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.

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 arrive at the bus station after midnight to collect my college daughter for Thanksgiving break and find myself ensconced in a scene that resembles 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.

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.

The Evolving College Student and the Reluctant Mother

EDThe honeymoon period is over for my college freshman. Roommates are no longer vested in showing only their best selves. Their patience for each other and for their cramped living quarters is wearing thin. Par for the course, I inform my daughter, but my advice is unsatisfying. She is the one who has to live with the stress.

During our rare visit with her, I notice a new nervous habit and reach out to steady her shaking leg. My people-pleasing first-born feels the weight of her own expectations for academics, sports, and social pressure. And she hasn’t yet discovered the impossibility of satisfying every demand.

Observing her in her college atmosphere feels like observing an animal in the wild. She is familiar enough, yet so very different from the girl who nervously parted from me with a crushing hug and tremulous voice just six months ago.

One senses a maturity-in-residence, not quite adult-like or permanent, but more of a stepping-up-to-the-plate persona. Having had to ‘rise to the occasion’ and exert independence in a variety of new, and sometimes terrifying situations, she radiates elevated self-esteem.

My observations of this transformation mystify me. I notice myself withdrawing into my own thoughts, stepping back a pace or two for fear of disturbing the natural order of things. Here, on my daughter’s turf, I am not in charge – not by a long shot. I know that I am welcome, but what is my role?

I dissect the situation like a wildlife researcher and get the strange feeling that I am actually part of the study – as if I am part of a documentary film narrated by Jane Goodall.

Look at how the baby monkey has adapted to its new environment, slipping into place in an unfamiliar social structure. Now watch how the mother monkey, when allowed to visit the baby, displays uncharacteristic behaviors. She offers ritualized mothering gestures but carefully takes cues from her baby about how much is acceptable. She appears to be out of sorts, almost neurotic, in this habitat. Notice how she follows the baby, never leading the way. She seems unable to take her eyes off the baby.

True, this. My every thought and attention is directed toward my daughter. I snap endless photos of her as I did when she was first born, trying to capture her essence. I anticipate pulling out my photo library for friends when I return home, boring them to tears with elementary stories of my daughter’s every expression. ‘In this photo, she was telling a joke. In this one, she was waving goodbye….’

My mind can hardly process the evolution of my college student, which is happening at warp speed.

We sit down to dinner at a restaurant of my daughter’s choosing and she remarks about her favorite items on the menu. She orders first then leads the conversation with questions for her father about his job. (What?!)

He takes the bait and they launch into a mutual exchange of questions and answers. This unusual conversation is followed by a debate on current politics. (I begin to feel dizzy.)

After a lively exchange, daughter turns her attention to me and asks, “Mom, how are you? Tell me about your life.”

By now I am close to fainting from shock.

“That’s it,” I think. “Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?”

Where are the dramatic teen stories? The complaints about teachers? I’m loaded with advice about these topics. Perhaps you’d like to know how to get a stain out of your favorite shirt? Oh, you figured it out? Good on you.

Adjusting to this new, poised version of my 18 year old is a challenge I hadn’t prepared for. Where my husband easily jumped aboard the speeding train that is our daughter, I had barely arrived at the station. In our absence, our little girl blossomed.

I am ecstatic, truly. But the expression on my face betrays melancholy, if not utter confusion. Disappointment in myself sets in, for I am unable to pull myself together to be the beacon of light I wish to be.

My daughter doesn’t seem to notice my struggle, or is too polite to mention it.
I absentmindedly wonder what else she isn’t saying. Is this a performance of sorts to reassure the nervous parent? My mind simply cannot settle on acceptance of what is unfolding before me.

The long ride home is silent, punctuated by tentative queries from Husband about my emotional well-being. ‘I’m fine,” I reply without conviction, then take to letter-writing by way of explanation to my daughter who may also be bewildered about my strange behavior.

Upon unpacking at home, I am surprised to find a letter stuffed into my bag by my daughter. In it, she details her own mixed feelings, offering an awareness of the major changes taking place within her.

‘I find it thrilling and scary to be taking control of my life, yet am pleased to feel confident in making decisions.’ she reveals.

The letter closes with a dose of gratitude and an affirmation of devotion to a family who is ‘never far from my mind and whose advice I still seek and appreciate.’

Cue the waterworks and the narrator:

“See how, despite the baby monkey’s independence, it checks in with the mother’s response for feedback and reassurance. The mother is placated and begins to assimilate her level of involvement accordingly. This mother-baby pair is learning how to individuate whilst honoring the bond between them.”

One day, this experience of separation, full of confusion and transformation, will all come together in a fond memory of how it felt to be a family in flux, emerging as it must into a new phase of life.

The Scenic Vista

scenic vistaA friend who is ahead of me in the parenting timeline predicted that my first-born would return from college with a grateful heart. The distance from home and family would create the necessary space for a paradigm shift. And so it happened in the form of a letter.

‘Dear Fam,’ it began. ‘I never realized….’

Principessa, overflowing with new-found insight, detailed aspects of our family values, traditions, and relationships like a seasoned philosopher. She thanked us for our support and expressed pride in our family. I was humbled by the sentiment. But the real reward was a section on self-reflection in which Prinicipessa’s blossoming confidence shined through.

She listed an inventory of attributes that have served her well in her first semester at college – her ‘toolkit’ she called it. It included communication skills, resilience, self-worth, humility, responsibility, hopefulness and faith – all of which she attributed to parenting skills.

When I recovered my tear-soaked eyesight, I breathed a sigh that I might have been holding onto for 18 years. Since the onset of motherhood I wondered if I was doing parenting ‘right.’ Even with the knowledge that right and perfect don’t exist, I longed for reassurance that my choices would, at the very least, have a net positive effect.

I’m still on the parenting highway with a long way to go. But this brief return of a college-aged daughter has been like a rest stop with a scenic vista. A chance to get out and stretch my weary self, breathe in the big picture, and offer gratitude for the journey.

I look back on the road we’ve travelled and wonder how we arrived safely at this point. Husband and I knew we wanted to take this family trip through life, but let’s face it, we had no idea where we were headed or how to get there. None of us do. We hop on board with the vaguest idea of what parenting has to offer.

Taking stock from this spot, I realize that this is for the best. No human can trump the trip-planning skills of life. We can prep and plan but life will take us off-road through adventures we never dreamed of.

Like a good geocacher who has found a treasure, before I leave this resting place, I will offer these nuggets of observation for those who trail me in time and space, in hopes that it will ease their journey.

  1. It’s all going to be okay. This is not to be confused with ‘nothing bad will ever happen.’ Trials will arise and roads will be blocked. Each is an invitation. You will either find your way around them or you will crash mightily. Either way, life will go on and so will you. Find comfort in that.
  2. The fact that you don’t know where you’re going doesn’t mean you won’t arrive. Just follow the signs and dare to explore. You have what it takes. I promise.
  3. Love really does conquer all. At the end of the trip, love is all that matters. Loving each other, loving the self, and loving life is the hardest, simplest, and most valuable aspiration in the world. Return to it as many times as you stray from it and it will welcome you home.

Life beckons me to return to the reality of the road where I likely will lose sight of this sweet perspective, at least temporarily. Letters of reassurance from grateful children may be far and few between. Rough travel is bound to surface and challenge my bolstered confidence in parenting. But having reached this point, I can say with certainty that the view is worth the struggle.  Stop and enjoy it when you get the chance.

Distance Parenting and Curve Balls

parenting worryWaking to a text from my college Freshman declaring “I’m scared,” was enough to give me a mini heart attack. Her physical safety had been inadvertently threatened by the thoughtless act of a misguided roommate. A week’s worth of distance-parenting ensued as my daughter found herself involved in an intense process that resulted in removal of said roommate.

Supporting Principessa from afar was a frustrating experience. I wanted desperately to rescue her, coddle her, speak for her… As mothers do, I wanted to kiss the boo-boo and make it better. Not unfortunately, the miles between us prevented any such nonsense, which gave Principessa the opportunity to rise up and shine through adversity.

Principessa had the wherewithal to handle herself with maturity and sensibility. Witnessing her instant evolution from child to young adult was gratifying to say the least. I felt as if I had arrived in a place I had dreamt about for years. It was a place that validated my (and Husband’s) work as parents.

Husband and I shook our heads in disbelief at the insanity of it all. As parents, we send a child off with hopes that we’ve prepared them for life. But we can never prepare for every conceivable situation. We can only hope that the skills they learned will serve them when life throws a curve ball.

When all was said and done, I felt relieved, of course, but also a bit damaged – strung out from sleepless nights of worry and days filled with phone calls. A week’s worth of uncertainty had taken its toll.

Friend asked why I hadn’t ‘freaked out’ about this violation to my first-born. I could thank yoga, meditation, prayer, denial, level-headedness, or any number of tools in my toolbox. I’m not really sure what held me together, but there was the underlying belief that Clarity works better than Chaos. I can’t allow Chaos to run the show, especially when my kid’s safety is on the line. Besides, I’d like to save ‘Freaked Out’ for an unidentified special occasion – one that can’t be solved with sanity. One that hopefully will never arrive.

The Grace of Parenting

mother_child_4Bringing my daughter to tears on the first day of Middle School was not one of my shining moments. More

Letter to University from Mom

collegeBoundDear University,

You are about to receive a gift. We call her Principessa and she is my daughter. To you, she is just a statistic – one set of criteria that met with approval for acceptance into your esteemed institution.

Principessa will be leaving all that she knows to join you several hundred miles from home. She will be on her own for the first time. I don’t expect you to parent her or to take over for me in my absence. But I do expect you to provide her with what she needs to survive and to thrive over the next several years.

I hope you fulfill the promises you made when you wooed her into your fold – a solid education that will lead to job prospects, a safe environment, and ample diversity and opportunities to stimulate her personal growth.

This seems like the least I can ask for my financial investment. Which, by the way, is significantly higher than many of her fellow classmates. For instance, the athlete with the coveted ‘full boat.’ Apparently his physical skills are more highly valued than my daughter’s passion and talent for nurturing children and her long-standing desire to become a teacher.

My husband and I will pay an inflated sticker price for the reward of our daughter’s college education. To say that I’m not bitter or worried about the ability to afford this would be a lie. But I’m willing to bury my negativity in exchange for her ultimate success and happiness.

University, you have no idea how special my daughter is to me. And I get the feeling that you probably don’t care – except for caring that she reflects well on your reputation. Don’t worry, she’ll do you proud, just as she has done for us all these years.

Principessa is one in 17,000 to you, but she is one of a kind to us, her family. Please be good to her. She deserves the best you have to offer.

Sincerely,

Mom of the college Freshman

The New You

brand-new-you1

image credit purefunfit.com

Dearest Daughter,

I love that you so clearly wrote your feelings in response to my spontaneous comment about not liking the New You.  I am equally unhappy that your email was written at 1:00 a.m.!  Why? Because that is very late and I worry, as mothers do.

I try hard not to share my worries because I want to project confidence for you.  Deep down, I believe that you’ll be fine, even when you make poor choices or even good choices that I don’t like.  I believe in fate and God and the goodness of Life.  But my human-ness and my mom-ness continue to plague me with what-if scenarios.

When you were a clumsy toddler, I watched with fear as you climbed a playground structure.  My hands were never far from your body, waiting – expecting – to have to catch you.  My mothering instinct is to protect.  Over the years, I’ve learned to subdue the urge to rescue you, even when you begged me.  Case in point: making you call the orthodontist to let him know that, again, you need to replace your retainer.  And that you will be paying for it.

While punishing me as a child, my mother told me, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”  I didn’t believe her.  I do now.  It hurts me to see you struggle, even when I know it will result in your favor.

As the first-born you bear the task of paving roads.  All along the way, my parental inexperience has been your guide.  You are my first child to leave the nest and I am learning how to reconcile my heartbreak with my pride.  Both emotions are strong and are battling for victory.

Last night, you captured a heartfelt but selfish comment from me.  When I said that I don’t like the new you, I misspoke.  I love all versions of you.  What I dislike is the feeling that my world is changing so drastically and so quickly.  You are living life your way, not my way, as it should be.  I envision myself grasping for the rope that tethers your boat to the dock.  But your ship is ready to sail.

You are branching out toward unfamiliar experiences, taking advantage of the bounty of youth, and it’s difficult for me to watch.  But my skepticism is not an indication of the rightness or wrongness of your choices.  As you pointed out in defense, you are consciously taking risks and risks are essential to growth.

Principessa, I trust in your core values.  I believe your intentions are pure.  You don’t disappoint me.  And I could never think less of you.

Thank you for pointing out that it’s also hard for you to see yourself changing.  We know that change is essential and beneficial but it’s often scary.  Now that we’ve exposed our mutual fear and shined a light on it, it looks less daunting.  Let’s agree that we won’t let fear get the best of us.

You worry that you’ll become someone you don’t recognize.  It’s true that you’ll stray from the person you’ve been, but you can’t lose yourself.  There is a part in each of us that is connected to our source. It cannot be severed. You are, and always will be, uniquely you by divine design.

If you forget who you are, how special and precious, just ask me.  I will pour my love into your heart and remind you of your value. As always, I will be here, with arms outstretched, ready to catch you if you fall.

Loving you more than you can imagine,

Mom

dr seuss you

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