Ah, That’s The Problem

My teenagers hated me. Of course they didn’t really, but their behavior seemed to convey that. You know, that snarky, barely acceptable language, accompanied by the mandatory eye roll, (what was in that calvareum that was so interesting that they kept looking up there), the “You’re Embarrassing Me” charge (what, what was I doing breathing?) flew from their mouths constantly.

I tried everything in the Mother’s Make Believe Handbook. I went at them directly like a lion tamer. “No rude behavior, you shouldn’t talk to me that way”. “I am the adult here.” But my efforts of taming my teen lions with a whip and a chair were a disaster, all I did was turn up the heat and make the lion hungrier.

Then I tried guilt. “After all I do for you this is how you treat me?” All that got was so many eye rolls I almost called 911 to make sure my child wasn’t seizing.

I wasn’t above the bribe. I sat at my kitchen table drumming my fingers. “No, Goldfish won’t do it. Gummies are a big no. iTunes gift card? It turns out I couldn’t reward them for being stinkers. It was against the moral code of my motherly religion. Boy this wasn’t easy. You should see the things I used to get them to do for a smiling orange fish cracker. Now I had the feeling if I couldn’t provide something 5’8” and female they weren’t going to be very interested.

Shucks. What I had here was a real problem. But I had to do something. Unchecked these wonderful kids could turn out to be rotten and I wasn’t about to let that happen after eighteen, sixteen, and fourteen years of investment in them.

A problem. A problem. A problem. Then I got it! It was a problem, a math problem and here was the equation

My kid + X = Respectful human being

All I had to do was solve for x, and I was a little ahead of the game since I had already failed a bunch of times. Note, this is the ironic secret magic of managing teens, if we can outlast them, then the game is half won.

So I kept trying. I lowered my New Jersey accented voice in public, I car pooled like I was training with Michael Phelps, Yummy dinners appeared on my table. There was a slight improvement that could only be measured on an incredibly accurate scientific scale, but I still wasn’t getting the warm, respectful tones I yearned for, it felt more like walking on land  mines.

But I love math. There’s always an answer and the one thing I had was plenty of will power and investment. So this time I tried silence. I super glued my lips and used my hair dryer on my ears to make sure the path to my brain wouldn’t be hindered by, well, you know.

It worked. After a few days of only listening, only supporting, not jumping in with “the answer” their tone changed. Their shoulders softened and I think the eye roll quotient reached an all time low. And that’s when I struck. “Guys I will always embarrass you, it’s a law of the universe as sure as gravity and it happens between children and their parents since the beginning of time. But if you quietly and respectfully tell me how I can change, I will do my best to respect you. But I won’t tolerate rude or pararude behavior. I am not intentionally embarrassing you, but you are intentionally acting unacceptably and hurtfully to me.”

Wow, before my eyes, my equation was solved. Instead of rolling their eye, an actual  light of understanding appeared.  Smiles, better behavior….for now. Then onto the next math problem… At least now I am prepared.

Learning How To Love…Again

Okay, no one died or got divorced, but at 50 I find myself once again a student of love. I am trying to relearn how to mother and love my three adolescent boys who at 18, 16, and 14 are surprisingly different creatures than the smiling toddlers I swirled and twirled around the room.

I can’t carry them anymore, literally or figuratively. A Goldfish cracker doesn’t elicit the rapture and love that they once did. I am not always in charge. Their new activities are fascinating, driving, girlfriends, enigmatic computer games, but none of those things require my participation. The world may not be flat, but our solar system has changed. I am not the thing they rotate around anymore.

And that’s good. But it’s hard. As an involved (hopefully not Tiger, or Helicopter) parent I still love these boys. In fact, I love them even more than when they came out of the womb bald and bawling. But how do I express myself to these three children who are finding their independence as they get older?

I’m learning. I listen a lot. No one seems to care if I know a better way to do something or how hard to study for their SATs or what girl to take to prom or what clothes to wear. 

I sneak kisses and hugs wherever I can find them. And I try to tell them that I love them everyday. 

I inquire a lot more because I am no longer the director of their days.

I try to support them verbally as they make good choices. And I try hard to let them have some independence.

It’s hard. But it’s worth it, they are never going to be babies again, but I will always be their mother. And so I will always be on the look out for the best way to love them.  

 

Would Scooby Doo Make a Good Parent? Do Kids Need Detectives? Yes and No

Today I am starting this blog with the sincerest hope that you are having a good day.

Wow!  Intentionality is powerful! I started my New Year with the intention of being as sincerely positive as I can.

But that requires making an effort. Happiness is sometimes a turtle walking slowly toward us and sometimes a wave crashing over us so fast we almost miss the emotion. But either way, the problem is that if we wait for the turtle or the wave, happiness may come but not as fast as if we herald it.

So what does this have to do with kids? Everything. It is my observation that as our children become older, we forget to really “watch” them. We are so relieved to not change diapers, wake up at two am, or stop the car because our newly potty trained kid needs to go to the bathroom, again.

Sometimes I feel this exodus from parenting teenagers so strongly that I half expect Moses to appear to help the fleeing parents part a body of water for their faster escape.

And that’s a shame because beginnings of autonomy is not independence, and as much as they resemble adults they are not. Teens still need parents but what happens frequently in this transitional period is that the only communication between kids and their parents is filled with conflict.

Parent laments: “They don’t talk.” “They don’t want to be with us.” “I don’t understand them.”

And it’s true, most adolescents have not learned the life long skill of excellent communication, and most of them have NO ability to facilitate relationships with non teens. And they shouldn’t. Adults are the teachers and parents in their world. So sadly, much of what I observe is that the only communication that happens between teens and their parents is when something needs to be corrected, when a parent is disappointed, when an infraction has happened. We don’t mean it, but we have become people no one would voluntarily talk to.

And that’s where intentions and Scooby come in. Parents HAVE to pay attention to their teens, even though it’s frustrating, many times unrewarding, and confusing. We have to monitor their safety, discuss morality, and hopefully guide them to being their best selves.

Which is a long way to say that we have to have the intention of catching them at some good stuff in between the yuck. I’m not talking about achievements, I’m talking about a moment when they smiled instead of putting their bothersome brother in the microwave. A turtle moment, something that could be missed because it’s expected, and didn’t need correction.

Surprise yourself. Pay attention and quietly tell your kids that you’re proud that they did their homework last night, or that you are really relieved that they drive to school safely everyday.

You’ll be surprised. You both will. And this isn’t just something we can do for our children, we can do it for each other. Being nice is as much environmental as it is genetic. It just requires choice.

Thank you for reading my blog, I am touched that you take important minutes out of your day to share my thoughts and hopes for our children. I think you are amazing.

What My Children Have Taught Me…

I am not done parenting, but I am moving further along on the parenting food chain. Past diapers, past play groups, and past picture books. I now have three boys in high school. These are the some of the things my children have taught me.

1. Parenthood is not ownership.

Sure, we feed them,clothe them and provide them with a safe and hopefully nurturing place to sleep, but we don’t own them. This isn’t as self evident as it sounds. At first they were so dependent on us, how could that not mean that their life’s goal would be to continue making us happy? It isn’t. Even from the beginning, when they woke us from sound sleep, when their diaper exploded over our best outfit, when a public tantrum made you think you would die, even then they were asserting their little spirits and warning us that parenthood is not about pleasure as much it is about the privilege of demonstrating what it is to be a family, what it is to love.

2. Because of number two, they won’t always agree with us.

And sometimes that hurts. But their role was never to please us as much as it was to define who they are. If we are lucky and they are thinking at all, we should celebrate their independence, they will need it to make it in this difficult and confusing world. Our feelings aren’t always that important if you gage it against the nurturing of a totally unique and independent person. Sometimes support and interest is what they need instead of a dogmatic, diatribe on what our thoughts are on a subject. They probably know anyway. Thus all the eye rolling.

3. We can’t fix everything.

That’s just true. This is tricky too. In the beginning we could fix it all. A fussy kid equaled a nap. Crying? How about some food? Not sharing? I’m all over that. But eventually they start to move out of our jurisdiction. They move into the big world that exists outside of your house. They try out for things, they run for school office, they get hurt or sick or disappointed. And there is nothing we can do but support them. Support, not fix. Listen to them, wipe up their tears, give a hug, let them know that we know they will survive. That lesson is golden. I wish I had known that earlier in my mothering career. All of us would have been a lot more relaxed about things.

4. They are spectacular.

They are. If we can stand back and allow them the space to become themselves we will be in awe. They are sweet, and kind, and surprising unique individuals.

5. Love.

I’m not sure there is anything that rivals of the love you feel for a child. Unconditional, unfailing, unrelenting love. It is independent of their actions, independent of their achievements, independent of everything except that they are yours. And that is why on even a bad day, I am happy. Because my heart has been opened in ways that I never could have imagined.