Posts Tagged ‘yelling’

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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The First Child Experiment

Our poor first-born children.

We parents have no idea how little we know about parenting our oldest child until our subsequent children go through a similar experience. Only then can we look back and say to ourselves, damn, I screwed that up!

First-time parents move through parenthood blindly, figuring things out on the fly because no matter how much experience you may have had with someone else’s kids in the past, you still have no idea what you are doing with your child. You are positive that everything that you do to your child or for your child will have lasting repercussions. Because, let’s face it, that whole nature vs. nurture thing simply means that if your DNA doesn’t screw them up your parenting skills will.

A friend of mine recently joked that she hopes that her oldest daughter recognizes that she is a parenting experiment.

I think her analogy is spot on.

With no roadmap and no instruction manual, most first time parents approach everything they do to their first child like a science experiment even if they don’t realize they are doing it.

Let’s use potty training as an example.

Step 1: Ask a Question

The first step when conducting any scientific experiment is to ask a question. In this case a good question would be: “Will my two-year-old child ever be potty trained or will he be in diapers in college?”

Step 2: Do Background Research

Pour over every parenting book, website and magazine to figure out if it is indeed possible to have a child who refuses to be potty trained and ends up wearing diapers in college.

Step 3: Construct a Hypothesis

In this example your hypothesis could be: “If I buy my child super hero underwear, he will be so excited he will then want to use the potty and never use diapers again.”

Steps 4 and Beyond: Test Your Hypothesis

You test your hypothesis, which, of course, fails miserably because as first time parents you don’t yet know that toddlers are stubborn and refuse to do anything that you want them to do, so, you continue to reformulate and retest your hypotheses until you make your child cry which, in turn, makes you cry and so on and so on and so on until eventually you figure it out.

And then your next kid comes along and it’s SO MUCH EASIER!

Why?

It’s not because the second child is less difficult; it’s because you are.

With your second child you know that any fear you have that your child will go to college in diapers is absurd! And, although you may need to tweak your approach with each kid to get the same result (each kid is different after all), without the anxiety of the unknown hanging over you, the process is so much easier.

You would think that once we recognize this pattern we would find a way to speed up the learning curve…but we can’t. Every stage of our first-born child’s life presents some new scenario that we are ill prepared to handle: school, friendships, driving, dating, college, etc.

Everything our first child does is, well, first, which makes everything they do novel, scary, and very, very important.

I was reminded of this again over the weekend when I attended a cocktail party for the parents’ of my younger son’s high school freshmen class. I spoke with several parents who had just survived their oldest child’s first set of high school finals. Every one of these parents had some version of the same story: they had to force their kid to study because their kid wouldn’t get organized or study long enough or care enough: the parent’s anger would grow until eventually the parent exploded; and every one of these parents believed that their child’s failure to comprehend the importance of final exams and their general lack of motivation meant that they would never graduate from high school, attend college, get a job and move out of the house.

“Shit,” I thought. “That’s how I sounded four years ago!”

“If you don’t study, you will fail and you will end up living in my basement!” was my mantra during my older son’s finals.

This time around with my youngest who just completed his first set of finals I took a laissez-faire approach: I did not yell when his focus drifted from his studying, I did not yell when I saw his grades, and I did not yell when he said, “I should have studied more.”

My mantra this time around, as it has been with everything for my second child, was “This too shall pass.”

Because it does…

…unless, of course, it’s your older child facing some new experience, in which case see Steps 1-4 above.

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A Holiday Miracle

The Thanksgiving season is usually not considered the time of miracles and yet something miraculous happened yesterday. Not the miracle of weeping icons or spontaneous healing, mind you, but miraculous just the same.

Let me back up.

My 18-year-old, college freshman came home for Thanksgiving break last night and within 45 minutes our battle for control began.

And, no, the miracle is not that it didn’t happen sooner.

After several hugs for the dog, a couple quick hugs for me, and a discussion about laundry he disappeared into his room.

I was a little disappointed by his vanishing act but I figured a home cooked meal would lure him out. I was wrong. I spent 10 minutes trying to get him to join the family for dinner.

I was miffed. Shouldn’t he be thrilled to have real food?

When he finally came to the table, he brought his iPad with him.  I told him to put it away during dinner and he responded with the, “I can do whatever I want because I’ve been away at school and I do whatever I want there,” bullshit that every college kid says to his parents when he comes home for break.

I was even more miffed.

And, when I told him that I didn’t appreciate his attitude, he responded with “Whatever,” and a roll of his eyes.

That’s when I snapped.

I yelled, my 14-year-old left the table, and my husband sat in silence.

At that moment, I just wanted my oldest son to go back to school.

I thought I had prepared for this. I read all the articles and blog posts about how to deal with your kid when he returns home for school breaks – hell, I wrote an article – but it didn’t matter.

I didn’t want to spend a little bit of time with him. I wanted more.

I wanted him to want to spend time with us – well, me in particular. I wanted him to choose us over his friends and his electronics. I wanted him to say, “Let’s watch a movie together,” “Let’s play a board game,” or “Let’s go out for dinner – just the four of us!” All the books and articles told me those were unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, but I still wanted it!

Those parents of college students who say, “That’s how the visit home is supposed to be. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s healthy!” are full of it. Deep down, they are just as pissed as I am; they just want to act like they are superior parents who have this whole parenting gig down. Me? I don’t care what it looks like. I suck as a parent, remember?

I know I sound like an infant but watching my kid transition from child to independent adult (albeit one who still needs to borrow our car and doesn’t pay for insurance) is not easy. It’s really uncomfortable to have a child who one day can’t leave you alone and the next day doesn’t want anything to do with you. None of this is new; I’ve been dealing with this since my oldest became a teen but it’s always shocking to me and it makes me kind of sad…or mad depending on the day.

Yesterday, apparently, was a mad day.

But then, just as I was on the verge of destroying any chance of quality family time for the entire week, a holiday miracle occurred: the WiFi AND the television went out.

The iPad my son brought to the table? Useless.

The video games he wanted to play on the Xbox? Unavailable.

The TV shows he wanted to binge watch? Inaccessible.

Was this just a coincidence or did my shortening fuse cause our electronics to go out? Did I suddenly have some sort of power? After all, I have been called a witch before (although it probably wasn’t a literal reference).

It didn’t matter. Just like that, I had my kid’s undivided attention.

“Let’s play a board game,” he said.

A Thanksgiving miracle and, yes, I am grateful.

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Wishing you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Oh, Christmas Tree!

It is January 22 and our Christmas tree is still in our living room. Although it is no longer standing (my husband laid it on its side yesterday – I think he thought he was hiding it from me) it has yet to be moved into our basement where it is stored for 11 months out of the year.

The problem is that every year since we bought a fake tree, I have been the one to bring the tree out of it’s storage closet, lug the parts up the stairs and assemble it in our living room. Then, in early January, I take down all of the ornaments—alone, take apart the tree—alone, drag it down the stairs—alone, and put it away – al (well, you get the idea).

But not this year. I already hurt my back taking off a cowboy boot, who knows what would happen if I had to stand on my tip-toes and try to pull apart our fake Fraser fir. I’m not risking it, so there the tree sits (although I did manage to wrest off the top portion of the tree which has been sitting on the floor since January 14).

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Of course, everyone wants to join in when we are decorating the tree but no one, surprisingly, wants to help with the clean up. And no one, surprisingly, notices that something needs to be cleaned up.

How is it possible that am I the only one who notices a 7-foot tall Christmas tree in the middle of the living room nearly a month after Christmas??

Still, I refused to demand that someone help me. I refused to yell and threaten and scream. I actually wanted to see how long it would take before someone in this house would ask why the tree was still up (or hiding behind the coffee table as the case may be).

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I was even starting to get used to it. If it wasn’t for my 12-year-old’s guitars that had migrated to the family room when the tree displaced them, I could probably live with the tree in the living room for a few more weeks. I even joked with a friend of mine that we should just leave the tree up and decorate it for every holiday.

There were so many possibilities! I could print out pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and hang them like ornaments on MLK Day or hang dragons for Chinese New Year or hearts on Valentine’s Day or even make copies of my left hand on National Left Hander’s Day and hang those up.  Would anyone notice the tree then??

I was cracking myself up so I told my 16-year-old about my idea. “Geez mom,” he said. “I’ll take the tree down.  All you had to do was ask!”

Funny. I was so busy not yelling and threatening and screaming at my kids that I forgot to ask them.

Lesson learned.

Give it 20 Minutes

Give it 20 Minutes

I have just returned from a two-week vacation and I feel like a new person. So much so, that I can’t think of a single inferior mother moment – or maybe it’s the jet lag since I can’t remember much about anything or maybe, just maybe, I’m becoming a better parent.

To be safe I asked my kids what they thought was a recent bad mom moment. My 11-year-old was quick to list all of my past mistakes but I told him that those didn’t count. When I made him narrow it down to the last few weeks he had nothing. Nothing!

I thought that my oldest would have at least a handful of incidences but he too was a stumped…

For a beat.

“Well, it’s not really a fair question,” he said. “We’ve been on vacation with Grandma and Yiayia (Grandmother in Greek) and you’re never really mean in front of them.” He paused. “Give it 20 minutes,” he added. And both of my boys laughed.

Now, normally that kind of sass would make me mad – just because. But not today. No, today I laughed too. It must be the new not Inferior me.

As I went about making dinner I politely asked my 15-year-old to please start his summer reading (“It’s only 300 pages, Mom, and I have 6 days!”)

From behind me I heard my youngest mutter, “I give it 10 minutes.”

Yes, normally, I would be demanding that he start reading THIS INSTANT and if he didn’t start right away I would begin listing all of the things that I would eventually take away from him (but never do) and he would dig in his heels and refuse and I would stomp off angry and he would read but get nothing out of it.

Not today! Today, he read 30 pages, which he annotated, and he even brought up the motif that is emerging in the book. I could be on to something – not yelling seems to work!

About 10 minutes later my husband walked up behind me as I was sending an email and started to comment on what I was writing. For the record – I hate, hate, hate that. I hate having someone looking over my shoulder while I’m writing, reading, breathing. Clearly it’s a holdover from my childhood and I should probably see someone about it, but today after my initial, “Do you mind?” And, “You know how much I hate that,” as I felt myself gearing up to spew the laundry list of times that I have asked him not to do that I stopped.  I just didn’t have it in me. I simply turned away.

In the midst of this I hear my oldest son in the other room say to his little brother: “Here it comes.”

So now they’re gunning for me. They are convinced, even with all evidence to the contrary, that I am not a new person. In case you are wondering, I wasn’t at an ashram, I wasn’t hanging with the Dalai Lama or cultivating inner peace, I was just on a long overseas vacation with my family, my mother-in-law and my mom (just writing that sentence is making me wonder why I’m not more crazed but something about it worked).

Hours pass and still no eruption, but now it’s bedtime—a true test of my strength. Bedtime has been a little unpredictable as of late. Between summer activities, summer camp and vacation there has been very little structure in our home but with school right around the corner I think that sleep before 11:00 pm is in order.

And so the whining begins. First my youngest starts with the “I’m not tired” excuse, then it’s the “I haven’t had my dessert yet,” line, followed by the always popular “Actually, I don’t want dessert I’m just really hungry.” And on it goes for a good five minutes.

“GET TO BED!” I finally scream. “NOW!” And that was followed by a long, drawn out mommy rant about he never listens and if he doesn’t get to sleep then I can’t get to sleep, and school is coming and his sleep has been so disrupted and on and on and on.

When I finally come up for air and look up at my family they’re smiling. “I told you I could make her crack,” my youngest proclaims as he bounds up the stairs. I almost expect them to exchange money – as if the three of them were taking bets about how long it would take for me to lose it.

But I showed them. “Give it 20 minutes?” Ha! It took hours.

Originally printed on acontrolledsubstance.com.

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