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.

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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Peace be with you

“Peace be with you.” These are words I have spoken countless times over many years – only on Sundays around 11 a.m., of course – but it wasn’t until very recently that I began to reflect upon what that phrase means.

The new pastor of our church wrote a greeting in our monthly newsletter suggesting we add something to our daily practices during the season of Lent, rather than taking something away. Her bulleted list included many activities that would be easy for families to do together, so my children and I considered the ideas and voted to share the peace every day in our own home.

I wrote “Peace be with you” on an index card with a black Sharpie and taped it to our alarm clock so that we wouldn’t forget this new daily ritual. Each night before bed, I look my boys in the eye, hold their faces, and say “Peace be with you” and smile as I hear them say it back to me. Then they face each other and do the same. This is the most touching part, because how often really would you see two boys, brothers no less, offering each other peace and hugging?

Sometimes at church, the passing of the peace seems rushed and devoid of meaning. It’s a race to shake the hands of everyone in the pews ahead of and behind us, and I’m often wondering, “Do my hands feel cold?” “Am I smiling enough?” “Did I already shake her hand?”

At the same time, this is one of my favorite parts of our Sunday church service. I would feel funny in my daily life to go about wishing peace to people, but it’s totally normal and expected at church. I’m already considered kind of out-there for being a vegan; I don’t need “hippie” added to my labels. But if I could wish my fellow humans anything in this world, it would be peace – peace within and peace without, a sense of being loved and comforted and blessed that fills each person until it overflows and radiates outward and lights up all of humankind so that we can trust each other and wish each other well.

Expressions of peace are common to many religions – they are the heart, really, of our relationship with whatever form of God we believe in – but even those without religious affiliation can appreciate peace. I’m hoping to work up the nerve to sometimes say “Peace be with you” rather than “What’s up” or even “Have a great day” to those I meet in my daily travels. And I vow to really mean it when I say those words each night to my sons, and to all of the people I greet and shake hands with on Sunday mornings.

 

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

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away. Divorced mom Adrienne gets pregnant after fooling around with a lonely mortician. He wants to marry her and raise the baby together, but she has other ideas. 

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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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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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I hope my kids will always be able to look up to me

“Mommy, I don’t want to grow taller than you. I always want to be able to look up to you,” my tween son told me last night. I’m sure he meant that literally, but I couldn’t help but take the message as a figurative one. Can I be a mom who will always be worth looking up to?

I give a lot of thought to what I can pass on to my children because I realize that I have limited time left in which their parents will be the central figures of their lives. Soon their friends will matter more, followed by girlfriends and wives. I can only hope that the seeds of what I’ve tried to plant in their hearts will take root and bloom.

These are the ways I hope to be a mother worth looking up to:

  1. Faith: My faith brings me comfort in this modern “I need proof” and “I need answers now” world. No matter what your belief system, just the thought that there’s something out there larger than ourselves that there’s a plan for us (though we may not understand it yet), eases the pressure to feel like I need to know it all. This leads me to

 

  1. Humility: Our privacy has been replaced by the overwhelming popularity contest of social media. For many of us, our jobs depend on what others think of us and how many people know and care that we exist. To be humble today takes an extra measure of self-control. Of course I hope you read this and enjoy it and comment on it and share it, but whether you do or not, does that have bearing on my worth as an individual? I need to say what I believe and live my live according to my principles, which leads me to

 

  1. Openness: I never want to offend anyone and I can see multiple points of view on just about any issue. I tend to be a private person as well, but two years ago, I adopted a “theme” for myself of Put Yourself Out There. This simple statement brought about so many wonderful changes in my personal and professional life that I became determined to stop hiding. Kids (especially firstborns) try hard to please adults, a habit I never fully outgrew, but now I accept that not everyone will like what I say, and that’s okay. My desire to respectfully be who I am leads me to

 

  1. Kindness: The comedian Louis CK in one of his hilarious skits pointed out the fact that even the most mild-mannered people can turn aggressive in their cars. I have been known to utter “What are you, an idiot?” (and much worse) while driving. I’ve had uncharitable thoughts about other people that I wouldn’t say out loud, but my goal is to not even think them. It is so easy to get caught up in our own egos that we forget the struggles and fears and tragedies that have molded the people around us. And going back to the principles of faith and humility, who am I to judge? My desire to believe in the innate goodness of people leads to

 

  1. Optimism: There are two ways you can go through life: believing that humankind is selfish and inherently evil, or that people (for the most part) do their best with the resources they have to be cooperative and generous. The filter you choose is the one through which you will measure everything that happens to you, both good and bad. The good things will seem less good because you’ll attribute them to chance, while the bad things will seem predestined, part of life’s agenda of screwing you over. Like everyone else who exists, I’ve had some really good parts of my life and some really bad ones too. It’s a decision I make every day, but I choose to believe the universe is fundamentally good.

There are so many things I could wish for my children: that they find good partners, do well in school, have fulfilling and well-paid careers, and become good parents themselves. But instead of wishing they become certain things that may or may not happen, I will try to nurture who they are right at this moment. I hope that regardless of height, they see my path as one worth taking.

 

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