I have personally been met with several comments from angry readers that have informed me that I am not an INFJ, but rather an unhealthy version of some other personality type.  I have been called neurotic, pretentious, and a myriad of other wonderfully helpful words by the very INFJs who claim to be filled with compassion and love for all.  I even finally decided to alter my most viewed article, Top 10 Things Every INFJ Wants You to Know, after receiving so many comments attacking me for portraying our lack of social skills in such a negative manner (though I still stand by my initial viewpoint on the subject).

We are each individuals whose personality types only describe so much.  While each one of us has the same cognitive functions, these functions were all developed in very person-specific ways.  We were nurtured differently and have had life experiences unique to ourselves which shape the way we utilize each of our functions and the balance of those functions.

Some INFJs look at those who are judgmental and harsh and state that they clearly do not fit the type and are parading around wearing INFJ masks due to their desire to be unique.  But I think this mentality furthers the notion that to be an INFJ, one must be above common humanity, never to have any blemishes on their soul.

I have seen discussions on infamous celebrities who are viewed as poor examples of human beings where someone mentions, God forbid, that the celebrity is an INFJ, and the whole group chastises the individual for saying such a blasphemous thing.  "Clearly no one behaving in a shallow, manipulative or callous manner could ever be an INFJ!" they shout. "You obviously aren't familiar with our cognitive functions!" they condemn.

But turn the tables and discuss, whether correctly or incorrectly, that Oprah, Mother Theresa or even Santa Claus is an INFJ, and suddenly the same group of people is jumping for joy at the idea, saying that even if they aren't, they clearly have INFJ tendencies.

And why?  Because INFJs are human, and like all other humans, we don't like to hear negative things about ourselves.  We think, "if Hitler was really an INFJ, then maybe I am no better."  We all like to be compared to the best.  We all like to see our qualities in the dearest of people.  No one likes to look at the cruel, selfish, vindictive or narcissistic and see themselves, and yet we do.  Each and every one of us which is why so much passion and anger arise when the subject comes up.

But truth be told, we have dark sides.  We have pieces of ourselves that are far less than appealing.  Some INFJs are overall good people with a few very human blemishes while others are blatantly sociopathic.  Sometimes INFJs are mean, nasty, judgmental, narcissistic and rude. 

And while it is great to discuss the positives and joyous aspects of our minds, it is also important to recognize that sometimes INFJs just suck.

"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves." -Carl Jung

5 Reasons Why Introverted Relationships Work

Everyone is familiar with the age-old saying that "opposites attract." There is a certain catchiness to it that lures in those who are looking for relationship advice. But it may not always be true.

When it comes to the introverts and extroverts, a lot of relationship advice pushes the dynamic duo, bringing the introvert out of their shell and toning down the extrovert. But what if the opposite were true? What if the combination, for some, was actually more detrimental?

As an introvert madly in love with an introvert, I can strongly vouch for why the introverted relationship works so well. Here are five main reasons why I would encourage an introvert looking for love to not rule out the idea that opposites don't always attract.

1. Balanced needs for refueling. An introvert feels stronger and happier when they are allowed to have their time alone just to think while extroverts require others to provide emotional fuel for them. In an introverted relationship, neither party requires such a heavy responsibility from their partner. Without the need for one to fuel another, they can both individually reach their level of comfort and bring that peace to the relationship.

2. Understanding. While an extrovert can certainly cater to an introvert's needs, they can never fully understand them. It is a wonderful gift to be involved with a partner who knows why you need to hide from the world occasionally without trying to change it or negotiate with it.

3. Varying intellectual conversations. Of course extroverts are just as capable of intelligent conversations, but with two introverts who enjoy reading and pondering over socializing, the range of deep conversations is much greater and ever-changing. Not to mention, the surprise turns and twists that can occur in a conversation when given the chance to think apart.

4. Every evening in. To most extroverts, this sounds like a negative thing but many introverts would be thrilled to spend more time at home on their couch or at least away from larger crowds or entertaining. When your partner is also an introvert, this is the norm. There is no need to put on an extroverted face when you just want to crash in the corner or ask your partner to forgo their evening of fun when you just aren't feeling it.

5. Solitude combined with togetherness. Few things are as amazing to an introvert as sitting quietly with their thoughts or a good book. But when paired with sharing this amazing experience with your partner, it becomes pure bliss. The need to escape and be separate to recuperate never requires you to be fully alone, allowing a much deeper bond to form.

While there are positives and negatives to every relationship, the introvert/extrovert combination that many feel they must seek is not set in stone. There are ample benefits to two introverts falling in love. So at the next social gathering, try looking at the wallflower with the book. You may find that opposites do not necessarily attract.

Why Do You Punish Your Child?

Children today have it pretty rough. We ask them to carry loads that most adults could not fathom, from grueling school and homework schedules to perfect attitudes and behavior at all times.

On top of the overwhelming responsibilities, they must carry around fear of punishments for things no adults would ever be punished for. And for what?

No parent ever wants to see their child fail or become an unproductive member of society. This fear of what our children will become fuels our daily parenting choices and styles. And the children are the ones who pay for these fears.  The worry that our children will turn to crime has us punishing them any time we consider their behavior less than perfect.

A child is spanked because they did not clean their room when they were first asked.

A child is given a time out because they rolled their eyes when their parent asked them a question.

A child is spanked because they cried when they were upset about a decision they had no part in making.

A child has a toy taken away because they said no to something they did not want to do.

A child is punished because their attitude was deemed inappropriate by their parent.

When was the last time you were punished for any of the above? When was the last time someone brought physical harm to you when you did not clean your house, when you did not have the correct attitude or when you chose not to do something you did not want to do? Were you arrested? Were you hit? Were you even fined?

Many parents claim that this is the way children learn the consequences of the "real world." But in what world does the law require us to have a perfect attitude 100% of the time? In what world are we arrested for not cleaning our home or putting our stuff away on someone else's schedule? In what world are the punishments as severe as we dole out to our children regularly?

Our fears that our children will be law-breakers or nuisances to society have us actually punishing them for things that no adult would consider a crime. We are so worried about how our children will turn out that we punish them for simply being human.

As a society, we seem to have reached a point where punishing your child is first nature while asking yourself why you are doing it is an afterthought, if it occurs at all. Instead of looking at the end result or the motivation behind our own actions, we simply haul back and swat, telling ourselves it is for the best, without fully knowing whether or not it is.

If you spank, take away belongings or put your child in time out as punishment, perhaps it is time to look at what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to teach them about real life consequences? If so, is the behavior they are exhibiting something that would actually produce such severe consequences to an adult?

Think about putting yourself in that situation. If you talked back to your spouse, would they slap you? If you didn't clean your house for a month, would it produce a fine? If you were not in a positive mood or expressed a negative emotion, would you be imprisoned on someone else's time schedule?

The reality is that you would not. None of these human behaviors are crimes. None of them produce such harsh punishments. So why are you treating your child this way? This is certainly not going to prepare them for the "real world" because the reality is that the "real world" is nothing like the childhood we create.

When Your Child Can’t Speak

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Young Children

The idea of anyone bringing harm to a young child is heart-wrenching for parents everywhere. But the reality is that child molesters do target younger children, including infants and toddlers. Sometimes the abuse is ongoing and since the child cannot speak, it continues until they are older making disclosure more and more rare as, to the child, it has become an accepted part of life.

While discovering sexual abuse in a child who has yet to reach speaking age can be difficult, it is not impossible. These children often show signs of the abuse even if they cannot vocalize what is occurring. If you notice any of the following signs, especially if it is more than one, than it may be possible that your young child is being molested.

Yeast or Staph Infections. There are a few reasons why a diaper-wearing infant or toddler may have frequent yeast or staph infections and so it should never go unexamined. But young females who are being molested are at great risk of these infections. If your child has been left alone with someone (even if you do not think they have molested your child) and develops a yeast infection, bring them to the pediatrician immediately. Let them know you have a concern that the infection was brought about by physical touch and have them examine the child.

There may not be any initial evidence or signs of trauma but if the infections continue, it is very important to have a thorough exam. Yeast and staph infections should never be overlooked or taken lightly as they can be an important sign of something wrong.

Clenching or cringing during diaper changes. Since most babies wear diapers from birth, the act of having their diaper changed is second nature to them and so there should be no reason for distress. If your child tends to clench their legs tightly together or cringe from a gentle touch of a baby wipe, this could be an important sign of previous trauma. While some children do not like diaper changes, especially toddlers, and try to squirm or run, there still should be no reason for clenching or cringing from fear.

If your child has had a recent diaper rash or infection, this may cause temporary cringing so do not panic if it happens once or twice. But if each diaper change seems to bring about discomfort or fear for your child, this may be a key sign of sexual abuse.

Tantrums or acting out. Not all children who are being abused will have a drastic change in behavior, especially if it has been a part of their lives since infancy. However, in most cases the abuse is still paired with threats, emotional abuse and even physical pain, causing the child to act out if they know they are about to be subjected to it.

If your child is having temper tantrums, acting out, excessively crying, or trying to run away from a situation, do not overlook it as normal behavior for a toddler. Instead, look for patterns. Do these behaviors come about in a specific location like a bedroom, bathroom or someone else's home? Do they often act up around a certain person, relative or babysitter? Do key words, actions or events trigger strong responses?

Try to listen closely to your child's protests or behaviors. If you see patterns, then something, even if it is not related to sexual abuse, needs to be addressed. Punishing your child for expressing their emotions will only cause them to stop communicating which will cause many more problems in the future.

Low self-esteem or unwillingness to try. From the moment a child is born they are learning and trying out new behaviors. Infants search for body parts, babies attempt to mobilize and toddlers start building, creating and even talking. They are able to learn and practice these new skills when they feel safe. If they feel fearful, the parts of the brain that allow for this growth are stunted by the amygdala (emotion-driven part of the brain) causing this learning to cease.

Young children who are being molested are often overtaken by their amygdala due to the physical and emotional traumas. In these cases, they can be further behind physically and mentally. In infants, this could come across as limited development while in toddlers, they may begin to show signs of poor self-esteem and unwillingness to try new things. Hopelessness and negativity may become common in their day to day lives, inhibiting their development.

If you suspect your child is not developing properly and is showing no signs of improvement, as in the case of behavior changes, look for patterns. Does their behavior change when in a certain place? Are they less likely to try new things or even pursue tasks they used to enjoy when around a specific person?

Low self-esteem is always a sign of something wrong, so do not dismiss it as a personality trait. Be sure to have your child checked out to rule out different possibilities.

Your intuition. Odds are you are reading this article because you suspect something may be wrong with your child. Perhaps you already have a potential perpetrator in mind. That intuition should never be ignored. You have those feelings for a reason. Considering the idea that your child is being harmed by someone close to you is a frightening thought that may be easier to brush off than to address. Fears of false accusations, tearing families apart or making poor choices are overwhelming enough to cause you to ignore obvious signs that you may regret later.

If you have any of these feelings, then something is going on. Fear of harm to your children is normal, but if it has sent you looking for these signs to validate what you are feeling, then it goes beyond just a fear. Any damage done through a potential false accusation is nothing compared to the damage that would be done if you ignore the truth.

Each of these signs can be explained by events other than child abuse, but when several signs are present paired with your parental intuition, then they need to be addressed immediately. If these signs sound familiar and your intuition is strongly pulling at your heart, it is time to take action to protect your children. Contact your pediatrician or Child Protective Services immediately.

Trust yourself. Trust your child's behaviors. It will be the most important thing you ever do for your child.

For more information on possible signs of sexual abuse, please visit Mothers of Sexually Abused Children and for information on how to help keep your children safe, please visit Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse.
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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 Facebook, Twitter and .