If you are not wearing your apple watch or carrying your phone and you go for a nice long walk, do your steps even count? If you go with friends to hear live music and don’t take any pictures or videos or post anything about the experience on social media, did it really happen?
Since late February when I had the honor of being a guest on Jordana Green’s radio show to tell my story as part of National Eating Disorders Week, I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. The spring months have always been tricky for me, especially in the last several years. And while this spring has been filled with all sorts of wonderful transitions, they are transitions nonetheless; and change is not my strong suit. There are my internal changes that include, but are not limited to, a certain chemical combustion occurring within my body that cranks up my temperature to a mere 90,000 degrees (especially at 3 a.m.) and turns the thoughts in my brain onto a high-speed, continuous spin cycle, for which I cannot seem to find the "off" switch. And there are the external changes that include, but are not limited to surviving yet another senior spring break trip (can I be grandmothered out of the next two?), my oldest son deciding to head to across the country to California for college, my baby turning 11 (just days after a shower door fell on her and broke her wrist...I know, alert the authorities), my husband turning 50 (and yes, of course he recently joined a band), and my oldest daughter finishing her sophomore year of college and returning home for the summer.
So while the internal changes make it a little more challenging to roll with and enjoy all of the exciting external changes, I am doing my best (thank goodness for yoga). And although I am not blogging as regularly as I would like to be, I am still writing. A lot. Submitting 5,000 words a week to my amazing editor at She Writes Press so that my book on self-care for moms can head to the publisher and then finally into moms' hands.
And there are few other fun items to report: At the end of April, I had an incredible experience of being among dozens of Minnesota writers, comedians and musicians who performed at Rebecca Bell Sorensen and Laurie Lindeen’s Morningside After Dark Series.
The spring theme was “Melt With You” and the piece I read, “The Season of Melting and Letting Go” is published in The Mid (with a slightly different title) is about how the spring season parallels my process of letting my son, a high school senior, go. Lastly, I was hired to write a Mother’s Day article for AskMen.Com about how men can win the approval of their wife's or girlfriend’s mother. While I initially found it exciting to have a 20-something male editor email me and say that he thinks I would be a good person to write this and ask if I would be interested, when I began to write the piece, I felt something different…I felt old. But it also opened up my mind to how exciting the next phase of motherhood will (hopefully) be. Welcoming significant others and eventual spouses into the family —Even more “kids” to love!
But for now, and for the next several weeks of "May Madness," I will try to remember to breathe amidst the flurry of finals, baseball and soccer games, grad parties and another school year coming to a close. And on June 4th, when my oldest son walks down the aisle to accept his high school diploma, I will be cheering him on (most likely through tears) as he transitions from the first chapter of his life to his next. And I look forward to seeing what this next chapter brings...
"In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you." -Buddah
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.
This Is 17 It was 2 a.m. on a Tuesday evening and I tried to lay still but my mind spun and heart raced. I was replaying a conversation I had had with my 17-year-old son earlier that evening. It was one of those difficult, reality check, let-me-give-it-to-you straight types of conversations that included messages about the hard edges of life, how there really are no short cuts, that wanting something is usually not enough, that effort is almost always rewarding regardless of the outcome and how when you hit difficulties that seem insurmountable, you have a few choices: you can crumble and quit, or you can do everything in your power to try to help yourself achieve your goals.
Rewind. Play. Rewind. Play. I heard the words leaving my mouth, traveling across my office to reach him where he stood with his arms crossed at the doorway. I saw his eyes pull away from mine and the corners of his mouth turn downward. I knew these words/my words stung him.
Shoot the messenger!
I was overwrought with guilt for feeling like I needed to deliver these messages when I could see how heavily the toll of junior year was weighing on him. And these messages were not new to him. He has not only heard them from his parents but from teachers, coaches, and mentors who have cared about him enough to give him an extra push and some constructive guidance. And, most importantly, he has learned them himself—out there in the real world—succeeding, failing, picking himself up, succeeding, failing, trying again—just like the rest of us. I knew he had been listening and learning...but I told myself that I needed to make sure that he REALLY "got it." But after the words came out and I felt the regret sink in, I asked myself, "What does REALLY "getting" something mean at 17? What does it even mean at 47?"
I went into the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of cereal. Maybe the Wild Berry Clusters and Flakes would take away the pit in my stomach that accompanied the thoughts of, “You really screwed up. You didn’t need to say those things to him. You are putting even more pressure on him. He is going to crack.”
I knew that my intention was to ready him for the sometimes harsh world that periodically hurls daggers of disappointments at us, whether we are ready for them or not. And even though I had made sure to tell him that I have always and will always love and accept him exactly the way his is, I also told him that the world might not always be so kind; that colleges would only know him by his GPA, ACT score, and a 500-word essay. What I wanted to say, but chose to omit because I knew he would immediately roll his eyes and say very clearly, "STOP, MOM," was that the seemingly powerful people who will only know him by a piece of paper and will soon determine his fate (or at least where he is admitted to college) won’t know some very crucial things about him. They won't know that he bear hugs his younger brother every day and helps him with his homework without being asked; that he tells funny stories to his little sister when she has trouble falling asleep; that he drives his siblings to school every day; and that he loves and treats his friends like brothers. But I do know, and so does he.
And this is 17: Mothering him with unwavering love and support, but trying to determine when the unconditional love includes honestly and intentionally delivering messages that will help prepare him for the real world; helping him formulate his future plans while guiding him in the management of his the immensely growing number of current responsibilities and pressures; and slowly and gently turning the reigns of his life over to him as he moves toward exiting his boyhood dependence and responsibly embracing his adulthood independence.
And in the midst of it all, when I least expect it, I find myself staring at him. Wanting to slow down the clock, and maybe even rewind it to revisit a few moments of his childhood where I could hear him say, “Uppy, Mommy” one more time, or see his ear to ear grin when he impressed the whole neighborhood by riding his bike with no training wheels at 20 months, or to feel the warmth of his small, trusting hand clutching mine as I walked him into his first day of preschool. But I can’t because time is flying by at a pace unlike anything I experienced in his early years—before he drove a car, attended school dances, spent the summer in Israel, and began his college search—before he was readying himself to leave his childhood behind.
This is 17.
This Is Childhood
My eyes, damp with tears, veer away from my cereal bowl and fall upon the book that I had just received in the mail. I opened "This is Childhood,” edited by Randi Olin and Marcelle Soviero of Brain, Child Magazine, and was immediately pulled into its wonder and comfort, and into my own memories.
As I read through the 10 essays, each one representing a different age of childhood, 1 through 10, I felt an immediate connection with the writers and their stories, including local writers Nina Badzin (This is Three), Galit Breen (This is Four) and Tracy Morrison (This is Seven). Each essayist gives a unique, realistic and poignantly beautiful portrayal of what that particular age looked and felt like. Within their personal stories lie many universal themes like “three has an almost worrisome obsession with bandages that we parents accept for the speed at which they make tears go away” (Nina Badzin) that unite all mothers and make us nod our heads in unison, “Yep, mine did that too,” or “I felt the exact same way.”
I love this book and my only regret is that I didn’t have it sooner. My baby is 10 and I am already beginning to forget the “time stands still” moments that spill out onto every page of this book. And at the end of each essay, there is a prompt that encourages the reader to take a moment and reflect on what that particular age looked/looks and felt/feels like to them by zeroing in on a specific moment or angle like: “Is your little one more big or more little at age four? Capture the words and the faces, the jokes and the stories that make it so.”
My extremely inconsistent journaling and nearly empty baby books (not even positive that I have one for my 4th child) have left me with only fading memories of these years (wish I had started my blog 19 years ago!). But I think to myself that maybe I will try to resurrect some of these memories and jot them down in my newly treasured book.
But for now, it’s 3 a.m. and the few remaining flakes of my cereal rest soggily at the bottom of my bowl. My tears had dampened many pages of my new book as reading the deeply meaningful essays triggered the release of many sweet memories of my children’s early years; especially, those of my 17-year-old. I am baffled by the passage of time.
In returning to the thoughts about my earlier encounter with my son, I feel more at peace. The book reminded me that I have spent the past 17 years loving and guiding this green-eyed, loving boy who was well on his way to manhood. I knew he was going to be just fine. I knew he trusted me to tell him the truth, even if it stings a little.
But once in a while, it certainly would be nice to be able to revert to the fail-safe, take-the-pain-away-immediately band aide method. Unfortunately, however, this no longer works at 17.
Click here to order your copy of this wonderful book—Enjoy!
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!
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
This Friday Fave is an excerpt from Book #1 and deals with gaining a better understanding of why your teen acts the way she does.
“Troublesome traits like idiocy and haste don’t really characterized adolescence. They’re just what we notice most because they annoy us or put our children in danger.” (National Geographic, October 2011, Beautiful Brains by David Dobbs)
In a November 28, 2010, article in the Star Tribune’s Parade section entitled “What’s Really Going on Inside Your Teen’s Head,” the author, Judith Newman reveals “When my friend’s son—a straight-A student and all-around sweetheart—recently ended up in the hospital getting his stomach pumped because he went out drinking with friends for the first time and had now clue how much was too much, that is when I realized: There is just no predicting. Even for the most responsible kids, there is always that combustible combination of youth, opportunity and one bad night.” Newman goes on to explain, “Truth is, the teenage brain is like a Ferrari: It’s sleek, shiny, sexy, fast, and it corners really well. But it also has really crappy brakes.”
Researchers and scholars have been studying and writing about the adolescent and teen years for centuries. Aristotle characterized adolescents as lacking in sexual self-restraint, fickle in their desires, passionate and impulsive, fonder of honor and of victory than of money, and prone to excess and exaggeration (AC Petersen, BA Hamburg - Behavior Therapy, 1986 - Elsevier). More recently scientists and researchers have been analyzing the teenage brain in an attempt to find a scientific basis for teens’ frequent unpredictability, moodiness, carelessness, and an almost frantic desire to take risks.
Currently, there are some conflicting theories about the teenage brain. One theory states that a young adult’s brain is not fully developed until the age 25. However, Dobbs looks at recent research that sheds a slightly different view of the teenage brain. Instead of looking at the adolescent brain as an immature of a work in progress, Dobbs discusses a theory that closely resembles the principle of natural selection. The “adaptive-adolescent story,” as Dobbs calls it, “casts the teen less as a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.” B.J. Casey, neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College concurs, “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do then.”
Research reveals that the when a child is six years old, her brain is already at 90 percent of its full size by and that most of the subsequent growth is the thickening of her head skull. However, between the ages of 12 and 25, ”the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade,” according to Dobbs. During this time, the main difference between and adult and teen brain is that teens value rewards more than consequences and are thus more apt to make riskier decisions.
In a study that compared brain scans of 10-year-olds, teens and adults, while the participants played a sort of video game with their eyes, that involved stopping yourself from looking at a flickering light or “response inhibition.” It turns out that 10-year-olds fail at this almost half the time but teens, by the age of 15 could score as well as adults if they are motivated, resisting temptation 70 to 80 percent of the time. The most interesting part of this study, however, was in looking at the brain scans, the teens brains were virtually the same size as the adults but “teens tended to make less use of brain regions that monitor performance, spot errors, plan, and stay focused—areas the adults seemed to bring online automatically.” So, as it turns out, teens do understand risk, but value risk versus reward differently than adults. “In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.”
So the next time your teen does something really “stupid,” remind yourself that he is flexing his adaptive muscles. You can certainly set rules and limits on what behaviors are acceptable, appropriate and safe but know that there is more going on his brain than we may think. He will continue to push his boundaries, and according to this research, this is exactly what he should be doing.
Even though the above-mentioned principals make sense on paper, the reality of living through the adolescent and teen years with your children can be terrifying and maddening at times.
Here are a few pieces of tried and true advice that the moms I surveyed offered about managing the adolescent/teen years:
“We did (and still do) our fair share of "biting our tongue." There are so many times I want to tell them what they should do, or offer suggestions, but I think the times that we have sat back and let them make mistakes on their own have been good and have helped prepare them for the real world. I'm glad they made those mistakes while they were home with us and we could help support them.” (Mother of three children, ages 24, 22,18, married 26 years)
“My key strategy is TRUST! Trust your teenager until they prove other wise. They will respect you a lot more! I have seen parents who hover and get really involved. I have trusted my teenagers and when they get off track we re-direct, but I think they value my trust and genuinely want to hear what I have to say. It's the ‘I'm on your side’ kind of attitude.” (Mother of four children, ages 18, 16, 14, 12, married 19 years)
"I tried to allow them as much privacy as possible while also encouraging them to share as much of their lives as they were comfortable sharing. That was the only strategy I had. Fortunately, it worked. Of course, there were many difficult moments, or maybe I should say months, but generally I felt they knew what they were doing and I supported them as best I could. When the anger level rose to red, we walked away from each other, but never for too long." (Mother of two adult children, ages 42 and 40, grandmother of four, divorced)
Another excerpt from Book 1 on riding the teenage roller coaster:
A friend of mine recently told me a story about when he was in high school and he was all ready to go out for a night on the town with his buddies. He had a 12-pack of beer in the trunk of the family car and he was ready to roll. As he was saying goodbye to his mom, she suddenly said to him, “Hey Tom, I think I forgot something in the trunk, will you come out with me and help me get it?” “Ummm, mom, no, I gotta go! I am late to pick up Bob. I really gotta go now,” Tom said nervously. “I will do it when I get home.” His mom looked at him sternly and said, “No Tom, we will do it now.”
So, there went the beer and the plans for the night. Tom, who now has four kids of his own, can laugh about it today, and talk endearingly about his all-knowing mom, “I don’t know how she knew, but she just knew.” But Tom also revealed that for as many times as his mom knew, there twice as many times that she didn’t.
We all have these kinds of stories and then some. There were times when our parents figured out our meticulously developed, fail-safe plans to engage in stupid, and sometimes illegal teenage antics, and sometimes they didn’t and we got away with it. I bet it would be fair to say that the majority of you reading this have at least one “lucky-to-be-alive” teenage story that you have vowed to NEVER share with your children.
And this is exactly what scares us! We want our children to be able to live to tell (or not tell) their children their own stories about how they pulled the wool over our eyes . But we are too smart for any wool to be pulled over our eyes, right? We are MUCH smarter and clued in than our parents were. Maybe. But according to some recent admissions of my now 19-year-old, apparently, I missed a few things.
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!
“Let me see, the silent treatment works wonders, door slamming, disappearing into the cave, escape into alcoholic stupors, endless hours watching mind-numbing TV, extended shopping splurges. I wonder how my children are coping. All joking aside, we have lots of conversations, and it helps that my partner is a psychologist and adept at navigating this mind field much better than I am. I make all of my buttons available for pushing at any time. Both of my daughters know exactly where they are. In fact we are thinking of making a coat with the leftovers.” (Mother of two children, ages 11 and 15)
It was like in the movie Father of the Bride when Steve Martin is looking at his daughter across the dinner table and he sees her transform from a 20-something young woman to a little girl in pigtails who can barely see over the table as she tells him in squeaky voice, “I’m getting married.” That’s how I saw my daughter behind the wheel of the car. To this day, I am not certain if my unexpected panic about her driving came from my idea that she wasn’t ready to drive a car, or that I wasn’t ready to have her driving a car. Either way, this particular right of passage, especially with my oldest child, hit me like a ton of bricks. (This transition was hard in different ways with my son.) My daughter’s learning how to drive, and then driving on her own was like being on an airplane, stuck in turbulence, for a long, long time and you wonder if you are EVER going to hit smooth air again, or whether this plane is actually ever going to find its way to solid ground.
When my daughter was 15 and passed her driver’s permit test, I thought I would be excited for her and eager to have her practice driving with me. I would be the calm, cool mom, riding shotgun as her daughter cruises around town, both of us grinning from ear to ear, listening to our favorite music. I would be giving her friendly reminders to signal her turns, and to speed up when merging onto the freeway.
That was not even close to our reality. All was fine when we practiced in the empty parking lot at a shopping mall during off hours on a Sunday. But when it was time for her to get out on the road...”NOOOOO! STOP!” I couldn’t do it. Why? Because I was petrified that she was going to make a catastrophic driving mistake that would kill us both. And I couldn’t let that happen because I have three other children who need me! When I drive, and she is in the passenger seat, I am in control. But being her passenger was not going to work for me. I was unable to give her that control. Because I was afraid to let go. Or just afraid.
Of course I wanted her to drive. I should have been doing the victory dance that I would soon have another driver in the family. This would eventually make my life easier. But the fear of letting go combined with the fear for her safety (and mine) was a huge mental and physical roadblock for me.
Looking back at my own 16-year-old track record didn’t do much to boost my confidence in my 16-year-old new driver. As I recall (and my parents can confirm, although they would probably rather forget), I was involved in three accidents during my first year of driving. Two of which involved inanimate objects that simply neglected to get out of the way when my car got too close to them. Needless to say, I am probably not the best equipped to coach an inexperienced driver, given my disturbing memories of being behind the wheel at 16. I gladly turned the driving coach job over to my husband.
My daughter learned to drive. She got her license. I let go. But I continued and continue to cling onto what dupes me into thinking I have some control—my worry.
The first day of her driving independently was a milestone for both of us. As she put the car in reverse and turned to look out of the rear window while backing out of the driveway, undoubtedly bursting with excitement about her newfound freedom, I felt that my heart would burst out of my chest. I am not sure that this feeling stopped until I heard her pull into the driveway several hours later. Whether you are a g-d-fearing person or not, these are often the times when you make all sorts of promises to your higher power about how you will never question her again as long as she keeps your daughter safe on the road, ensures that all impaired drivers do not cross her path, and that she does not succumb to ANY distractions while driving.
Even after years of her driving, I still said a prayer every morning when my daughter got into the car with my three other children and drove them to school. “Precious cargo!!” I would yell as she tore out of the driveway, no longer quite as attentive to turning all the way around when she backed up, blaring her music way too loudly from her ipod, and leaving the house usually five minutes past the agreed upon departure time.
It is scary to let go. Really scary—but it is a critical part of our job description (written in very fine print). What I realize now, three years after my daughter joined the world of licensed drivers, is that the terror I felt in allowing her to drive a car was a necessary warm-up for all sorts of letting go that we parents must do with our teens. Each milestone is both necessary and exciting, and yet is often met with fear and uncertainty, especially on the part of the parent. And it may get a little easier with each kid, but the thought of my younger two driving makes my heart start racing immediately!
For the record, I have to admit that I am truly relieved that my daughter does not presently have a car at college. Just one less thing to add to the never-ending heap of motherhood worries that so many of us share.
I would love to hear about your experiences with your new driver or how you feel about the idea of your child driving a car some day. It's a biggie!
“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.
“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
People often say, “Girls are SO much harder to raise than the boys.” I have not found this to be the case. Through my own experience and in interviewing hundreds of mothers over the years, I have realized that there is nothing easy about raising teenagers in general. Now that I have sent my oldest daughter to college, the teenage boy is next in line, and I must admit, raising a teenage boy has thrown me lots and lots of unforeseen curve balls. One mother explains it like this, “Just when you think you have it down with your son, a teenage alien inserts himself into your son’s body and replaces your mamma-loving, sweet boy with a disgruntled, distracted boy/man who retracts into a universe of which you are no longer the center."
This can be a difficult process for moms.
The following is a list of the do's and don’ts of mothering your teenage son that I have gathered from my interviews with more than 400 moms and from my own experience. I hope you find them helpful. And please feel free to add your own insights in the comments section! I would love to hear from you!
- Continue to say, “I love you,” even when he stops saying it back (and yes, this hurts like hell but hopefully it is just a temporary hiatus for him).
- Love him unconditionally even when you don’t like him. He is testing out new behaviors/personas, many of which will be abhorrent to you (and you can tell him this gently), but remind yourself and him that beneath the behaviors resulting from his raging hormones, is a boy who you love dearly.
- Give him physical space. Really. He really does need to go into his room and shut his door and be left alone. And this does not mean that there is something “wrong” with him. (However, DO trust your instincts and if you feel that he is completely withdrawing from family and friends, then you may need to intervene.)
- Give him emotional space. EXPECT him to pull away from you! He must separate from you for all sorts of very important reasons relating to his transference from boy to man. Let. Him. Go. He will circle back eventually, but this is a crucial step to for him to establish himself as a young man.
- Ask questions (but not incessantly).
- Hold him accountable for his actions.
- Listen to him but hold firm to your beliefs.
- Maintain a united front with your partner! This is a MUST!
- Encourage and model self-care: good eating habits, exercise and adequate rest.
- Trust him until he proves otherwise. If he does mess up (and he probably will), then tighten the reigns until you feel that you can slowly start to loosen them again.
- Having said this, it is essential that you set clear boundaries, expectations and limits: Establish curfews, house and car rules, and give him responsibilities in your house or have him get a job. Make sure he understands what kinds of behaviors will and won’t be tolerated (respect is a biggie), and what the consequences will be if he crosses the line (taking a 16-year-old’s cell phone away is equivalent to sending him to San Quentin).
- Keep the lines of communication open. Even when your son gives you the message that you are the last person on earth that he would want to talk to about anything, continue to let him know you are there to listen. And continue to give him messages about what is important. Even when he seems to be tuning you out, he is quite often hearing you.
- Celebrate the ways in which he does let you into his life: the little things he chooses to share with you. He will continue to give you little nuggets that show that he still needs you and wants to be connected with you, but they may be few and far between.
- Maintain your calm to the best of your ability, even during tumultuous times with your son.
- Have a sense of humor. Look for opportunities to laugh with your son.
- Remind yourself that you are on the home stretch with raising this child. Make sure you are equipping him with the skills he needs to survive on his own.
- Take what he says personally. Grow 17 extra layers of skin (figuratively, not literally). Understand that he may lash out, say things he doesn’t mean, take his frustrations out on you, and be hyper-critical of you. You can (and need to) talk to him about how he must be respectful of you, but try not to personalize the things he says when he is feeling stressed or confused.
- Think that you need to know everything. You really don’t. This is another area in which our generation of hovering parents needs to chill. (Remember as a kid how our parents didn’t expect us home until dark, or on weekends didn’t call other parents to check on our whereabouts, and when we came home they barely asked where we were or what we did. O.k, well, we knew what we were doing and maybe that is what scares us, but we need to allow our children to feel some of that sense of freedom. It is a right of passage.)
- Compare your son with others.
- Over-praise or over-criticize him.
- Be afraid to let him make mistakes.
- Allow your son to hold you hostage—YOU are in charge.
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?
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 wrote this piece when my two oldest, now 18 and 16, were in the throws of adolescence.) As I entered the parenting arena 14 years ago, I began to hear all sorts of talk about colicky babies, the terrible twos, and the f-ing fours (sorry, that’s what my friends called it). But I noticed that people started to clam up a bit as their kids hit the earliest stages of puberty. When I’d complain about something my toddler was doing, like wetting the bed or throwing food at the dinner table, people with older kids would respond with a little chuckle, “Oh yeah, just you wait.” And that’s about all they would say. But they would be grinning…in an almost evil kind of way. Adolescence sneaks up on us and we are almost blindsided by it. It is a force that takes hold of our angelic kids and throws them into an internal turmoil, and one that lasts for years. Adolescents are sweet and kind, they LOVE you; you are the BEST! And then, with a flip of a switch, they HATE you! They are NEVER going to talk to you again, they wish they had different parents, they tell you that you are doing everything wrong, you have no idea how to parent, you do not understand them and that if only you would listen to them, then things would go smoothly. And for a split second you think that maybe they are right. You question yourself as a parent and as a person, “What have I done?!” You wonder if you are indeed qualified for this job. You know you are supposed to remain strong but you feel very, very weak--almost overpowered--but you can’t let them see that. You cannot show any signs of vulnerability or wavering because you know what they do with that! They pounce! And your son is on you once again, explaining with incredible articulation that if he doesn’t get to go to the concert that ALL his friends are going to without an adult chaperone, his life will surely fall apart. He will miss the most important event of his life and will never be invited to another social gathering throughout junior and senior high. His friends will tease him that his parents are over-protective and they will never want to come over to his house to hang out so he just might as well just quit school because he is not going to have any friends! And P.S., IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!
It is a very strange time, adolescence. It is a time filled with internal contradictions: A time of independence and neediness; growth and insecurity; confidence and fear; socialization and loneliness. It seems as though you almost have to be a mental health professional to understand how to guide your kids through this time. But do you? Are there some basic presiding principles for parents that can help us to not only survive our kids’ adolescence but to actually do some good during it? I am not a professional. I have four kids from the ages of 14 down to 4, and most of the time, I am learning as I go (don’t tell my kids). But I will share some things that I have learned over the years, and then will hand you over to a real professional who will share her insights and tips on raising adolescents by having a better understanding of them and what they are going through.
1) Don’t be afraid to say no. Setting limits and sticking to them is crucial to getting your kids to understand and respect boundaries.
2) Know your kids’ friends. Know their cell phone numbers. Look at their Facebook pages (as well as your own kid’s, of course!) Attempt to know the parents of your kids’ friends. And communicate with them. It takes a village to keep adolescents on the straight and narrow.
3) Communicate with your adolescent’s advisor or teacher/s. Find out how she is doing is school (not just academically).
4) Take every opportunity to talk with your child. Ask questions. Listen. Remember. Check in. And keep doing this. And when they don’t want to talk, come back later and try again, and again, and again. Do NOT give up on keeping the lines of communications open.
5) Remember to be the parent, not the buddy. They have buddies. They need parents to lead, guide, and advise them (even though they would never admit that). Not that you shouldn’t have fun with them—au contraire, have a blast! But first and foremost, be a parent, not a playmate.
6) Stay cool when they “freak out.” They need the comfort of seeing you stay calm when they are feeling out of control. A parent and adolescent both “freaking out” simultaneously… NOT a good thing (trust me, I’ve been there).
7) Show them love as much as possible. Even when they are “hating” you, they still need you to love them. And sometimes love comes in the form of tough love: “You can go to the concert with your friends under one condition; I will be sitting in the row behind you.”
So, there’s my stab at pretending like I know something about parenting adolescents. Who knows, maybe by the time my 4-year-old gets to be 14, I will look back on this advice and have a good laugh. But with a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, I am certainly in the throws of trying to figure things out in the adolescent arena (and yes, still dealing with the fun 4s as well…and then there’s my 7-year-old who will soon start to sneak toward the big A just as the older ones, oh please, are through it!). Thank goodness for professionals, right?! So, here is Katy McCormick Pearson who has worked with adolescents for the past 20 years as a special education teacher, Outward Bound Instructor, and currently as the middle school counselor at the Breck School in Golden Valley. Katy is also the mother of two emerging female adolescents:
Adolescence can be an exciting, turbulent, time for both parents and the adolescents themselves. An adolescent person experiences changes in physical development at the rate of speed unparalleled since infancy. An adolescent’s brain is not fully developed until a person is about 20-25 years old. The connections between neurons affecting the emotional and physical development are incomplete at this stage. Many adolescents have difficulty controlling emotions, impulses and judgment due to this incomplete yet ongoing brain development.
The upside of the adolescent brain is that teens are able to engage in more logical thinking. They can handle more options and possibilities in this stage of development and, therefore, can begin to grapple with abstract concepts such as faith, trust and beliefs. Many teens become activists during this stage in life and appreciate being taken seriously. They can be quick to see discrepancies with adult’s words and actions. There is a strong sense of a need for justice at these ages. Adults can help by including adolescents in developing rules and consequences for themselves. It is important to provide structure for adolescents especially since their judgment/impulse control is not quite effective and many have a false sense of being invincible when in the throws of adolescence.
The main task of an adolescent is to establish their identity. They are in a phase of life between childhood and adulthood. They are starting to develop autonomy within relationships, establishing their sexual identity and learning how to further interact with intimacy in all of their relationships. An adolescent’s body is often awkward as different parts align together. Many adolescents are self-conscious and a bit “me-centered.”
Parents can help by encouraging healthy eating habits, exercise, and allowing time for those growing bodies to have a good night’s rest. Don’t criticize or compare your adolescent to others. Patience and understanding is key when living and loving an adolescent. Parents will need to be “the bigger person” and not take many interactions with their son/daughter too personally. Remember that adolescence is a stage. Enjoy the journey together. Adolescence is a rite of passage and you are the guide.