Monday, December 16, 2013

One Of Us Is Crazy

I remember, as a teen, occasionally thinking my Mom was crazy. I now know, that at the very same moment, she was thinking I was the crazy one. The other day I was looking over my teens shoulder as she checked Instagram. After a few snarky comments from me such as, "seriously, they are taking a picture of their Starbucks drink?! Imagine if they drank a hot chocolate and WE NEVER KNEW ABOUT IT! That would be terrible!" I asked, "how many people are you following?" The answer: 203. Now, before I tell you that I was shocked by that number and found it ridiculous, I should confess something. I have been very slow to jump on the social media bandwagon (I just recently created a Facebook account and have no idea how it works). I have nothing against social media. I think it is neither inherently good or bad, just like a hammer is neither good nor bad. If you use a hammer to fix something, good. If you use a hammer to knock some sense into your child, bad. Same with social media. Most days I felt lucky if I knew where my kids were and what they were doing and since I didn't always even know that much, keeping up on my old roommate from college just wasn't realistic. (Look at that kid in a diaper in the middle of the road down there- squint- OH MY GOSH that is my kid!)
Just because I don't use social media much doesn't mean I don't have an opinion on how it should be used. I have an opinion on almost everything, my friends and enemies will tell you. And since I dislike laying down rules for my teens when I can avoid it (read this to understand why), my daughter was subjected to a sermon on social media. Here is what I think: social media is a way of connecting with people we care about. It can also be a drain on our time, which can be damaging to the relationships we have with people we care about. So, we should use it judiciously. We should not be investing our time in keeping tabs on an acquaintance we met once on a vacation, we simply don't have enough time to do that and maintain meaningful relationships with our dearest friends and family. At least I don't. I asked my daughter to think before she started following someone, "is this someone I know and care about enough to invest my time in?"
My daughter thinks I'm crazy. All her friends follow at least that many people, it is just fun, she tells me. I think she is crazy. How can there really be 203 people that you care enough about to spend your time looking at pictures of what they had for lunch??? She thinks I am out of touch with reality. She is right and so am I. I am out of touch with reality. Most people are not using Instagram how I would like my kids to use it. Still, I want my children to approach their use of social media with some sound guiding principles. Those principles include using social media thoughtfully, in such a way that it  enriches their life and connection with the people who are important to them. And above all, never engaging so much with what is happening in the virtual world that the relationships you hold dear in the real world are weakened. Now, my daughter does not spend too much time on Instagram. Far from it, so I cannot complain that it is taking time away from those she loves. She also listened patiently to my tirade and did no more then roll her eyes. And she grudgingly went through her list and un-followed 50 people to appease me. For my part, I will try to remember that my ideal may not be realistic for a 14 year old's world and let my daughter make some of her own decisions as she learns how to manage social media in her life.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Favorite Parenting Books Part 3- Teens

I've read several books on teenagers and parenting teens. This book has had the biggest impact. It has absolutely altered my world view as well as my parenting. The two things I disliked first: the title (silly I know, but Teen 2.0 is not very descriptive, although the subtitle is a help). The second thing is that this book is HUGE. The biggest parenting book I've ever bothered with. It is a hefty 535 pages, but take heart, it is only 376 if you don't count the appendix and index. Such a large appendix and index are evidence of the thorough research the author has done, which isn't surprising as he holds a Ph.D. and is a professor of psychology. Now, why I love this book. Epstein takes some basic assumptions I held (and you do too, I suspect) about adolescence and smashes them. Absolutely destroys them. I love this! It is largely why I love travel, as a side note. We all hold certain things to be self-evident and true based on our experience and culture, but when you travel, some of those beliefs are called into question. Our understanding and vision of human nature and the world expands, deepens and becomes wiser. Epstein takes us through many different cultures and gives a broad historical perspective in regards to adolescence. When this broad view is taken, you suddenly see how ridiculous and self-defeating some of our ideas about teens are. Epstein's ideas are a bit radical to the modern American mind and I certainly didn't agree with all he said, but I agreed with a great deal. It has completely altered how I approach every parenting moment with my teens. I have been thrilled with the results of those changes thus far. Less conflict, more trust and openness, less fear and above all empowerment (for me and my teen). I'll leave you with an excerpt from the book, just one of many things I underlined, "Authority in the absence of responsibility promotes recklessness. . . Responsibility without authority is frustrating and immobilizing. So please, let's not give teens more freedom. They have much too much freedom as it is: too much free time (unstructured, unsupervised hours spent doing meaningless things, often with peers), too much free cash (money obtained from an allowance, gifts or part-time work which can be used in entirely discretionary ways) and too much freedom from consequences (that is, from the negative consequences of behavior that would normally be severely punished in adults). Let's give teens who seek it and who can demonstrate appropriate competence the authority they deserve, along with the responsibility that such authority demands." Read it!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Long Way from Chicago

Ever been to a potluck of appetizers? You know it isn't really a dinner, there is no broccoli to get through, just a spinach dip that has almost nothing to do with spinach. Everything is so yummy, you have a bite of this and a bite of that until you walk away completely satisfied, thinking "That was so good!" That is what it is like to read Richard Peck's two novels.They charm you and touch you and leave you feeling buoyant and a bit melancholy at the same time. All that in under 150 pages (per book). When I can't find time to read, it is soul sucking for me. If you feel yourself driven crazy because you can't find time to read, pick up A Long Way from Chicago. Even if you only have 15 minutes, you will feel satisfied. I LOVED both books.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Favorite Parenting Books- Part Two

Oh, sighhhh! I voice of sanity amidst the madness. What a relief it was to read this book! By nature, I am not an overly protective parent. I leaned free-range before I picked up this book. Still, this book freed me from so much fear and anxiety, it was completely empowering. Skenazy sums it up this way, "Free-Range Kids is a commonsense approach to parenting in these overprotective times."  We are raising our kids in an era of manufactured fear. It is so hard not to by into all the hype when it comes to our kids.  Skenazy does a brilliant job of evaluating our overblown fears and works to give us a realistic perspective.When my mom was a kid, she didn't wear a seat belt in the car and she roamed outside with her siblings with little supervision. Skenazy would say there is no question- our kids should wear seat belts, it keeps them safer. They should also be allowed outside to play, even without you standing guard the whole time. Crime rates happen to be lower then when my mom was a kid (who knew?) and the risks of being nabbed are no higher. It is our media fed fear that has shot through the roof. I find fear to be the most paralyzing emotion and it is my firm belief that we are never our best when we are coming from a place of fear. Eliminating much of my fear with Skenazy's logical and well researched book has made me a better parent.

 I watch my kids do homework and I marvel. I vaguely remember a time when I went to the library and laboriously looked things up when I needed to write a paper that involved research. This modern world can be magnificent. It can also be damaging. Palmer says, "The best way to 'detoxify' childhood is to focus on what children need for healthy development, and how we can meet these needs in a 21st century context." This book provided much food for thought. Utilizing the best our modern world has to offer while making conscious choices that mitigate the things that will be detrimental to my children is the kind of intentional parenting I aspire to. I was better prepared to do that after reading this book. It covers a gamut of issues, including TV and other media, diet, sleep, communication with our kids, schooling and education and advertising. By the time I finished this book, I felt like a had a good grasp of the issues we are facing. Not only that, but I was armed with down to earth, realistic strategies to help me navigate the challenges we inevitably face parenting in the modern world.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Let Them Cry!!

Last week, I was in the grocery store with my four year old son. He was upset about something, I can't remember what, perhaps my refusal to buy goldfish crackers. At any rate, he was crying. We passed an older gentleman who looked at him and said, "You're too old to be crying." Somehow it just struck me all wrong. If I had been standing there with a four year old girl, I'd be willing to bet he never would have told her she was too old to be crying. I have three daughters and I have been vastly irritated at the messages the world sends them- be thin, be sexy, make it all look effortless. I've spent considerable amounts of time trying to deconstruct those messages with my daughters. Today it was my sons turn. I looked right at him and said, "of course your not too old to cry. If you feel sad, you can cry. You never get too old to cry." And I hugged him (which was nice, though he would have preferred the crackers). According to Brene Brown, the insidious message our culture sends men is, "never be weak." I suppose that message is so engrained and internalized that a well intentioned gentleman at the store felt uncomfortable seeing my son cry and even anxious to shore up the "never be weak" message.

My intrepid Dad with my daughter
Crying is not weakness. A long, long time ago, before 3 daughters and a son another boy in my life cried. It was a pivotal moment of caring and love, but it was not weakness. It was just a few weeks before my wedding and I was having my "cold feet" moment. Were we doing the right thing? Was I sure? Was he sure? I was having this anxiety filled conversation with my betrothed. He got up and said he needed to go outside for a minute. He had turned from me, but I thought I saw something. I grabbed him and turned him toward me. He was crying!! He had not wanted me to see it. In an instant all my doubts, fears and concerns melted away. This man loved me (poor misguided soul)! More then I had imagined! I knew suddenly and completely that this was a man who would stick by my side and love me, even when I left him standing on a roadside in the middle of nowhere. And he has. So, I say, let's let our girls be flawed and imperfect and know they still have immeasurable value. And please, let's let our men cry and have emotion and tenderness and know that there tenderness makes them strong and wise! To the greatest men I know, my Dad and Husband and Son, thank you for the love and tenderness and even the tears you've gifted me!
The two boys I live with, love and am inspired by everyday.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Favorite Parenting Books- Part One

Books have changed my life. Many have changed the way I parent, sometimes just a little. Sometimes radically. Sometimes a little change will bring about radical results. All from a book. Below are some of the parenting books that have transformed me.

The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them I remember fighting EVERY morning with my daughter over brushing her hair. At the end of our morning ritual, she was in tears and I was in a rage. I was venting to another mom about this and other struggles and she said, "you should read The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron." I did. It was a window into the soul of my daughter. I am not "highly sensitive." Highly bossy, overbearing, critical and ornery- yes. Highly sensitive- no. I gained a new understanding of my daughter, her strengths and how she interacts with the world. Based on advice in the book (it said these kids are often perfectionists and like to meet expectations, but they need to know what to expect) I tried a new approach. The next morning I said to my daughter, "I'm going to brush your hair. I am going to be as gentle as I can. It still might hurt when I am combing out tangles, but I will do my best to be gentle. I need you to hold still and let me." Two minutes later I was dumbfounded. Angelic choirs started singing, "hallelujah" in my bathroom. She was sooo cooperative. Our morning ritual of crying child and mom turned lunatic was over. Thanks to this book, I have had a new lens through which I have viewed my daughter ever since. I have been a better mom to her because of it. I love you Elaine Aron.

So, I have a "sensitive" child. I have another child that is, well. . . not. She doesn't dissolve into tears. She and I, we like the emotion anger. I call anger my "go-to" emotion. Something might make you feel sad, discouraged, disappointed- not me (or my second daughter). We get angry. There was a time when we were both angry with each other a lot. Too much. It was deteriorating the whole relationship. I was feeling a little scared- and angry. I was desperate to turn things around. I did what I always do. I talked (and talked and talked). Another wise friend recommended The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. I probably needed a book called The Explosive Mommy but that book doesn't exist. Now, I confess, I never finished this book. I got as far as his three step plan for handling conflict. That was all I needed. I started applying Ross Greene's simple technique for handling conflict and the turn around in my daughter (and me) was dramatic. The first step (as I remember it, it has been years) is to empathize. Before reading this book, I would have thought "empathize?! With a terrible kid who just did a mean spirited thing?!" After this book, I was wiser. Empathizing gave me a chance to problem solve and instruct my daughter in a way that I simply had been incapable of before. Who knew that saying, "you must have been feeling really upset to have hit your sister" was a better approach then screaming, "I can't believe you hit your sister!! You cannot hit! Go to room now before I hit you"? We still get mad my daughter and I,  but our anger has reasonable proportions and the warmth that characterizes our relationship today can sustain a little head butting.That warmth was created in large part to the guidance this book provided me. Thank you Ross Greene.

This is one of my favorite parenting books!! It hasn't changed my life as dramatically as other parenting books (though it easily could have if I had read it when my kids were younger). I love this book because it is FUN to read. It is full of wisdom and ideas, but everything is presented in such a palatable, non preachy way. You find yourself wondering at your own culture in comparison to French culture and musing along with the author. I love anything that can help me step outside my own culture for a minute and gain some perspective. You will laugh. It will resonate. This is the book I like to give to new mommies.