The lie many parents believe

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by Corey

Corey writes regularly about marriage and relationships on his site, Simple Marriage, which is full of laid back information sure to improve your relationships.You can also catch his radio show - Sexy Marriage Radio, a weekly show filled with straightforward and practical information that will help your marriage.

Let’s face it, being a parent is oftentimes overwhelming. Come to think of it, so is marriage.

The most important people in your life are probably the members of your family, but they are also likely the people who drive you the most crazy.

Don’t worry — if this is true for you, you’re completely normal.

There are two factors that contribute to the pressure and stress of family, particularly parenting:

  • One is our emotional reactivity,
  • And the other is a lie that many parents believe.

1.  Our emotional reactivity is our own worst enemy.

Families are systems. One person impacts another, and each member feeds off other members within the system.

Look at it this way – have you ever had a time when you were anxious about something, and your kid’s behavior escalated because he or she was feeding off your anxiety? Or your spouse had a bad day, and you can sense it as you enter the house, even before you set eyes on him?

The simple truth is you probably spend a great deal of time trying to control things you cannot possibly control your child’s reactions, behaviors, choices, and even your spouse. I can’t blame you for trying, really. I’ve done it, too.

There’s a great deal of pressure with parenting today.

We are bombarded with messages about putting family first.  Keeping our children safe in a crazy world. Being saddled with the idea that parents are the ones molding the future of our world.

It’s overwhelming.

So rather than spending a great deal of energy on things you can’t control, spend time working on the things you can. This starts, and ends, with you.


Photo by Nina

2.  The lie:  You are responsible for your child.

Many parents have bought into the idea that it’s our job to get our children to think, believe, feel, and behave like a good person. We are responsible for their life. After all, they are a reflection of ourselves. Right?

Wrong.

Hear me out. They are a member of our family and will act out our family patterns and beliefs; hence the importance of the first point. But ultimately, your child is his or her own separate being.

We are much more responsible TO our children than we are FOR them. Our children have been granted the same power of choice as us. And if you think you can program your child to act, think, and behave a certain way, you’re fooling yourself.

As parents, we do have tremendous influence on our children, but we have more responsibility to them than for them.

And our main responsibility to them? Be consistently cool in the face of ever-present change.

After all, the only thing you have control over is yourself.

Marital application: To apply this idea on another level, read this again and replace the word children with spouse. The same idea applies.

Would you agree?  How does your emotional reactivity bite you back relationally?  And do you agree that you are not responsible for your child?

Source ScreamFree Parenting by Hal Runkel
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Comments

  1. So true, and really helps to put things into perspective. Very interesting how you brought up reactivity too – when I think about it – it is true that when one of us is stressed, it can impact the emotional dynamic for everyone in the family. Very interesting read – thank you!
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Groupon… =-.

  2. What a great way to put it. I like that differentiation between ‘to’ and ‘for’. Rather than trying to shape my kid into a mold I want her to grow up authentically, knowing who she is and making up her own mind about her values and interests.

    I definitely find that my biggest struggle as a parent is to try an maintain my cool in power struggles with my kid but I think that in order to do that we have to be honest with ourselves about how reactive we are. I just try to pull back and change my approach when I start to feel that anger/frustration bubbling up in my chest. So far I’ve found that my best tool is humour and fun. If I can turn a battle into a game everyone feels better.
    .-= Kristin Craig Lai´s last blog ..Repeat after me, I love my mama belly! =-.

  3. I agree somewhat with you, but…always a but isn’t there ;) I FEEL your children directly react to your families emotional atmosphere at that time, which as a parent, YOU and only you are responsible for. I may have some oposition to this statement… how you react effects (to create) a child’s behavior… If you react with anger when something goes wrong and project to them your disappointment a child takes that into their day and acts it out. They may be little people with their own personal repsonsibility for theirself or their actions, but all in all I feel children are a direct reflection of the parent and their emotional state at the time.

    Lulu ==SAHM of 6 little personalities ;)

  4. This is so true, and a great perspective!
    .-= Trisha´s last blog ..Throw Me Down Week – Day Two: Ugly Afghan Contest =-.

  5. It’s interesting that you related this back to marriage, because that’s probably the most helpful thing I’ve learned in marriage counseling. It makes sense that it would apply to my relationship with my children as well.
    .-= Miss Britt´s last blog ..Miss Britt And Emma Play Hookie: A Photo Essay =-.

  6. Oh, I totally agree. I think when parents feel that they are responsible for their kids, they put all kinds of unnecessary pressures on them.

    And it’s important to remember, whether it’s your kid, your spouse or the clerk at the bank, you are only responsible for your own behavior and can’t control any one else’s.

    (BTW, I took down the quote “We are much more responsible TO our children than we are FOR them,” and will probably being using it to link to you one day. I love that.)
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Weird Kid Wednesday- Video Production =-.

  7. So true – this idea about children really came to life for me after reading ‘parenting with love and logic’ This book focuses on helping the children to be responsible for their own actions – focusing more on WHAT they are doing vs. how I FEEL about what they are doing made such a difference and helped me to see them as their own little person (as it should be) rather than a direct reflection on me. I am there to guide them, and in some cases to discipline to be sure, but ultimately they need to learn to be responisble for their own actions and choices apart from me as well. Good word!

  8. Yes I totally agree! Great post Corey. Excellent two points. Being responsible for ourselves and being responsible to our children (and really to whole lot of things, to our spouse, the earth, the other citizens of the world, the future generations. ) It’s so simple, but also so easy to get it mixed up.
    .-= Vina´s last blog ..The Most Nourishing Food of All: A Pie Called Humble =-.

  9. I whole-heartedly agree! I have thought about this a lot lately. There really is a message in our culture that we can and should control everything- particularly in regards to our children. It not only causes unfair and unnecessary guilt, but also causes us to parent from the wrong motivation. We become more concerned with the reflection of our child’s behavior on us than with the development of our child’s own inner locus of control. That is the main focus of a series of posts I’ve written on Positive Guidance, here: http://notjustcute.com/2009/09/29/what-is-positive-guidance/

    Thanks for making a perfect point!

  10. what does it mean to be responsible TO something?

  11. I love this. I heard a guy on the radio a few months ago saying something along the lines of, “It’s helpful if you think of responsibility and response-ability — you have the ability to choose how you respond.” That really resonated with me, because although we cannot control our emotions, we *can* control how we react to those emotions. Modeling this control is an excellent lesson for our children.
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..Speaking of Imperfection =-.

  12. I can see where Corey is coming from but I think we have to be careful with distinguishing between keeping cool and keeping emotion-less. Demonstrating that you know how to handle difficult emotions – and can name them and how they make you behave and how you’re going to try to improve – in front of your children is just as important. And making sure that keeping cool doesn’t mean sweeping difficult emotions under the rug. They still have to be dealt with… eventually. And giving our children the language and skills to cope with them is critical to helping them become happy, functioning adults.

  13. Excellent post. This is what I’m learning and relearning everyday. I especially like your point about thinking our kids’ behavior is a reflection on ourselves. That’s what makes us parents flip out so easily, especially when they reach the teenage years. I believe maintaining a good relationship with my kids is the most important thing I can do. I don’t want them to shut me out as they get older. I want them to at least hear me out and respect my opinions.

    Thanks again!
    .-= Jena´s last blog ..Help in the Reading Department =-.

  14. I am a new mom of an 8 month old and am feeling the pressure of it from family and friends, and yes even strangers. Everyone has an opinion on her food, clothing, playtime basically since I’m a new mom I have no clue what to do in their eyes and so I need to be told. They feel that I should try to control my daughter more and not just let her be 8 months old. I make sure she is out of harm but when she is playing I let her play. This lifted that burden and now I can breathe deep and know that I am ok just being me.

    Great post and wonderful perspective!

  15. Thank you for this post. I agree with 100% of it. My only regret is that it took me several years of parenting before I realized it.
    .-= Anjali´s last blog ..Giving It Up =-.

  16. I’d say as parents our primary responsiblity is to TEACH our children first how to make choices, and second how to make GOOD choices. After that we don’t have any control over the choices they make.

  17. Thank you for writing this. I’ve long argued the same, that we are not ultimately responsible for our children … in fact I think we overemphasize how much we can shape them at all. Help them feel secure, loved, challenged, understood, supported? Yes, absolutely. MAKE them into something? No way. This belief occurs to me as both somewhat arrogant and as incredibly daunting.
    Thank you for this.

  18. i think that shepherding a child’s heart is a great resource for this post. i am reading it while i bathe the kids at night and its been a really interesting perspective to digest. ultimately we can strive to bring up our children, responsibly, lovingly, with discipline and tenderness, raising them up in the Lord BUT ultimately they have a will and their heart is their own. its THEIR choice to follow right living (the Lord). this is a big spoonful to swallow b.c. don’t we all want desperately to protect our beautiful children from painful choices and consequences? i think i hear the expression: let go and let God. anyways, thank you for the posting!

  19. Thanks for the clarification! I’ve always looked at myself and others as people with choices. Why had I not extended this to my children? Duh! Not that I am an overbearing, switch carrying, make everyone in my family the same kind of mom. But I have questioned a child’s behavior/choices and wondered “where did I go wrong?” With this new perspective, I think I can get a better handle on my family life. THANK YOU!

    • I too have done the same. It took me a LONG time to realize “it’s not my fault” and I now have this huge weight taken off of my shoulders because of that realization. Good luck! Being a parent is the hardest job we will ever have.

  20. So true! And tied in to the idea that the best way you can teach as a parent is to set an example–show your child what you think is a good way to handle a situation rather than tell them. I think children pay far more attention to what we do than to what we say.

  21. MAN did I need to hear this today! Thanks!
    .-= Liz´s last blog ..It’s the Bree Show! =-.

  22. I have a questions about being responsible to your children and not for your children. My oldest daughter left home over a year ago because she and her boyfriend wanted no rules. She left on her 18th birthday. She gave up her whole life for this boyfriend. Now I do not agree with the way she went about things nor does my husband but we can not come to an agreement as to where to go from here. We have no idea how to “parent” her. She still has our car, and we still pay for her insurance but that is all we provide her at this point. She is living with her boyfriend and his parents and they pretty much provide all the needed living expenses but she is probably not going to finish college. And by the way, she was 3rd in her class and was supposed to go to a private college this year but gave that along with her whole life up because of this boy.
    Now what do we do? We would love to help her with college but she did not respect our rules or wishes and left home in Dec of her senior year. She has not gone out and gotten a job to help pay for her life. Yes, she has had a couple of little jobs but for the most part, she nor her boyfriend have done nothing to provide for their lives. His parents pay for it all.
    Are we respondsible to pay for her to attend college when she no longer lives with us, respects our wishes and so forth? Both my husband and I have wavered back and forth for over a year about this and do not know the right answer because no matter what we did, there will be problems. We have two younger daughters who are watching our every moves and that makes it so important that we do “whats right” if there is such a things.

    • You are describing a tough situation that parents face, how do you parent when a child refuses and heads off on their own. Likely what will help you both the most is to find some professional help in your area (or online). This will allow for an objective party to help you sort through your emotions, thoughts, ideas, etc.

      You’re correct in there may not be right way, but I bet you and your husband can find the best way to proceed. Blessings.
      .-= Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog ..Beyond Nice People Sex =-.

  23. I needed this post today, thanks.
    .-= Melanie at Parenting Ink´s last blog ..Be the Boss =-.

  24. I agree with what you’re saying … but why is this so much easier to agree with than to actually practice? I’m always trying to find that fuzzy line between being proactive with my kids, teaching and guiding them, versus being overcontrolling. It’s so easy to fall into the latter, especially when we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves (and our kids) with others (and their kids, especially the better-behaved ones!).

    I think having friends who parent with this perspective versus friends who put a huge emphasis on their kids’ behavior helps a lot.
    .-= Hannah´s last blog ..The Way We Were =-.

  25. Needed this today – THANK YOU!

  26. Maybe you should credit Screamfree Parenting? In both articles??

  27. How great to read this today after a really hard day with my 7 year old son. I am find myself getting so frustrated when he has a bad attitude. All I can do is control my reaction and that’s what I need to work on.
    .-= Leslie´s last blog ..spontaneous math =-.

  28. I am sorry, I have to disagree. If it makes some parents “feel better” to not think they are the blame when their child does something … whatever. You can mix up the wording however you like, you can say that you cant control the way the act, only the way that YOU react to the situation. It dosent matter .. it is all the same thing. If the way YOU respond to your child has a direct impact on the childs behavior, then you are in essence controling that child!! re-word it however you like so you dont feel like you reacted wrong when your kid throws a screeching fit in the store … that is just there to make you no feel bad. Had you “reacted” to their behavior differently, you may not have had that fit. It may be through manipulation, but it is still control.
    As far as teenagers go, you are NOT their friend .. you are the PARENT!!! So your 18 year old girl moves out against your wishes … there isnt a whole lot you can do at that point. She says its becuase of your rules .. maybe you should look back at how strict things were … maybe she has a point, maybe she doesnt. Teenagers dont necessarily need rules, they need guidance. There is a big difference. Dont expect to tell your 16 YR old not to drink, then drink a glass of wine and use the EXCUSE because I am an adult. If you dont want your teenager to do something, maybe you should reexamine what you are doing.
    THe other scenario is that you put SOOOO much pressure on your kid to be “perfect” that they are doing EVERYTHING you dont want them to do … preachers kids! Because you can onlyu CONTROL your kid until they move out, you better find a balance between CONTROL and allowing them to make mistakes and decisions themselves.
    Is it really THAT big of a deal if your kid wears his hair a way you dont like? It grows back … So what if he doesnt clean his room EVERY day … Think about the things YOU did as a kid … Give them a little freedom, a little guidance, but dont force your beliefs on them. You dont have to like their music, they dont like yours either. Hopefully as they grow older they will come to realize that you were right about not doing drugs and they sure are glad they didnt try them when they were 16.

    • I agree with you Holly on many of the ideas you have brought up. I would say that for the most part, I gave my daughter way too few rules and she just kept pushing for more and more freedom until I just couldn’t take it any longer and we started pushing right back. In fact, her boyfriend even told me that the more I push, the more they are going to push right back. It was a huge tug of war to see who won and I got tired of the constant battles. They threatened over and over that they are going to do this and that until we had had it.

      A home should not be a war zone. Did my husband and I make mistakes, we sure did but we were trying to reason with our daughter and her boyfriend and that was part of the problem. Teenagers do not understand reasoning. To them, they will only see a yes or a no. We tried and tried to explain why it was wrong for them to stay out till all hours of the night. We tried to explain why a senior in high school doesn’t get to go and spend the night in her boyfriends apartment alone, just the two of them but they didn’t care.

      What we did wrong, we trusted them to make good choices. We thought that they would make the right choice and they didn’t but turned it around to make it all our fault.

      Black and White, yes and no that is what I am giving my two younger kids. Yes you can go or no you can’t. I can not go down this path again. I just about had a nervous break down and was at the end of my rope.

      I am sure you can not understand just how hard this all was. Until you are in my shoes, you just can not fathom the pain that they WHOLE family experienced from this event in our lives. This didn’t just effect my husband, my daughter and myself. It caused a huge problem with everyone. Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. You name it. We all suffered because of two very selfish/self centered teenagers and this is NOT how we raised our daughter. She was not raised to think only of herself. She was influenced by another family who told her that once you are 18 you NEVER have to listen to another person in the whole world and that includes GOD!

      That is not life. That is a fairy tale but yet, that is what has happened.
      We tried our best to give our daughter guidance as to right and wrong but it certainly is NOT our fault that she chose to ignore all she had been taught. No drinking or drugs in this family. She was given the freedom to do all kinds of thing but once that ONE person comes into their lives who has influence on them, everything can change in an instant! I have seen it three times now. And all three came from good homes with loving families whoes child just up and CHANGED because they wanted to be rebellious. I am not a preacher nor is my husband but yes we are religious. But this other family lives a much different religion than we. They believe it is okay for kids to live together under their roof. They believe it is okay for kids to not take respondisibily for their actions because——– they are just kids. Is that setting a good example? No it isn’t.

      I think you and I would agree and actually like one another if we met because I too believe that parents have a huge amount of “accountability” for their children. But as I just said, when they get to a certain age and frame of mind; It really doesn’t matter how they have been raised. If that one certain person convences them that you can do anything you want and it’s okay because God forgives all sins so just go out and sin all you want! Well, then the parents are NOT to blame.

      I hope that my experiences with my daughter helps others with the problems they are facing or might face in the future. It is tough and can be enought to cause a marriage to fall apart dealling with rebellious kids. I love my children and it breaks my heart at times to see them hurting or even just to tell them no to something they really want to do. But that is what our job as parents is. Unfortantly too many parents just “give in” and let their kids do as they please and then they beginning dating those who have rules and that is where the problems begin. Thanks for your info. I did not take offense. But I do not think you understand all that can happen, even in those so called good families.

    • Holly- I’d like to weigh in on your children don’t need rules they need guidance thought. Children do need rules (we all do). It’s part of a healthy family and society. In the absence of rules, people will make up their own. Sure we can guide our children in their choices but we can’t expect our children, even teenagers, to know and understand the reasons behind good choices vs. bad ones. Hence the need for rules – especially for teenagers.

      Biologically, children aren’t capable of fully rational thinking until they are in their 20s, since the brain is not fully formed in a human until then. Children need consistent rules in order to feel secure and loved. Granted these rules don’t need to be too oppressive or strict, but they need to be there. You can pick your battles over behavior and choices all through their growing up, being consistent through it all is what matters.

      I don’t think of my reactions or my rules as controlling my children. Quite the contrary. My reactions and rules allow my children to experience the consequences of their own choices and actions. They choose to throw a fit in the store, I can calmly load them up and leave the store without whatever they were throwing the fit over.

      You are correct in it’s not good to force our beliefs on our kids, and it is important to live according to them yourself. In fact, when given the freedom to choose your beliefs, they likely will in the end anyway.
      .-= Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog ..Beyond Nice People Sex =-.

  29. AMEN! Great post Corey, this is near the top of my list to try to help parents truly understand and incorporate into their homes. This whole concept of being responsible TO your kids rather than FOR them changes everything and the guilt that comes for so many parents who feel they can’t “enforce” consequences or feel it is their fault for their child’s behavior. I love sharing these ideas with the mom’s I work with in the ScreamFree Parent Coaching and Teleseminars that I have been doing. This is how you change future generations, changing what you CAN change, which ultimately is only you. By providing a home where yelling (or hitting, throwing, withdrawing – all reactive behavior but often screaming is on the forefront) is NOT a norm, you are providing the example to your children who are learning how to parent their children from you.
    Thanks Corey, always love what you share and how well you do it!
    .-= Susan´s last blog ..The Dignity and Sanctity of the Home =-.

  30. Yes, we have a saying in our home, that everyone is responsible for the atmosphere in the home. We are always telling our kids that you can’t control how people react toward you, but only how you react. I do believe that as parents we are also responsible for what we bring into our home, such as the things we spend our time on, what is on the TV, and what kind of example you are.

  31. Feeling understood and translated is a massive relief, and that’s exactly what this post does. It’s almost as if it were written for me. Thank you so much. I hope to put the ‘be cool in the face of change’ mantra to practice, both as a parent and a spouse.

  32. Good point. I am always needing to remind myself that I can’t really control what my 5 year old does or says or feels. I want her to be more a certain way because I feel she is too sensitive and needs to be more social, but she is who she is and I can’t change her. This has been a great reminder to be a good parent to her and accept and support who she is.
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Poll: How Old is Your Nursling? =-.

  33. This article was great – I couldn’t agree more!
    Although it took me many years of parenting to come to the same conclusion, it has been very FREEING! And our children have learned so much more about life and natural consequences (you will get burned if you take a stick out of a fire to play with – after you were told not to; you will sprain your ankle if you jump from the treehouse) – without us even having to say anything. (Not ever an “I told you so” – that’s totally unnecessary now!)
    Don’t get me wrong – we do have rules, and it is the rules that help them to know what they should/should not do. But they have learned SO MUCH without us hovering all the time to make sure they’re obeying all the rules! That’s just not the way real life is.
    Please see a fun story along these same lines entitled “If your son brings back the kitchen fire extinguisher…” (that you didn’t know was even missing…) on our blog:
    http://www.ourwayswithourkids.blogspot.com

    I love parenting – even the HARD parts!
    lisa (@imgarysgirl on twitter)

  34. just received a great, great quote by way of Twitter – from @markgregston (of Heartlight Ministries):

    “The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” Frank A. Clark

    AMEN!

    lisa (@imgarysgirl)

  35. I feel a tremendous responsibility to my children to teach them the right way to live (for me, a Christ-centered life). I know that during the early, formative years, I have a great opportunity to teach important principles that will impact the rest of their lives. So I feel like I do have to be responsible for them to a certain extent, to a certain age or level of understanding; they’re dependent on me for guidance for only a few short years and I need to take responsibility for that while I can.

    But I totally agree that they are their own persons. I cannot FORCE them to take on my beliefs no matter how much I preach and model them. They have the blessing of free agency just like the rest of us and at a certain point, my desires for their lives have very little to no sway in their lives. I hope to be remain open with them and close to them so that they will WANT me to influence them, but I really have no choice with that.
    .-= Lindsey´s last blog ..We’re moving! =-.

  36. Love this…it’s so true! Thanks for these great reminders and wonderful perspective on things… I hope I always remember that – “the only person I have control over is me”! Thanks… !
    .-= Bomi Jolly´s last blog ..Got Your Shot? =-.

  37. Wow.. This post is incredibly insightful. I agree about being emotionally reactive and you know what I think the fact that we can’t control everything about our kids is quite liberating:-)
    Thanks for sharing this!
    .-= prerna´s last blog ..Books I Read and Enjoyed in February =-.

  38. I really struggle with #2. I feel responsible for every action my child takes. I wonder how their behavior at school and church will reflect back on me as a parent. Thank you for this post. It has given me alot to think about.
    .-= paula @ Organizing Tips 4 Moms´s last blog ..Quick Organizing: DVDs, CDs and Silverware =-.

  39. avatar
    jennifer says:

    Good advise. I have friends who try to control their children and it always becomes a battle of will that turns uglier the older they get. I am raising 5 children, half of whom are fully grown now. People always ask why my children are so good, and it really comes down to basics. We have always been respectful and polite to them and they in turn to us. That is not to say they haven’t tried to be disrespectful at times, they have and I have lovingly and firmly explained the importance of mutual respect in relationships, and yes, sometimes they pushed it further and were grounded. I think the difference is they knew why I didn’t agree with what they were doing and why I felt it was important enough to punish them for. Like wise I did not yell in their face that they better never talk to me that way, etc. BTY emotional reactivity I believe covers the same ground, having enough respect and good manners towards your children to not let them be effected by your bad mood, financial difficulties, fight with spouse, etc. i forget who said this, but a quote that has always stuck with me ” people with truely good character have the people who are closest to them think the highest of them.” I botched the quote, but you get the general idea! Thanks for your insights.

  40. There is a great poem for Kahlil Gibran (in The Prophet):

    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

    You are the bows from which your children
    as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
    and He bends you with His might
    that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
    For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
    so He loves also the bow that is stable.
    .-= Eric D´s last blog ..Improvisation =-.

  41. This is the whole principal behind the book “Scream Free Parenting.” Great book that I am currently reading and would recommend it highly!
    .-= Stacy´s last blog ..Have you checked out the new Simple Living Media sites? =-.

  42. Wow I like this post and really appreciate it. I’m a single mom of 3 sons and my household can get BEYOND crazy at times. You are right… My children do feed off of me and my attitude/response to things. At times when my boys start “going at it”, the stress level in my home goes up and I cannot for the life of me understand why they do the things they do to each other or even say to one another. Then of course when I get upset it’s harder for them to calm down as well. Like you said they are their own separate beings and no matter how I try to guide them, in the end it’s all about choices. Great Post!!!
    .-= AmbitiousSingleMom´s last blog ..Let’s Try This Again… =-.

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