On becoming the mother of a teenager

IMG_8473Today I became the mother of a teenager.

Even though I am a teacher to dozens of teenagers every year (or maybe because I am), I’ve looked to this day with some trepidation. I’d watch these kids feeling suddenly self-conscious about everything, blushing and awkward and growing taller than I am.

I know logically that today is no different than yesterday, but yet thirteen has hit me the hardest of any birthday so far. My son is undeniably growing up now.

The past few years felt like a comfortable holding pattern, with my kids somewhat capable and independent, but still very much little boys.

My son is easygoing and kindhearted and reliable. Sometimes he’s the one comforting me. When he saw me getting teary-eyed at his birthday dinner, he picked up a few crayons and started coloring as if to show me he’s still a kid.

Every morning when I open my classroom door, I see that the stalk of this amaryllis bulb has grown a little taller, and today, the red flower is about to open. How fitting to watch this flower blooming on the same day I am thinking of my son and his full potential about to burst forth.

 

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Kids and homework: Backing off is best

IMG_8237(I promise I was only hovering to take this picture!)

A recent study has been released that says helicopter parenting, especially in schoolwork, might backfire when it comes to promoting student success. You might think the most involved parents have the best students, but it’s not necessarily the case. Kids who never have to create their own task list and prioritize their assignments don’t develop the skills to do so. Kids who aren’t used to being held accountable don’t learn responsibility. Our best intentions in helping our kids stay on track can fall short.

I’ve been teaching for ten years now, and I have a few cases every year of students whose families I am begging to get more involved. The main thing I ask is that they give their children the time and routine to sit down each night and do their homework.

The issue I see far more commonly is parents taking over their kids’ school lives. I’ve had parents drive to school to drop off a paper that was forgotten at home. I’ve had kids whose parents make them flashcards or fill out maps instead of telling their children to do their own work. And worst of all, I’ve had parents berate me for punishing kids who cheated because it was “too harsh” to give them a failing grade on an assignment.

Being a parent and watching your kid struggle is heartbreaking; believe me, I get it. There are so many times I want to step in and somehow fix a situation, but I know that doing so is not helping my children in the long run. I have a special advantage as a teacher of seeing kids at all stages of development and this long view helps me realize that calling another parent to try to get a copy of a workbook page my fifth grader forgot at school is not going to help him pack his homework properly at school tomorrow because there was no consequence today.

These are the suggestions I offer at parent-teacher night (this is advice for kids in middle school and high school, not very young children):

  1. Make sure kids have a time and a place to do homework each day. Even if there’s no written homework, tell your children they will sit down for a few minutes to study new material. The routine is important, just like you need for any good habits in your own life.
  2. Don’t “rescue” them when they screw up. Trust me that forgetting a homework assignment provides a learning opportunity of small consequence that may prevent a much larger mishap later.
  3. If your child has a problem with a teacher, please encourage your child to talk to the teacher. I always tell my students to talk to me directly first. If that doesn’t solve the problem, their parents can talk to me. If it’s still not resolved, they should go to my boss.
  4. If your child is overwhelmed, take out an index card. Tell him to write down everything he has to do. Then number the list from soonest due date to farthest out. If there’s a lot to do at once, alternate between fifteen minutes of a “hard” activity with longer periods of easier work.
  5. Let your child know you love her just as much even when she goofs up. When parents try to prevent their children from making mistakes, it can make them fearful to try anything outside their comfort zone. It stifles creativity and bravery.

I do my best to think like a teacher rather than a mom when it comes to my kids and their homework. That doesn’t mean we never have nights of frustration and tears, but I do hope that keeping professional objectivity will pay off in the long run.

As always, please let me know what you think by commenting, and thank you for reading!

 

 

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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A thoughtful article about drone parenting (and you thought helicopter parenting was bad)

I just read this article by a parent who realized she was getting overly involved in her kids’ lives, especially their school work, and I shuddered when she said that often her first question to her sons after school was “What’s your homework today?”

Starting the after-school conversation with homework sounds cold and impersonal compared to “How are you?” or “How was your day?” which I always say first, but the second question I usually ask is “What’s your homework today?”

This mom said she micromanaged not because she was pushing her kids to excel, but because she realized her children were in that gray area of needing but not needing their parents so much anymore and she did not want to fail at parenting during this most critical time.

Like these parents, I could choose to look at my sons’ grades online every day if I want to (I don’t). She called this constant monitoring of her children “drone parenting,” and she gives some tips at the end of the article for how she stepped back and got back to being a more relaxed parent.

Since I’m a teacher, I sometimes feel an extra pressure for my kids to do well in school. After all, if I can’t help them stay organized, do their work on time, and get good grades, who can? I often advise parents to let their children become more independent and for kids to stop asking their parents to study with them, so I need to set the example by treating my own kids that way.

For the most part, I’m pretty hands-off when it comes to schoolwork, but every now and then I have that mini-breakdown where I fear I’m not doing enough (whatever enough is) and I start looking at my kids’ planners or their teachers’ websites to try to glean insight into what they’re doing every day in school.

I noticed I get more stressed out when I go into this mode and it doesn’t do anything helpful for my kids. Therefore, I vow not to be a drone parent!

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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The top 5 Momisms in our house

It’s that time of year… school has been in session a few weeks and we’re back in the daily grind: Get up, make breakfast and lunches, rush out the door for school, eat dinner, do homework, take showers, go to bed. The kids are exhausted already and so am I, and it’s only September. I’ve been wondering how I’m going to make it through the rest of this year. How are we going to make it through the next fifteen years?!

I find myself reaching for all of the “momisms” of my youth – those sayings that were repeated often in our house and became the backdrop of our daily life. In honor of my mom’s birthday today, I’m going to share a few gems from our house.

“Lord, give me the strength to raise four children.” This was not so much directed at us, the four darling children, but muttered as a plea to get through whatever we happened to be doing to exhaust our dear mother. I’m only raising two and I have the same feeling. I pray for strength on a regular basis.

“A family is a warm, safe, loving environment.” My mother said this whenever one of us was picking on a sibling. My brothers drove me to the point of tears at times and I remember often telling my parents that I wished I were an only child, but now that we’re grown, I don’t know what I’d do without my brothers. We are scattered over three states and don’t see each other all that often, but I know they have my back and I can call them anytime. When my boys are arguing, I remind them that they’re going to be friends someday, believe it or not. If my mom wanted to embarrass us and drive us out of the room, she’d amp it up by talking about “the bosom of the family.” Yuck!

“Only boring people get bored.” I hated to hear this. It didn’t make me stop feeling bored. All it did was irritate me. And wouldn’t you know it, now I say it regularly to my kids. I never have time to feel bored anymore, so I can see why my mom wasn’t too sympathetic to my plight.

“Fight sweetly, children.” This one came from my soft-spoken, genteel grandmother. My dad said he and his brother got along great, so I wonder why their mother ever had to say this? Hmmm….

“Go play in traffic.” This was technically from my dad, but I had to include it because we heard it quite often. My dad didn’t join in often with the trite sayings, but we heard this whenever our parents practiced that vile technique of ganging up on us. They were still outnumbered four to two, but it was much harder to get away with anything when they were both alert and paying attention to our misbehavior at the same time.

These tried-and-true phrases are very familiar in my own household because when I get tired, they just pop right out, no matter how much I vowed as a kid that I would never say such lame things to my children.

I’d like to leave you with this very funny video of a mom who’s managed to say everything that every mom has ever said to her kids. What are the momisms you grew up with?

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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It’s 10x easier to do it yourself (but you shouldn’t)

FullSizeRenderI decided this was the summer that my sons would learn to cut the grass. They would take over a job I’ve been doing since I was 12. It’s a task that’s half tedious and annoying, half meditative and relaxing. I’ve been looking forward for years to pass the reins.

My younger son embraced the challenge, but he’s an independent type, one who doesn’t like to be told “the best way” to do something, even if he’s never done it himself. Therefore, there are little mohawks and tufts of grass that didn’t get cut because my directive to overlap each row went unheeded. The tracks run a criss-cross haphazard path rather than the orderly farmer’s rows I create each time I go out to mow.

As I watched him work, growing impatient at times to be finished (how I know the way that last twenty minutes seems to drag out!), getting frustrated when he got into corners it was hard to get out of, and altogether missing a few areas, I thought how much easier it would be to do it myself. I could keep cutting the grass — it’s only an hour a week, and only for those few precious months of summer.

I could do it myself and look out my windows at a yard mowed by someone with years of experience, or I could put my perfectionism aside for the more important goal of seeing my son learn how to do something better with practice (there were fewer mohawks the second time). I can appreciate his pluckiness – even though his arm isn’t quite long enough yet, he wants to try to start the mower himself each time.

I don’t even remember how I learned to cut the grass. Knowing my dad, he probably just sent me out and said “figure it out,” which is how I got so good at doing a lot of different things. I can show my son that I have that same confidence in him that my parents had in me. When my sons do a cleanup job that wastes paper towels, at least they are cleaning up, and when the grass isn’t cut perfectly, it’s still getting cut, and that’s good enough for me.

The broken cup

I am a person of routine. I wake up at 5:40 without an alarm, make a cup of coffee, toast two pieces of raisin bread, spread two tablespoons of peanut butter on my toast, then have my toast and coffee with the same cup and the same plate every morning.

As you can guess, the cup is the one that’s all smashed up in the picture above.

One morning I used a different mug to make green tea because I wasn’t feeling well and I knew the tea would be soothing. My son was reaching up over his head in the cabinet to pull out a cup for his own breakfast and wouldn’t you know it, my favorite cup smashed all over the floor. He was extremely apologetic, and I told him it was okay, but I had to go into the other room where I burst into tears.

This was a cup that my mom had bought for me. It was handmade glazed pottery. It felt smooth in my hands and it was the perfect size and the perfect color. If you have a favorite coffee mug, you know the feeling I mean when the cup is just the right weight and the handle fits just right with your hand. This cup felt like it was made for me. I loved the soothing color of the glaze. I loved that it was a gift from my mother that I used every day and enjoyed so much.

My son picked up the handle from the floor and said, “This piece doesn’t have any jagged edges. We could put it in a special little box and save it.”

This is the moment I snapped back to reality and was thankful that I had a son who needed my guidance on how to handle broken things, because life is full of broken things.

“We’re going to pick up the pieces and throw them out,” I told him. “If we save the handle, every time we look at it, we’ll remember the broken cup. It’s just a cup and we can’t make a shrine to a cup.” Of course, I had to take a picture of my cup. I never would have thought to take a picture of my cup when it was intact because I took it for granted that it would be there to use every day. But after a few days, I deleted it from my phone, realizing I needed to let it go.

This happened a few weeks ago and I’ve moved on. I have a new favorite cup. It’s made in China and it’s not very attractive and I don’t feel like looking at Christmas lights in the summer, but it holds coffee and it does the job. I figure this cup will get broken someday too, and that’s okay.

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If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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When your children stop telling you everything…

This is me enjoying one of those bittersweet cuddle moments with my boys that I never want to forget. They are letting go and I am letting them let go, because I know they need to.

The other day when I picked up my ten-year-old son from the school bus stop, he looked preoccupied.

“There’s something I wanted to tell you, but I can’t because I promised my friend,” he said. I asked him a few questions about whether he was in trouble, the friend was in trouble, or it was something I really should know, but beyond a few vague reassurances, he clearly wasn’t going to tell me more.

I felt conflicted: proud of him for keeping his word, but sad that he is reaching the age where his relationship with his friends is growing more central than his relationship with his parents.

I remember being a teenager with three younger brothers and feeling like my inner thoughts were the only privacy I had sometimes. I used to look out the car window and daydream and feel smug that no one else knew what kinds of things I was thinking about. Most of the thoughts were about hopes and dreams, things I wanted to accomplish, stuff about my friends, and of course, boys I thought were cute. I didn’t spend too much time thinking about my family during those years. Maybe you could say it’s a good thing I was able to take them for granted in that ways.

As my sons get older, our periods of quiet time have grown longer. They used to tell me a lot more in a lot more detail, but now, other than when they feel talkative or sometimes really down about something, most of our conversation is like “How was your day?” “Good.”

Parents with older kids have told me to enjoy all the hugs and cuddling and hand holding and talking that my kids want to share with me now. As we all get swept up in everyday life, I try to stop and remember to hug my boys.

I’m happy they’re growing up. And sad. You know what I mean. Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers whose hearts are bursting and breaking all at the same time.

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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We are not a broken family

I have been heading a single-parent family for nearly six years now. I am a teacher, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in meetings and conferences while others lamented the fact that we have to deal with “broken families.” I think it’s a hurtful phrase and one that I’ve had to work hard to overcome. My family is not broken. While maintaining our family’s privacy, I will just say divorce was not a decision that was taken lightly.

My ex-husband and I have made many compromises and more importantly, made peace with each other, in order to be the best co-parents possible for our kids. Yes, there are differences in our parenting styles, but we discuss all major decisions and are in general agreement on the important things. We face the same issues we would have been dealing with if we were still married.

Just because a children’s parents are divorced, it doesn’t have necessarily mean the family is broken. Broken to me means deficient in a way that is beyond repair. We may not have two parents living together in the same house, but I still consider my ex and his family my family and I always will.

We are bound together for the rest of our lives by our two children, and I want to make the best of it. I am happy that it’s not awkward or painful to sit together at recitals or meet up to go trick-or-treating. We will not have to sit in separate rows when our children graduate or get married.

Although it’s a sad statement about our society that the divorce rate is so high, the most practical way to help children is to give them a sense of family no matter what its makeup. I support the institution of marriage. When it works, it’s a beautiful partnership. But there are other types of families that work too. We may not look like the Pajamagram picture above, but we’re still a whole, beautiful family!

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices.

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How to Have a Meaningful Parent-Teacher Conference

I’ve been on both sides of the desk for conferences. Some have been more successful than others, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the preparation beforehand that makes the difference. I’d like to offer a few tips on how you, as a parent, can get the most helpful information from your child’s teachers on parent-teacher conference day.

  1. Don’t bring your child with you (unless the teacher requests it): There are times it’s helpful to have a parent/teacher/student meeting, such as when strategizing study skills, organization, or other things where direct communication will facilitate a solution. However, unless you are meeting with that purpose, it doesn’t allow for as much information to be shared between parent and teacher. The dynamic is totally different because when there’s a student in the room, the teacher tends to talk to the student. There may be things I want to say to the parent that I wouldn’t say in front of their child.

 

  1. Ask the teacher how your child is doing socially: A big advantage of attending a school as opposed to home schooling or cyber-school is the social skills that students begin to master only by being forced to interact daily with their peers. For some children, the main stress of school has nothing to do with academics. By middle school, kids aren’t telling you much about their social lives, but their teachers may be able to give you some insight.

 

  1. Come with an open mind: As a parent, I have to remind myself of this often, but my children’s grades and behavior are not a reflection of who I am as a person. They have free will and will make mistakes and decisions that I don’t approve of. It doesn’t make me a bad parent. As a teacher, I remember this too. My goal in working with parents is to be a problem-solver, not a judge. If you are not willing to be open-minded about your child’s challenges, you may walk away from the conference feeling defeated instead of empowered.

 

  1. Bring specific questions or concerns: The toughest opening for a teacher is, “So how’s my kid doing in your class?” Since we only have a few minutes to talk, I’d like to know right away which areas are of concern to you.

 

  1. Share personal information when you can: There are times parents have called to report that a grandparent or a beloved pet recently passed away, there has been a change in home environment for a child, or they are overcoming a serious illness. All of this information helps teachers because students often look or act different in the classroom without explaining what’s bothering them. It’s especially important to tell teachers if your child has been evaluated for learning disabilities or health issues. As a teacher, I have worked as a partner with parents in monitoring kids with food allergies, asthma, and changes in ADHD medication. We are the eyes and ears when you can’t be and can often provide information that will aid you and your child’s health care provider.

 

  1. If your child’s teacher doesn’t provide some positive feedback, please ask for it: The last thing you want is to walk away from a conference feeling sad or hopeless about your child’s school experience. Even kids with the toughest behavioral or academic challenges have redeeming characteristics and good days that we as teachers can point out. If your child is unhappy in school, you may be the emotional dump at home who hears about all the things that went wrong during the day. You didn’t get to witness your children having fun with their friends at lunch or delivering a great presentation to their peers or answering a question that stumped everyone else in the class. We need to focus and build on these little victories together.

 

  1. Tell your teacher what works well at home and what you need help with: You may feel like you’re on your own once your child gets home, but teachers often have tips that may help studying and getting organized at home go more smoothly too. If getting out the door in the morning is an issue, or getting homework done before ten p.m., please ask. Many of your children’s teachers were or are currently raising children. I feel fortunate to have that “insider’s perspective” on how best to work with my children academically and I’m more than happy to share my thoughts because happy, well-prepared students make my workdays pleasant.

 

  1. Take notes: Especially if you are meeting with more than one teacher, you will be hit with a lot of information, too much to process all at once. Taking notes gives you an opportunity to look back on what you learned, possible areas to follow up with the teacher on later, and a chance to see patterns (maybe your child always forgets homework that’s due on Monday, or something else that you may be able to adjust).

 

  1. Tell us what your child loves to do at home: Parents have told me about non-academic skills their children have, unusual hobbies, or passions that lie outside the classroom. When I know these things, I can work to connect them to what I teach, making school more interesting for students and helping them feel like they are essential people in the classroom.

 

  1. Ask your child if he or she thinks there is something you should ask or address: Teachers encourage their students to be advocates for themselves, but there are times kids feel intimidated to talk to a teacher about something. A parent can be the intermediary, at least to get the conversation started.

 

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.

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Photo credit: stock photo by patrisyu http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

Why clinging to the past (or the future) makes you suffer

Being a parent forces you to constantly be aware of the passage of time. Your life runs to the rhythm of school years and holidays and sports seasons and annual checkups. Parents feel it, and kids feel it too. I don’t know how many times my kids have said they can’t wait for this day or that trip or alternately, that they don’t want summer to be over or to grow up too fast.

If you haven’t seen this video about the girl who doesn’t want her baby brother to grow up because he’s just sooo cute, it hits you in two layers. The first is how adorable she is (and she’s right about her baby brother). But there’s also a deeper undercurrent of the pain we share with her of wanting to stop time.

I recently read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle explains the difference between clock time and psychological time. Clock time is what you use to function day to day, to get places on time and do what you need to do. Psychological time is the attachment you feel to the past or the future, anything that is pulling you away from the moment you are in right now. Psychological time can bring suffering because you are either comparing now to the past and finding it lacking, or you feel that you need something in the future to make you happier.

The girl who doesn’t want her baby brother to grow up was experiencing the pain of living on psychological time. I see it in my own life as well. I am flooded with old emails that I don’t want to get rid of in case there’s an important memory I’ll lose. I sometimes feel sad when I look at family pictures, even though they are from happy events, because I long to relive them or to be younger (or especially to see my kids be younger again).

When we hold on to the past like this, we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to fully experience the present. By lamenting about how short the summer seems or how quickly a vacation passes, you are robbing the event of its enjoyment by anticipating its end. If you are a planner like I am, you might spend a lot of your present time with your thoughts on the future. People say I’m “organized,” or but it’s really a form of anxiety about things that haven’t happened yet.

Since reading Tolle’s book and watching Sadie cry over her baby brother, I am trying to keep re-centering myself in the present moment, to stop dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. I hope that my kids see a difference in my attentiveness toward them and that they too practice living in the now.

As Oogway says to Po in Kung Fu Panda, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel, Giving Myself Away.

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