All posts by magdapecsenye

The intense parts are where you need to be kind to yourself

A big part of what I got at with the post about how hard it is to parent a seventh grader is that it hurts to parent your child through things that hurt you. If you pay attention to the things that are most intense and difficult for you, you know where you need to be extra kind and forgiving with yourself.

I think for most of us it starts when our kids are toddlers or preschoolers. There are things they do that are annoying, but then there are other things they do that hit a nerve and seem to shoot right up into our brains with an almost physical pain. Have you ever felt hot rage, or panic, or fear when your child did something that wasn’t objectively horrific? That’s because we have unresolved intense emotions about those things from our own childhoods. Usually that intense reaction tells you that you weren’t allowed to do whatever it is that your kid is doing, so you’re having a reaction to that. You might feel fear that you or your child or both are going to be punished for doing it. You might feel rage that your child is daring to do this thing you knew better than to do. You might feel panic that you should stop your child from doing it or that you should have prevented it.

Those feelings in those intensity triggered by something someone else does are called emotional flashbacks. People who have any kind of trauma often have emotional flashbacks (sometimes without any connection to any external trigger at the time), and they can be extremely hard to work around. We like to think of ourselves as strong, calm, logical people, especially when we’re parenting, and emotional flashbacks can derail us, for a few seconds or a few days. They’re invisible and no one talks about them, so it’s really easy to think there’s just something wrong with you for not being able to control your reactions to things.

When your child does something that hits one of your soft spots and triggers an emotional flashback, it can be truly overwhelming. You’re dealing with your kid’s act, the emotion it triggers in you, your reaction to that emotion, your feelings about your reaction to that emotion, and then your child’s reaction to your reaction. If it’s a one-time event, you can regain your equilibrium. But if it happens regularly or over a long period of time, you can be in a near-constant state of emotional overwhelm. This is why you can feel like you’re totally losing it when your kids won’t put on their shoes every morning. Or why parenting a seventh grader can make you feel anxious and weepy all the time.

So what’s the answer? Well, you know all that minute-by-minute work you have to do with your kids? You have to do it with yourself, too. Essentially, you have to reparent yourself through whatever that issue is that is giving you emotional flashbacks. You have to think of yourself now (because you deserve care) and also of the you you were when you were in that situation (because you deserved care then). Note: your parents could be wonderful amazing people, but if they hadn’t been parented through the situation and taught healthy responses, the likelihood that they could parent you through it is slim. They probably had emotional flashbacks when you were doing whatever it was, but white-knuckled through it because they thought something was wrong with them. This means that you are the only one who can stop this cycle because you’re here right now. You deserve to feel good and be healthy, just as your kids do, and your parents do, too.

So. When your child is doing something that makes you feel an oversized emotion so you know you’re having an emotional flashback, the first thing to do is reassure yourself that this is expected and ok and you’re not doing anything wrong. Of course you’re having this feeling. Then, connect with your kid and tell them you love them and give them a hug and help them process whatever’s going on and redirect behavior. (I’ve found the echoing technique in Parent Effectiveness Training to be the gold standard of helping a kid work through a problem.) You do NOT have to solve the problem for your child, although if you can make a little bit of forward motion on helping your child build skills to solve the problem for themself, that’s what you’re aiming for.

Then, and this is key, give yourself permission to acknowledge that you should have been given that same help processing whatever it was back when you were a kid. And then give yourself a “good job!” for parenting your kid through this episode. This is you being kind to the kid you were and to the person you are now.

This is going to feel really really weird the first ten times you do it. It might feel actually wrong the first couple of times, because you’re stepping away from feelings that cause you shame, and shame likes to hold on. But do it simply because helping your kid work through something is the right thing to do and being kind to yourself is the right thing to do. The shame will loosen its grip on you and the emotions will fade in intensity, and helping your child work through this stuff will be about skill-building.

You can do it.

Courage.

Seventh grade is remarkably hard

It’s so hard to be a seventh grader. It’s so hard to parent a seventh grader.

Parenting through 6th, 7th, and 8th grade with my first one required more intensity than I’d had to put in at any previous stage, and it’s happening again with my second child. They fall apart emotionally, feel so intensely, feel uncomfortable and weird in their bodies, don’t know who their real friends are, can’t focus on schoolwork and get anxious and scared about that, are captive to the hormonal surges happening that switch them from bravado to rage to weeping in a few minutes, and just want to hide all the time.

They need us, a lot. More than when they were babies or preschoolers, by a lot. They need hugs and snuggles (a lot). Both of mine have spent more time in my lap–with their long legs flapping out to the sides–in seventh grade than in second through sixth grades combined. Even when they’re mad at me or trying to tell me I’m mad at them they want to be touching me.

I figured out with the first one that getting mad at him for being in a kind of disequilibrium he’d never experienced before and didn’t know how to handle was not going to get me anywhere I wanted to be. So I a) didn’t let myself get mad at him for normal-but-horrible developmental collapse, b) didn’t let myself take his lashing out or his scatteredness personally, c) did take his need to be touching me and hearing that I loved him personally, and d) shifted my view of him at this stage from autonomous tween to little kid going through a regression so I could be kind and sympathetic. (Perimenopause hit me like a ton of hot sweaty bricks when that same child was in eighth grade, and he was shockingly sympathetic to my inability to be in my body comfortably or control my emotions. Man bites dog.)

It was intense, deep, minute-by-minute work. I’m not sure I’ve worked as hard in such small increments since I was up nursing at 3 am every night. Back then I used to think about all the other mothers all over the world rocking their little babies. Now I think a lot about all the other parents snuggling their big kids. It is no less work going through it with my second child right now.

Two weeks ago I posted on Facebook that I don’t think I’ve recovered emotionally from seventh grade. I got story after story of adults who were still hurt by that grade (or sixth or eighth). A common theme was that kids that age felt disconnected from their friends and other kids or were being bullied or hurt or failing classes, and they couldn’t tell their parents. Or their parents wouldn’t help them or didn’t know how to help them. So they were alone, and that’s the part that still hurt. (It’s the part that still hurts me, too. I didn’t tell my mom for a long time that I was being bullied. It was the beginning of a lifetime of feeling truly alone.)

I don’t think it’s right that our culture makes seventh graders feel so alone that it takes us decades to recover. We should be increasing the challenge level for tweens but keeping them surrounded by a support system they can turn to when they fail or just need a hug. I am trying to keep my younger one tethered to his life and to his family and friends as much as I can, so this disequilibrium stage doesn’t sever ties he’s too young to be without.

I think the combination of the intensity required to parent through this age and our own unhealed hurts from being this age can be overwhelming. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a good job. It just means that it’s going to feel really difficult and probably like you don’t want to do it, and maybe like you can’t do it. But you can, and you are. I can and I am, too.

I think hugs are the way we make it through this tunnel.

Courage.

Moxie’s back

Thanks to my talented friend Kelly, we’re at a new host and all the old posts and comments are up. There are a bunch of broken links and no banner and it looks like 1998, but we’re here! I’m relieved.

I have a lot of stuff to say, so I’m going to spend the next few weeks saying it. In no particular order:

My depression is in remission and I’m amazed and freaked out by that and everything’s different.

I was having horrible migraines and tried some things to get rid of them and have been mostly successful with it.

The full-body breakdown of perimenopause (see: migraines) continues apace and feels like whack-a-mole.

Librarians, look here.

If you’re starting to get stressed about the “holiday season,” look here.

Wow, seventh grade is brutal, isn’t it? It’s like 3.5 and 7 and the 4-month sleep regression and perimenopause all put together.

I just want everyone to know that the toddler I had when I started this site is now learning to drive. (The learning to drive is going fine.)

All of the speaking out about harassment is exposing the seedy underbelly of work, isn’t it? There are ways we could reconfigure work and manage people better so workplaces weren’t inherently abusive institutions.

I’m renovating an 80-year-old house.

We are really all in it together. Now more than ever. I’d like to talk about being intentional and obvious about providing support for each other.

I’m sure there’s other stuff I need to talk about right away, but these were the first things that came to mind. I missed you. What happened while I was gone?

Reframe it (Parenting in Hard Times 3)

So many of us have been trying to figure out how to be cheerful and not scare our kids, which seems at odds with being honest with them about the truth. It feels like either/or. Either we lie and stay peppy so they don’t know anything’s wrong, or we tell them the truth of how bad it is and crush their feelings and terrify them. But what if we reframe the entire situation to make it about what we want our kids to learn from this instead of what we’re supposed to do perfectly?

Your job is to be kind to your kids, and one big way to be kind to them is to trust them to learn important things. Right now, in the midst of great sorrow, they can learn the most important things there are to know:

Your love for them is deeper than words.

They can trust you to do the best you can for them.

They are worth working hard for.

You will show them how to work for themselves.

When they get the chance to work for other people, they have to take it.

Relationships and community are of the highest value and are worth working for.

What if this crisis gives you the chance to apprentice your kids into being people who are strong and vulnerable, who can soothe themselves to be able to do what they need to do, and who work and fight for justice for others?

If you start thinking of these days as chances to show your kids that bad things happen but they can push back, even in teeny, quiet ways, you win. If you start thinking about what you tell them in terms of what will make them be able to make good decisions about how to act, you win. If you start looking for ways to teach empathy, kindness, and critical thinking, you win. You don’t have to worry about what information will do to them if you’re guiding them through how to receive and process and act on information as it comes in.

This is a tough request, especially when you’re feeling anxious and worried yourself. But it gives you a task to focus on that you know you can do. You’ve been helping your kids learn from the moment you met them. You can do this, too. Trust them to learn what you’re teaching, and trust yourself to be the teacher they need.

All my love,

Magda

Love the New Normal (Parenting in Hard Times 2)

Remember back when your kid was teeny and everything was horrible and you weren’t getting any sleep and you thought you were doing everything wrong and every minute seemed like an hour? And you wondered if that was the New Normal. Now you know that it wasn’t the New Normal, and most of those horrible things passed with time and some different horrible things aged in. It was all fleeting. The real New Normal was that you had another human in your life with thoughts and feelings and opinions, and you get to be with that person and watch them grow into who they are. The New Normal is actually kind of great once the immediate problems are gone.

We’re in the same kind of situation right now. We’re worried that the discrimination, lies, violence, racism, misogyny, fascism, overstepping authority, embarrassing statements, threats, bans, white supremacy, dismantling the system, and belligerence are the New Normal. They’re not, though. They’re the New Temporary. As the New Temporary they’re truly disgusting, but they’ll only become the New Normal if we stop fighting and working and pushing as hard as we can.

The real New Normal here is who we’re becoming in the middle of this.

Who are you now that you weren’t on November 7? I bet you have more layers, more resilience, more compassion, more strength, and better boundaries now than you did then.

What do you know now that you didn’t before? I bet you know so much more about so many groups of people in this country than you did before, along with what their experiences are like, and how you may have inadvertantly harmed them by things you did and systems you participated in. I bet you know more about how our government and political systems and electoral processes work. I bet you know what really matters to you, and what you’re willing to do to preserve freedom and justice for yourself and for others. I bet you know now that you’re not isolated and that there are millions and millions of people in this country who look nothing like you but want the same things you do.

What can you do now that you couldn’t before? I bet you can make phone calls to strangers every day. I bet you can go stand at protests and march for hours and chant with groups of people you have varying things in common with. I bet you can analyze what are good sources of information and make critical arguments of propaganda more directly than you could before. I bet you can assess who has your best interests at heart and who doesn’t, and maintain strong healthy boundaries. I bet you can keep pushing hard at the same time you’re laughing with glee at stupidity.

For years I’ve read obituaries of people who really contributed, and wanted to have that same record of contribution. I don’t mean people who were the most famous in their fields, but people who had years and years of cumulative work in their communities, of service and influence and contribution. And I’ve thought about how lucky they were to have been able to do that, to work steadily to make things better for their people. Right now we are all learning that. We are all doing that. We are all being that. We are contributing. And we get to keep going, even after the New Temporary is over and we get what’s left of our country on a better track. We get to keep doing this and being this in ten years, twenty years, fifty years. That is the New Normal. You get to be part of it and to raise your children immersed in care and love and activism.

All my love,

Magda

Keep it on an even keel. (Parenting in Hard Times 1)

(Cross-posted on postTrump.help.)

Keep it on an even keel.

Kids need routine and stability. You need routine and stability. In the middle of the world falling down around us, the only one who can provide routine and stability for you and your children is you.

You may be feeling like you can’t keep it together logistically, if things get any worse (and that may be true). You may be feeling like you can’t keep it together emotionally for much longer (or that you aren’t currently keeping it together emotionally). But you have to stick to routines, for your kids and for yourself.

There are three things to know about all the madness swirling around us right now:

1. You can’t fix everything that’s happening. There are some things you don’t have any control over, and there’s no leverage point you can access to control those things. There are some things you do have influence over, and you need to take action, but you can’t do everything on every front. If you have a daily action plan, follow that. If you don’t, get one, and then follow it.

2. You shouldn’t fix everything that’s happening. It’s not your job to. There are 188 million adults in America who didn’t vote for Trump, and if even 3% of us are active in resisting, that’s more than 5 1/2 million people doing resistance work on a daily basis. That’s a lot of people, and more are joining us every day as the Bannon administration gets worse and worse. There are jobs for everyone. But no one should try to fix everything, because it isn’t reasonable. And no one else can take care of your children the way you can. That’s still and always your most important job.

3. The bad guys are creating chaos on multiple fronts because they can, and because they’re trying to incapacitate you with panic. If you stop living a normal life, they win. If you dig in to routines and to normal life, you win for everyone. Your stability and consistency provides stability and consistency for the entire country. If you descend into panic or obsession, that undermines the exact structures and systems we’re trying to save. Don’t help them destroy things. Grit your teeth and keep going.

This is going to be a long fight. And now that we know how to fight, we’re going to be fighting forever. So you need to find a way to create a good, safe environment for your children in the middle of the struggle. That means keeping up routines, including emotional routines. Hugs, kisses, snuggles, wrestling, feeding them good foods, making sure they get exercise and seeing sunshine when there is any, helping them with homework, asking them to do chores, following daily and weekly traditions, seeing friends, staying connected to family members, maintaining faith routines, and play. Lots of play.

Your heart is breaking, but don’t let that break your kids’ hearts. Stay boring, loving, and solid for them.

All my love,

Magda

6 Steps To Calming Yourself From Incessant Attacks Until The Election

Yesterday I posted a short video on the AskMoxie Facebook page about being extra-kind and understanding of our kids right now because they’re so stressed out about self-confessed sexual assailant Donald Trump and the things he’s saying and doing. A few people asked me for suggestions for care for ourselves, the adults, so here you go:

Setting the terms: For me, “self-care” has to start with getting to the truth as soon as possible. You can slap feel-good stuff all over yourself all day long but until you hit bone with the truth you can’t start actually healing. These strategies are focused on exposing the truth so you can work from there.

1. Acknowledge that this is grief as much as anything else. We’re experiencing anger and fear, but it’s based on grief. We’ve lost so much already in 2016, and now we’re losing even the veneer of the social compact and any idea that we’re all citizens. Yes, the gross underbelly of racism and sexism has been in full effect forever, but until now there wasn’t license to spew bigoted garbage all over as if it’s reasonable. We’re losing something very real, and we have to grieve it.

2. Name why you’re feeling bad. I can see four distinct reasons the walking bag of feces is making us all feel horrible, and think identifying which ones are worse for you may help tame the feelings a little:

a. Sexual assault. If you’re a survivor, all of his glee at committing sexual assault is probably triggery af. You don’t have to read about it or watch any of it. Do all the stuff you usually do to get yourself through, and rely on your fellow survivors to stay on an even keel. If you haven’t been sexually assaulted, you know a lot of people who have (even if you don’t know they were). Be a safe place for your people, and don’t stop fighting for them.

b. Narcissism. This ball of gas is King Narcissist. Anyone who’s had a narcissist in their life–parent, partner, boss, coworker, friend–might be getting that same panicked tight feeling in your chest when he speaks that you got when your narcissist was gaslighting you. That feeling of not being able to explain yourself, not being able to list enough facts, bring enough receipts, prove yourself, of being backed into a corner and never being able to catch up or be good enough. That’s because his entire speaking mode is gaslighting. (Not to mention his physically stalking and bullying HRC during the last debate.) There’s a fantastic breakdown of how everything he says is a narcissistic form in this epic Twitter thread: https://storify.com/valerieinto/donald-trump-s-apology-and-patterns-of-abusers (If you are in a relationship of any sort with someone who makes you feel that panicky chest feeling and you didn’t know the person is a narcissist, check out outofthefog.net and see if it matches up. It’s not you.)

c. He’s threatened almost every single person in the United States except for a very small window of straight white cis conservative Christian men, and pretty much everyone else in the rest of the world. He hates all of us and is threatening to harm us in a variety of ways, from shooting us to jailing us to making us register to deporting us to simply insulting us to not paying us for work we do. 

Subpoint of c. Children have heard about all these threats and are scared for themselves and for their friends and their friends’ parents. and that makes the threats even worse.

d. People you know and used to respect are actively supporting him, which means they’re actively supporting harm to you and other people. That’s heartbreaking. 

Name these reasons for your bad feelings and they already have a little less power over you.

3. Stop reading and watching him. Knowing every detail of everything he says and how different constituencies are responding to it and what other videos are out there and who’s still supporting him isn’t going to do anything except make you feel worse. This reminds me of having a tiny baby and being so desperate for him to sleep through the night that I’d crank up the baby monitor so I could hear every movement and snuffle to know if he was about to wake up. Knowing what noises he was making wasn’t making him sleep longer, but it was keeping me awake even when he was asleep. This is the same thing. You can drop your end of the rope and give yourself peace.

4. Protect your boundaries. As Randi Buckley says, defending boundaries helps you be kind. Be kind to yourself and your family. Protect yourself and your family (whatever your family looks like). There are people who you have assumed love you and are working for your well-being who don’t love you the way you assumed they did. People who have a different agenda than you and I do. People who find whatever they see in that bag of hot pus to be more important than caring for you. That is 100% their right. But it’s your duty to yourself to figure that out, and then stop asking them for care, and invest your energy and love in people who do give you the care you need.

Take stock and figure out who are your people. Then invest in them and allow them to invest in you. Be honest about what you need and ask for help. Give what you can when they ask for help. Even just daily check-ins with a few people on mental health and stressors can keep you treading water.

5. Take action to create resilient communities and better institutions. Donate money to Haiti relief (they need so much help–almost 1,000 dead and counting, and mass devastation). Keep working for racial justice and anti-racist institutions. Keep working for a higher minimum wage and family leave. Do good works and bring your children with you when you do, so they learn to be good community members and citizens of the world.

6. Seek out and treasure healthy physical touch. Hugs go a long way. Spend as much time as you can hugging the people and animals around you. Choose hugs instead of information-seeking activities that will harm you. 

 

We can make it. There’s going to be a lot of healing to do after this election is over, and there are relationships we won’t ever get back with people we used to think were in our corners. But we can be as good as possible to ourselves and to each other for the next four weeks.

Thoughts on detaching from the system and being anti-racist

Stay with me because this might be a bit of a winding path:

A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked his friends who are concerned about racism to be actively anti-racist. Not to just call out racist behavior, but to “examine the ways in which your own behavior contributes to the maintenance of racist thinking and behavior.”

I am guessing that this is going to confuse some people who have been operating under the assumption that calling out racist behavior/speech/etc IS being actively anti-racist. I’m also guessing that these same people (maybe you, because I know it was me not that long ago) are feeling tension about Colin Kaepernick’s protest–very much supporting him, but feeling a little friction about the relationship of protest at a public job, how race plays into it, how the national anthem represents America–and are also confused about how to effectively support #BlackLivesMatter and be actively anti-racist in daily life if you can’t quit your job to protest.

I think white people don’t know how to be anti-racist and don’t know the difference between being not racist and being anti-racist. And Black people and other people of color keep asking us to get our shit together to really be anti-racist, but we don’t know how. We can post a zillion articles. We cry every time another Black man or woman or child is murdered. We can make conscious efforts to broaden the opinions and sources we read and watch to include Black voices and to get out of the echo chamber. But that doesn’t seem to be enough for our Black friends and we don’t know why, and they’re totally right but we’re doing what we think is the best we can without asking for cookies, and everyone’s frustrated.

Here’s the end of the yarn to start pulling on and unraveling: Human rights activists are asking white people to be willing to give up the systems that privilege us and that harm people of color. That sounds too big to really understand–all forest, no trees–but let’s dive in, because understanding these systems and how they affect you and other people (Black, white, Latinx, everyone) in this country and around the world is the first step in figuring out if you can give them up. (Spoiler alert: They’re hurting you, too, and you can give them up.)

We’re living inside layered, intersecting systems that were created by humans at different points in history to encourage certain behavior and deter other behavior. And those systems look “normal” to us so we don’t really see them–we just move around in them every day, with varying degrees of difficulty. But they’re all false systems that have been created, influenced by whoever had or wanted power, and by whatever those people with power were afraid of.

The easiest example is how neighborhoods and cities are zoned and taxed. Most municipalities in the U.S. grew organically at the beginning, but as soon as city planning happened, neighborhoods were zoned and taxed deliberately to keep certain people in certain areas and others in other areas. If you grew up in a city with different ethnic enclaves (or even remnants of those enclaves), you know where the Polish neighborhood is and the German neighborhood and the Irish neighborhood are. You also know where the Black neighborhood is. That didn’t just happen. It was planned and local government decisions reinforced those zones. Different communities of people (usually divided by race and ethnicity, although we say it’s by economic level, not admitting that race and economic status are entwined) had different amounts of influence, and the ones with more resources, time, energy, and access got to protect their zones, while the ones who started out in the hole didn’t have time or energy or skills to prevent the decisions that keep hurting their neighborhoods.

I grew up in Toledo, OH, which has one of the largest groups of people of Hungarian descent in the country, and my great-grandparents were immigrants from Hungary. My grandfather grew up in the Hungarian neighborhood of  Toledo (which you know about if you ever watched the tv show M*A*S*H*, because the character Klinger always talked about Tony Packo’s restaurant, which is in the Hungarian neighborhood). Hungarians have some cultural tics that helped them become embedded in the community without ever really taking over, but they had just enough power that when the city wanted to slice their neighborhood in half by putting a major highway right down their main street, they pushed back and fought the placement of the road. Where did that road go? To another neighborhood, of people with less privilege than my Hungarian relatives had.

Where are the major highways in your city? What neighborhoods did they cut through and destroy? What people live there now, and what people lived there before those highways were built? Is there someplace in your area in which real estate prices are doubled when you cross a street? How did that happen? Who decided that houses in one neighborhood should cost twice as much as houses in another neighborhood? What happens to the tax bases (and along with that, the services the municipalities provide to citizens with their own money, such as fire fighting, law enforcement, schools, other infrastructure) of the two areas. How do resources stay in one community and not the other?

Zoning and decisions that are made about neighborhoods and communities have been used to harm Black people for hundreds of years. But I’ll argue that they aren’t helping you if you’re white, either. Thinking about my Hungarian ancestors: Why didn’t the city come up with a way to route the highway that did the least harm to all neighborhoods involved, or to harm the neighborhood that had the most resources and was therefore more resilient in the first place? Why did the Hungarian community have to rally and waste all that energy and their political capital on this highway issue, instead of using it to build something to make their neighborhood or the entire city stronger? How much energy and money and worry are YOU spending because of the pressures of living where you live? (Why do you live where you live, anyway? If you’re a parent, we know why. And that’s all tied to zoning and taxes and decisions that were made fifty years ago and continue to be made now. You’re supposed to be grateful about being up at night worrying about paying your mortgage, btw.)

Here’s another system that leaped to my attention the other day while I was watching tv: Credit and credit scores. Everyone in the U.S. who interacts with the banking system or who has ever bought anything without cash or a check has a credit score. And your credit score determines what rates you get when you take out a loan to buy anything like a house or car or even a mobile phone. For decades, citizens have been subject to the tyranny of these credit scores, but all they actually reflect is when and how you pay your bills. (With some weird finesse tossed in there, like never paying down your credit card balance all the way. If nothing else, that little quirk of the system exposes it as fabricated.) We’ve attached a moral value to having good credit, but John Wayne Gacy could have good credit if he pays his bills on time and the old lady down the street whose social security check gets stolen out of her mailbox could have horrible credit if she can’t pay a bill one month and then it balloons so she can’t catch up.

Since the recession, so many of us have gotten caught in some kind of credit problem, aided and abetted by bank and store and credit card policies of fines and penalties and ballooning interest rates so that if you fall behind one month it can take years to catch up. And the market has responded by detaching from the credit system just enough that they can still have customers. If you listen to local commercial radio in the car, especially country or hip-hop stations, you’ve heard commercials for car dealers who “finance any credit.” They have to, or else they wouldn’t have enough business, because so many people have non-perfect credit now. I’ve been watching this and wondering what was going to happen since the credit score system has lost its stranglehold on the public–we know that paying our bills is important, but we also know that getting behind and trying to catch up doesn’t mean we’re bad people any more than paying on time means we’re good people. And this secondary market is developing. What was going to happen next? (This is what nerds like me think about instead of reading suspense novels.)

And then it dropped, right in the middle of an episode of Fixer Upper: A commercial from one of the major credit reporting agencies (you tell me this isn’t a fabricated system dedicated to keeping certain groups privileged over others if there are THREE “credit reporting” companies) came on and it blew my mind. Soft focus, sweet inspiring music, and an image of an adorable baby learning to walk, with a voiceover (reassuring older male voice) telling us that building and maintaining our credit scores is “a skill.” This company is paying to run this ad to convince us that conforming to a system that actively ruins people’s lives and is less important now in the market is a necessary skill for being an adult in this country. The rhetoric is obvious and hilarious, except that people are going to believe it and feel bad about trying as hard as they can and still being trapped.

Does the credit system (as it exists now) help you? If your credit isn’t perfect, no, it doesn’t. And if your credit is perfect, it’s not helping you, either, because you’ve got enough stability that you’d be fine in whatever system existed instead.

Start thinking about these system around you. Are they helping you? Are they helping Black people and other people of color? Could you detach from them and be living a peaceful life if there was a more equitable replacement system? Here’s where I think some of us get hung up on the “detach from the racist systems” concept. I think we think that means that things would be flipped so Black people had privilege and white people would be disenfranchised, and who wants to be disenfranchised. But there are ways to structure systems that sustain and help everyone, in all areas of life, from our financial system to the way we structure work and work organizations to how we maintain peace in our communities to how we provide services to humans. They don’t look like the way things are run now. But I’m ready, because I have no emotional attachment to systems that aren’t built for the benefit of everyone.

Becoming aware and ready to detach from these systems isn’t being anti-racist, but it’s the foundational step to being ready to be anti-racist. And you’ll be shocked at how as soon as you start examining how things are structured around you and who they benefit, and understanding that you don’t owe your loyalty to any system, ways of thinking and acting and speaking that are actively anti-racist just start to make sense. Because being anti-racist is simply about respect and attention, and equal access.