Nobody could have prepared me for this. Even when a cousin of my husband’s, upon finding out I was pregnant with my fourth child, commented to my husband and me, “You know, you can have sex without getting pregnant.” But even if Mr. Snarky would have tried to lay it all out for me, I would have been unable to comprehend the trajectory of my life with four kids spanning a decade. It would not have made sense to me, nor would it fit neatly in my brain. Because having four children with a large age span is not tidy. It is messy and complicated, exciting and surreal. It forces my brain to expand like a rubber band threatening to snap at any moment.
Anyone who has been following my writing/life over the past several years knows that I have written a lot about my first born and the difficulties I had in letting her go, especially when she left for college. Well, thankfully after nearly putting Kleenex out of business, I found my groove, and two years later sent her younger brother off to college as well (nope, not easier the second time). Fast forward another lighting-fast two years, and she graduated from college and embarked upon her new "grown up" life, which in her case involved moving to the Big Apple. More Kleenex, please?
Since Sophie and I are both writers, we oftentimes mark our own big life transitions with a piece of writing in the form of a journal entry, a blog post or an article written with the intention of submitting it for publication.
And here’s where the mother-daughter-writer-connection thing gets interesting.
On the evening of July 10th, Sophie sends me an email telling me that she has written a piece about her moving to New York and she wants to submit it for publication. I stare at the email in disbelief as just that morning, I had submitted a post to Grown and Flown about…you guessed it…Sophie leaving for New York.
Okay, now I understand that it is not that ironic that we both chose to write about the the fact that she moved to New York after graduation. But if you have a chance to read both pieces, you will see that even though her decision to move to New York and her actual move was a process that happened over many months, in both of our posts, we each chose to zero in on the the exact same moment within this process.
I won’t give anymore away but as my husband explains: you will be looking at both sides of the coin.
Click here to read my piece on Sophie flying the coop.
Click here to read Sophie's piece on flying the coop.
As always, would love to hear your thoughts!
Let’s check over here,” I motion to my 12-year-old daughter to follow me to the cosmetics isle. This is our fourth trip to Target in the last few weeks for the sole purpose of buying supplies for the new obsession gripping tweens all over the country—SLIME.
The current desired ingredient is a new one. “Baby powder is supposed to make the slime softer and less sticky,” my daughter, now an expert slime chemist, explains to me. She also assures me that she will be able to pay back the money we’ve spent on supplies with the money she collects from her fellow classmates (most of whom are also in the slime manufacturing and sales business) in exchange for her magnificently mastered mixture of shaving cream, glue, contact solution, and now baby powder.
Shampoo, body wash, lotions…I am not seeing the baby powder anywhere. My agitation rises as I curse myself for being sweet talked into this inconvenient trek to Target on a night when my son needs help with an assignment, my husband is at a work dinner, and I have to teach my teen writing class in an hour. I calm myself with the notion that at least this obsession, unlike other bygones like silly bands, does involve a creative process when mixing, measuring, and experimenting to form the germ-collecting balls of goo.
“Hi!” I find myself almost yelling to the young, exhausted-looking woman standing behind the nearby pharmacy counter. “Can you please tell me where the baby powder is?”
Before I even let the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-lady look on her face throw me into a shame pit, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and led her briskly out of the pharmacy area murmuring, “Oh my gosh, never mind.”
We both erupted in giggles as we headed over to the “baby” isle for the elusive “baby” powder.
My internal Target compass paused as we pass the girls section, our usual go-to area. “The baby section is over by electronics, I am pretty sure,” I muttered, still smiling at the irony.
And then it hit me.
The baby aisle had completely fallen off of my radar.
I could not recall the last time I had even gone near the avenue of pacifiers, diaper genies, bottles and diapers. As I walked toward baby land with my baby, disguised as a 12-year-old, I realized that I no longer knew the layout of this section that for decades I was able to navigate with my eyes closed. I didn’t even recognize some of the items on the shelf.
How could this be? This was MY territory! And now, I had forgotten it even existed!
“Mom, here, I found it,” my daughter’s sweet voice lulled me out of my trance. “Let’s go! You’ve got to get to your class,” she reminded me.
I stood motionless, my eyes scanning the baby items stacked neatly on the shelves. “I miss this, “ I said. She tracked my gaze to the shelf full of diapers.
“You miss changing my diapers,” she said coyly with a playful smile on her face.
“No I miss my babies,” I told her with sincerity, ignoring her sarcasm. I miss holding you in my arms, your baby smell, and hugging you and kissing you as much as I want to.”
“Well, I don’t,” she quipped again, her smile growing even bigger. “Ugh!” I groaned and grabbed my belly in reaction to her verbal gut-punch.
Walking to the check out lane, I leaned in to the nostalgia where I saw the baby faces of my four children--their beaming smiles as well as their looks of terror and disappointment. I could hear their shrieks of laughter and their blood curdling cries. I remembered my feelings of joy, agony, exhaustion, uncertainly, and fear that consumed me as a young mom trying to figure out what I was doing. And I remember yearning for the days when I would no longer need anything from the baby isle.
“Beep,” the self-checkout scanner hit the barcode on the bottom of the baby powder cuing me back to the present. My daughter placed the powder in the white plastic bag and started toward the exit.
“Jo, hold up,” I said as I quickly caught up to her and enveloped her in a hug. “You’ve grown up so fast, girl,” I said in earnest. “I love you so much.”
As I prepared for her to immediately shake me off, per usual, instead I felt her body sinking into my hug. “I love you too, mom,” she said softly. “And thanks for taking me to get the baby powder,” she added.
Scurrying through the Minnesota cold toward our car, I felt grateful that our slime mission led me back to the baby isle and for all the memories that I found there. I realized that just like slime, the passage of time often slips through our hands when we are not looking. And without notice, we open our eyes and find ourselves in the next isle at Target.
Driving home, I take in that my youngest child is on the cusp of becoming a teenager but in this moment, she thinks of nothing other than how much baby powder she will add to her slime mixture.
And I am grateful.
Grateful for all of the memories of my children's baby years, and grateful for the fact that there is nowhere I would rather be than right here right now.
Slime and all.
Yes, I am feeling it. The intensity of the holiday season is in the air and it is nearly impossible to escape the droplets of frenetic energy that invisibly dissolve into our pores this time of year.
For me, I notice that my thinking gets more scattered, I have a hard time writing, and a slight heaviness sets in as early darkness shortens our days, and it is so damn cold outside.
But the blessings…oh the blessings. So many of them. It is the deep gratitude I feel for these blessings that help me embrace the intense beauty and fragility of life and the increasing awareness of the passage of time. This week, I enter a new decade of life...
I stared intently at my husband last night as he read a story to our 10-year-old daughter. Something hit me hard. I was unexpectedly filled with intense emotions—joy, love and gratitude flowed freely through my mind and my heart. I realized at that moment, as I looked deeply into his ocean blue eyes that were fixed on a page of the book, why I married him 22 years ago.
To be a mom is to continually manage the fierce mama bear feelings that make us want to sprint to our child’s rescue, kiss away their tears, and band-aid away their pain. How do we know when to act on this instinct? And when to push our internal pause button in order to and give them the space they need to pick themselves back up when they fall and as they get older, lean into other support systems they’ve developed.
We don’t always know. But our hearts will guide us if we really listen.
Parenting your teen inevitably stirs up a lot of memories of your own teen years. As you stare in awe at your 15-year-old driving a car for the first time, it can feel like yesterday that you first excitedly and nervously grasped onto the stirring wheel and told your foot to push on the gas pedal. When you catch your teen doing something “teen-like,” you may be reminded of the time you snuck out of parents’ house in the middle of the night and the dog started barking and gave you away (or maybe...hold breath...you didn’t get caught). As you help your teen navigate his or her teen joys and challenges, you will decide how much and what you want to share about your teen self. I have always been cautious with how much of my past I shared with my teens. I would imagine that most of us determine that some (or many) of our teen experiences should never be shared with our children. What we may not be aware of, however, is that some of the “secrets” we bury could be effecting how we parent our teens. “A Mother’s Seventeen-Year-Old-Secret” explores the how and why I decided to reveal a piece of my hidden past to my 17-year-old daughter. I am honored and thrilled to have this piece running in one of my favorite motherhood publications/blogs Brain, Child Magazine.
I knew that it was time to do the web search but I wasn’t quite ready. As I forced myself to type in the name of my chosen airline and begin the flight search, it hit me that I would not be able to book our two tickets together. My ticket would be for a quick turn-around, and my daughter's would be for a much more extended stay. I would take her back. Back to college, her home away from home, where she taught me how to say goodbye and where she plans to reside for the next three years, at least. This August, I will fly there with her and once again, help her move into her room, squeeze her with everything I am, say a prayer, and return to live my life at home, a little emptier and yet a little fuller, while she renters her college life.
But we are not there yet. I am with her now. Soph blew in (my daughter doesn’t just arrive, the wind actually picks up when she enters a room due to her passion-filled, larger than life energy) at the end of April before most of her friends were home. I had her almost to myself. While the rest of my kids were finishing their school year, we had the chance to reconnect. She decompressed. She slept. We ate her favorite foods. We talked. I learned about the small details of her life at school that she couldn’t share via text or phone calls. I cherished the opportunities to read her facial expressions and body language as she revealed snippets of new, exciting experiences she had, mistakes she made and questions she was pondering.
And I listened. And I withheld judgment and advice…until I couldn’t. And the MOTHER brain took over and I found myself advising, “teaching,” probably with a tinge of judgment. And then she would pull back. Retreat. Protect her secrets that one does not share with her MOTHER. And I gave her space. Stopped looking for every “teachable moment,” and let her be.
And then she would come back around. Slowly allowing me to see her again—in her full, teen/adult light—to know her thoughts, her insights, her feelings, her vulnerabilities and her fears. And I would listen. And bite the hell out of my lip.
And this is the new language we speak. A mother who craves closeness to a young woman who needs her mom close and yet needs her space all in the same breath; a daughter who is on a bumper car ride toward adulthood, on which there is occasionally room for her mother to sit next to her, and yet, more frequently, needing and wanting to occupy the front seat all by herself. And I am off to the side (most likely biting my lip again), trusting that she's got what it takes to navigate her car without me, and yet always prepared to jump in if the bumps get too intense.
Push me away—pull me close. Hold her tight—let her go. But never completely.
I book two tickets—our outbounds the same, but my return for two days after our arrival and her return for two months later, when my youngest son will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah.
More growing up. More letting go. I am finally starting to fully grasp the true beauty of this cycle, and am trying to enjoy the ride. Bumps and all.
One of my greatest parenting pleasures has been the connection I have made with my kids through the process of writing. An old college professor of mine convinced me that, “If you can think, you can write.” I have continually reminded my kids of this important message, especially when they have become frustrated with their own writing process. I have loved being able to read my kids’ writing work and to provide feedback that I think has been helpful in helping them grow as writers and thinkers, and in their ability to trust their own voice. I know how much I value my writing mentors today, and I think teenagers sometimes have a very difficult time streamlining their thoughts and understanding how best to articulate their messages in writing. I feel so incredibly grateful that my kids have let me into their writing processes, and that I have gotten the opportunity to get to know them in ways that I may not have otherwise. Read the full article about the benefits of helping teens with their writing in Your Teen Magazine.
It’ that time…already. My daughter is coming home this weekend after finishing her freshman year at college. I am truly in awe of how quickly the year has gone and how much I have learned over this past year. I wanted to share a few insights about how this life transition has not only propelled my daughter to adapt, change and grow, but surprisingly has done the same for me.
As most of you know, saying goodbye to my daughter was extremely difficult and I felt that I had lost a part of myself when she left. But thankfully, over time (even though I still don’t like to go into her empty room), I have adjusted to our new normal and have realized that her departure served as a bit of a wake up call for me.
To sum up my mothering of Sophie, I would say that I had an extreme case of the “first-child syndrome.” I wanted to do everything right and to be an all-star, all-knowing mother. Upon her birth, I quit my job as a public relations account executive, and decided that she was my world and that everything else paled in comparison to the joy I felt in being her mother.
Three more kids and 19 years later, I realize that some of my initial new mommy thoughts were on par, but I have also discovered that throughout my motherhood journey I have struggled with defining myself as more than a mother to my children. I have, at times, found it difficult to stay true to myself while taking care of my family (which is the basis for my upcoming book!).
I have had several “hit me over the head” moments (which usually came in the form of mini-breakdowns) that served as reminders that my children could not MAKE me happy, and that my happiness and fulfillment needed to start from within. Sophie leaving for college was definitely one of those moments.
During this past year, I have regained parts of myself I didn’t even know I had abandoned. I realized how much energy, emotional and physical, that I poured into that wonderful, brown-haired, blue-eyed girl. I don’t regret any of it, as I know it was part of my journey and that I experienced a great deal of healing in mothering her the way I did. However, since her departure, I am grateful that I’ve experienced a newfound sense of peace within myself, as well as within my relationship with my daughter.
I now understood that the relationship Sophie and I built while she was living at home was only the beginning. We laid the groundwork for what would continue to be a solid and indestructible bond. Throughout this past year, Soph and I found our rhythm in how much we talked, or didn’t talk; how much she leaned on me for advice or support and how much she tried (or I urged her) to figure things out for herself. I realized that when I missed her, it was okay for me to call her, and when I missed her A LOT, I could even grab my little one and go visit her.
But equally as important, I realized that sometimes when I was lonesome for her, I needed to not call her. I needed to be present in my life and focus on what was in front of me— my husband and three other kids, my writing, yoga, faith, friends and family. Doing so provided me with an amazing sense of comfort and fulfillment and reminded me that while my kids will always be a huge part of my life, I have many other passions and interests that make me who I am and make me feel whole.
This sounds dramatic, but I found that Sophie’s departure made me look at my life in a “big picture” kind of way. It has taught me that while I initially thought of Sophie’s leaving as a “loss,” it turned out that after I shed all the necessary tears, it actually felt like a gain for both of us. The cord was cut, once again, and we both were thrown into unknown territory where the 650 miles that separated us caused us to be less dependent on one another, and provided us extra freedom and space to grow and explore our individual passions.
As I anticipate her homecoming tomorrow, I am well aware that our strengthened relationship will be tested as she is expected to live under our house rules again. This experience may add an entirely new twist to our mother/daughter “absence makes the heart grow founder” love story. More on that to come…Wish me luck…
Jamie Goodman, along a half a dozen other 17-year-olds, gathered at my house a few weeks ago to hang out with my 17-year-old son and reminisce about the eight weeks they spend in Israel last summer with the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program. Jamie, who lives out of town and I had never met, arrived before the others and I had a chance to chat with her a bit. As she told me about her college and summer plans (she’s a high school senior), she very casually mentioned that she is heading out on a book tour with her dad this summer. “Oh, your dad is a writer,” I asked. “Yes, and so am I. We wrote a book together,” she explained humbly. I was so taken by this adorable, kind, articulate and humble teenager who…wrote a book! I could have talked to her all night about her project but my son soon "rescued" her and whisked her out of my kitchen and off to join their other friends. Well, today is a big day for Jamie and her book, “Jamie’s Journey—Travels With My Dad,” and she is asking for some help. TODAY, April 11th, is the LAST DAY you can download her book for FREE on Amazon . She is hoping to get 3,000 people to download it so that it can become an Amazon bestseller. Even if you don't have a kindle, you can download the free kindle app onto your phone or ipad and download the book from there.
Here is a sneak peak of Jamie’s book that she co-wrote with her father. I hope you will support Jamie in reaching her goal of becoming a become an Amazon best selling author, as well as enjoy her wonderful insights that she shares in her book:
When Dr. Rick Goodman proposes to his sixteen-year-old daughter Jamie that they spend a month together bonding in Europe, she is excited yet skeptical! That’s when Dad dropped the bomb! This Journey would take place only if all of today’s modern technology and distractions were removed! Starting from St. Louis with stops in Chicago, London, Paris, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, Rome and finally Israel, the relationship evolves and the fun never stops! Jamie’s Journey teaches us the importance of connecting and communicating with our children-with the absence of today’s technology. Jamie shares her “Gems” of advice to other teens and parents about the life long rewards of truly spending time and connecting with our parents and friends!
"A valiant first effort by a rising young star. Look for big things from her." - Randy Gage, Author of the New York Times bestseller, Risky Is the New Safe
Unscripted Mom is a year old. And I am feeling grateful. Just over a year ago, I was filled with fear and uncertainty as I thought about sharing my musings as an official "blogger." The self-doubt nearly derailed me as I wrestled with notions like, “No one really cares what I have to say; bloggers are a dime a dozen and I am not that original; I have no idea what I am doing; who is really going to read my stuff anyway?
But with some encouragement of close family and friends, and the advice and expertise of Gran Harlow, Michelle Millar and Nate Garvis, I pushed my insecurities out of the way, just enough to be able to push the “publish” button on my blog site. And so, on March 21, 2013, my first blog entry, “She’s Going to College” was released into the blogosphere.
It was both liberating and terrifying.
A year later, it still is. I sweat every time I push that publish button.
And yet, 60-some posts later, I continue to learn and grow with each word I write and every post I publish. I have learned that blogging, and the connections that have arisen from being honest about my life as a mom have enriched my life tremendously, and most notably, have helped me through one of the hardest parental transitions I've experienced—sending my first born away to college. As tears fell on my keyboard while writing about the pain and excitement I felt during this time, little did I know that I would find so much comfort in reading and hearing the heartfelt comments left on my Facebook page, blog or shared with me in person. I also loved being able to share my recent "life altering" trip to Peru with you and was extremely moved by your words of support and kindness.
I am grateful and honored to be able to share pieces of my life with my readers and appreciate that my blog has served as a vehicle for bringing me closer to you in a way that may not have ever happened otherwise. Recently, my cousin, who lives out of state and I have not seen or spoken to in years, sent me an email asking if we could get our extended family together during her visit to MN. Her thoughtful words reminded me why I blog, “It is so great getting to know you through your blogs. I feel that we actually have a lot in common underneath my first impressions of you and your family as ‘perfect.’ I am really looking forward to spending a little time with you and your perfectly imperfect family. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about parenting.”
Being able to convey the message that we can all safely ditch any notion of striving to be the perfect family or the perfect mom; that we all experience strength and struggle every day in our efforts to be a good parent, spouse, friend and person; and most importantly, that even on really tough days when we feel like we are doing NOTHING right (like how I just yelled at my son yesterday, after recently professing in a blog post that I had adapted a new approach to anger), we are not alone in this imperfect journey.
I have also learned that I am also not alone in my blogging journey, even though it can feel that way sometimes. I am still trying to understand all the behind the scenes blog minutiae, like how to not obsess over wordpress analytics, which tallies the number of people visiting my blog every day, every month, every year; how not to compare myself to other bloggers; to realize that there is a way (yes, Amy Z) to make a few bucks doing this; to be a little less emotional when I send pieces to publications, and editors either accept them (yay!) or reject them (ouch! which is often followed by devastation and then the desire to chuck my computer into a nearby lake!). Managing the business of blogging requires assistance, and I have been incredibly fortunate in finding local writer friend, turned to “real friend” Nina Badzin. Nina has literally walked me through the entire blogging and social media world, introduced me to everyone she thought would be helpful for me to know, celebrated my blogging and writing victories (no matter how small) and has helped keep my lap top from ending up at the bottom of one of our 10,000 after every rejection letter.
And there are others: Stephanie Sprenger and Jessica Smock, authors of the Her Stories Project book, which has been truly an honor to be a part of,, and Galit Breen, Pilar Gerasimo and Kate Hopper who have been instrumental in helping me fine tune my writing and stay focused on my goals. And for all the other writers and bloggers who I have met through the blogosphere over this past year (Lee Wolfe Blum, Mary Dell Harrington, Jen Stephens, Kerstin March, Jessica Halepis, Vikki Reich, Emily Mitty Cappo, Jenny Maxey, Tracy Morrison, Vicky Willenberg, Lisa Barr, Cindy Moy and Annie Fox to name a few), I am truly grateful and inspired by all of you. And to those of you who have shared my work on your wonderful sites, I thank you as well.
I am also grateful to my husband who has supported me in this journey that is certainly not paying many (okay, any) bills and often takes me away from being present with him. And to my kids, who have given me permission to share pieces of them through my writing, and it goes without saying that Unscripted Mom would not exist without them. And to all of my close family members and friends, who were so kind to read, share and comment on my posts before anyone else even knew about my blog (and even when the posts weren’t that good); and they have yet to tire of me asking them to take a "quick look" at a piece before I post it or send it to an editor.
One year ago, I semi-subscribed to the notion that blogging is just a fancy term for public journaling, and maybe there is some truth to that. But my blog has allowed me to connect with readers in an authentic way, and has provided the space for you to share your insights with me as well, which is truly what makes my writing worthwhile and meaningful.
I am not quite sure where my blogging/writing journey will take me in this next year. My book that I “finished” in December is back on the editing table, but will be out by the time my son graduates next year…or else! I also am excited about contributing regularly to Your Teen Magazine and TC Jewfolk.
But for now, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your support, for opening your hearts to my writing and for journeying through the unchartered waters of parenthood with me. If you would like to help celebrate Unscripted Mom’s first birthday, you can do so by “liking” Unscriptedmom’s Facebook page (if you have not already done so). That would be icing on the cake!
This past weekend, I took my 9-year-old daughter to visit her 19-year-old sister at college for the first time. Soph was initially hesitant about having us because it was St. Patrick’s day weekend, which meant there would be lots of not-to-miss festivities—not appropriate for her mom and 3rd grade sister to attend. But this was the weekend that worked for us and I assured her that we would retire early and she could have her nights out with her friends. As our arrival date got closer, I could tell that Soph was truly looking forward to spending time with us. As hard as it is for college freshman to admit that they are sometimes lonesome, the truth is, they are…and then they’re not. But my motherly instinct told me that since Soph had chosen to go away with friends instead of coming home for her spring break, the time lapse between winter break and the end of her first year of college would be too long of a stretch to go without seeing each other (and I certainly knew it was too long for me).
I couldn’t wait to see my girl, my young adult, who made the transition to college look relatively seamless (which was not the case for me when she left for college). In addition to the joy I felt in seeing her, something took me by surprise during our weekend visit. It began the moment we walked in to the lobby where Soph was waiting for us. Soph looked at me and smiled big, and then I saw fireworks explode in her eyes as she laid eyes upon her “baby” sister. My two girls made an immediate B-line for each other and Jo literally leapt into her big sister’s open arms. They hugged each other tightly, for quite some time, and I could feel the connective, sisterly energy surge between them.
Sophie has been more than a big sister to Jo. She has nurtured her younger sister with the love and tenderness of a mother figure. Their ten-year age gap took the elements of jealousy and competition, so common amongst siblings, out of their relationship. Soph was secure with herself when Jo was born, and secure in her relationships with her parents and her brothers. Jo was a huge bonus to Soph—the sister she always wanted, her dream come true.
I watched how proud and happy Soph was when introducing her sister to all of her friends. “Oh my gosh, you guys look exactly alike,” her friends said, as they swooned over Jo. My girls both smiled.
After an entertaining dinner with Soph and some of her friends (of course I had to ask them to share “Sophie stories"), we headed back to her dorm. Talk of a sleepover began. As my girls tried to convince me to let Jo sleep with Soph in her dorm room, I have to admit, I felt a bit left out. But then it hit me. Soph chose not to head out with all her friends on the Friday night of St. Patty’s weekend, and was excited about sleeping next to her 9-year-old sister in her twin bed, in her cramped dorm room. (They declined my offer of spending the night with me in a nice, clean hotel room with two queen-sized beds).
As I walked out to my car to head to the hotel by myself, I was completely overwhelmed with gratitude for my daughters; for my relationship with each of them, the relationship that the three of us share, and the relationship between the two of them. I felt comfort in knowing that Jo will have Soph as a strong and solid role model to help guide and support her throughout her life, and that they will have each other long after I am gone.
All of my concerns about whether or not my daughters would be able to have a close relationship because of their age difference melted away. It became clear that the strength of their sisterly bond is not measured by the years or the distance that divides them, but the strength of their love and their commitment to each other.
Upon walking into Temple Israel to volunteer at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service Healthy Youth-Healthy Communities Annual Conference in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, I ran into to JFCS’s Executive Director, Judy Halper, and we began talking about different aspects of parenting. We landed on the subject of parenting as a form of caretaking and she explained how the cycle of caretaking continues for the rest of your life. “I went straight from caring for my children to caring for my parents,” Judy explained. “It’s a continuation of the caretaking role. And you are never done caring for your children.”
Agreed. I am most definitely not done parenting my college freshman daughter. Through texts, facetime and phone calls, I am still advising her on her finances, relationships, class schedules, health concerns, and keep an up-to-date pulse on her overall wellbeing. I make myself available to listen to her and try to figure out the difference between what she really needs from me and what she wants, and how to best support her from afar. The out-of-sight-out-of-mind theory does not apply to mothers and their children. My daughter is in my thoughts every day. When she has a bad day, my heart feels the same kind of ache it did when she had a bad day at home, and sometimes it’s more difficult because I can’t hug her or look into her eyes to see what she is not telling me over the phone. However, it has been a tremendous growing experience for both of us to learn that she is very resilient and highly capable of taking care of herself on her own—thank goodness.
As for my parents, I have difficult time imagining them any different than the young, hip, active couple that they have been throughout my life. I am grateful every day that they are healthy, thriving and completely self-sufficient (I actually feel like they run circles around me sometimes). I do, however, have many friends who are in caretaking roles with their parents while raising kids in their home, and I see how very difficult it can be.
A close friend of mine, who has two teenagers, has been caretaking for her parents since she was 15 (her mom is legally blind and her dad has hearing issues with his hearing). When explaining how she manages parenting her children and simultaneously caring for her parents, she says it is an ongoing challenge, “It is a lot about balancing the different worries and balancing the needs of both. I want my kids to be safe and supervised, and I want to be present for their teenage challenges; and yet the worry about my parents is more anxiety-fueled. I worry about them waking up every morning, about them driving, falling, managing their meds, and their ability to care for themselves and each other.”
On the flip side, my friend reveals that as tough as this juggling act can be, there are also rewards in this two-fold caregiving process, “Caring for my parents has provided a wonderful example for my kids. In seeing me take care of my mom and dad, my kids have developed a sensitivity for my parents, and demonstrate their caring nature toward them and toward me. As I age, I realize and appreciate how my much parents have done for me and I am grateful that I can care for them in the way that no outsider could.”
I witnessed my husband care for his father in this way as he fought a five-year battle with pancreatic cancer for longer than we all thought possible. As challenging as it was for my husband to balance his responsibilities to his immediate family and work, with his quest to care for his father, he demonstrated that it is possible to make it work. Just as we feel the need to care for our children, most of us also feel a desire or duty to care for, or at least coordinate care for our parents when they lose the ability to care for themselves.
For now, I appreciate the fact that my parents are strong and independent, and that our relationship is still focused on spending quality together and having fun. I am embracing these times because I do know they can’t last forever, and if and when my parents need me to care for them, as will always be the case with my children, I will be there.
“The angry man should make himself like a deaf person who does not hear, and like a mute person who does not talk. If he must speak, it should be in a low voice and with words of reconciliation. Even if his heart is burning like fire, and his rage flames within him, he is capable of controlling his words.” (by Rabbi Eliezer Papo from his essay entitled "Anger")
This passage, which hit me like a ton of bricks, was part of my assigned reading for a Mussar study group I recently joined (“The goal of Mussar practice is to release the light of holiness that lives within the soul.” - The Mussar Institute). It forced me to reflect on how I often jump to anger when parenting my children, causing me to act from a position of reactivity=weakness, rather than from a position of proactivity=strength.
As I try to incorporate the Mussar principles into my life and find a more peaceful way to parent, I am committing myself to reducing the amount of time I spend feeling and/or acting angry.
When my teenager talks disrespectfully to me, my former reactive response looked something like this:
a) Quickly becoming angry, raising my voice, and telling him how disappointed I am in his behavior,
b) taking his behavior personally,
c) feeling like I have done something catastrophically wrong in parenting him,
d) feeling like I must CHANGE him immediately or he is going to disrespect his teachers and coaches, and will grow up to be a disrespectful adult.
(Note: b, c and d all exacerbate the anger.)
It has taken me only 19 years of parenting to realize that I rarely, if ever, feel good about myself when I slip into the pattern above. Even when I achieved my desired outcome, I felt a certain amount of shame whenever I acted in anger.
As I work to take a much more proactive, positive approach when facing a potentially upsetting scenario with my children, spouse or anyone I encounter, I need to embrace this idea: Anger is a choice. Perhaps I won't always be able to control the angry feelings that arise within, however, I can make the choice to not let them control me. I can choose to move away from anger, and toward something more productive.
In reference to the above-mentioned issue with my son, my new “working toward” pattern includes:
a) an understanding that his behavior is not about me—something could be bothering him (he had a bad day at school, at baseball practice, he lost in fantasy football or is nervous about his upcoming chemistry test).
b) trusting myself that I have indeed taught him the difference between respectful and disrespectful behavior, and that even with that knowledge, he is going to slip up sometimes.
c) accepting and loving him for who he is and knowing that he is a good person who is acting negatively at that moment.
d) talking to him calmly and telling him that I know he probably does not intend to talk to me disrespectfully but his tone sounds that way, and that I would like him to realize how it is unnecessary and inappropriate for him to speak disrespectfully to his mother, and there will be consequences for doing so.
The ultimate test for me is when my peaceful, anger-free approach toward him does not curb his level of disrespect but triggers more. This would be a good time to borrow from the Rabbi and “make myself like a deaf person who does not hear,” or literally walk away in an effort to thwart any rising anger that would cause me to be reactive.
It’s also important to realize that diffusing one’s own anger is the best way for a parent to teach children how to diffuse theirs.
The Beads Spilling Test
Last week, my 9-year-old daughter was frantically getting ready for school, as she had come downstairs later than our agreed upon time. She hastily put her coat on and in the process knocked over a huge bucket of beads, turning our mudroom floor into a sea of sparkly beads.
All three of my kids stopped in their tracks and six eyes were upon me.
a) Yell at Jo, causing her to burst into tears,
b) make her pick up every last bead and cause all three of my kids to be late for school,
c) feel terrible for the whole day.
My new reality, which actually surprised me almost as much as it surprised the kids:
a) I took a deep breath and said, “You guys need to go. You are going to be late. Jo, I know this was an accident. Please come down stairs earlier next time so you don’t have to be in such a hurry. Have a good day, guys!”
b) I turned away from them and began to pick up the beads.
My kids continued to stare at me for a while longer, checking to see if there would be a delayed outburst. Jo’s eyes turned from panic-stricken to relieved. “Bye mom,” they called as they walked out of the house to pile in my son’s car. “Love you!”
I literally smiled as I picked up the rest of the beads and said to myself, "This was definitely the better choice. Remember this."
This is going to sound very unlike me since it was only four months ago that I wept for weeks (ok, more like a month) after saying goodbye to my college freshman. However, I need to be honest here. Yes, I am crazy about my daughter, but now after a five-week winter break (during which we did get to escape from the tundra for a week), I understand with great clarity that when a child reaches 18 or 19 years old, it is time for them to fly the coop. And when they come home for an extended period of time, it can be tricky.
“January can be the longest month with college kids at home,” Lisa Endlich Hefferman and Mary Dell Harrington of Grown and Flown explained to me as I reached out to them in an attempt to normalize my feelings about this drawn out and somewhat confusing transitional period. “You'll gradually establish a new mother-daughter relationship but it can be challenging, as you must already know,” they revealed.
As much as I loved having my daughter home, there was an inevitable shift that occurred—that has been occurring since she left—a shift for her, for me and for the rest of our family. The five of us have adjusted to the lowered barometric pressure in our house.
Thankfully, my daughter also has adjusted easily and happily to the non-stop hustle and bustle of dorm and college life, where she is in charge of what she does, whom she is with and the choices she makes. There is no “all-knowing parent” watching over her shoulder, monitoring and commenting on her movements, and again, thankfully, she is managing her academic and social life really well.
However, when she comes home, she (like most of the college-age kids whose mothers I speak with) expects to be able to exercise these same freedoms.
There is a slight problem with this.
It doesn’t work.
There have to be limits and rules and curfews even though “you don’t know what time I get back to my dorm room when I am at school…you don’t know where I am and who I am with every minute of the day or night...I manage myself just fine! Why can’t you just TRUST ME?!”
The issue is not about trust. I do trust my daughter. But in order for us parents to maintain our sanity and a feeling of order in our homes, we need our children (including our adult children who now spend the majority of their time away at college) to respect our house rules, even if they don’t like them.
This is about our children respecting their parents, and not allowing our college kids to hold us hostage and worry us sick as they assert their incessant desire for autonomy.
I am grateful that my daughter is enjoying the freedom she has as a college student and that she is figuring out how to be a responsible, self-sufficient adult. That’s what we all hope for. But when your adult child comes home with this newly developed sense of independence, there is an interesting dynamic that comes into play between your adult child and you—one that I wasn’t completely prepared for (although many of my friends with older kids tried to warn me).
As stressful and uncomfortable as this transition can be, Mary Dell and Lisa are right, there is joy in the “new normal.”
"I am so happy to be back here, mom,” my daughter told me today, her first day back at school. And her statement wasn’t a “I am better off without you” message to me. It was an honest declaration of where she is at in her life. She is happy as a college student—living away from home, forging her own path. And I am truly happy for her, and happy for our newly developing relationship.
As a Minnesotan, December is the month when our landscape turns into a nasty frozen tundra, and it is difficult to savor the memories of the past summer or to believe that we will EVER be relieved of our constant state of FROZEN. But, of course, even though we sometimes have to wait until May, the thaw does come. My most notable December reminder of the warm hope of summer is delivered by envelopes and emails containing none other than…summer camp forms.
As much as I dread filling them out, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for all that summer camp means to our family. All four of our kids were/are AVID summer campers (and our oldest is now an AVID summer camp counselor). To say that they love camp is an understatement. They deeply CRAVE it. My husband and I have always understood the value of summer camp, and the value of sending kids away, in general, to allow them to forge new experiences on their own, and to grow and develop their sense of self, separate from mom and dad. I knew that summer camp and the relationships developed there, helped my daughter escape the stresses of school and some tough years she had socially; and that my son was able to feel whole again after he experienced several months of being bullied at school. My older son’s love for camp prompted him to attend a high school program in Israel last summer with several of his camp friends. And my youngest daughter, who was hesitant to go away to camp last summer, as a more quiet and somewhat shy 9-year-old, came back after her two weeks away, with a renewed confidence and a less fearful outlook on life.
It would take me pages upon pages to reflect on the countless ways that my kids’ (and my husband and my) lives have been profoundly impacted by their/our overnight summer camp experiences. I thought it would be even more beneficial for you to read some of my daughter’s impressions on how summer camp was pivotal in shaping her into the young woman she is today. She gave me her permission to share a portion of an essay she wrote for a college English class on the importance of allowing and encouraging kids to spend some time away from home during their formative years (referred to as mobility).
“In reflecting upon one’s childhood, it is difficult, if not impossible, to uncover a specific defining moment in which one transitions from a child to an adult. If adulthood is defined by reaching a certain age, then perhaps one could say that it is the moment when one turns eighteen. Yet, adulthood seems to be a much more complex concept than something that is marked by the celebration of one birthday. Although I am confident that I am not done developing, and at nineteen years old I still have much to learn, I can identify one specific experience that played a key role in my evolution from youth to a higher level of maturity.
When I hopped on that coach bus headed for Eagle River, Wisconsin, at eight years old, I had no idea what was in store for me. I was eager to make new friends, be independent, and connect to my faith, but I had no idea that this journey I was making on my own would be so crucial in my development. Over my 11 summers away from home at Camp Interlaken as a camper, then counselor, I learned so many things that a summer at home with my family just could not teach me. I learned how amazing it feels to truly be yourself; to be in a position of leadership, to make a camper’s day, to shower in the presence of unknown scary insects (not so amazing, but certainly eye opening), and all of these experiences helped me to become a less sheltered, and more grown up version of myself.
Had I not taken the leap, and stayed in the comfort of my home that fateful first summer, so many aspects of my personality that I feel proud of today, would never have been developed.
What is the value of sending kids away? There were always some moms who sneered at my mother when she told them she sent me to camp for a month at ten years old, questioning her true love and devotion to me. I, however, believe in the wisdom of the age-old statement, “if you love something, set it free.” While it is difficult to send children away, out of fear of something happening to them, or fear of missing them too much, it is so important for children to have experiences on their own because of the fundamental development that results.
It was the second night of camp, and Sarah was still crying. She was having a tough time adjusting: she missed her parents, she hated the food, the small beds and just wanted to go home. As the days passed, Sarah slowly came out of her shell, and quickly became one of my best friends. Had Sarah not stuck it out, it is doubtful that she would have developed the amazing self confidence that encouraged her to pursue her cross country career, which led her to be recruited to run here at this college!
Mobility can do amazing things, especially in our formative years. When we, as children, adolescents, teens, and even young adults, are away from home, and are surrounded by people who hold no preconceived ideas about who we are, we can be whomever we want. We can be fearless, outspoken, mean, rebellious, genuine, greedy, smart, kind—it is up to us. Sometimes these newfound personalities will stick, and sometimes not, but being away affords us the opportunity to try them out, and create our own hybrid of personalities that we want to define us.”
I think that about covers it…So, if you are considering sleep-away camp for your child, but are maybe a little hesitant, I would encourage you to go ahead and start filling out the forms. I highly doubt you or your child will regret it.
If you have stories to share about how you and/or your child/ren have been impacted by overnight camp, I would love to hear them!