Archive for the ‘raising kids’ Category

It’s Official: I’m Useless-ish

I’ve become irrelevant.

No, really. Apparently, when I wasn’t looking, my children grew up and they no longer need me.

A good thing, I know, but still.

See, last week my youngest got his license. Finally! I thought as I sat in Hell’s waiting room the DMV. No more days broken up by a kid’s schedule. No more trying to finish work, clean the house, run errands and prep dinner during the two hour window between shuttling back and forth to practices or during the surprisingly short block of time between morning drop off and afternoon pick up from school.

And, most importantly, no more late night pickups from friend’s houses!

Yay!

I would finally be able to don my pjs before 10 pm and not have to worry about running out in said pjs and being pulled over by a cop who would assume that I had been drinking or that I stole the car simply because I look like a vagrant. No silk robe or adorable short sets for me. No, my choice of sleepwear consists of a ratty old pair of shorts, a faded t-shirt and a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt I stole from my brother in high school. Pair that with my drooping sleep-deprived eyelids and my mop of hair and you can understand my fear of being mistaken for a drifter.

Those days are over!

So imagine my surprise when my son got his license and drove away from me for the first time and my first thought was: Wait! What? Driving you everywhere and bitching about it is my job!

Just like that. After 16 years as a chauffeur my services were no longer needed. I’d been unceremoniously let go.

Wow.

The running joke in our house is that I am constantly trying to get fired from this mom gig. When I cook a mediocre meal or I forget to wash someone’s favorite shirt I beg my family to fire me. “I’m just no good at this job,” I say. “Go ahead, fire me. I’ll be ok.”

But I didn’t really mean it.

I read somewhere that our job as a parent is to make our job as a parent unnecessary. We are supposed to give our kids all of the skills they need to do all of the things we do for them so they can go live productive adult lives and not need to call us to figure out how to boil water. (That’s what YouTube is for).

You teach them things, like how to read, write, use the bathroom on their own, cross the street, organize their homework, feed themselves something (anything!) and do laundry because you want them to be free of you and a little part of you wants to be free of all of that crap, too.

Be careful what you wish for.

I don’t think it matters if you are a stay-at-home mom, a stay-at-home dad, or a mom or dad who works full time or part time, most parents just want to take care of their kids. They want to nurture and dote on their kids and part of doing that is by doing things for their kids. However, when your kids no longer need you to do things for them it is both gratifying (Yay! Job well done!) and bittersweet (Who will I read a bedtime story to now??).

I’m, of course, not talking about the mind-numbing or gross stuff that they eventually can do on their own (believe me, I never felt nostalgic for the diaper changing days) but the stuff that is occasionally fulfilling. Like driving them around. As their private driver I felt my kids were safe(r) if I was driving. I also had the best conversations with my kids while driving since they did not feel the pressure of having a face-to-face conversation. And, (probably the best part) I could eavesdrop on carpool conversations. For whatever reason, kids forget that you exist when you are the driver and they talk about things they would never, ever normally say in front of you.

Sigh. Those days are over.

Now I will just need to be satisfied with my new, pared down job description. My job has been streamlined not eliminated entirely because it’s feeding time at our house (otherwise known as lunch) and as I write this my 20-year-old son just asked what there is to eat.

I guess I’m not completely irrelevant after all.

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Bye, Mom!

 

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Thank You All You Mothers

After 21 Mother’s Days as a mom and far too many to mention as a daughter and daughter-in-law, I’ve realized a few things about the day. Perhaps I’m alone in these thoughts, perhaps not. Let me know.

  1. Mother’s Day has an apostrophe because it’s supposed to be about honoring one’s individual mother so…it should really be about my children “honoring” ME, but it never is, which is fine. Really.
  2. Handmade cards from your younger children will always be better than the store bought ones you get when they are grown. Not that I don’t appreciate all of them but, c’mon nothing is better than these:
  3. 98% of girls will gush about their mothers on social media but only 1% of boys will do the same. As the mother of boys I know this is true and it’s fine. Really. No, I swear.
  4. If you wait until the last minute to order flowers for your mom they will cost four times as much and they will look like this:IMG_2977
  5. If you have children who play sports there will be multiple games scheduled on Mother’s Day (but, shockingly, none on Father’s Day).
  6. You will never find the perfect last-minute gift for your mom if you look at web sites that scream: “Mother’s Day Gifts Your Mom Actually Wants!” While I appreciate some of the ideas, my mom has never wanted a unicorn head, at least not that I know of and certainly not for Mother’s Day.
  7. Most moms I know don’t want any gifts for Mother’s Day anyway; all they want is time — either with or without their kids depending on how old the kids are. When my kids were little, for instance, I really, really, desperately, could not wait for some time by myself but, alas, my kids had other plans. They LOVED spending time with me on Mother’s Day. It was all Mommy, it’s your day and we are going to the park and out to eat and we are going to play baseball and take a walk and make a craft and, and, and. So, I played along and took time off on another day. Now that they are older, of course, all I really, really want to do is spend some time with them, which I get to do, but it’s not quite the same. Sure there are hugs and meals and some conversation (they are 17 and 21 years old so I don’t expect much by way of conversation) but what I wouldn’t give for a little bit of Mommy, Mommy, Mommy (just a little bit boys, in case you are reading this).
  8. And finally, I’ve figured out that Mother’s Day is really a day to be grateful for all the mothers in your life. I am so grateful for my own mom, of course, but also for all of the women who have taken care of me and, especially, all of the women who take care of my boys. I know that I am not the only woman who feeds my boys, worries about my boys and would step in and mother my kids as needed. In case I don’t say it often enough – thank you.

 

 

Why Creating Family Traditions is a Bad Idea

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Hey, you, over there, taking the photos of your lil’ punkin in the pumpkin patch, put down the camera and step away from that cute family moment.

I’m doing you a favor here. You may think that this is the beginning of a great family tradition that will last a lifetime but really you are merely starting down a path that will lead to pain and misery.

Seriously.

Sure, right now it’s adorable to watch your 2-year-old try to lug that ten pound pumpkin and to see your daughter grinning from ear-to-ear as you lift her overhead to reach the apple at the top of the tallest tree in the orchard.

But right now doesn’t last forever…they eventually become teenagers and that’s when the fun ends.

The child who one day loved all of your family traditions will turn on you the next day and demand that you stop engaging in traditional family activities that bore them/embarrass them/make them hate you because you are making them participate.

Just save yourself the pain of one day trying to get your teenagers to go pick out a pumpkin with you or go apple picking or decorate the Christmas tree while sipping hot cocoa and listening to Christmas music.

They won’t do it.

“But you LOVE apple picking,” you will remind your 15-year-old and he will look at you as though the very idea of eating an apple is repulsive and you have lost your mind because he never, never, ever enjoyed that activity.

“Help me put out the Halloween decorations, please,” is met with: “Why would we put out decorations? We aren’t little kids anymore—mom.”

Last year I “threatened” (i.e. screamed for a good 30 minutes) to take away Christmas unless someone helped me decorate the tree; five minutes later the tree was decorated but it was shrouded by a cloud of disdain for all things jolly.

At that point I officially hated Christmas.

Eventually your teenagers’ contempt for your heart-warming family traditions—the traditions you lovingly developed to create routine and joy in their lives—will just suck the joy out of the season.

So what do you do when the family traditions you’ve created no longer fit your family (but you still want them – damn it!)?

You could:

A) Have every family tradition involve a gift exchange because, somehow, my family is still ok with the traditions of gift giving for Christmas and Hanukkah.

B) Wait until you have grandchildren and do it all over again while secretly waiting for the day that your child calls you in a huff because his kid won’t pick out a pumpkin without several friends in tow. (This, of course, is my personal favorite.)

Or,

C) You could just adapt.

Unfortunately, option “C” eventually wins.

Until recently, I never thought about not being with my children for a holiday but, of course, my husband and I did that to our parents once we started dating. We had to divide our time between events or, as was often the case once we had kids, trade off between families every year. We solved the agony of making three Thanksgiving stops by forcing everyone to come to our house but even that has changed, as our siblings have had to adapt to their own extended family plans.

But significant others aren’t the only ones who force changes on family traditions. Once my son left for college even something as silly as giving him a half-birthday cake on his half-birthday (one of my favorite traditions) turned into a logistical nightmare since it fell on a weekend and I couldn’t send a homemade half cake. I compromised by sending a half-dozen cupcakes from a local bakery but that turned a simple idea into quite a pricey event and, besides, it just wasn’t the same.

But what about when he studies abroad and isn’t home for Thanksgiving? Or what if he decides to stay for Christmas in his new locale? How will I manage to arrange for his favorite holiday tradition, hanging his stocking on his door for Christmas morning?

It just occurred to me that there will come a day when my boys will not wake up in my house on Christmas morning and their stockings will sit on the mantle, unfilled, as mere decoration, much the same way our uncarved pumpkins decorate our porch now.

“It’s what’s supposed to happen,” my husband just said to me. Clearly, he isn’t quite as moved by this as I am. 

Screw that.

I changed my mind. I’m not going with option “C,” I’m going with option “A” above. A little bribe, I mean gift, could go a long way.

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Get A Job!

I was driving my younger son and his friend to soccer practice when they both started lamenting how busy they are this summer. My son’s friend is starting driver’s education as soon as soccer ends because, as he explained with a touch of sarcasm, “I can’t have one day with nothing to do.” My son groaned in sympathy. “I know,” my son added. “I don’t have a single day off this summer.”

Insert eye roll here.

I have no sympathy for this complaining. First of all, taking driver’s ed and playing soccer were my son’s requests, not mine, (as if I want another teenage driver in my house!) and, more importantly, he was complaining about being bored two days after school was out!

It would be great if he could have one of those idyllic 70’s summers. I can picture it perfectly: he would yell up the stairs in the early morning to say goodbye to me, the screen door slapping behind him before I can react. Then he would head to his best friend’s house on his bike and they would wander the neighborhood picking up other friends while looking for something to do, eventually following the railroad tracks to find the body before Keifer Sutherland and the other greasers could find it.

Oh wait. That’s the movie, Stand By Me.

All kidding aside, I wish he could have one of the carefree summers of my youth.

But he can’t.

They no longer exist.

Unless we parents collectively decide to yank our kids out of ALL activities my son will be home—alone—playing video games and watching YouTube videos, all day, EVERY DAY while his peers continue with their extensive summer plans.

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This trend is not going anywhere especially if you factor in the get-into-college-summer-resume-building frenzy of activities that all high school teenagers seem to be involved in.

My son is a rising high school sophomore and according to the Internet (where everything is true) my son should be on a service trip in Guatemala or working on a novel or starting a company in our garage (although that would be nice…).

With nothing but soccer and driver’s education on his agenda, his college admissions resume will be light.

There go the Ivy’s.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, the author of a new book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success” and author of The New York Times article, “What’s Your Teenager Doing This Summer? In Defense of ‘Nothing” wants parents to take back summer. She encourages parents to jump off of the get-into-a-good-college bandwagon and let “summer feel like summer again.”

She believes that free time will morph into time spent “cooking, biking, building models, drawing, talking to Grandma, reading books from the library, keeping a journal, feeling bored, making money mowing lawns or washing cars, noodling around on the piano or the guitar, learning how to drive, going for a swim, daydreaming in the hammock, lying on the grass staring up at the clouds.”

Hmm…I don’t know many teens who would fill their days daydreaming in a hammock or talking to their grandparents. I know my kid wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that teens should not spend their summers padding their high school resumes but should they really spend their summers doing nothing?

I have a better idea: let’s tell our teens to get jobs.

Not an “internship” at a family friend’s company but a real job. Preferably an annoying job with a bad boss, mean customers and a lot of responsibility.

This works on so many levels. Not only will your teen have some activity to fill his days but, if you, or your kid, care about the whole resume-building exercise, he will develop skills he would never develop if he was on a 3-week trip to the Galapagos Island with a staff to help him navigate the experience.

Maybe, because I’ve been through the get-into-college rodeo already, I recognize that the over-priced, completely scheduled, 2-week summer service trips and the full-time internships that Lythcott-Haims mentions aren’t fooling any admissions counselors.

What stood out on my older son’s resume wasn’t his two-week trip to a tropical paradise to tag turtles (yes, we were those parents) but his summer jobs as a baseball coach and a camp counselor for nine-year-olds. Talk about developing communication and problem solving skills! And those were just the skills needed to deal with the parents.

But, and this is important, he didn’t get those jobs with an eye towards his high school resume; he took those jobs to make money and because he likes kids. The rest (the experience, the learned skills, the connections) was just a bonus.

So, when your kid asks to go to Hawaii for three weeks to help the dolphins or you feel the itch to sign your kid up for one more learn-to-code class, hand your son or daughter the Help Wanted section from the local paper instead.

Then start planning your trip to a tropical paradise with the money you will save.

What are your teens doing this summer?

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How To Survive Summer Vacation With Your College Kid

Nine months ago I wrote about how my oldest son was off to college and I worried about how I was going to adjust. I was so sad and so convinced that I would never grow accustomed to setting the table for three instead of four and I would always mourn his absence.

Well, I got used to it.

It was so conflict-free! My oldest is the child who brings out the fight in me. I don’t know what it is but we butt heads over everything. It’s not so much what he says as how he says it: with a snarky tone that just begs for a fight.

And, far be it for me to back down.

When he was away at school we didn’t fight…much. It’s hard to fight with limited communication. But, our disagreements, if we had them, were usually via text (I could hear that snark in his words even when I couldn’t actually hear him). Thankfully we didn’t have time to text-fight very much because angry typing takes forever.

But now he’s home. Let the fighting begin.

I was so naïve. I thought that summer break would be exactly like his winter and spring breaks: short and sweet with nary a disagreement. I guess we were all on our best behavior because we had such little time and, now that I think about it, he had the flu over winter break and strep over spring break so he really was on his best behavior. Sick kids are so much easier to deal with.

Now that he’s healthy and we have three months instead of three weeks, I’ve come up with this survival plan:

  1. I will encourage him to sleep until 3:00 pm. This limits the amount of time that we can see each other during the day. Limited face-to-face interactions limits the number of fights we can have. Unfortunately, this can’t go on forever (for so many reasons, of course). Only one of his two summer jobs has started and the one that will get him up and out of bed by 7:00 am doesn’t start for another week. In the mean time I am relishing the quiet of the morning/afternoons.
  2. I will ignore the snark. Often, when my son misses breakfast and lunch because he has slept through both meals he gets snarky. I WILL NOT ENGAGE! I will simply tune him out like a teenager engaging with his or her parents. I will let my mind wander to pleasant thoughts while he complains about being bored/tired/hungry/oppressed. And when his venting loses steam and he turns back into my sweet, loving child I will tune back in.
  3. I will make my home less appealing. When my older son was younger I wanted to have the house where everyone would hang out. I thought it was a good way to keep an eye on the kids. Now, I would prefer they go elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong. I really adore my son’s friends. I do. They are great kids who are polite, kind, smart, engaging and they even clean up! But they are at the age when they may want to do things that I don’t want to know about. I don’t want to always be the parent who will have to say no. So, as a deterrent, I will hide the snacks and fall asleep on the couch when his friends come over. Or maybe I will sit at the counter with them and ask them a lot of questions. Or, even better, I’ll invite my friends over to sit at the counter with them and ask a lot of questions. That should make them want to flee.
  4. When I actually want to spend time with my son (which is often, in case you were worried) I will take him out for a meal. He LOVES to eat so taking him to a new restaurant and offering him a good (free) meal are easy ways to get some quality time. Family dinner every night is another way to “force” him to spend time with us but that usually only lasts five minutes (although it is a pretty good five minutes). If I want real, extended time without conflict, he needs food.
  5. I will torment him when he starts to fray my nerves. I’ll crack bad jokes, play my music too loudly, ask him questions or ask him to help with chores. This will force him to retreat to his room or the basement. It’s like a time out without having to ask him.
  6. I will not wait up for him. I used to lie in bed waiting for the back door to open before I could drift off peacefully. Now I put in my earplugs and promptly fall asleep. He usually doesn’t stay out too late so this one is pretty easy. I also know that if he gets arrested, gets into an accident, or gets abducted someone will call me and wake me up.
  7. And finally, I will not worry about him getting arrested, or getting into an accident or being abducted. At least not obsessively (I’ll always worry a little). There was a time when I worried about all of those things and the only time I felt secure was when he was home in bed and I knew exactly where he was. And then he left for college and I knew nothing about his whereabouts. I had to trust that I taught him well and that he would make good decisions…ok, good-ish decisions.

I’m only three weeks into my plan but so far, so good. If it doesn’t work, however, there’s always summer school next year.

The Too Much Information Age of Parenting

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My mom and dad had it easy. There was no pressure to parent the right way – everyone did it wrong. At least by today’s standards.

Kids roamed the streets unattended, parents left kids home alone and made them prepare their own meals (Salisbury Steak anyone?) and most importantly, kids didn’t tell their parents what they were really doing so parents didn’t really know – and they liked it.

I miss those days.

Now, with technology, we parents expect that we will know where our kids are at all times. I don’t know how many times I’ve texted my kid, “Where r u?” and been frustrated that I didn’t get an immediate response. If he didn’t have a phone I probably wouldn’t ask. But he does, so I want an answer. Now.

Our parents knew we were out – whatever “out” meant. They knew that we would eventually come home; usually at whatever time they told us to be home because that’s what we did. Now, my kids can’t keep track of the time even though they have a phone glued to their hands—a phone with an alarm. Which is why I need to text…

If my parents weren’t home then we were on our own. Even though my parents owned a restaurant I don’t remember warming up meals from the restaurant for dinner; I remember cooking something and by cooking I mean heating up a TV dinner that we ate on a TV table in front of the TV.

Now, if I haven’t prepared my kids a meal before I leave, I order in for them. I do this even though both of them are perfectly capable of cooking a real meal – they are 19 and 15 after all – or simply improvising (cereal or a peanut butter sandwich for dinner never killed anyone).

The biggest difference, however, between my parents’ generation and parents today is that we know so much about our children. We schedule their lives from the time they are very little until they leave for college. We plan their activities, schedule their “play dates,” over-volunteer in their classrooms so we can get to know the other kids and their equally over-involved parents. Because of this shift in the parenting culture we know everything our children are doing and thinking and saying.

That’s how they are raised. They are raised to share. Some share more than others – even in the same house—but, nonetheless, it is generally – at least by the time they are teenagers – too much information.

I’m kidding – sort of.

Do I really want to hear the funny story about my older son’s friends who were completely trashed at a party? Yes…and no. I’m glad he can share but all I’m thinking is maybe you shouldn’t be friends with those people.

And, do I really want to know about disagreements my kids have with their friends? Well, yes…and no. I’m glad I can be a sounding board but long after my kid has moved on, I will continue to not like that person on my son’s behalf FOREVER.

I can’t unknow it.

Maybe we are better off with our heads in the sand.

My parents didn’t know about these things. We didn’t talk to our parents about stuff back then – we talked to our friends or we didn’t talk. Our parents didn’t hang on every word we said, they didn’t micro-manage our lives and, most importantly, they didn’t want to.

My parents, for instance, didn’t know when I stopped talking to my best friend of 10 years. Or, maybe they noticed but we didn’t chat about it. My mom didn’t ask me what happened or how I felt about it. I would have been mortified if she did!

But now, if one of my kids suddenly stopped hanging out with someone they had been BFFs with for 10 years I would notice and ask them what happened and, my kids, being part of this generation of over-sharers, would tell me. Then, long after my child had moved on, I would continue to obsess about the potential scar that the break in the friendship may have caused.

See, my parents had it easy. What they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them (or make them obsess or hold a grudge).

But, me? I’m screwed. I’ve already trained my kids to share with me and I’m certainly not going to tell them that I don’t want to hear what they have to say because I do…and I couldn’t stop myself if I tried because once you know about these things, you know. You know?

 

Do you know too much about your kids? Do you wish you didn’t??

 

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What I Have Learned After Nearly 19 Years of Parenting

Usually, after 19 years on a job, you begin to feel pretty competent. You move through your daily routine with some sense of mastery, some confidence in your abilities. Even if there is a little hiccup in your daily schedule you know, from years of experience, that you can figure it out.

And then there is parenting.

No matter how many years you are a parent you never really know what you are doing. How can you if the job description changes every day – ok, every minute – and the other people you work with don’t follow the rules??

I didn’t realize how little I’ve learned over nearly two decades until I was surrounded by new-ish parents who thought that I had a handle on this parenting gig.

Ha!

To their credit no one asked me any specific questions but they did sigh longingly when they said that it must be easier now that my kids can take care of themselves and I can sleep through the night.

Again, ha!

I didn’t burst that bubble, though (FYI: teenagers do not take care of themselves and what parent of a teenager actually gets sleep??). I figured that these young mothers didn’t need to worry about the teen years while they are chasing their toddlers around Starbucks and tending to screaming infants.

It did make me realize, however, that there are a few things I’ve picked up along the way. I wrote them down as proof that at this moment* I think I’ve learned something.

  1. Your kids are listening even when you think they aren’t. I’m not talking about eavesdropping (although they tend to do that as well so you have to be careful when you are talking on the phone). No, I’m talking about those times when you are doling out unsolicited advice about dating or drinking or you are nagging them to do work instead of playing video games. One day they will see the value in your advice and they may even thank you. Maybe. But don’t hold your breath for their thanks.
  2. It’s ok to apologize. You will make mistakes…all the time. It’s healthy for your kids to see that you are not perfect and that you are human. This doesn’t mean that you should keep making the same mistake every day and keep apologizing for it, but, if you make a bad call, yell when you are having a bad day or give crappy advice – apologize and talk about it.
  3. Yelling doesn’t help.
  4. Humor is so important. My boys and I have so many silly inside jokes that make us crack up all the time. I love those moments and I love that connection. My boys may shake their heads when I make up a song about the dog or when I think I’m being “punny” but I see them smile occasionally. I hope those moments outweigh all of the times I nagged them about their homework.
  5. They will dislike you at times especially when you enforce a rule that pisses them off – like taking away a phone when they forgot to call home or not letting them go out when they break curfew. They will get over it. As long as my responses to their infractions are reasonable I can walk away and know that I’ve done my job. Every now and then I say things like, I am taking away all of your electronics for three months because you were 5 minutes late! That’s when an apology and, sometimes, a sense of humor come in handy.1351263042664_4136006
  6. Family time is sacred. Whether it’s dinner or breakfast or a family movie night, shared family experiences are glue.
  7. Take lots of pictures, write things down, make a video. Not of every moment because some moments are definitely worth simply sinking into, but, know this: you will not remember everything. No matter how many times you think, I will never forget this moment, you will. And, the pictures, notes, videos are as much for your kids as they are for you.
  8. Let them fail – often. You’ve probably heard this a lot by now but failing is not the new “f” word. I am so guilty of trying to save my kids. Trying to protect them from every contingency, every physical scrape, every emotional let down. I dole out advice, say no to seemingly dangerous activities and guess what? Even as I’m running interference for them, they’ve suffered injuries and set backs – and that’s ok.
  9. They need you as much when they are 19 as they do when they are 2.
  10. They love you even when you suck as a parent.

 

*This is subject to change at any moment.

 

How about you? What have you learned from #parenting?

 

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