Sarah Carter Studio » artist | photographer | writer | advocate

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Today is International Women’s Day. I don’t think there’s been a time in my personal history, nevermind the current global state of affairs, where this fact has meant as much to me as it does now. I remember standing in a sea of thousands of men and women in Grant Park on January 21, 2017, feeling the magnitude of what was happening and thinking, This is what revolution feels like. The energy was palpable. The was something holy about seeing so many people organized around a foundational rally cry for ENOUGH. And yet, what we really wanted was more. More understanding, less confusion. More equality, less oppression. More connection, less ‘us vs them’.

Its hard to be a human in today’s day and age, and social media makes this an especially tricky business. This comes with the territory, I’m afraid. We open ourselves up to one another, give them access to our daily lives and leave a space for commentary. And to some, this is an invitation for judgment. And judge, they do. I’ve been accused of many things over the years. To some, I’m just ‘one of those liberals’ and to others, I’m an out of touch suburban housewife just playing it safe. I lament about school shootings and am accused of being an idiot for challenging current gun laws. I mention church and I’m written off as some crazy Evangelical. Sometimes I’m saying too much and others I’m not saying enough.

Once I posted my disgust about the president bragging about sexual assault. What am I supposed to tell my children? is what I said. But, I also used his words (yes, including the p-word) and was utterly ripped apart for it. How dare I? they said. I should respect the president, they said. You should be ashamed of yourself.

So many times as I put what I believe out into the atmosphere, its met with the shame of should.

Once, my husband posted a photo of my daughter and I on vacation and I happened to be wearing an off-the-shoulder dress (we were at the beach) and a woman commented that I should be ashamed of myself. This was not how a pastor’s wife should dress, after all – what kind of example was I setting for my daughter?

Should generates shame and shame keeps us very, very small. It breeds insecurity and creates a competitive culture for women. When your view of yourself is insecure, you tend to look at other women as threats. If we see them thriving, we automatically go into defense mode. We believe the lie that if she has it, then I can’t have it. This pitting against of one another is a culture-derived phenomenon that has become so normal we mostly assume its just how women are. Women are so catty.

I have been pushing against this for years and years, doing my own personal inner work of trying to live beyond shame. But I just couldn’t shake this one. She seemed so angry, this woman who threw those words at me. A woman. Aren’t we on the same team? Her message was meant to make me small, to cut me down to size, and put me in my place. It seems a woman who lives in her own bones, who tries to sink into her own God-given body with joy rather than contempt, was something to be reprimanded.

What her words say, and what commercial culture and magazines and billboards and movies and yes, even the Church over the years – what they are all saying is that there is a right way and a wrong way to be a woman.

This message terrifies me because it is so damaging. It speaks directly to our Garden of Eden wound – that living into our own bodies will be met with sorrow and separation from God. That forever moving forward, women would struggle with their bodies, with connection, with wholeness. That where we once were grounded in our innate sense of security in being loved, we now are split into pieces, spending our lives trying to bind us all back together again.

Sisters, listen up. Should is a total bitch. Should is the lie that reigns supreme over women. She sits in her high tower, judging everything we do, everything we make, every carb we ingest. Should you say that? Should you eat that? Should you even try? Since the beginning of time, Should has been used to shut us down, make us doubt, curb our power, stop us from dreaming. Should keeps us separate, she causes us to look at one another as the enemy, as competition rather than sisters. Should keeps us in pieces.

So, on this very special day, I’d like to propose that we kick Should out of power. I think its time to rally against this shame-based way of living. Women are not divisive. Our truest nature is wholeness. Women are made to be binders of humanity, always reaching for more connection.

Women are strong.

Women are beautiful.

Women are generous.

Women are wise.

Women are capable.

Women are revolutionary.

Women nurture.

Women heal.

Women rise up.

First, let these words rain over your thirsty soul. Let them soak deep into every crevice, saturating every wound hiding underneath the make-up and perfection. Let yourself dare to hope that this can be true for you – that you are loved and you have what it takes and you don’t have to do it alone. That you are a mender of humanity, and there is holy work to be done. Then, find a woman or twenty and send these words to her. Let’s build each other up, today and every day. Let’s make wholeness, not shame, our life’s work.

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Okay, this post is all about screen time. I have been surprised at how ill-equipped I find myself as we navigate this issue. What screens (and technology) bring to our world is AMAZING and exciting and we’re the luckiest to be able to witness it. It also feels like a grand social experiment, this undeveloped wild west frontier, and we’re the pioneers charting the way. I think its one of the most impactful and important challenges of our day as it relates to parenting and also ourselves more generally in society.

I actually made myself take an extended break from all social media last year, partly because I needed to recalibrate and get clear on why I was using it, but also because the habit I had formed was scary. It was the first thing I checked in the morning and the last thing I looked at every night. I would pick up my phone if there was a lag of more than five minutes, I’d pick it up if I found myself early to a meeting, more comfortable staring at a screen then I was to sit alone, eyes up and taking in my surroundings. I had become addicted.

Moreover, I noticed these same tendencies springing up in my kids. Not with social media, as we still have those boundaries in place (they are 5 and 9) but with apps and games and shows. It was their ultimate motivator, our primary competition for attention, and instrumental in breaking down relational connections. I was watching my family drift into a very uncharted sea of screens and it was terrifying because I realized, I actually don’t have a map for this.

 

Can you relate?

 

Brace yourselves, it’s about to get real elderly up in here because, KIDS THESE DAYS: I didn’t grow up with access to the technology that my kids have, and my generation still viewed computer time as a luxury, a privilege, something we earned if we finished our work early at school (shout out to The Oregon Trail in the computer lab!) Even still, I have so naturally found myself just as drawn to screens as my kids who have never known anything different. The American Academy of Pediatrics, The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, and others recommend discouraging any screen time for children under the age of two, and less than two hours a day of educational programming for older children. And yet, The American Academy of Pediatrics cites that typical kid screen time is seven hours: yes, you heard that right, modern children use screens SEVEN hours per day. The typical child is watching about 4.5 hours of television before age 5, which is about 40% of their wakeful time.

What is this doing to their brains? How is it affecting their development, their social relationships, their health, their energy? This stat sheet lists brilliantly researched information if you want all the details, but suffice it to say – not good. So I found myself sitting in the middle of the sea, desperate to find true north with no map or way to get there. I began to look for answers, for ideas, for maps and tools that could help me build a path toward balance for myself and my family. Nothing I post is ever sponsored, and I suppose I feel the need to say that before I share links to what we’ve found that is working for us. I’m not endorsing it, just disclosing it in case something here might be useful to you as well. Here are the tools I’ve enlisted for this adventure:

 

Circle: This system basically acts as a filter for your home wifi. You can add each family member and customize the settings to allow only content you want them to access to make it through the filter. You can also set up time limits, bedtimes, and track their usage. It has been an amazing tool for me, and one my kids sort of deal with. In a good way.

Mothershp: This is an app that works with ChoreMonster, listed below. You can add individualized chores for each kid that earn a point value you set as well as set up rewards they can earn by cashing in those points. Its been the most effective tool for enforcing chores and motivating my kids to want to get them done.

ChoreMonster: We added this to both the kids iPads (they have our hand-me-down devices) and each day, they can open it up, view their chores and begin to check them off as they complete them. Each time they do, they earn points and I get a notification on Mothershp letting me know what they’ve done. IT’S SO EASY!

 

This has been a great way to gently enforce the Daily Awesomeness list from my previous post, and it has helped us keep on track with how much screen time we use each day. Technology may be the Wild West, but parents, we’re still the sheriffs and – we got this. <3

 

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The Carter house has gone mad, people. This happens every year, so in all honesty, I can’t really act surprised. Every year at this point, we start getting stir crazy. We start picking at each other more, our patience wears extra thin, and it can feel like we’re ready to jump out of our skin.

Welcome to February in the midwest.

Usually, the pattern goes from uneasy trepidation as the temperature drops to cheery resolve as we enter the holidays, and once Christmas is packed up for another year,  it takes a sharp nosedive into wretched, bone-chilling despair and general wallowing. Even my sunny children are not immune to this phenomenon.

The added bonus this year is that I’m homeschooling, so there is never not a tiny person with me. I’ve run into SO MANY walls in my homeschool experiment as the temps have fallen. What on earth are we supposed to do all day, every day, just the two of us???

(I realize I’m being dramatic but I ask you to kindly allow me this because life is hard. Because of the winter.)

After several days in a row of togetherness, my kids begin to turn on one another and it quickly becomes real Hunger Games up in here. Yesterday I had had enough (enough!) of this business.

I sat them down on the couch and told them, “Listen up people. We are not going to live like this. Okay? We belong to each other, and you two are practice for what it means to be a decent human. This is human school happening here every day, and based on the treatment by both of you creatures this week, I have grave concerns about the future of our planet. I can see that we have some work to do on the ways we channel our energy and basic decency and thoughtfulness. Because the fact is, we’re stuck with each other, FOREVER.”

They sat there, blinking at me. I think I freaked them out a little. And I’m okay with that. I devoted this morning to researching ways to eliminate screen time and offer alternative options for creative play. I’m a firm believer in boredom as a good, vital part of life. I think my kids could use a reset on how we do things around here. So I made a list, stuck one on the fridge and another on the kid’s bathroom mirror, and beginning Monday, this is our new reality. WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD, KIDS.

I thought just maybe I might not be the only one who is dealing with this particular sort of madness so am adding the list here as well. It may or may not be useful for you, but if nothing else, its a reminder that us parents are in this together and we’re all just doing the best we can, dammit. God bless us, every one.

Also, I’m putting together an idea list of items I’ve ordered and researched on Amazon that will hopefully aid this endeavor. View it here!

 

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Days later and I’m still reeling from Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. I’m sure we all are. I find myself reading the stories and bios of the people who lost their lives that night. Charleston Hartfield was many things: a Las Vegas police officer, an accomplished Nevada Army National Guard sergeant first class and a youth football coach. Heather Alvarado, 35, was a mother of three and married to Albert Alvarado, a firefighter in Cedar City, Utah. The couple loved traveling with their three children. Candice Bowers was a single mother of three. Her family described her as a superhero who loved country music. There are 55 more stories to know and to grieve. One was a nurse who died protecting his wife. Another devoted her life to teaching children with special needs. They were people from different walks of life who had gathered Sunday night to enjoy a country music festival in the glimmering heart of the Las Vegas Strip. Then the gunman struck, shooting at the outdoor crowd from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel. He killed 58 people and injured at least 500, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

And now I’m grappling with this question: what the hell do I tell my kids? How is this okay? Of course it isn’t, and when the lid blows we are all brought to our knees, leveled to our basic common humanity. But – the pot has been boiling for a long time. This is just the result of years upon years of deep-rooted negligence, corruption, selfish ambition, and bad politics. The gun rights organization spent $54.4 million in the 2016 election cycle, almost all of it in “independent expenditures,” meaning spending for or against a candidate but not a direct contribution to a campaign. The NRA also gave $27 million in direct and indirect support to 50 senators who voted against a bill to require universal background checks for firearms purchases. *

I am not here to force any political ideologies or parties on anyone. I’m only stating facts. What is more interesting to me are the mental health numbers in our country. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year. Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. *

And yet – even still, mental health doesn’t seem to be a substantial part of the gun control conversation. And yes, background checks matter but no, when it comes to assessing mental health, they aren’t enough.

Within his first two months as president, Donald Trump repealed a gun regulation that prevented certain individuals with mental health conditions from buying firearms. *

Federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to maintain records of the sales. But unlicensed private sellers—on the internet and at gun shows, for example—are not required to observe the same policies.

Let that sink in.

I’m not talking about taking away your guns. But I am talking about amping up the way we enable people to get them. I do agree that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. And I’d add, sick people kill people. So what are we doing to regulate (access to firearms) AND treat the mentally ill? That is the conversation worth having.

For now, I’ll be exercising my rights by writing to my local and federal representatives, and I encourage you to do the same. The simplest way to do it is to test RESIST to 50409. The Resistbot will provide a list of your assigned reps, you type your message, and it sends directly. Simple. Fast.

Here is a sample of what I sent.

Dear ( name of recipient ),

I am writing to you as a parent of small children growing up in an unprecedented era of gun violence in our country. I urge you to vote to close the deadly loopholes in our laws that make it too easy for dangerous people to get guns. I’m begging you to resolve our gun laws immediately by expanding background checks to all online and gun show purchases.

* Background checks work. They are effective and have blocked more than 2 million gun purchases, keeping guns away from convicted felons, domestic abusers, criminals and other dangerous people.

* The current law covers only about 60 percent of gun sales, leaving the door open for prohibited and dangerous people to still buy a gun. For example, domestic abusers with restraining orders can still go online and buy guns without going through a background check in most states.

* 9 in 10 Americans support expanding background checks to online and gun shows sales, including over 80% of gun owners and 74% of NRA members.

* Now we must tell Congress to Finish the Job and expand background checks to all online and gun show purchases.

Background checks are a commonsense tool for keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists, and the dangerously mentally ill. It’s time to end the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Thank you for doing what is right for the people of ( your state ) and the United States.

Thank you,

( your name )

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