Five years ago I wrote a blog post discussing what I call “May Madness,” which I am fairly certain most parents with school-age kids can relate to right now. Here is how I defined this “magical” month when the school year winds down and spring catapults us toward summer...
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.
This was no small task. Quite honestly, not posting pictures of my kids on social media has cramped my style a bit and has forced me to exercise a fair amount of restraint in this arena. To understand how and why I arrived at this Facebook turning point, read this post on Kveller, "Why I Will No Longer Post Photos of My Kids on Facebook." Please leave your comments (which I always love and appreciate) on the Kveller site. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one! Thanks for checking it out!
My Friday Faves is a follow-up to a recent article I wrote for Kveller about leading a Passover mini-seder for the 3rd and 4th graders at my children’s Episcopalian school. I am thrilled to report that it was an awesome experience. The Jewish kids in the group formed a fabulous “choir.” They belted out the four questions and led the rest of the students in Dayenu. The choir wasn’t needed to lead “Let My People Go” because all the kids already knew this song from singing it during chapel, and they sang it loud and proud. My heart jumped as I asked the kids questions like who was the baby that was found in a basket floating down the Nile River and almost every hand darted up as the kids had to hold themselves back from yelling out the answer, “Moses!” They knew the reason that Jews eat Matzah during Passover and why G-d brought the 10 plagues to Pharoh’s Egypt. They understood how much the Jews wanted and their freedom from their Egyptian oppressors, and they also understood how there are many people who still yearn to be free today. On each of the 25 tables set up in the cafeteria, there was a “freedom seder plate” that my 6th and 3rd grader s helped me decorate. The plate was basically a white paper plate with a six empty circles surrounding a middle circle labeled “freedom.” The kids at the mini-seder were instructed to come up with symbols that remind them of freedom today. The adult at the table wrote six of their answers in the empty circles. I had the chance to go around to each table, and one spokeskid at each table shared their top choice with the whole group. Once again, my heart danced as I heard such thoughtful responses like: school, food, the American flag, books and shelter; and I had a good chuckle as one 9-year-old revealed that their table’s favorite symbol of freedom was, “Raising the minimum wage to $8/hour.”
But my personal, stand-out favorite was “Love.” The freedom to love freely is certainly a freedom not to be taken for granted and I love that these children realized this.
I felt so grateful to be able to spend the morning with 125 open-minded, bright 3rd and 4th graders who took in the story of Passover and transferred its meaning into their lives today.
“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."
I will not divulge which one of my kids this story pertains to save her from embarrassment. And for the sake of this story, I am going to refer to this child as my daughter, even though it could have been one of my sons. For those of you who know my kids, you can certainly try to guess which one had this experience.
My 8-year-old came home from her first year of sleep-away camp beaming with excitement and exploding with funny stories. Her two weeks in Wisconsin were filled with lots of new adventures and dozens of new friends. Not only was she excited to tell us all about her experiences, she couldn’t wait to show us all the pictures she took from the three disposable cameras we sent her with.
“Okay, honey, why don’t you give me the cameras so I can get the pictures developed and you can show us the photos of your new friends and all the fun stuff you did at camp,” I told her. She stared at me with a puzzled and borderline panicked look on her face. “What do you mean, give you the cameras,” she asked softly, her voice beginning to quiver. “Well, honey, I have to take the cameras to Target where they develop the film that is in the cameras, and that is how we get the pictures you took at camp," I explained to her.
Now the tears began to flow. “But you said they were DISPOSABLE cameras…so…I...threw them...away.”
Oh, my literal child…she did recover...eventually.
This Friday Faves is a bit off topic but I couldn’t pass it up. My daughter’s third grade teacher has asked her students to record the number of minutes they read per day and to read books of varying genres (biographies, poetry, fairy tails, myths, etc.) My daughter has developed a real fondness for poetry. Last night we were reading from Shel Silverstein’s book of poetry “A Light in the Attic" and we came across a poem that caused both of us to burst out laughing, and we laughed harder each time we read the poem out loud to each other.
My husband and I talk to our kids a lot about how to be a giving and generous person and what it means to be selfish. Shel Silverstein puts a hysterical spin on a child’s perspective of selfishness:
"Prayer of the Selfish Child"
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my toys to break.
So none of the other kids can use them...
Feel free to let me know if you think this poem is as funny as my daughter and I think it is.
All mothers have or will have their “remember when” stories. Anna Quindlen writes:
"Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did-Hall-of-Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language, mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, "What did you get wrong?" (She insisted I included that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I included that.)”
I, too, have an infinite number of remember when stories, and create more and more every day. I remember my oldest son’s first day of a new preschool and I was in the hospital, in labor with my third child. I remember pleading with my husband, “Please go! You have to be there to take him on his first day, not the babysitter!” He left, and returned an hour later to find me in tears, with just enough time to throw on some scrubs and hold my hand as I was being wheeled into the OR for an emergency C-section because my unborn son was fighting to breathe as the umbilical cord was acting as a noose around his neck.
I remember the tantrums and the melt-downs (both theirs and mine), the potty training, the power struggles, and the feeling of being completely exhausted, physically, emotionally and mentally…and then just as I was ready to turn in my motherhood badge, one of them would do something really, really cute or funny, and I would remember why I love being a mother (most of the time).
I remember being so excited to take my oldest daughter on a surprise trip to NYC for her 10th birthday, and it wasn’t until I printed out the boarding passes the night before that I realized that my youngest son would celebrate his Golden Birthday (4 years old on the 4th) with his grandparents while his brother, sister, mom and dad were celebrating his older sister’s birthday in New York (their birthdays are a day apart).
Or when my son told me that he really did not want to have a family picture taken as a Hanukah gift for my parents and when I told him to go put on his “picture outfit” he came out of his room holding a black sharpie that he had used to color all over his arms, neck and face. (In retrospect, I should have gone ahead and had our pictures taken.)
Or how I got a call from the principal of my son’s school and she told me that the bus driver had reported to her that my 10-year-old son had used some bad language on the bus. She told me that when she called him into his office and asked him what he said that upset the bus driver, he paused, looked at her and said, “I said fuc*.” I don’t know what embarrassed me more, the fact that my son dropped the f-bomb, or that the straight-laced, school principal actually said the f-word. She proceeded to tell me that she appreciated his honesty, and that he wasn’t in trouble because he told her the truth and promised he wouldn’t use bad language again.
I remember when we thought we lost our 6-year-old daughter in a busy mall in Israel, only to find out, after enlisting Israeli security and experiencing several full-blown panic attacks by parents and grandparents alike, that her big brother, without mentioning it to anyone, had taken her to the Nike store that he just had to see at the far end of the mall.
I remember when my fourth child was born and being so terrified that I was not capable of caring for four children at such different ages and stages.
I still don’t know that I am.
Please feel free to share your "remember when" stories below! I love to hear from you, and it makes me feel less self conscious about sharing my many parenting blunders!
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!
“Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” —Brene' Brown
“Who do you think you are?!” I said it. No, I said it REALLY LOUDLY to my son the other night when he made fun of his brother who was already upset about something. I promised myself I would not poke my kids with the shame stick (my made up reference to the destructive words that, when used, can cause a person to question their own self-worth). And yet, I spoke out of anger and frustration, and said things that I wished I wouldn't have, because I wanted his behavior to change, to stop, and this was certainly not the first time I had asked him.
I realized, after I calmed down, that there were two main thoughts that screamed in my own head before they came out of my mouth. When I saw behavior in my son that I didn’t like, I immediately thought, “What is wrong with him that he would act like that? He should know better!” And then, I turned it inward, “What is wrong with me that I have a son who acts so insensitively to his brother? I must be doing something very wrong.”
Using that damn shame stick on both of us—a double whammy!
Since we all know that this kind of thinking will get us absolutely nowhere, it’s time to back track and look at what is real and what is completely blown out of proportion. First of all, siblings pick on siblings… can’t think of anything more normal (my sister has the goods on me for sure!). Cajoling amongst siblings certainly does not mean there is a “character flaw” in any of them. In fact, most of the time, my kids are good to one another, and I know that they all care about each other tremendously. And then to take it a step further and throw myself under the bus for how my son acts…that’s a bit of a stretch. Last week, I looked over and saw that my older son had his arm around my daughter and was helping his little sister with her homework, without me asking. Do I take credit for that? No.
I have given my kids messages their whole lives about how important it is to be respectful to one another. I have always called out any one of my kids who is mistreating one of their siblings. They understand that it is not okay to make fun of one another or put each other down for kicks. Yet, they still do it, and probably will continue to do so for the remainder of the time that they live in my house, and maybe throughout their lives. And I will continue to point out that it is not okay.
Sibling rivalry and tension is not new. Me, losing my cool with my kids every so often, is not new either, unfortunately. What is relatively new is my awareness of how sometimes, when I have been extremely upset about one of my kid’s behaviors, I have poked them with the shame stick.
This needs to go.
“Who do you think you are” needs to be changed to, “I know who you are. I know you are a good person who cares about and loves his siblings. When you pick on one of them, it seems like you are being insensitive and unkind. This isn’t consistent with how I know you feel about them.”
At first, however, I probably will need to yell this messages. Otherwise, my kids will for sure think that I have been brainwashed by Dr. Phil.
For more on shame and parenting, check out Brene’ Brown’s “The Whole Hearted Parenting Manifesto” in the Huffington Post.
For the past three years, as most of you know, I have been working on a book about motherhood. The book has taken many different twists and turns. It started out as a book that was more of a "what to expect" book, which would guide moms through the motherhood journey from their child's birth to leaving the nest. I felt that this would be helpful to moms at every stage of motherhood, whereas a mom of a toddler could be able to peek at what age 16 looks like. Well, the publishers and agents I queried did not agree. "The subject matter is too broad," they said. "Moms want to read about whatever they are dealing with RIGHT NOW, such as, 'My infant won't sleep so I want to read about infants, not teenagers.' " Okay, fair enough. After I moped around in my rejection haze for too long, I decided to change my focus a bit. One issue that is universal to moms no matter what stage they are in with their children is self-care. This is also an issue that nearly every mother struggles with, so, my new and improved book angle, which is in its final editing and polishing stage, covers how moms take care of themselves personally, relationally and professionally while raising their children. I am really excited about the project and hope that all the mothers who read it will find that it provides them with the tools to live more authentically and happily as they journey through motherhood. Personally, the research I have done for this book has taught me so much and has helped me find strength during times when I felt that my life had begun to spin out of control.
But here's the catch. As I made the transition from Book #1 to Book #2, I had to leave a heaping amount of extremely valuable material on the cutting room floor... which leads me to my Friday Faves. I have decided that every Friday, I am going to share some of my favorite quotes or stories from the 400 moms I surveyed and interviewed over the years for Book #1. Some of you readers will see yourselves in these quotes and stories. But your identity is safe with me!
The following story is this week's Friday Fave:
A friend of mine, who we will call Ruth, explained to me how frustrated she was with her 10-year-old daughter who refused to pick up her clothes in her room after being asked to do so over and over again. One day Ruth walked into her daughter’s room and was furious when she saw her daughter’s clothes still covering the floor of her room. Ruth proceeded to take off all her clothes and drop them on the floor and said, “See, this is what it is like! This is my house and you are not picking up your clothes in my house, so I am going to leave my clothes on the floor of your room!”
And she stormed out of the room.
If you haven’t done something like this yet, you most likely will have moments when you will or will want to! Dramatic, yes, but surely Ruth’s daughter now thinks twice before she drops her clothes on the floor of her room. She may still do it, but she certainly will think about it differently. And at some point, she will have a great story to tell her own daughter when she won’t pick up her clothes in her room. “You’ll never believe what Grandma Ruth did when she was upset with me for not picking up the clothes my room.”
We moms have to give our kids some good stories to tell our own kids, don’t we?!
If you have any good, funny or memorable stories you'd like to share (and you can certainly request to remain anonymous), please email me at email@example.com. I would love to post them on my Friday Faves!
“It’s ok mom, we don’t have to go,” my 12-year-old son said as he dropped his eyes to avert my gaze. I promised him we would road trip to Milwaukee for one of his good friend’s Bar Mitzvah’s the following day but I had come down with a nasty cold (probably due to standing outside in the freezing cold and rain for a football game during my daughter's college Parents Weekend) and am still in recovery from a nagging back injury. An 11-hour round trip car journey did not sound very appealing to me…at all. Rushing around trying to get my other son ready to head to the airport for a baseball tournament and my daughter ready to go meet her cousin for her birthday dinner, I yelled in my 12-year-old’s direction, “Come on! We need to get going! Please get in the car! Now!” No response and no movement from the far end of the living room where he was seated. As I walked over to him, feeling annoyed and impatient, I was just about to yell at him again (I hate that I yell, but I do, especially when I am feeling rushed and discombobulated), but then I stopped myself. I saw his eyes. They were filled with tears. “Oh honey, I am so sorry,” I said. “I was just excited to see my camp friends but it’s okay because you don’t feel good, “ he said softly. “We shouldn’t go.” “We’re going,” I said with such a conviction that it sounded almost scary. And that was that. There are times when we do things for our kids that we know are not necessarily in our best interest. In fact, as I am in throws of writing my book on motherhood and self care, I talk a great deal about how mothers so often put their kids' and other people’s well being before their own, and end up neglecting to take care of themselves in the process. This is a perfect example of how and why this so often happens. We want our kids to be happy. We make promises that we completely intend on keeping and then life happens. Sometimes the answer does need to be no. Sometimes there is simply no amount of “give” available. However, in this situation, there was a limited amount of give available on my part and damnit, I was going to use it!
He couldn’t have been more excited or appreciative. We took in the beautiful fall colors as we blazed east from Minnesota into Wisconsin. I flooded the car with the sounds of Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac and even a few classic Billy Joel tracks. The poor kid had to listen to me sing every word to Thunder Road and Rosalita…more than once. I needed to explain to him that this was “real” music, and willed him to feel its authenticity and depth. Then it was his turn. He got to play Kid Cudi and B.o.B., which, according to my son, is actually really awesome music, “It’s just that some of the lyrics are inappropriate. Just listen to the music, Mom, not the words,” he explained. O.k., times have changed.
With a cough drop in my mouth, a box of tissues next to me to tame my runny nose and an ice pack on my back, we drove into the night. Conversations started and stopped with ease. We stopped for gas and junk food and I didn’t even freak out too badly when we stopped for dinner and my son exited the passenger side door and I saw it smothered all over the passenger seat. “Oh, I thought there were only three resee’s peanut butter cups in the jumbo pack, not four! I am so sorry, mom!” We laughed and then we laughed again an hour later when we saw the city sign Pewaukee. “Is that just a typo,” my son giggled. I realized that I was relaxed and happy, and so was he.
I was in the moment and wasn’t worried or talking about my older kids’ teenage stuff that often consumes my brain and my mood—AP tests coming up, boyfriend issues, college-related concerns, baseball training and scheduling, SAT tests and curfews—it was wonderfully, simply 12-year-old stuff. It was real and it was meaningful, and yet it seemed so refreshingly uncomplicated that I felt a huge sense of relief. Relief and gratitude that I still have two young children to remind me to laugh at the word Pewaukee and get excited about discovering “THE BEST” Mexican restaurant in the small town of DeForest, WI, where we could eat fajitas and quesadillas and watch the Miami Heat pre-season game with the locals who were downing their watered-down Margaritas. Just to be able to be happy, content and worry-free.
“I’m glad we are doing this,” I said to my son. “Me too, mom, and just think, when we get to the hotel, there won’t be any fighting to get anyone to bed and you don’t have to do any dishes or laundry, you can just go to bed. It will be nice for you,” my son assured me. And he was right.
The next morning, I walked my son into the synagogue for his friend’s Bar Mitzvah. We took two steps into the building and immediately heard a boy’s voice excitedly yell from across the room, “AAABBBE!!” Within seconds, the Bar Mitzvah boy, wearing one of the biggest smiles on his face that I have ever seen, grabbed a hold of my son and whisked him away into the stream of the guests entering the sanctuary. “Abe,” I meekly called after him, “Have fun.” But he didn’t hear me nor did he turn around.
This is the reason that sometimes we say yes to our kids, even when there are countless reasons to say no. Are we martyrs for doing this or just caring, loving parents? Every situation is different, but this time, the precious one-on-one time that I shared with my son, combined with seeing his joy and the joy he brought to his friend, assured me that in giving to my son, I also gave to myself.
There is no getting around it, even though you may try to shield them from it, and find ways for them to avoid it, your kids will at some point have to face the dreaded agony of failure. For most moms, myself included, whether we admit it or not, when we see our children experiencing failure or disappointment, it feels like the sky is crashing down on both them and us. And sometimes, probably more often than not, we feel the pain even deeper than our children do. In most cases, our children bounce back from their disappointments relatively quickly, and yet we often stay stuck in them for way longer than we know is necessary or appropriate. Furthermore, many well-intentioned mothers, in an effort to try to “spare” their children from having to deal with failure, will go to borderline crazy lengths to assure that their child’s “fall from grace” will be cushioned or avoided all together.
Question to ponder:
What does it feel like to witness your child experience failure?
And even deeper:
Do you feel that your child’s failure a reflection on you as a mother?
Lately I have heard so many moms talk about their successes or failures of their children in a way that it is difficult to decipher who’s is who’s. I recently texted a friend to see how she was doing and she responded that her daughter made the varsity soccer team and her son had lost his tennis match. I wanted to respond, "But wait, I really wanted to know how YOU are doing!" Can we, as mothers, separate our identities from our children’s?
Before I go any further, I have to write a disclaimer: Anyone who knows me knows that I am as guilty as the next mom of allowing my entire being to be directly and significantly affected by what is happening (or not happening) in my children’s lives. I ride the crazy train with my kids and have a first class seat on that well know parenting helicopter that so many of us ride. I obsess about whether they will make a sports team, do well on their tests at school, be asked to a dance or be admitted to their college of choice. Having said that, I am actually working on this issue within myself right now, so I have become hyper-aware of my own hovering and somewhat controlling nature, as well as that of so many of the lovely moms in my life.
As I dissect this issue of mothers being somewhat unhealthily enmeshed in their children’s lives, I start with a seemingly simple, yet extremely complicated question: Why? Sometimes when my husband has reached his limit on listening to me go over and over and over my worries and concerns about a kid-related issue, he will just stop me dead in my tracks and say, “Why do you care so much? Maybe it would be good if you try to focus on something that you can control, or go do something for yourself instead of obsessing about an outcome over which you have ZERO control. You gotta stop worrying about the kids’ stuff. It’s theirs, not yours.”
Although there is a little sting to his directive, I know deep down that he is right (darn it!). He is encouraging me to give myself permission to let go. To trust that the chips will fall where they may for our four kids, and most importantly to trust that they will be ok, wherever their chips fall. And if their chips fall the “wrong” way, and they feel sad and defeated, then my husband and I will be there to love and support them, and to help them regain their footing so they can put their chips back on the table.
We moms have such a tough time with the letting go piece. From the moment we hold them in our arms as newborns, we are programmed to “make it all better” for our kids. We make it our life’s work to make life good and safe and happy for them. But thankfully, Wendy Mogel (Blessings of a Skinned Knee and Blessings of a B-) comes along and beautifully teaches us how kids must fail in order to grow. She explains that we are doing our children and ourselves a major disservice by not allowing them to experience failures and disappointments. When mothers don’t set clear boundaries with their children, and take on too much of their children’s “stuff,” they run the risk their children developing this line of thinking:
“I don’t really have to care, or feel anything about whether or not I make the team, make a bad decision, or get an A or a D on my test because my mom is taking it all on. Therefore, I am not even really accountable for my actions or inactions, because mom’s got me covered.”
Some moms, (myself included, on a few occasions), will actually not only take on their children’s successes or failures emotionally but will go a step further. They will intervene. They will call a coach, a teacher or an admissions director and threaten, question, manipulate, and even beg or bribe the person in the decision-making position to give their child what she “ABSOLUTELY DESERVES!!!” Okay, this is probably a good time for mom to step back, be very honest with herself, and figure out whether this is about her or about her child. This type of behavior sends an even scarier and potentially hazardous message to her child, which could sound like:
“You are not capable of accomplishing your goal/s on your own and therefore you need me to step in and take care of it for you.”
This deprives your child of learning the invaluable, character-building lessons that one learns from failing or falling short of a goal, with resiliency at the top of the list. It also could lead your child to feel that:
- “My mom does not believe in me enough to let me figure things out for myself. I must be inadequate.”
- “My mom cares more about whether I make the team or get the grade she expects me to get than she does about me as a person. She doesn’t love me for who I am, she loves me for what I do. Therefore if I come up short of her expectations, she won’t love me.”
Confession: My daughter got a B- on a paper her senior year. She is a fantastic writer and that was not a typical grade for her on any type of writing assignment. I am friendly with her teacher and when I saw him at her school one day, I said casually, “Hey, why did you give Sophie a B- on her last paper?” He stopped, looked at me straight in the eyes and said in a very serious tone, “Because I knew it was not her best work. She knows she can talk to me about it if she would like.”
Yikes! I cannot even begin to explain the scolding I received from my daughter when I crawled out of my shame hole a few days later and told her about it. “Mom! I wasn’t really bothered by it. It wasn’t my best work. I can’t believe you did that! Why would you do that?!”
With helicopter parents attending job interviews with their children http://huff.to/18cx1PG and micromanaging their every move, it is hard not to get sucked into thinking that being overly involved in your children’s lives is a way of showing your children that you care. It’s difficult to draw the line and know when it’s ok to advocate for your child, and when you need to bite your tongue and/or detach yourself from their “stuff.”
Next time you want to step in and try to prevent your child from failing or facing disappointment, take a moment to sort out your own feelings, and ask yourself:
What am I afraid of?
My doctor told me that she was worried that my baby had stopped growing in utero at 37 weeks. She told me she wanted to do a C-section ASAP. She was due on May 15th. but on April 29th, my forth child, my second baby girl came into this world at 5 pounds 4 ounces, just 9 ounces lighter than her big sister weighed at full term almost 10 years years prior. Had she stopped growing or was she right on course to be the exact same size as her sister and me (I was another heavyweight at 5 pounds 14 ounces, full term)? We will never know but the fear that something was wrong with her made the 48 hours we waited before she was born almost unbearable. Thankfully, she was born healthy, and without any complications for her or for me. I only tell this story of her beginnings because I have found myself going back there over the years and wondering if her being brought into this world before she was “ready” has to do with a decision we made for her 8 years later.
My baby girl was and is very much the baby—the baby of our family of six, the baby of my parents’ six grandchildren and the baby in a long, long line of sibling-like first cousins’ children on my husband’s side. My daughter would be the baby of 20 cousins in that lineage. Needless to say, her feet hardly touched the ground for the first several years of her life, long after she was able to walk on her own. She didn’t have to speak a whole lot because everyone around her loved to cater to her every potential need before she needed to express one. And the fact that she literally was the size of an American Girl doll for a very long time (and is still not a whole lot bigger), and her voice was so high and squeaky that it made you smile no matter what she said, did not make it easy for people around her to transition to treating her like a “big girl.”
When it was time for her to go to preschool, she went somewhat willingly but often cried that she wanted to stay home with me. She was sick a lot; colds, fevers, ear infections, influenza, and countless unexplained tummy aches. But she learned and thrived in school; she made friends and she seemed happy and well adjusted.
When we considered moving her from the Montessori school she attended to the private school where my older three children attended, I remember feeling somewhat nervous. I knew she was bright, but she was often shy, reserved and somewhat “young” for her age. The first time through the admissions process, the school told us that she was not ready for the academic, social or emotional rigors of first grade at this college preparatory school. They did, however, offer her a spot in the Kindergarten class. We declined and decided to send her to the Montessori school that she loved for another year and re-assess the following year. She had a great year socially and academically and her teachers thought she would do fine in the grade she was “supposed” to be in. So, back to the private school we went to test her for admittance to second grade for the following school year.
Academically, she did just fine, and her classroom visit went relatively smoothly. We would have to wait to hear from the school about their final recommendations. The following day, after dropping my son off at school, I ran into the teacher whose classroom my daughter had visited. I asked her to tell me honesty how she saw my daughter fitting into this grade. She explained, “Your daughter was fine in my class, but I have to tell you that I had to take several of the kids out in the hall because I heard them whispering behind her back saying, ‘Why is a preschooler visiting our class?’ They couldn’t believe that she was 7, the same age as they were.” The teacher explained that the kids perceived her as much younger and treated her as less of a peer and more as someone who needed caretaking.
After much agonizing and deliberation on my part (my husband had much more clarity about the benefits of holding her back and the school had no question that giving her extra time would be hugely beneficial to her in every way), we all came to the consensus that it would serve her best to start as a first grader the following year instead of as a second grader, which is where her birthday says she “should” be.
But I worried. I worried that she would be teased for being older than most kids in her grade (in some cases more than a year older). That kids will ask her if she was held back, and will ask her why. I worried that it would seem strange that she will be 19 when she graduates high school and I even worried that her fellow college freshmen would give her a hard time for starting college at 19 and ask her if she flunked a grade. I worried about how she will navigate all of this, if it would bother her and how she will normalize her situation. I also had to look at how I felt about it all and find a way to reconcile all of this within myself. I also dabbled with some self doubt: Was it my fault that she needed extra time? Did I coddle her too much? Was I so overwhelmed with four kids that I neglected to help foster some of the developmental tools she needed early on?
But I realized that I had to let most of the above-mentioned insecure babble go so I could fully support her and empower her. I needed to find acceptance with the decision to give my daughter an extra year and look at all the benefits of this decision. “You are giving her the gift of time,” is what many trusted friends who work in academia labeled it for me. One extra year to be a kid! (And as I am preparing to send my oldest to college in a week, I certainly have a much better understanding of this!)
Fast forward two years to this week as my daughter is getting ready to start 3rd grade. “Mom, I know I am not the oldest kid in my grade because there is a boy who is older than me, right,” my daughter asks. “Right,” I say not quite sure where she is going with this. “Do you think there will be any other kids starting in my grade that will be older than me,” she continues her line of questioning. “I don’t know for sure but probably not,” I answer her carefully. “O.k. good. Because I love being the oldest. I also love being the smallest, which I will be this year because my friend Susie, who is a little bit smaller than me is not coming back this year.” “So you like being the oldest?” I ask. “I love it!” she says with a smile.
I can say now that I do feel that my daughter is in a good place and that giving her extra time is really what she needed and needs. Whether this has to do with how she came into this world, a bit premature, or how she was a bit coddled when she was young, we will never know. She is not in a hurry to grow up and that is okay. She sees her older siblings and how much more challenging and complicated life becomes. She is good with being a kid. And for me, I will get to have an extra year with her before my nest will be completely empty…but by then, I may be making room for grandchildren (if I am lucky)!
I think it is safe to say that most writers/bloggers live in a state of vulnerability. The process of writing and sharing your musings with others sometimes feels like you are walking down the street stark naked. Furthermore, writing and blogging about your children as well as your innermost thoughts, feelings, doubts and uncertainties about yourself as a mother, takes this feeling of vulnerability and sends it through the roof. The stories that mothers share about how wonderful, cute, funny, ironic and brilliant their children feel good to write, and for the most part, to read (unless there is bragging all over it!). But the stories that reveal the ugly truths about your children and/or you as a parent are difficult to write, to share and often difficult to read. My recent blog post on teenage angst was featured on Mamapedia. As I read through the comments on the site, I was struck by one comment in particular. A mother of two grown children wrote,
“Sometimes I really feel that, as parents, we get what we expect to get. Why ‘terrible twos’? Why ‘difficult teens’? I believe that if you start from a place of UNCONDITIONAL love, MUTUAL respect and open communication (and are willing to be humble and say ‘sorry’ to your child if you've made a mistake) there's no reason to have to ‘suffer’ through any stage in our children's development.”
Immediately I felt like I had to defend myself. I wanted to call her and say, “But I was just venting! My teenagers are awesome and I am great mom and I DO LOVE MY KIDS UNCONDITIONALLY!! I just chose not write about that this time!”
I do believe my kids are wonderful human beings, and sometimes I write about all their goodness, and the glory I feel in being their mom. But sometimes I don’t. I feel that I have a responsibility as “Unscripted Mom” to reveal some of my innermost struggles as a mother and to explain how some of my children’s struggles and behaviors blips have affected both them and me. I do this in an effort to process some of my feelings but also to help other moms who may be feeling the exact same way to know that they are not alone.
I do not need to reveal intimate details of my children’s lives. I need to respect and honor them through my writing. But for me to divulge that my two oldest children’s teen years have been somewhat difficult for me need not be shameful. There has to be room and space to discuss this. To translate my admission that there have been times when my kids have disrespected me and that I feel a sense of calm having them away from home this summer to mean that I don’t love them unconditionally...well, that is certainly a stretch.
There is a fine line between venting about the frustrations you feel parenting your children and saying that you are “suffering” through their various rough spots. The truth is that your child may encounter a bump in the road and take his frustrations out on you. As much as you talk about and demand mutual respect during these times, sometimes there is a learning curve—for them and for you. And as you both ride the curve, there may be a certain amount of “suffering” that does occur. When you love your child desperately and see her struggle and/or act out, there is virtually no escape from feeling some kind of pain.
I don’t know a love that doesn’t involve a certain amount of suffering.
Are the twos “terrible?” Some days, yes, and many days, not at all. To admit the “terribleness,” does not mean that you love your children less than a mom who says, “My two-year-old is an angel, and even when she throws herself on the floor in the middle of the grocery store, I think she is absolutely, delightful and fabulous and I love being her mother every single screaming second.” It is probably safe to say that most mothers who write and read about motherhood love their children more than they have ever loved another human being. We are all conscientious parents and want to raise good kids. However, despite sharing the same goal, none of us will have the same journey with our children. Some parents’ and some children’s journeys will be more bumpy than others. But how one describes the level of difficulty in raising their children has zero correlation to how much love one feels toward her children.
I did/do experience some angst raising my teenagers, and they also experience angst being teenagers. I have enjoyed a little break from this angst as they have been away this summer. But do I love them more than anything in the world? Yes. Do I miss them terribly? Yes. Are they great kids? Yes. Do I wonder if it is my fault that there is this angst? Sometimes. Have I ever apologized to my kids for making a mistake? Probably too often. Do I work my ass off every day to be the best mother I can possibly be? Yes. Have I had to look deep into my soul to try to discover why I cannot connect with my teens sometimes, why they disrespect me sometimes, and why I have tolerated it sometimes? Yes. Have I found answers? Some.
Do you want to judge me for admitting that being a mom is not always easy for me? For admitting that sometimes a break from them feels good? For the fact that my kids are sometimes edgy and combative? This is entirely up to you but please know that I have made it my life’s work not to judge you, and to provide you with my motherhood truths in an effort to foster a safe, nonjudgmental place where mothers can be sounding boards for one another. Hope you’ll join me.
It has been about four weeks since my two teenagers left for their summer adventures (one as a camp counselor and one as a student in Israel), and about two weeks since we met my daughter at her college orientation. Over these past few weeks, I have literally have felt my blood pressure drop and my whole being exhale. The anxiety level in my house and within me has decreased significantly, and I have come to a crystal clear realization:
Raising teenagers is really f-ing hard.
As absence makes the heart grow fonder, it also allows the mind to gain some perspective. I do miss my 18-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. I miss their wit, humor and companionship. However, I realize that there are several elements of their teenage-hood that I don’t miss…at all:
- The backtalk and the continual second-guessing of my rules and “demands.”
- The battle to get their attention because of their incessant need to be connected with their friends via their cell phone or computer.
- The worry about them driving, making good choices and staying safe (which doesn’t really ever go away, even when they are hundreds or thousands of miles away).
- The late nights spent waiting to hear them (please g-d) open the door and come up the stairs to my room to let me know they are home safely and to give me the forced hug so I can do a quick smell test.
- THE MESS!!! The laundry, dishes, orange juice containers left out on the counter, trail of clothes, papers, shoes, baseball gloves, purses, water bottles that just cannot seem to get picked up on a timely basis.
- And the final, but most prominent element—their ATTITUDE, which is summed up, for pretty much all teenagers, in five simple words: “You”… “Just”…“Don’t”… “Get”...“It”… In other words, they feel that we parents know nothing; were never teenagers and could not possibly understand what they are going through; are annoying, pretty much all the time; and if we would stop asking so many questions, imposing so many rules, and just get out of their way!!! everything would be just fine!
A dad friend of mine who takes my yoga class told me today that his teens have been relatively easy. They are focused, kind, respectful and great to be around. Several thoughts and feelings emerged for me, including, “Have I done something terribly wrong with my kids? How did he and his wife make this happen? O.k., I still have two more, maybe it will be easier with them.” It is not that my teens aren’t great kids, thankfully they are, and I wouldn’t change a thing about their feistiness and passion for life. There are plenty of moments where I do sit back and sing their praises and feel gratitude for how they are turning into fantastic young adults. HOWEVER, I will not deny that my journey with my teens has been far from easy, and that their transitions from childhood to young adulthood have included many, many bumps over the past several years (for them and for me). Furthermore, I have learned a lot about myself and the baggage that I carry from my own adolescence and teen years, which I needed to deal with to in an effort to effectively parent my teens.
Furthermore, for the record, I must say that I do not think that any parent goes unscathed during their children’s teen years. I think my yoga friend is in the minority because most of the parents I talk with feel like they are in the trenches with their teens—battling it out and often feeling defeated and confused. It is during those deflated and confused times that I find myself questioning whether or not I have the strength and the know-how to do what it takes to guide my current teens and teens to-be through these tumultuous years. However, as I am gearing up to launch my oldest teen out of the nest next month, I do know now that despite the challenges, which will undoubtedly arise, I am capable of digging up every tool that I have in my growing tool box of strategies and coping mechanisms, and muddle through the teen years with each one of my children.
But for right now, I am truly appreciating the respite from the teenage battleground, which has provided me with the time and space to realize all that I have learned from my two beloved teenage warriors. Furthermore, this time has allowed me to enjoy extra time with my 11- and 9-year-olds, who are delighted to have first dibs on my attention, and appreciate the calmness in the house and within me.
“No one knows his true character until he has run out of gas, purchased something on an installment plan and raised an adolescent.” – humorist Marcelene Cox
When your happy, well-adjusted 5th grader sends you a text messages from school saying, “Please come and get me. Everyone hates me. My life is ruined,” you know there is a problem.
Upon receiving these texts from my son a few weeks ago, my mind immediately raced back to my daughter’s 5th grade year when she first experienced bullying behavior by her peers. I explored the subject of bullying amongst girls and wrote an article in 2007 for Minnesota Parent Magazine entitled “Girl Swirl.” Six years later, and even after experiencing some relational aggression with my older son’s peers, I am still blown away by how incredibly mean kids can be to one another. Kids desperately want to feel included, popular and important and will go to great lengths to secure their spot in a group. When a group decides to pick on someone because he is a threat, isn’t following the leaders of the group, or the group simply wants to get their kicks or exercise power by putting someone else down, most kids will choose to go along with the group, rather than stand up to the group leaders. These kids are well aware that any one of them could easily become the next victim.
Recently, I got a call from the middle school dean who informed me that my son was punched in the stomach twice during a football game scuffle that occurred during recess. My son later informed me that this was the second time that he had been punched by the same boy. The first time happened during gym class when my son was sticking up for another boy whom the aggressor was teasing, and the aggressor punched my son twice in the face. This incident, however, was not reported, by my son nor the gym teacher. The boy who punched him was sent home after the second incident, which caused an uproar amongst a group of boys, many of whom were my son’s friends (or at least he thought they were). Since this incident, my son has been blamed for the boy being sent home and subsequently has been teased, excluded, and targeted as the guy to “hit” during touch football games, which often turn into tackle (which was against the rules but went unnoticed by the recess monitors). He has heard boys repeatedly talking behind his back and knows there have been disparaging texts being sent about him. Friends who he thought were his friends have changed their minds about him and have decided that he no longer requires even a “hello.”
The school is aware that he is being targeted, and I made some calls to some of the moms of the boys who are involved, with whom I am friendly. But not much has changed. My son, for the last few weeks of school, has felt much like an outcast when he walked into school. Thankfully, the school year is now over and my son does have some loyal and kind friends who were/are not afraid to stand with my son during this difficult time, even at the risk of falling victim themselves.
My hope is that over the summer, the boys will have a chance to cool off, forgive and forget, and that my son’s fear of starting 6th grade as a target of hate will not be realized. As my heart aches for my son having to experience these feelings, I find myself wondering, do all kids get a touch of this at some point during their adolescent years? Does anyone get through these years unscathed? And what is our role as parents to help our kids deal with these difficult issues surrounding friendship, group dynamics and social hierarchy…and bullying.
My son is not perfect. I am sure he is guilty of saying something mean to someone. I know he has changed his mind about certain friends and decided to create some distance. But to my knowledge, he would not go out of his way to deliberately hurt or exclude someone.
Actually, I take that back. He did try to exclude a friend/turned non-friend once, and I knew that as a parent I most definitely needed to take an active role to help guide him through some of his choices and refuse to allow him to act this way. A few months ago, when my son asked me if he could have a big group of friends over on a Friday after school, I was happy to comply. When I asked him whom he was inviting, I realized that there was a good friend of his who was not on the list. “I don’t like him anymore,” he responded when I inquired about him. “Ok, he doesn’t have to be your best friend but you are not going to exclude him from this gathering. It will be very hurtful to him and I am not going to let you do that,” I told him calmly. “O.k., then I won’t have anyone over,” he said. I told him that I was fine with that.
He did end up having the gathering, and he and the boy he wanted to exclude (but didn’t) reconciled their differences and are now very close friends again. As parents, we have a very important job to do when it comes to dealing with our children and bullying. We need to play an active roll in helping them manage their behaviors and their relationships, without trying to micromanage their every move. Their friendships will indeed ebb and flow, and feelings will undoubtedly be hurt sometimes, but it is essential that we as parents are aware that bullying is different than the having a falling out with a friend or changing friend groups.
Here are some important points to consider when dealing with your child and issues around bullying:
- If you get a call from your child's school or another parent who says that your child is acting overly aggressive toward a peer or peers, or if you see signs of this kind of behavior in your child, take it seriously. It is not a joke or a game or “just kids being kids.”
- If your child denies any wrongdoing, continue to have conversations with your child about your expectations of him, and be very clear that you expect him to be inclusive and to treat others with kindness, respect and compassion, and that it is not okay for him to do or say hurtful things to anyone, or to participate in any sort of “ganging up” behavior.
- Be a good role model and make sure that your own children are treating each other respectfully in your home.
- Check your child’s phone and social media outlets for evidence of bullying behavior. If you find that your child has been engaging in cyber bullying, give them appropriate consequences like taking their phone or computer away, and encourage and empower them to stop the bullying cycle amongst their peers.
- Explain to your children that bullying is serious, will not be tolerated and there will be consequences for this type of behavior. Make sure that they understand the kinds of effects that bullying can have on kids like the fact that “at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.” (http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html)
- If your child is being bullied, monitor him closely and watch for signs of depression or even suicidal behaviors.
- Advocate for and empower your child and teach him how to advocate for himself. Contact the school and other parents, and make them aware of what your child is experiencing. Allow the “mamma bear” to arise in you, and do what you need to do to try and make sure your child will be safe.
- Encourage your child to reach out to kids who are consistently kind. Even when you are beyond the stage when you can arrange play dates for your child, it is still okay to contact a parent of a child whom you feel would be a positive, supportive friend to your child and arrange for the kids to do an activity or a camp together.
- If you do these things and still feel that your child is not safe in his school environment, it may be necessary to make a change. Even when tormentors are threatened and disciplined by authority, there are so many cases wherein individuals or groups of kids will continue to find a way to make other kids’ lives miserable.
It is extremely painful to watch your child endure tormenting and exclusion by their peers, and it is also uncomfortable to know that your child is a tormentor (although, unfortunately these behaviors are often ignored or denied by parents). And it is very difficult as a parent to know what your role is in managing these issues. But whether you are the parent of a victim, an aggressor or quite possibly both, make sure your are dealing with these issues head on and that you working with your child to help him develop the tools he needs to constructively manage his relationships throughout his formative years.
I posted this piece on my former blog a little over a year ago, but as the madness of May 2013 is in full force and as we approach the year marker of my father-in-law's death, I decided to share it again:
I do understand that the NCAA coined the term March Madness for the flurry of college basketball games played throughout the month, however, I do not think this kind of madness holds a candle to the madness that most mothers feel in May. For one thing, if you have any campers, the stacks of camp forms (which include having up-to- date physicals) are due. Spring sports are in full swing and this year, between my two boys (one of whom was rostered on four baseball teams, yep four) we were at a field, sometimes two, almost every night of the week and on weekends. My youngest daughter plays soccer and because they weren’t going to be able to have a team for her and her buddies if no one stepped up to coach…well, sure, I will figure out how to make it work. And I know so much about soccer! Not…never played a day in my life. And it is only two nights a week. What?! Not really sure how these logistics are going to work. And then if you happen to have high-schoolers like I do, it is finals prep time (and in my house, finals freak-out time), and if you happen to have a junior (soon to be a senior) like I do, let’s throw in the SAT or ACT tests this month as well!
Then there is a sprint for the finish at our kids’ school with events that I had never even heard of until enrolling my kids at this school: portfolio day, field day, staff appreciation day, 4th grade graduation, closing ceremonies for lower school, middle school and upper school (all on different days), baccalaureate (where the first graders—yep, I have one of those too—sing to the outgoing seniors). And, my daughter’s birthday party was also in the month of May, as well as my mother's 70th birthday. And oh, that Mother's Day in May idea...yeah...sure.
In addition to the above-mentioned mayhem, which made my head and heart spin on a very regular basis, this May was especially heart- wrenching for my family. My father-in-law, who fought a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer for 4 ½ years, passed away on May 12th (his 77th birthday).
The madness of May, however, did not allow much time for the necessary process of grieving. We took time to honor my father-in-law with a beautiful funeral and a three-day shivah (time of mourning when friends and family gather to support the family of the deceased). But before any of us were ready, the kids had to take their finals, return to their sports, my husband had to return to work, and we all had to return to the plethora of other events sprawled all over the calendar. And I had to continue to guide the ship, and keep everyone moving in the right direction, which at this point was getting through the end of the school, helping them study for finals and finish up final projects, trying to keep their spirits up but also supporting them in their grief. I also needed to be there for my husband, who seemed to be in a state of shock and needed the space and time to digest all of this. And quite honestly, there were days that I didn't think I could do it all; days that I wanted to run for the hills!
I felt consumed by grief, my own and everyone’s around me, and in making sure that everyone else was okay. This is when I knew I needed to, in addition to taking care of them and their needs, I needed to find a way to take care of myself. I went back to teaching the high energy yoga sculpt classes that I love and to my writing.
We all got through the next few weeks and found our way to the end of the school year. My kids did fine on their finals, they contributed on their sports teams, and we managed to find time to talk about Papa and how we will miss him. The last day full of school was Friday, June 1st and I felt a certain lightness as May had turned into June--summer was here and we would all have a little break from the madness. But this lightness did not last long. Five of my son’s friends came home with him from school that day. They were all playing wiffle ball in the back yard and I asked them if they wanted to go to the pool. Some said yes, and some said no. They took a vote. Going to the pool won.
The boys, my youngest daughter and I all piled in my car and drove over to a nearby pool. They played basketball and swam. We had been there for about an hour and I was talking to a friend when I heard a whistle blow three times. Kids scurried out of the pool. My heart stopped as I watched a lifeguard pull out, what looked to me like a lifeless little body, from the pool. A boy, 6 years old, a kindergartener at my kids' school, attending a birthday party. The rest of the details still haunt me, and writing them down is just too painful. But when I settled into my car with my group of kids, we prayed. We prayed for Nicolas. We prayed for a miracle. But not long after we left, we sadly found out that Nicolas was dead.
Witnessing the two deaths, one of a loved of and the other, a horrible, tragic death of a child, my heart exploded into a zillion pieces and I have been working on putting it back together since. My kids fill me up with so much love and joy, my husband is slowly smiling a bit more, and thank g-d for my amazing family and friends. Not long after the pool event, we took an Alaskan cruise with my side of the family, during which ironically it was rainy, windy and cold for 90 percent of time. Then, we sent our teenagers off to their amazing camps, and my sister and I planned and pulled off a surprise 50th wedding anniversary for our parents.
It is mid-July now, and I am trying to take it one day at a time. The days and nights are calmer; the pace is slower, and a lot less frantic. I am ever so grateful for this time to think, to write, to teach, to grieve and to let go. Grateful that I don’t have to rush off to work every day no matter what is going on, as so many moms do. Sometimes in the midst of those ever-so chaotic times when the world is moving faster than you feel like you can grasp, when life seems to throw you curve balls that you are not able to dodge, I would say that as a mother, it can be very tricky. As you deal with your own pain and fear, you must deal with your children’s as well. And each child processes life’s curve balls differently, and they don't really tell you what their process is, because most likely they don't know. Some like to talk about how they feel, some internalize, some move to anger, and others want to pretend that everything is fine.
As a mother, it can be downright excruciating to try to help navigate your child through their process of grief, as we are not even always sure how to direct ourselves. But in the spirit of yoga, my advice would be to stay present, be honest with your feelings, take time to heal, and believe in your heart of hearts, and share with your children, that “this too shall pass.” Life can be complicated, scary and often does not make a whole lot of sense, but hang onto those you love, and somehow, some way, your world will come back into focus even though it may look and feel slightly or significantly different.
“Mom and dad, you are the ONLY parents of my friends who won’t let their kid get a cell phone! You are don’t trust me, do you?! You are being over-protective and unfair!” Well, it’s a good thing Bill Gates isn’t his dad (hmmmm…actually, not so sure about that...) because Bill Gates has heard all that from his own kids and still makes them wait, by today’s standards, a very long time to get a phone.
Today was a big day for me. As I was doing some research on the “right” age for kids to get a cell phone, I came across an interview with Bill Gates that made me feel much better about "torturing" my children by making them wait longer than the majority of their friends to get a cell phone. Bill Gates told Matt Lauer on the Today Show (very end of the interview) that the appropriate age for a kid to get a cell phone is 13. Yes, 13!
But as you can probably guess, Mr. Gates is most certainly in the minority. According to a 2010 National Consumers League survey, “Nearly six out of 10 (56 percent) of parents of “tweeners” (children aged 8-12) have provided their children with cell phones.
Over the past six months, my 11-year-old has launched a campaign to be included in the 56 percent. He has begged, pleaded, cried and added on to the above-referenced sales pitch, “Mom, Dad, I HAVE to get a cell phone! Every other person in my grade has one except for like one or two kids! I REALLY NEED to get one! PLEASE!! I will work to pay for it and will get straight A’s in school! I promise!”
It was not the first time I had heard this speech. He must have borrowed the script from his older sister and brother, who both gave us the same Oscar-winning performance when they were around his age. What I have come to realize over the years is that even though Mr. Gates mandates that 13 is the magic number for his kids and I too agree that waiting is better, this is a very complicated issue for parents and children.
The reality for kids today is that they do feel extremely desperate when it comes to owning a cell phone. They are either “in” or “out” of the ever-so-powerful cell phone club—a club that is not necessarily linked to money or status, as cell phones have become much more affordable for families. So why does this club have so much power? This power is about connection. Kids have an increasing, almost frantic need to be in constant contact with one another. And furthermore, the various forms of social media provide a multitude of avenues for kids to feed this somewhat addictive need.
Whether they are texting, face-timing, instagramming, facebooking or vining, they are connecting with one another at the speed of light. This power of communication and the instant, almost incessant connectivity with their peers keeps kids in the know. To be outside of this circle of knowing is a dreaded, isolated place to be.
All three of my children were probably one of the last of their friends to get a cell phone. My oldest was almost 13, second was 12 and now my third is 11 (and yes, we did cave, sorry Bill, but resisted getting him a smart phone). My youngest daughter, who is 8, is already starting in, “But I am going to have to talk to my sister when she is at college next year, and some of my friends already have them.” I remember when she was in kindergarten and a few of her 6-year-old friends had phones because both parents work and they wanted to be able to be in touch with their kids.
While I do understand that many parents purchase cell phones for their kids at young ages for safety reasons, and it is very convenient to be able to communicate with your kids via cell phone, I have been/am in no rush to make this purchase for my kids for a few reasons. One, we did not want to indulge our kids just because everyone around them is indulging or being indulged, we needed to feel that our kid was ready for the responsibility and that we were ready to give him that. The second and biggest for me is that I was/am in no rush to have them spend more time with their heads bowed, eyes focused downward and have them choose to connect with the screen they are holding in their hand instead of making eye contact with the people who are physically around them. No, I am not a big fan of this typical behavior exhibited by cell phone-bearing tweens/teens (and many adults, including myself sometimes). I am happy to report that even though we did allow our 11-year-old to have a phone, he is not really that into it (yet), does not carry it around with him all the time and actually often forgets it at home. My teenagers...well, that is an entirely different story!
I want to say to them and to their teenage counterparts, "Hey kids! Disconnect! Look around you! Look up at sky! Look at people in their eyes. If you want to talk to someone, call him or arrange to meet her in person!" The Pew study found that half of 12- to 17-year-olds sent 50 text messages a day (I think this number is probably much higher now) and texted their friends more than they talked to them on the phone or even in person. To me, this is sad and I wonder how this is affecting our children’s ability to talk to other people in person, face-to- face, eye to eye.
As parents, no matter what age we decide to give our kids a cell phone (and there is no real right or wrong). we can continue to emphasize the importance of in-person communication and to limit their time with and their dependence on their phones. Here are a few simple rules that I try to enforce with my kids:
1) No phones in the car. Let’s talk to each other.
2) No phones at the dinner table. Let’s talk to each other.
3) We keep my younger son’s phone charger in the kitchen so he leaves it there to charge when he goes in his room to study or to sleep.
4) If and when I feel that they (or I) need a BREAK from their cell phones, I simply say, “Hand it over, please.” (Sometimes I forget the "please.")