Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Most Important Lesson for Teens

Recently a friend and I were talking with some teen girls about relationships. “Do you get along with your parents?” we asked the girls. “Yes, but not always,” they said.

We pressed them. “When do you fight?”

The answers came easy: “When I don’t clean my room.” “When my siblings and I argue.” “When I talk back.”

“Why do you do these things?” we asked.

The girls paused. These answers needed more thought. The girls weren’t sure why they do these things. Behaving a certain way comes naturally, but explaining why we do what we do isn’t always easy.

“I fight with my brother because he annoys me.” 

“I talk back because I am frustrated.” 

“I don’t do chores because I don’t want to.” 

Then one girl chimed in and summed it all up for us:

“We’re teenagers! We’re supposed to act this way! We’re angry all the time!  We’re lazy!” They all agreed that this was their lot in life, at least for the next few years.

It was disheartening.  These were other people’s children, the peers of my own teens.  I didn’t like that they were describing themselves like this, because I don’t see my children this way.

* * *

One of the most important truths in parenting, and one that has stuck with me from the moment I read it is this:

The way you talk to your children becomes their inner voice.

What do kids hear that makes them accept that they are angry and lazy? The teens I know show up to school every day, go to class, do their homework, appear to be clean and well groomed, care for expensive electronics, maintain friendships, have reasonable relationships with adults, juggle hobbies and extra-curricular activities and family time and vacations, and maybe have a moment of snark or a messy room, but for the most part live their full lives well. These are people who carry on lively conversations, are active most days and nights, keep up with hectic schedules, and manage to do it all and stay healthy in the process. 

These are not markers of the lazy.  Their laughter, carefree attitudes, and occasional silliness do not scream “angry.”

It saddens me that teenagers still receive the message that they are awful to be around, that they still internalize labels like Angry and Lazy. Every new parent has worried about parenting teenagers. Comments like “I’m scared of them” “I’m not ready to deal with their issues” “I don’t even want to think about the teen years” “I want to keep my kids little forever” – all are prevalent in casual conversations with anyone who has an opinion on parenting teens. 

The truth is that kids adapt and change with age like all current adults have done, like we continue to do. As children grow older, they are able to understand more of what adults understand. It’s something that adults might forget because the process of growing and aging is too close. How many parents take time to examine who they were as teens and remember how they felt and behaved without the haze of their current hang-ups blurring the view?

Teens aren’t lazy or angry; they are in the process of learning that they are free to make choices apart from the constant monitoring of parents. They have a choice to do chores or avoid them, to argue or agree, to stay silent or express their opinions. Adults don’t have as much control over teens, because teens are realizing more control over themselves. But teens aren’t fully adult yet, and they still need guidance.

* * *

I’ve learned that this is my time to walk closely alongside my teens and not carry them or follow them with arms out ready to catch them when they fall, or drag them along by the hand, or insist on redirecting their behavior. The teen years are the gray area of parenting, the nebulous and one-size-fits-no-one years. They are the important years, because they are also the hardest.

As kids get older, they need their parents more than ever.

I’m not a perfect parent. I’ve told my kids to stop being lazy, to shape up and do what they’re told, to cut out whatever behavior is annoying or frustrating me at the moment. I’ve said disrespectful things to them that I later regret, and usually apologize for. I do these things less often as we grow together, as we all get older and wiser.  As I realize that they are modeling their own behavior on mine, I’ve learned to behave better.

I’m learning to be a better parent to my teens for their benefit and for mine. Just as I read baby books and tried out various ways of child-rearing when my kids were small, so am I continuing my education as they get older. As a parent and a person, I am improving. I only have two kids, and that doesn’t make me an expert on parenting or children.  I am learning how to raise the two children under my care using the best of my ability and resources, and it is often a trial-and-error process. My goal is to send them from this place emotionally strong and secure, self-confident and sure in their own skills, with a sense of who they are in the world and how they can contribute positively to it.

It’s a tall order. I’m not sure that I would have taken the job had I been able to see this far into the future. Normally I’m not up to that big of a challenge, if I can clearly see the obstacles ahead. But I took on the responsibility, and I am committed to it. 

This means that I will not accept that teenagers are angry and lazy. I will not agree that they are difficult to manage. I do not think that they are alien beings that took over the bodies and brains of former young and cute cherubs. They are great, cool people who are excited to discover something new, who are full of life and the capacity for love, who eagerly try out new freedoms and who can teach me to do the same. I enjoy them immensely. My role is to walk beside them into adulthood, to work out a way to relate to them without being overbearing, to protect them without suppressing, to encourage them when they fall and cheer for them when they get back up again.

And above all, to love them.

My kids need me as their parent; that will never change. I can do a lot for my own teens and others who come into my life, but at the core of what I do for them is love them, which is what I’ve always been able to give children of any age. It’s also what I believe they need to hear, especially now. If they get through life knowing that they were loved, then I have done my job well.

The most important thing a teen will learn is love.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Not That Into It

Every election year reveals more than a few zealous political fans. This one is no different. You don’t have to go very far to hear someone’s opinion of this or that presidential candidate, including who is the worst liar, the rudest, the dumbest, which one is the craziest clown and most fun to watch or make fun of, and who is the most evil out of all the Beelzebubs running.

Following these views, you are reliably informed of said person’s opinions on important political topics at hand, quickly followed by more talk of lying and cheating, as well as restated invectives against who they think is the biggest criminal running for president.

Everyone is aghast at our nation’s choices.

And all of Canada sighs in smug satisfaction with its sexy, sweaty, seemingly superhuman new Prime Minister, his legacy already a legend.

I remember overhearing a conversation among adults when I was in elementary school, back when a presidential election year was just a regular year for kids, not a year of education about our nation’s election process and political manipulations as well as indoctrination into parents’ most passionate causes.

“I’m afraid to vote for Reagan,” I eavesdropped.

Why? Did this Reagan fellow have nuclear war on his mind?  This was my primary concern as a child in the 1980s, which was cemented when hearing about and seeing too much of the TV film The Day After (a close second was seeing a ghost). Would my parents be drafted to fight? Would I become an orphan? I was a small-town girl, too soft for a life epitomized by hard knocks.

Owing partly to the fact that I was a sneaky Pete who was listening in on a conversation that I was definitely not invited to, I knew better than to ask my parents how one political aspirant could be scarier than another. I knew I would not receive a kid-friendly explanation if I pressed, and I wasn’t sure I wanted one, anyway. I preferred to let the grown-ups handle the complicated, high-level decisions as I brushed my Barbie’s hair and contemplated which of my two Ken dolls she would be making out with later.

And Reagan became president, and the earth continued to spin.

I wonder if anyone realizes that conflagrant political candidate conversations happen every eight years, or sometimes just every four in America. I wonder if they remember a time when they were afraid of who ended up governing this nation.

I wonder how that fear made a difference.

I spend a lot of time on Facebook hiding the posts of friends who proclaim a strong political stance. I have never been swayed in one direction or another by someone’s fiery opinion on anything in social media. I also haven’t watched any of the “debates,” a term I use loosely if anyone who’s watched can be believed. It’s too early for that, I think.

All the arguments and shouting matches that  people laugh at and poke fun of – emphasizing  the ridiculousness of the people running for president, naturally – I’ll take a hard pass. I prefer to preserve a sense of respect for the office, not watch it like I would a pro wrestling show, consuming it from the cheap seats as I munch from a bowl of popcorn and try not to choke when someone says something shocking. I was never a fan of trainwrecks, and besides, one of these is a person I will be expected to support if elected. Why would I join in at pointing fingers and laughing at a person who might be leading my country later?

The grown-ups don’t seem to be handling the complicated, high-level decisions very well so far.

I’ll wait until near the end to prepare for my turn at the voting booth, when information has been distilled to a more manageable and less chaotic level, after the candidates have more practice being candidates and less like competitors in the most outrageous performance art category. It happens every election year. Maybe this year will be different and the calm will never come; this world is surprising.

For now, as the earth spins, I will hold onto what is real: my own beliefs and opinions of what’s most important, what I’m teaching my family, and what I have to do today.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sweet, Sweet Slumber

How much sleep does a person need to feel human the next day?

Depending on who you ask, the number of hours varies wildly. I know people who freely admit to needing 8 or 9, and those who claim they can get by on four, even less. These guys are clearly insane. I’m in the 8 hour club. I can get by on less, and I’m not cranky when sleep-deprived, but I will nap later. Don’t bother me.

Parents cry over missed sleep. My husband and I went through the usual years of sleepless nights – feeding and crying and vomiting and nightmares – but our kids were pretty good sleepers, naps and all. I believed for a long time that my son would still take naps if it weren’t for school. They went to bed early and woke early, which was a problem if I stayed up late. And until they were in early elementary years they went through phases where one of them could be found standing over my blissfully-dozing form at three in the morning a couple times a week: “Mom? I got awake.”

Now that they’re t(w)eenagers they’re back to taking naps, and they stay up later than me, despite my repeating go to bed go to bed go to bed. They don’t bother me in the wee hours anymore, for now. I guess this will change when they start going out at night, at which point every single seasoned parent tells me I probably will not sleep until they are safely home. But for now, if I don’t get enough sleep, it’s my fault.

Like last weekend, for instance. We stayed up late one night with friends, and the next night I stayed up late to watch TV. I added up the hours slept and it was well under what I am used to, so I went to bed super early the next night to make up for it. And the next. And the next. And the next.

I’m finally caught up.

Does it work like that? Can stealing time from normal awake time to sleep really make up for sleep time lost in the past?

It works for me.

I wonder if it works the other way around – like, if I sleep extra hours now, by the time my kids start going out all hours of the night, rendering me sleep-deprived while they run wild through the world sowing their oats, by then I will be able to get by on less sleep, allowing me to rip into them with all my faculties when they turn up 17 minutes late after curfew.

It’s a good plan.

Time for a nap.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #2: Write a blog post inspired by the word sleep.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Clearly I Have a Problem

Easter is almost here, you guys. 

You know, the second-best candy holiday, after Halloween.

I grew up a candy-holic, like most of my family members. We get our sweet teeth directly from the elder members, who encouraged candy consumption at any time and without limits. We could count on bowls full of sugar being proffered on the regular. Rarely a family gathering ends without the mauling of a Costco-sized bag of candy by children and adults alike.

And all the dentists shouted AMEN.

This sort of upbringing lends itself to intense sugar cravings, because anyone who’s anyone knows that sugar is a bad, bad, man for addictive types. 

It also lends itself to a person knowing exactly what she likes when it comes to candy.

I am generally a non-discriminatory candy eater. I will eat a half-dozen jelly orange slices just as blissfully as I would savor a small piece of the finest Swiss chocolate. But I do have some favorites, candies that I regularly snag at the gas station, scoop in bulk at the grocery store, and hide from my grabby sugar-addled monster children.

Here are just ten of my favorites:

1.  Red Vines. You can buy giant bags of Red Vines in short lengths as well as movie-sized boxes in longer lengths, but these are a rip-off. Purchasing ten long plasticky red-flavored snacks for a dollar when you can get 48 ounces of short ones for three bucks is not a sound financial decision. They will hurt your teeth and your stomach the same after eating four in a row, but oh, the satisfying chew of these questionable treats. Are they strawberry? Cherry? I don’t even care.

2. Skor. If you don’t bite into the waxy chocolate top just hard enough to break the chocolate but not the toffee, and then slide the chocolate off carefully with your top teeth, eating the chocolate first and then the toffee, then don't come around here anymore until you learn how to act.

3. Butterfinger. I love Butterfingers so much that I don’t even mind that they stick to my teeth for hours afterwards. I almost can’t talk about them, I love them so. They’re chocolate and some sort of peanut buttery layered delicious crunchy stuff. My kids don’t share them at Halloween and this is the number one reason why I regret having children.

4. Cotton Candy. One of the best parts of summer, because it’s everywhere. I will mow down a linebacker for a fresh cone of cotton candy. I’m not sharing get your own.

5. Cadbury Mini-Eggs. Guess what, Rodney? They make these in dark, white, and milk chocolate flavors now. This genius decision by the Cadbury Mini-Egg people leads me to believe that they probably have a pretty solid world domination scheme in the works.

6. Good & Plenty. My favorite bulk buy. Scoff if you want at my love for this sweet and black licorice treat, but the fact that you think G&Ps are the worst guarantees that there will be more for me. That’s how that works, losers.

7. Pretzel M&Ms. I haven’t eaten these in years, because for a while I was buying the Big Bag once a week and consuming the whole thing all by myself. I quit them cold turkey and dream about them every single day, but I’m not safe with them around.

8. Laffy Taffy. I craved grape Laffy Taffy when I was pregnant, and ate it like it was candy. I’m not altogether sure what it is, but I still love it more than you love your middle child. I also ate a can of Chunky Chicken Corn Chowder like it was my last meal every day when I was pregnant, so make your own conclusions about the quality of my pregnancy cravings.

9. Bit-O-Honey. This is a nostalgic one – my grandparents always had a bowl of BOHs in their dining room. They were hard as rocks, and we’d eat them one after another, testing our fillings and scattering the red and yellow wax wrappers all over. Then we’d climb the walls and Grandma would offer us donuts and root beer.

10. Chocolate-covered pomegranates. Currently plowing through an industrial-sized bag of these myself, because no one else in my house likes them. They make me feel fancy because they come in a fancy package, but everyone knows that they’re just chocolate covered fruit snacks, which hello, kids’ fruit snack companies, you really missed the boat on this one.

I didn’t even begin to cover my love for the chocolate-caramel-nougat-nut combinations in every candy bar on the market. It’s criminal, and maybe even a little bit sick.

My stomach hurts.

This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #1: List your top ten favorite candies.