Archive for the ‘Parenting Tips & Tools’ Category

Flying 101: Giving Them Wings

Friday, May 6th, 2011

To say that I’m having a hard time letting my kids go is probably the understatement of the year. At 13 and 16, they both tower over me, and you’d think now that we are knee deep in ‘The Teenage Years’ I’d be getting better at this, but I’m not. The first time I realized I should loosen my near death grip on my growing young boys-to-men was when my 13-year-old’s voice coach asked, oh so gently, if I would consider letting Ben walk to her door by himself. Apparently other kids are dropped off at the curb and walk into her house on their own. Well, to say this was a huge eye-opener is no exaggeration. To my credit, I didn’t even realize I was being perhaps a teeny weeny bit overprotective! Now that I think about it, it is both hilarious and absolutely mortifying to me that I accompanied my son to her door, week after week, waving at her each time. It brings back memories of walking him to his classroom in kindergarten.

The second incident, and the one that really got my attention, happened at a soccer game. While I’ve seen my share of jaw-dropping, heart-lurching injuries, amazingly my boys have remained fairly injury-free. So when my 16-year-old motioned to his coach that he needed out of the game, I sat up and paid attention. As I watched Daniel slightly limp off the field, it was as if he were transformed into a little boy all over again. Almost without realizing it, I found myself getting up and walking over to the bench to check on him. His kind coach caught my eye, probably wondering what the heck I was doing! That was enough to stop me in my tracks, literally. I blinked and in that moment I saw that my son was not 6 years old anymore! If I walked over to see how he was, he would never live it down! Yes, I have a loooong way to go!

We all have times in our kids’ lives when we struggle to accept that they’re older and ready for more responsibility. I’ve had the good fortune to be around kind souls who took a chance and either with their words or a simple glance helped me acknowledge these young men as the mature guys they really are. If you find yourself in a similar situation — one that could potentially blow up in your face and humiliate both you and your child — take a moment to make sure you aren’t holding your children back by trying to protect them too much. To all the like-minded mothers who may need a course in Flying 101, know that you are not alone and there are other mothers (and fathers, I’m sure!) who are standing on the precipice themselves, slowing peeling back one finger at a time to let our dear children go.

Letting Them Fail

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Last spring and summer I was hooked on watching a webcam from a Barn Owl house in southern California. Molly and McGee, the two owls living there, were in the family way, and I was fortunate enough to be online when one of their owlets hatched. In the following weeks, there were stunning live views of McGee bringing food (rats, gophers, etc.) back to the nest and Molly feeding the owlets. Eventually Molly was able to leave the babies alone and hunt, too, as their growing appetites became true forces to deal with. Little by little, as the scrawny, homely owlets exchanged their wispy down for gorgeous brown and grey feathers, things changed. Molly and McGee weren’t around as much. They still brought food, but now the babies had to rip the flesh, themselves, if they wanted to eat.

As the owls grew bigger and bigger, the owl house seemed to get smaller and smaller. Eventually, the oldest one (they hatch just a few days apart) started to hang around on the outside perch at night, surveying the surroundings. Molly and McGee were still delivering food, but it became apparent that the oldest owl would soon be expected to find and return with his own meals. But first he had to actually fledge — fly from the owl house for the very first time. After hours and hours and several nights of what I’m going to call ‘getting his nerve up,’ he launched himself through the air, returning just a few moments later. It was a stirring sight, and I was humbled by somehow being a part of a phenomenon that occurs countless times every day on this planet.Then came the night he knew, and Molly and McGee knew, that it was time for him to find his own food and get it back up to the owl house. We viewers didn’t get to see him find his prey, but he had me on pins and needles as he struggled to get the rodent, half his size, back up to the owl house. It took what looked like a painful number of tries to succeed, but eventually he did, and Molly and McGee didn’t interfere throughout the effort.

As a parent who has had to watch my own children struggle at certain points during their lives, it was excruciating to see the owl try and fail, try and fail, over and over again. Yet, with each attempt, he was figuring something out. He was tiring, but he was also getting stronger. And whatever you call ‘confidence’ in owls, he certainly was growing in that as well. Now he’s out on his own, being a perfect owl, somewhere. Molly and McGee knew every step of the way what to do when, and what not to do. There are some aspects of Nature that you just can’t argue with, no matter what. As challenging as it may be for parents to watch our kids experience failure and learn from it, I think we would do well to take this lesson from Molly and McGee to heart.

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My Tumultuous Teens

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Living with teenagers can be a tricky and trying experience at times. They can be happy and carefree one minute, then, without warning, the storm clouds roll in, and they turn into surly, withdrawn creatures, barely making eye contact and communicating only with grunts and monosyllabic words. Then for no apparent  reason, the universe shifts once again, and they cheerfully ask, ‘What’s for dinner?’ It’s enough to make your head spin. There are moments when I long for what now seem like much simpler times: bubble baths and shampoo mohawks, seemingly endless bedtime stories, sticky fingers and faces, hugs, and little boy voices saying,  ‘I love you, Mommy.’ Now, instead of giggly bubble baths, there are never-ending showers that use up all the hot water. Instead of my putting the boys to sleep with a bedtime story (or two, or three), my boys wake me up late at night  to let me know they made it home safe and sound. The hugs have morphed into a kind of one-shoulder lean with no arms involved, over in an instant no matter how I try to hang on to them.

But of all the changes that have occurred through the years, the one that causes me to wonder what  I could have done differently as a parent is the response I get when I say, ‘I love you.’ Instead of a resounding ‘I love you too, Mommy!’ what I hear is ‘um hmm’ or ‘ok.’ I could let this strike me prostrate with grief, but instead I think back to my own teenage years and my surliness and mood swings with my own parents, and I realize it has nothing to do with me. It is all about my boys and the changes they are going through as they find their own way in the world. High school graduation, college, career choices, social pressures, and the occasional bad hair cut are all reasons to cause uncertainty and aggravation. Throw in some crazy woman clinging to their arms as they try to leave the house, and it’s no wonder all they can do is grunt. So, thank you Mom and Dad for your  patience, guidance, and unfailing love during my tumultuous teens, and for keeping your  snickers to a minimum as I bemoan my own trials as a parent of teenagers. I will continue to call out, ‘I love you, Buddy’ when my sons head out the door, and I’m doing a pretty good job.

Encouraging Your Kids to Live Their Bliss

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Recently I was on a flight with a self-professed high school ”nerd.” During our 2-hour flight, I told him the good news — that if he’s a nerd now, I can pretty much guarantee one day he’ll be living The Good Life if he can survive the next four years without dropping out — of school or life. School life, I told him, is not kind to nerds, but real life is, as 20-year high school reunions can attest to. The teen years can be such a brutal time in our children’s lives. They don’t have the life experience to know that this conform-to-the-herd-or-be-a-nerd time is so temporary in the grand scheme of things. They don’t yet understand that a whole new world awaits in the not-too-distant future — where the dweeb of the lunchroom can be the CEO of the boardroom and the mousy girl in hand-me-down clothes can win an Oscar one day.

The key is to help our children discover what it is they truly want to do, what makes their heart sing, and let that define them and motivate them rather than their peers’ opinions of their shoes or how they wear their hair. If we parents/mentors don’t create the space for our kids to be real and feel listened to, where else will they find it? If your 16-year-old’s heart’s desire is to draw cartoons, encourage it, celebrate it, allow him to  experience a sense of mastery in it, and explore possible career paths involving art even if your practical side is screaming.

My airplane buddy has a passion for World War II history and would love to work in a museum one day, but his mom is hoping he’ll become an ultrasound tech because they’re really in demand and make good money. If I could have coffee with his mom, I would first applaud her for raising a son who knows his bliss. If she said, ”Well, I don’t see how it’s going to put bread on the table!” I’d agree with her that it might not be easy, but then I hope I’d have enough gumption to tell her I hoped her son would find the courage and the means to live an authentic life. I might even share one of my favorite quotes by Howard Thurman: ”Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Since it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever meet this boy’s mom, I guess the next best thing is to write this to all the moms (and dads!) out there whose children are entering that stage where true passions and interests often take a backseat to their peers’ opinions, especially if their interests are not ‘cool.’ We can’t control what their peers say, but we can control what we say. The world may need more ultrasound techs, but my hope is that each of us looks for what makes our children come alive in the world and helps to nurture it. Wishing you all a beautiful spring full of hope and new life.

If I Had My Child to Raise Over Again

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

by Diane Loomans

If I had my child to raise all over again,
I’d do less correcting, and more connecting,
I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and know to care more.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I’d run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I’d do more hugging, and less tugging.
I would be firm less often, and affirm much more,
I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I’d teach less about the love of power and more about the power of love.

The Art of Imperfection

Friday, November 12th, 2010

No matter how hard I try, the perfection I strive for seems to be just out of reach. As soon as the floors are mopped, a little tuft of dog hair inevitably appears in the corner. No matter how many hours of tender care I give my roses, the critters that forage in the yard at night leave nibbled petals and an occasional broken branch for me to find in the morning. Then, there are those personal life ‘experiences’ that burst the perfection bubble. Let me explain.

It was a picture perfect (nature can be perfect!), sunny afternoon, and my husband, our two sons, and I were at a high school graduation party for one of the nicest kids you could ever hope to meet. He and his beautiful mom (also one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet) live in a gorgeous home on a hill with an absolutely stunning view. I felt pretty confident that I looked nearly perfect: my hair was up, my dress was cute, and everything about my outfit said ‘this woman has got it together.’ Little groups of people were scattered about, chatting and munching on the yummy food, enjoying the whole setting. As I was chatting and munching, a soft breeze came up and blew a couple of pieces of lettuce off of my plate. Being the conscientious guest that I am, I stepped back so that I could pick up the lettuce. Did I mention we were outside? So, I stepped back — and directly into the Jacuzzi. Way in, to the middle, completely submerged. When the need to breathe overpowered my feelings of utter humiliation, I surfaced and slowly opened my eyes to see a row of surprised faces and my oldest son sitting on the steps and holding his head in his hands in total mortification. As I retrieved the piece of pizza bobbing on the churning surface of the water, all I could do was laugh. My stunned husband helped me out of the water, the really nice kid brought me a big towel, and his even nicer mom asked what, if anything, she could do for me.

Well, there wasn’t anything she could do; it was up to me to own the moment. So, I wrapped the towel around my dripping dress, apologized to my embarrassed 18-year-old son, removed the clip from my hair and fluffed it a little so it could dry, accepted the new plate of food my darling husband brought me, and enjoyed the rest of the party. Did I still look nearly perfect? Not a chance. My hair was frizzy, my dress was a little wrinkled, although it was completely dry by the time we left, and my mascara had settled into dark smudges beneath my eyes.

So, as you are frantically cleaning, decorating, baking, and wrapping this holiday season, remember that the little mishaps in life make it interesting. Your friends and family are not coming to your home to check whether your cloth napkins are expertly pressed, or whether or not all the candles in the centerpiece are perfectly straight. They are coming to see you, to share your warmth and laughter, because they love you and want to be with you just as you want to share yourself with them. Relax and own the moment, imperfections and all. Who knows, you may just end up with a great story to share.

In the Blink of an Eye

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

It happens to the best of us. While we’re busy living, life just about passes us by. Never is this more apparent than with our children. We have our babies, and then in that veritable blink of an eye, they’re crawling, walking, and talking. Our little ones amaze us with each new milestone that seemed impossible just a month ago. Before we know it, they’re in kindergarten, with circle time, ABCs, and even reading. Another blink of an eye, and they’ve finished elementary school and are well into middle school, learning more facts, making new friends, playing sports, having fun. In short, living their lives.

I bring this up because the latest hurdle we’re facing is high school. My voice still quavers a bit when I tell people my oldest son is now in high school. Gone are the days when I could sit in the back of the classroom and help staple some construction paper together, read with a group of kids, or help others with their multiplication tables, while keeping half an eye on my son. Sure, if there’s a clean-up day or a call for some kind of assistance at the high school, I help when I can. But those days of hanging out in the classroom are gone.

While a part of me grieves this loss, another part is starting to accept the inevitable change. Not too long ago, I was reminded of our true role as parents by some gentle neighbors whose kids are now adults. John said it so eloquently and it rings true for me during these days that seem to be just flying by: Our job is to set our kids free, like a mother bird nudges her young from the nest, ready to fly. Whether we are ready for it or not, they are ready.

So these days, when I’m thinking about which college might be the best fit rather than which art project students could make for a teacher present, I remember these wise words. Hugging my now-towering sons and saying ‘I love you’ more often also seems to help me appreciate the time we have. Like it or not, they will be on their way sooner than I may want, but for now I will try to savor each day we have together. As summer unfolds, I hope you enjoy some special times with your children, knowing that soon enough they will be on their way.

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Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

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It’s Her Story

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Recently a friend was telling me about some “interesting” choices her grown daughter had made. Instead of a “WHAT was she thinking???!” judgment fest, our conversation took a 360-degree turn when this grace and wisdom came from my friend’s lips: “Oh, well; it’s her story!”

As a seasoned parent, this concept was not new to me, yet I felt a renewed sense of clarity when my friend worded it this way. I first experienced this revelation 18 years ago when my daughter Kathryn was born with profound disabilities. I wondered if I would ever get over the grief, but Kathryn’s father pointed out that I was not disabled. Without underestimating the role of parenthood, he reminded me that I still had my own life — separate from our daughter’s.

When our babies depend upon us for their very survival, the thought of them as separate entities is so difficult to grasp. We may even have visions of them growing up to be little extensions of ourselves. And who hasn’t at one time or another felt that ego-driven delight when our child appears to be a “chip off the old block”? The truth remains, however, that each child comes into the world the author of his or her own story, separate from us.

When my older daughter, Ann, who is now a mother herself, recently told me about one of her “interesting” choices, prefacing her announcement with, “Mom, tomorrow I’m doing something you’re not going to be happy with,” do you think I thought, “Oh well; it’s her story”? Ha! Within seconds, I was spewing out the “Mark my words, Ann . . .” spiel. Sigh.

I flash back to when I was a young mom, and we’d spend summer vacations with the girls’ great grandmother. This woman was a pediatric nurse in the 1920s, so you can imagine some of our conversations: “You’re going to SPOIL her if you’re always holding her!” “You’re only feeding her breast milk? Rice cereal is what she needs!”

Maybe George Orwell was right when he said, “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” But how does this benefit us really? As mothers, must we continue to pass on this torch of “My way or the highway”? Is being “right” worth the toll it takes on our relationships?

This summer, whether you’re a mother or a daughter, a father or a son (or combination thereof!), let’s not be so quick to point fingers of judgment at each other. The next time we feel ourselves bristling with those “How could she?!” feelings, let’s replace them with the realization that “It’s her story” as we do our best to live our own with grace, wisdom, and gratitude for family.

On Children
by Kahil Gibran

“They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls.”