Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tips From A Parent Of A Wildly Spirited Teen

Once upon a time, not so long ago (only a couple of weeks, actually) in a land that is exactly where I live, a teenage child got caught doing things thousands of other children have done, world -wide, a thousand times over. This child, though otherwise a good kid, made some poor choices, and had to suffer consequences… grounding, loss of privileges, loss devices and of course, loss of social media.

Because of said unruly behavior, this mom decided to see what else she didn’t know about her child’s life. You see, this mom was an involved mom. This mom thought she knew the friends, and the activities, and the places of usual presence. This mom pushed for good grades, hard work, kindness, good behavior, clean rooms, and high aspirations through hopes and dreams. This mom was a good mom. This mom was there for her kids and thought she paid enough attention. And still, this mom missed some things. And in this time, with this child, this parent learned. She learned, and she shared…

1. Be very aware of “the friends” and listen to what other people have to say about them. Know who your child is associated with, and know that any stories you hear, in whole truth or not, come from somewhere. Listen to the stories and make your own judgments. Use your parental gut, and know that’s it ok to restrict your child’s access to the time spent with certain people.

2. Know that kids are growing up at double the pace (if not faster) than we did as children. Barbies and toy cars disappear faster than they used to. Children are not aware, beyond their own narcissistic tendencies, that they have their whole lives to be an adult, and they are choosing to leave behind simple childhoods in exchange for adult behavior.

3. Children tell half truths and are experts at lip service to tell you what you want to hear in order to get what they want. I am sure my child is an expert negotiator and defense lawyer, and it began YEARS ago. Be a better arbitrator and prosecutor. Be okay with saying “no”. They won’t hate you forever despite their words.

4. Check your child’s social media and devices. This is a sticky one. It invades privacy and places a cautious dynamic of trust between parent and child. Care less about that, care more about knowing what activity your child participates in and keeping your child safe. Do research on current popular applications and know what is on your child’s phone. There are a thousand articles, sites, and links to every app, how to use them , including the dangers. Get educated and then decide the amount of information that is right for you to know. Children are being bullied, becoming bullies, sharing photos, and having conversations that may shock you. Learn what side of the fences your child stands on, and then for heaven’s sake… talk to them about it.

5. Spend some time at your local police department and ask questions. Know what today’s drug of choice is, know what it looks like. Listen to the knick names, know what’s out there. You will be shocked, I promise.

6. Know that no matter how involved you are, you may miss something your child is into. It happened with our parents and their parents, and probably the parents before them. We are parents, we are a community. Lean on each other. Instead of passing judgment on another’s parenting, share stories, experiences, and offer to help. Do not fall into “keeping up with the Jones’s”, “not my child” syndrome, or worry of judgment.; just be a good parent. It’s not simple, it’s not easy, but in the end, it is worth it. When your child is 35, and calls you to apologize for their childhood behavior as they deal with the same things with their own child, you will nod in satisfaction and gratitude.

7. Above all else, practice love – tough, unconditional love.

Eventually, with hard work, perseverance, patience and yes, love, we will all live happily ever after.

References for social media:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Complacent Parenting

I don't really know where to begin... it's been a long thirteen days.  Lucky #13?

Many, many...many... (12000 - give or take a couple thousand)... know that I've had a bit of a snag in this gig I call "parenting".  My child thinks she's hit a bit of snag in this thing she calls "growing up".  It started out as something very simple, really, that thousands of kids do all the time.

They are somewhere they are not supposed to be, maybe with someone they aren't supposed to be with, despite being told over and over.  They just want to do what they want to do, and they want to be right, and they want to be free of us.  They are invincible, they are brave, they are naive. They are kids.

And here in the masses, we parents stand, teaching and preaching and talking and showing.  We are raising these brilliant human beings, hoping they use what we teach them to be good people, people we are overwhelmingly proud of when they go out into the world.  And because we taught them, we trust them.  We let them take on the world, and push them into battle.  We are their cheerleaders as they perform, we are their nurses when they hurt, we are their taxi drivers in their destinations, we are their safety nets when they trip and fall.

And so they do.  They fall.  They make mistakes.  They try their hand at lying, hiding, manipulating, twisting, turning.  They live through the fixing, the solving, the consequences and ultimately the growing.  That's how we all did it, that's how we all got to be who we are, like it or not.  We failed, we fixed, we tried again.  And so it goes on.

But all of it, the tripping, the falling, the twisting, the turning, the fixing, the solving... it set me spinning as a parent. Where did I fail?  How did my child come to make the mistakes I begged would evade us in our growth as a family?  Aren't I a good enough parent?

The cold, lonely answer I came up with, is simply, no.  Not good enough, and frankly, I am grateful for that.  I have thought long and hard about this.  I have had people applaud my bravado and my harsh words when I was incredibly hurt and upset.  I am not one to mix words, and I am very good at expressing my point and reaching people.  So if I am reaching you now, please know, I am over the moon thankful that today, I am not a good enough parent.  I don't ever want to be just - good enough.  I don't want to get to a place where I miss something, and I think, oh well, I am good enough as a parent.  No.  I don't want to be good enough.  I want to be better.  Every single day.

This spinning world we live in is fast, and it is busy.  It becomes very easy, as a parent who has taught, and talked, and talked and taught, to think I have done this right, she will make the right decision.  Or, he's 16, certainly that's  old enough to be left alone for a night, haven't I taught him well?  And didn't we, as children, survive it?  Didn't we make it through our childhood, for the most part unscathed?  A good portion of us did, but I am reminded all the time, that not all of us did.  And that was in the world we grew up in where our lives weren't digital.  Supper was ready when our dads whistled, and we ran up the block before the second whistle was necessary.  And after dinner, when we went back outside (what a novel idea), we were to be home when the street lights came on.  We talked to our friends by walking across the street.  We survived our mistakes without them becoming global knowledge.  We ate hot food at the dinner table with our families, and we talked about our days.  Where did the childhood go... Our kids barely comprehend the stories we tell them.  And if your kids, today, can relate - I applaud you.  If your fifteen year old can remember tag as a game outside and not digitally recognizing someone in a photo, congratulations.

Our children are living in a very different age, even if we don't like it.  Our world is just not the same only twenty five years since I was a teenager, and I find, we, as parents have accepted that.  We have become very complacent in raising our kids. It's easy to let our kids live their social lives on line.  It's easier sometimes, when we are busy, to just let them be on their phones, devices, computers, gaming, texting, sending pictures, posting their lives, and we, are the least likely to know - because we are busy.  I will admit of being guilty of texting my children that dinner was ready, and then we all ate in the living room, staring at Dr. Phil, shaking our heads at the people on the tv screen, wondering how their life problems could have possibly come to fruition.

I said in the little diddy that I sprawled up on facebook while I was angry and looking for an outlet, "Stop ignoring how they are growing up while you are living your life".  That was a message to myself more than any other parent that happened to read my rage that day, and it has stuck in my soul, resonating with every single step forward I have forced.  You see, I like to be a present parent. I like to take part in my kid's lives.  I make a point of being active in their school lives, knowing their classes and teachers and homework.  I push to know their friends.  I prefer they hang out at my house with their friends.  I try to culture my children in events and with travel.  I try - and I try really hard.  BUT... "I am busy".  I am a full time mom, with a full time job.  On top of that, I am a hobby photographer, an author and an adventurer.  I am a partner, a friend, a daughter.  And I forgot, just for a moment how my kids were growing up in their lives while I lived mine.

And so my kid screwed up while I screwed up as a parent.  She got caught, and I got angry.  Okay, became a raging basket case, not sure if I was angrier or her or at myself.  I lectured and I spied.  I researched and I delved into phones, media and personal space.  I handed out punishment sure to leave a lasting impression on that teenage memory that seems like an old school chalk board at 4:30 in the afternoon - too easily wiped clean.  I information shared with many other parents, and hoped for the best.

Then, not entirely proudly, I became a hypocrite as I shared my experience on social media, and watched it go viral.  Don't get me wrong, the unity of parenthood and the community that came forward in support and opinion, even a few in judgement, was welcome for me as parent after parent found someone to relate to, someone to hold up their own experience next to and say - dear God, I am not the only one that screwed up!  But, here is where I say, don't ignore how they are growing up.  The fact is, our children are watching and learning from us.  We too, are a network of parents weaved into social media.  It brings us together just as much as it tears us apart - and they are watching.  We are busy - on our devices and our laptops and with our jobs and with our significant others, and with our families and - our children are watching.  They are watching us - so be careful with what you are busy with.  Be careful with your complacency.

Complacency: a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like.  

Sounds like common parenting.  The truth is, this complacency leads to havoc.  It's one trip, it's another fall, and soon the cliff is so high you can't see the ground through the forest.  It's here that we need to stop being too busy; it's here where need to prevent the fall.  For when they trip and fall where we fall harder.  Sometimes I wish they could see inside our crushing souls when they fall.  We hurt twice as much, we cry twice as hard, we bleed not our only our own blood but theirs as well - so they don't have to bleed anymore.  We just do, and then we say "what happened?"

My days now consist of not being too busy.  I am not so busy being busy that I don't take time to take a look around.  I am not too occupied to adjust my parenting to meet the demands of my children today.  I am no longer complacent with simple answers, or with texts, or phones at the table. I am no longer okay with sleepovers where I don't know the parents, nor am I alright with not knowing "that friend".  I am not trusting that my child is where they said they will be, or doing everything as I have taught them, making the right decisions.  I am no longer complacent - I am no longer conceding to the busy life.  I want to know my child, and I want to know they are smart, and willful, and kind, and safe.

I am abandoning my busy life, and I am taking back my parenting.  I am giving my children back their childhood by limiting our online life.  Not everything needs a text response, not every plan needs to be scheduled on a digital calendar.  I am not unrealistic - lets be serious.  No one in my house will be donning an Amish bonnet and riding a horse to school, but we will all sit down to dinner and talk about our days.  My children will trust that I will always keep them safe and teach them, and they can always trust that I will no longer be too busy.

The fact is... I was lucky this time. My complacency wasn't fatal.

Grateful... not complacent.