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

 

City Girl In The Country Without Water – H2O…no!

wilted-plantI awoke to this quote:  “May no adversity paralyze you.”

Then my well went dry. The actual well that supplies water to my house. It’s almost biblical in an omen-like way.

Regular readers will recall that this City Girl fairly recently discovered the nuances of a primitive water source. But being seasoned enough now in country-life inconveniences, I felt equipped to handle the immediate concerns of a situation such as this when Husband happened to be in another country on business. (Which coincidentally seems to occur with regularity when disaster strikes the home-front: water main burst, snow blower malfunction, broken furnace….”) But I digress.

Teen son was the one who alerted me that luck had run out when he marched into the kitchen, oddly gleeful, to declare that he had just ‘taken a dump’ and got the last flush of water left in the tank.

It’s not that we didn’t have warning. The water had been coughing through our pipes for some months now, protesting the driest summer on record in the area. We had tried to conserve – as much as a family of 5 with two teenage girls who take endless showers can. But I realize now that we, in our 21st century mindset, hadn’t truly grasped the concept of conservation until we started hauling 5-gallon buckets of water from a neighbor’s house. When one has to work this hard for something that is typically available at the touch of a finger, a shift occurs. And not just in muscle bulk.

popeye-the-sailor-man
Suddenly, every droplet of water is precious liquid gold. If a spill occurs, it is tenderly wiped up with regret and sorrow, it’s loss mourned like an old friend.

Several friends have offered their showers but there’s something about getting naked and wet in someone else’s bathroom that gives me pause. I opt instead for increased attendance at the yoga studio that has a fully functioning shower. Other family members are following suit at their respective health clubs which isn’t a bad thing for any of us.

We have accepted donations of water jugs with spigots which elevates our primitive dishwashing skills to a post-modern level and deludes us into thinking that things aren’t so bad – that maybe we can hold out for rain instead of having to sink tens of thousands of dollars into the ground to drill a deeper well. But the grim reality is that Mother Nature isn’t in the mood to cooperate and won’t promise that she will fix our situation.

I’m trying to dredge up the fortitude of my ancestors while reminding myself that mine is a First World problem. People in other parts of the world operate with far less than a modern source of clean water. But my humor is running dry along with my well and my bank account.

Cue the curse of the appliances which sabotaged our refrigerator this week and requires replacement of the motor. When it rains it pours they say. Except that it’s not raining water.

Picture me, smiling sweetly through tears, while brushing my unwashed hair from my face, declaring (Scarlett O’Hara style) that “Tomorrow is another day.”

scarlet-ohara

Then erase that malarkey and picture what Scarlett would really be thinking in that ending scene of Gone With The Wind. Something along the lines of, ‘Get me out of this forsaken land and take me to a hotel where I will get the pampering I desperately need.’

As that is unlikely to happen for me, I am doing my best to accept this fate and return to gratitude for what’s left, like electricity and shelter and health!  These privileges are now esteemed and cared for with higher reverence.  There is a sense of stewardship that emerges when one realizes that nothing is guaranteed.

I can’t claim dominion over my attitude surrounding this dilemma, but I know that I am evolving into something more than I was prior to the experience. These inconvenient challenges have a way of elevating one’s game if you don’t allow them to sink you. And the lessons can spill over to others, like my neighbor who, in solidarity, is conserving water and evaluating her consumption in life. So I guess you could say that we’re ‘taking one for the team.’ Team human. Yay team.

Another neighbor, an engineer, sent us a flyer for an upcoming seminar at his place of employment called “Imagine a Day Without Water.” We were facetiously invited to be guest speakers.

They say that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I’d love to. Can I borrow some water to make it?

lemonade

The Storm Before the Calm

torn piece of paper with divorce text and paper couple figures

A Dear One is divorcing and her teen daughter hates her.

“Don’t try to fix it.” I advise.  “Let her be angry.” The truth is, this girl wants to be angry and divorce is a well-suited excuse to unleash her rage.

You want your daughter to see from adult eyes – to feel even a tidbit of hope that divorce will make life better instead of worse.  But this girl’s heart is not ready to mend, for it has just begun its breaking open.  In youthful naivete, this tender thing was blind-sided.  In time, she may forgive.  Or not.  Some carry torches of pain for a lifetime.  This will be her choice.  Your job is to love through it as best you can.  Love her.  Love yourself.  Love the circumstances that challenge you to rise above.

You asked my advice and hoped for a remedy to a situation that is unsolvable in a sentence or a phone call or a pocket-guide.  Finding neutral for yourself and your revised family unit will take time that you don’t want to spare and patience you don’t think you possess.

You speak to me of plots and plans and you admit that you’re not thinking straight.  How can you? You are being tossed against obstacles like a tiny boat in a raging sea and you fear you may drown.

My job is not to dive in after you at risk of getting swept up by the current.  I will not agree or disagree with your manic declarations.  It won’t serve anyone if I immerse myself in the drama.  I need to stay on solid ground like the lighthouse keeper, shining a light so you know which direction to move in.

I would remind you that you are stronger than you realize.  You are a survivor.  But remember, strength doesn’t always look pretty.  It cries sometimes.  It reveals things that otherwise wouldn’t be exposed. Vulnerability is a place of healing.  Trust the process. Let it transform you.  Permit yourself to be human.  Forgive yourself twenty times a day.  Then do it again.

These are ugly times.  Hard times.  But not impossible times.  You have come so far.  It took courage to say the ‘D’ word and mean it.  You must continue to be brave to survive the fallout.

Those who love you will endure with you.  Please keep your faith.  Even the most terrifying storms pass.  This darkness will lift and reveal a new calm.  Your sweet, conflicted daughter will surface.  You will learn that you can stand alone in your own shoes.  And one day, you will smile without trying because joy has returned.

Deb

Letter to My Future Daughter-In-Law

daughter-in-law-Dear Future Daughter-In-Law,

I don’t know you yet, or even if you exist.  But I think about you a lot.  You’ve influenced so many of my parenting choices while raising a son.

I was thinking of you when I taught my son how to do laundry at the age of 6, and to make his own meals and clean the house.  He will not assume that these jobs belong to someone else – especially not a female companion.

My son was raised to be self-sufficient for his benefit and for yours.  He is capable of a great many things because his father and I allowed him to try and to fail.   But he is not perfect.  Please don’t berate him for the things he doesn’t do for you or your house or your children.  No man can be everything. And every man needs appreciation.

I’m sure he’ll complain to you about the fact that he never got an allowance and always paid for the privilege of using a cell phone.  Perhaps you had a similar upbringing, or not.  Together, you will have to decide if this is a good idea for your own children.  Will you think of it as an undue burden or as a worthwhile discipline?  Will you be the saver and he, the spender?  Just remember that money has only the meaning and power you assign to it.  Don’t let it come between you.

I wonder about your parents too.  What values did they instill?  Will we all get along when we sit across the table from each other at a family gathering?  Or will it be stressful work to endure each other?  As a daughter-in-law myself, I know that it is a lifelong practice to find balance with extended family.  But it can be done.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t fear the time when I have to surrender my boy to you.  I know you won’t be ‘taking’ him from me because he has already begun his process of separating.  But I also know that he will defer to you, as he should, and that you will have a greater influence on him than I.  I won’t be that stereotypical interfering mother-in-law. I will respect you and commit to seeing what my son sees in you.  All I ask is that you afford me the same generosity in return.

I hope that we will love each other and be equally pleased in gaining our unique relationship.  But even if this is not the reality, we still have something very important in common- we love the same spectacular boy who deserves the best we can give him.  Let’s, at the very least, agree to unite where he is concerned.

My dear girl, I am praying for you.  May you honor and learn from every experience that leads you to my son so that when the time comes, you will recognize and appreciate the gift that was groomed especially for you.

On Grown & Flown

I’m delighted to contribute an essay to Grown & Flown, a wonderful website and blog about parenting teens and young adults. My current piece about birth order and the emptying nest was just published. As parents we try to give our kids what we think they need, but they may have different ideas about what they want. And it may relate to their birth order.

If you’re interested, please find the piece here.

Thanks! Deb

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