Pills, Pot, Profanity and Parenting

As I was leaving a parenting presentation at the local school on the topic of ‘Drugs, Alcohol, and the Teenage Brain,’ I caught up with a fellow mother of a teen boy.  We commiserated in hushed whispers about the pessimistic message of the presenter, fearing that an unintended ear would hear our true confessions. We know that our boys use substances that are frowned upon by social standards, aka laws, and we have learned to tolerate it – somewhat.

Call it self-preservation – or something more judgmental and harsh if you wish.  But don’t mistake it for ignorance, negligence, or lack of caring.  Countless conversations, teaching moments, threats, punishments and bribes have been employed at our discretion over 18 years.  And still, here we are, facing the dilemma of how to keep our kids on the straight and narrow.

When we begin the parenting journey in blissful naivete, we actually believe that we have control over how our kids turn out.  As if children ‘turn out’ – like a soufflé.  With thoughtful intention and unproven parenting prowess, we create a recipe for ourselves, certain that if we follow every instruction carefully, our result will be perfect, or at least predictable.  Plans shmams.

The illusion begins to deconstruct as early as the first tantrum when our little cherub learns to express his discontent.  It progresses to backtalk, profanity, sneaky behavior, lying….any rebellion that helps a child begin the natural separation from parent.  ‘Psychological differentiation’ they call it – an academic way to describe the tug of war between parent and evolving child.  If kids aren’t testing their boundaries, they’re not growing.

A professional colleague had a son who was delinquent and derelict by all accounts.  The mother, an educated and compassionate soul, endured a years-long struggle to set him straight.    Certain that she had failed as a mother, she all but gave up hope of him ever pulling himself together. The boy, a late bloomer you might say, transformed his life in his 30s and went on to study law enforcement.  He is now a judge.  I’ll bet he’s a cracker-jack judge, having had all that experience on the other side of the law.  I also bet that prior to his current career, there was plenty of gossip about how the boy ‘turned out’.  And lots of judgment about his parents, too.

Another friend has a brother who started smoking pot at the age of 14.  He wouldn’t quit until he decided that becoming a pilot was more important.  The point is this: the lives of our children are not about what we want for them.  It’s about what they want, when they want it. 

This is a hard pill to swallow for a conscientious parent. Parents are under pressure to produce a product that will pass quality control.  But to some degree, our real motivation is to satisfy our own need to have a child who makes us proud, or at the very least, doesn’t shame us. We want the ease of not  having to worry about the stability, safety, or success of our children.  We don’t want to be reminded that they are their own beings who have every right to make choices – good ones and bad ones. 

Long ago my son refused GPS tracking, aka Parent Stalking.  Thank goodness.  It has forced me to trust or to worry blindly – just like my parents did without the benefit (or curse) of constant contact.  When I feel the need to check in, I text the one question that summarizes my intent:  “Are you happy and safe?”  That’s really what I want to know.  More importantly, that’s what I want my son to ask himself.  I want him to check in with his own heart and mind.  If the answer to either of those questions is ‘no’, ADJUST COURSE.  I’ve found that the asking is enough to let him know that he is loved and that I’m here for him.

My threshold for alarm is raised quite high since the early days when I worried about kids not eating vegetables to the the present concerns of kids making choices about risky behavior.  Case in point, when teen son opened the pantry cabinet and found an array of delicious and very un-nutritious snack food, he turned to me in shock, grinning from ear to ear.  “You’ve given up, haven’t you?” he asked with delight.  “That deserves a hug!”  I accepted the hug with the same level of gleeful appreciation with which my son cracked open his bag of chips.

Sometimes our parenting doctrine gets in the way of our evolution.  It becomes a god we worship ritualistically without question.  At some point we must loosen the reigns simply because they become too hard to hold on to.  Which usually means that it’s exactly the right time to let go. 

This year I accompanied my son to the voting polls for the first time, where he cast his own vote based on his own thought process.  He was also called for jury duty and could be part of determining another person’s fate.  In the eyes of the law, he is mostly his own young man.  He knows his current mind, and his thoughts are valid, if not in line with my own.  He is experiencing his expanding heart.  He is living with his raging hormones.  And none of it begs me to interfere or to impose outdated restrictions.  It asks for freedom to live.

Wise adults tell children that they were placed on earth to shine their own light.  What if your child’s light is less like a lighthouse and more like a bonfire?  What if the very purpose of his life, the hope he gives, comes so far down the road that you can’t see it?  Maybe it’s in a form that you don’t yet recognize.  Maybe he is shining his light already but you can’t see past your disapproval of personality or behavior.

After all these years I have less certainty than I did before I became a parent.  Much of what I thought I knew was best for my children was misguided because it was based on my own ideas from my own life.  It turns out that ‘best’ is a nebulous and evasive concept.

We simply cannot know what is best for anyone but ourselves.  This doesn’t mean we don’t try to impart our wisdom or enforce rules that make our lives sane.  But we must remember that parenting is part of a bigger dance – one in which every child has the right to be his or her unique self, whether we like it or not.

A Parenting Invitation

Fellow parent,

Let’s not compete for martyrdom by comparing the hours of sleep we’ve missed.

Instead, let’s lift each other up with loving commiseration over the hard work we each do.

Let’s not insinuate that some parents are lucky to have children who sleep well, eat well, behave…

Instead, let’s acknowledge that it is hard work and intention, not luck, that bring success.

Let’s not be bothered by people who dismiss our concerns as insignificant and tell us that parenting only gets harder.

We need to support each other through the tough times right now.  Let’s remind each other that the rewards of childrearing make the drudgery worthwhile.

Let’s withhold judgment of each other’s parenting and avoid giving advice on how to do it better.

Instead, let’s respect that we’re each doing the best that we can and accept that our parenting styles differ.

Let’s not boast about our children under the guise of ‘humble-bragging.’  The insinuation of superiority is obvious and insulting.

Instead, let’s acknowledge the greatness in every child and celebrate their imperfections.

Let’s not talk about how our children make us crazy.

Instead, let’s tell each other how we’ve cried from disappointment in our own parenting behavior, and together, let’s figure out a way to do it better.

Let’s not ever pretend that we’ve got it all together.

Let’s be honest and expose our vulnerability so that we might learn to accept ourselves, and each other, more authentically.

Let’s not play that broken record called “I have no time to myself”.

Let’s choose to sing about how we had the courage to say ‘no’ to the ones we care for, in order to care for ourselves.

Let’s not line our parenting path with comparison and criticism.  It’s not a competition.

Let’s just be parents, traveling side by side, cheering each other on.

What a Girl Really Wants

mix-tapeA sappy song played in the background while Beagle and I prepped dinner.  “I’m head over boots for you” the singer declared.  In a defeated tone, Beagle said, “I feel like this is how girls want boys to be, but I just don’t talk that way.”

Poor teen boy has entered the realm of romantic relationships and he realizes that his natural boyish M.O. won’t be enough to satisfy the very different desires of his love interests. 

We refer to male and female as the opposite sex for a reason.  Girls can be complicated.  Men, maybe not as much.

men-women-on-off-switch

Girl code, or what a girl wants without telling you but expects that you will know and be willing to deliver on a regular and perfectly timed schedule, could take a lifetime of intimate relationships to figure out.  Heck, girls sometimes can’t decipher their own jumble of mind and emotions.

Take heart, my son, you don’t need to speak the fancy words.  Instead of resenting love songs, you can borrow from their poetic wisdom to help you.  Make a playlist for a girl and tell her that the songs remind you of her.  In my day we called them ‘mixed tapes’ and they weren’t nearly as easy to make as picking digital tracks off the internet.   Just be sincere and make sure you know the message of the song.  You wouldn’t want to dedicate a supposed love song like REM’s “The One I Love” which sounds nice but is really about moving on from a girl who is a “simple prop to occupy my time.”

Furthermore, if you can get past your distaste of sappy song lyrics, you might learn a thing or two about girls from the message behind the words.  For example:

I only have eyes for you. 

No one enjoys a wandering eye in a partner.  Don’t look at other girls, talk about other girls, or even contemplate that another girl exists.  Just kidding about that last bit.  But seriously, love the one you’re with or break it off.

i-only-have-eyes-for-you

I’ll be a man who will fight for your honor…. I’ll be the hero you’ve been dreaming of. 

Chivalry is not dead, even in an age of feminism.  A girl, like anyone, enjoys knowing that you’ve got her back.  A woman I know met her husband for the first time at a frat party and fell in love with him because when she passed gas he took the blame for it.  It doesn’t take much to be someone’s hero.

my_hero__by_retro_ccn-d5s5jo4

She don’t know she’s beautiful

I’ll go out on a limb and say that there isn’t one living girl who doesn’t like to be told she’s beautiful.  Even if she should know it.  Even if you’ve told her a million times.  Even if you just told her 3 seconds ago.  You get my point.

every-woman-deserves-to-have-a-man-who-is-proudly-196906

Here’s the short of it… every person, male or female, benefits from three common things: attention, affection, and admiration.  The need for fulfillment of these basics doesn’t go away.  Finding unique ways to provide these staples to a loved one is the challenge and the fun in relationships.  Rise up to the challenge, my son, and start studying those love songs, romantic movies, and not-so-subtle hints dropped by girls.

a-real-man

Moments

 

 

moment   

[moh-muh nt]                                                                                                                      

noun:  an indefinitely short period of time; instant:

 

that moment when

love

moves in.

 

that moment when

forgiveness arrives

at last.

 

that moment when

the ugly duckling

sees the swan

that is her.

 

that moment when

life leaves.

 

that moment when

his eyes shift

from light to dark

and you realize

with dread

what it means.

 

that moment when

the new mother

is born.

 

that moment

when the silence screams.

 

that moment when

Truth

unlocks the gate.

 

that moment when

IT

ends.

 

that moment when

you release the need to know why.

 

that moment when

you decide to say yes.

 

that moment when

you realize that the pain

is gone.

 

that moment when

joy returns.

 

that moment when

you finally understand.

 

that moment

when you acknowledge

that the only thing that matters is

this moment.

 

What a tasty morsel this moment is.

How To Raise Great Kids

raising-kidsA friend with young boys said to husband and me, “All I know is that I’m taking notes because y’all have great kids.”

If she only knew.

If my friend had any idea of the battles, tears, and transgressions that have been suffered on the front line of my family, she might not be as complimentary.  Or would she?  She, too, is fighting the good fight, showing up every day as a parent, armed with love, lists, laughter – whatever she has in her arsenal of tools.  She knows that parenting isn’t glamorous and that kids are far from the polished specimens we present to the world.

There are too many factors involved in parenting, too many individual histories and personalities, to define a ‘right way.’  But I want to offer my friend a guidepost for the inevitable times when she feels lost and discouraged.  For the times when she forgets that she has done, and is doing, great things.

Allow me to present my parenting manifesto. It was written after offering a desperate prayer:  “Dear God, help me not to mess this up.”  It reflects on basics – a long list of parenting wishes and intentions whittled down to the few points that I consider non-negotiable.

DO NO HARM:

May I have the consciousness to build up rather than break down; to guide and discipline rather than command and punish.

HONOR INDIVIDUALITY:

May I parent each child in a way that honors their uniqueness and makes the most of their potential. 

May I never make assumptions or goals for anyone other than myself.

PROMOTE SELF-SUFFICIENCY:

May I abstain from doing things for children that they can do for themselves.

May I raise confident, responsible beings who struggle less in the world because I had the foresight and strength to let them fail.

CARE FOR SELF:

May I remember to spend resources on myself so that I may not resent those I care for.

May I remember to sleep, take a time-out, deposit in my own emotional bank account, and smile at myself every day, that I might be a better parent.

BE HONEST:

May I refrain from the convenience of untruths to support my agenda.

May I fearlessly share enough of my life experience to illustrate the human condition so that my children will walk into the world with eyes open and minds prepared.

BE RESPECTFUL:

May I refrain from condescending to my precious little ones. 

May I show them the respect that they deserve, even when they are disrespecting me.

RETURN TO LOVE:

May I find compassion in the face of negativity.

May I replace frustration and anger with love.

May I always remember my one true organic intention: to love my children unconditionally, and never miss an opportunity to demonstrate it.

Children are clean slates when we receive them at birth.  They need us to bring our best game to the job of parenting. A parent’s only hope of inscribing a legacy without regret is to consciously and sincerely step into the challenge of parenting with open eyes, a generous heart and a flexible mind.  I wish all fellow parents clarity amidst the chaos, and a love that endures forever.

Deb

The Joy of Reunion

reunitedI arrived at the bus station after midnight to collect my college daughter for Thanksgiving break and found myself ensconced in a scene that resembled a Hallmark movie.

Families waiting in street-lit darkness are unable to conceal their excitement as they jump from their parked cars at first sight of the incoming bus that would deliver their babies back home.

Girls hug unsuspecting brothers who are in turn befuddled by the uncharacteristic gesture of affection from a sibling rival. Fathers show vulnerability of emotion. Mothers grin and squeal, beyond ecstatic.

Tears blossom in my own eyes as I watch love unfold in micro-bursts all around me. Generosity of spirit abounds in these reunions. Not a single trace of stress or apathy affects anyone in this moment. It is pure love. Emotional gold.

Principessa and I are alone for the ride home and we chat without pause, catching up in a way that can’t be accomplished in our weekly phone calls. There is touch and expression and presence to satisfy my hungry soul. I soak her up like a thirsty sponge, knowing that I will surrender her to an eager family, dog included, who will launch at her when we walk through the front door.

Sisters reunite with giggles, telling stories into wee hours, long past a rational bedtime. But this mother will never suggest sleep over loving connection. I sit stealthfully at the bottom of the stairs, listening with satisfaction and a full heart.

These are the moments to live for. These are the memories to cherish when babies are grown. We may lament their departure from the nest, but recognize that the space and time between us provides a new gift – the joy of reunion. We aren’t privy to it in the days of constant togetherness.

In days of yore, I would sell my right arm for a moment of solitude. Now, the frequent aloneness stretches me to a point of discomfort. But I remind myself to be flexible, that I will not break. Like the potential energy stored in elastic materials as the result of their stretching – the more stretch, the more stored energy. The more I let go, the more I appreciate the rebound of love.

The thrill of loved ones coming and going is a new joy. A new bounty to be thankful for at this year’s holiday table.

Love, Untethered by Death

grieving-parents-004A man lost his mother to illness and old age. He hated his mother. In childhood she criticized him relentlessly. In adulthood she pestered him mercilessly.

The man wished for his mother to be gone. As she became increasingly dependent, he became intolerant. ‘Why won’t she just die?’ he wondered aloud. Very soon after uttering the words, the man’s mother did die and regret descended upon him. For so long he suffered his mother’s life. Now he would suffer her passing.

Death was not the relief the man expected. It brought forth a jumble of buried emotion that washed over him like flood waters, upending previously conceived notions rooted in anger. Long-standing stories with deeply entrenched beliefs crumbled under the force, like houses and trees that have been knocked flat.

Where once the man saw his mother as a burden, he saw glimpses of blessing.
Where once she was a villain, he saw a martyr.

This confused the man. He wasn’t willing to admit to tenderness and softening toward his mother. Love, untethered in death, floated to the surface. Its appearance was frightening and overwhelming to the unsuspecting mind. The man didn’t want to look love in the eye, but it was there, staring him down, glaring at his ignorance, daring him to ignore it in favor of the need to hate, to be right, to hold onto grievance.

A thorn had been removed from the man’s life and he wanted – expected – relief. But the wound was raw and awash with the sting of struggle. He would disperse his struggle to anyone who would take the time to indulge his need to purge. His loved ones listened with patience and irritation, for they were the ones who had borne the brunt of the man’s conflicted relationship with his mother for years. They tried, as best they could, to follow this new storyline as it unfolded. But it was difficult to string it together. Only the man could do that in time.

The man’s anger, without it’s familiar target, was misdirected toward those who would help. The sadness, which he loathed, was drowned in his work. The wounded archetype of an orphaned child was used to his advantage.

Eventually, the man would spend down his negativity and allow love to work its miracles. Time would open the door for love to slip in and heal his pain, showing him that despite his failure to acknowledge it, love was present all along, in a place where he was certain it could never have existed.

Love, it turned out, was his for the keeping.  It would prove over and over that no matter what we cover it with, nothing can eclipse love’s power.  Especially not death.

hidden-love

 

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: