Tag Archives: parenting

The surprising truth about parenting a teenager

You don’t have to be a parent to know that the general consensus around raising teenagers is “oh boy, hold on to your hat, it’s going to get bumpy” or perhaps something a little more blunt than that. There is this universal understanding that the teen years are the hardest to navigate as a parent, with perhaps the exception of the toddler years. I see it every time someone learns that I have a 14 year old daughter and they respond with a loud whistle or raised brows and big grin and say, “oh boy, you’re in the teen years!” or “phew! I remember those years, hang in there!” or even, “God bless you, teen girls are so hard!”

I’ve heard it all, and I’ve even said these things. I’ve joked with other parents about needing prayers to get through the teen years, or about the extra grey hairs growing on my head, and they’ve laughed or nodded knowingly. Because everyone seems to agree, parenting a teenager is challenging, trying, and even painful.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned  since we entered this phase of life nearly 2 years ago, the surprising truth about raising a teenager: It’s actually the most extraordinary stage of parenting I’ve experienced.

Here’s why.

The relationship is starting to shift. Her needs have changed. My daughter doesn’t call me mommy anymore and she certainly doesn’t need me to hold her hand when crossing the street, pick out her clothes, or even pack her lunches. She is becoming increasingly more independent each year, and while that may sound sad at first, the reality is it has created space and allowed for a new dynamic that I don’t have yet with my younger two.

Beautiful Hannah

She doesn’t need me in the same ways, but she still needs me. Often for something really important like someone to listen to her (just listen) when she’s struggling with a particular friendship or obstacle.

She needs me to set boundaries and then step back and give her the freedom to try new things, even fail, within those boundaries, while remaining close enough to help her up when she falls.

She needs me to know that sometimes a good cry, for no particular reason, is cathartic and part of life. But a hug and chocolate can make it all seem better.

She needs me to speak truth into her life, about how I need and rely on God every day so she may learn to do the same.

She needs my advice about decisions that will shape the rest of her life — big decisions and character defining moments — but only when she asks for it.

She needs me to recognize that she is not a little girl anymore, but also that sometimes she still needs her mom and be ready and available for those moments, without hovering or complaining when they pass.

Mom and daughter

I’m not saying this is always easy, this shift in how she needs me and the ways we relate to each other. And I most definitely get it wrong! I criticize, nag, and yell. I have a tendency to be sarcastic when I should be gentle. I ask too many questions when she doesn’t want to talk, and sometimes offer advice before it’s solicited. I’m still learning.

And for her part, sometimes I am the best mom ever and she will thank me 100 times for something little, and other times I am the enemy or invisible woman who she takes for granted. She’s still learning.

But even with the parts we get wrong; even on the days it’s really hard and one or both of us feels angry, scared, or disappointed in the other, this new relationship is nothing short of phenomenal.

Parenting a teenager is like getting an exclusive preview of the adult this child is going to be. It’s like reading a book about your favorite character and actually getting to play a role in influencing some of their story.

Because you know them more intimately than anyone else. You know where they’ve come from. You know what they’re afraid of, and what they hope for. You get to see all the good in them and the potential that is yet to be realized, but also know there are real struggles and mistakes to be made, which make the victories all the more sweet.

I’m still fairly new to this parenting a teen stage. And maybe it will get more challenging in the coming years, or with my other children. But what I want to say to every other parent who is approaching this stage: Take heart! Because while it might come with some really difficult moments, it’s also so much better than anyone ever tells you!

mom and teenage daughter

Four reasons why I do mommy dates

One of my favorite childhood memories is from when I was about five or six years old. My little sister was having her adenoids removed, so while my mom was with her at the hospital all day, I went to work with my dad. Sure, part of what made that such a cool memory is because at that time my dad worked at the White House and I got to see the well-oiled machine of support staff that keep the White House running day-in and day-out and the underground city they worked in: mechanical rooms, florist shops, kitchens, wood shops, and more (I might be remembering this with rose colored glasses, but to a 6 year old it was pretty cool).

But I  think what really made that day so special was that it was just me and my dad for the whole day. No pesky adorable little sister to take his attention; no hushed “grown-up” talks between he and mom. It was just us…and about 500 White House employees.

I had just barely turned one when my sister arrived so I don’t really remember a time when I had my parents all to myself. Spending the day with my dad felt like something really special. I think it’s partly due to this memory that I have found it important to have mommy-daughter or mommy-son dates with my kids.

My eldest was two and a half when she stopped being an only child. To make matters worse, she didn’t just gain a brother OR a sister overnight, she got both! I remember after I found out I was pregnant with twins holding little Hannah in my lap and crying because I was worried that my husband and I would be so consumed with two new babies, she would feel completely neglected and ultimately scarred for life! OK, so maybe that was the pregnancy hormones talking.

I do realize there  are people who have triplets, quads, or even more at the same time, and their kids turn out fine. I also realize there are people with very large families and kids who grow up with a new sibling being born every year or two for most of their childhood. So maybe having to share mom and dad with just two other siblings doesn’t sound like such a big deal…and I’m sure my kids would be just fine if they never had that one-on-one time. But, here’s what happens when we do:

First, the child going on the date usually gets to pick what we do. Oh boy! The excitement of being able to decide our activity and/or where we eat, without having to compromise, take a family vote, or yield to a sibling’s desires. This is like winning the lottery for them!

Second, we get to talk — uninterrupted! Sometimes I feel like I need a flashing sign that says “now serving number 45” and a deli counter number wheel just so my kids stop fighting about whose turn it is to tell me something really important, like how many EXs or YZs or whatevers their Pokemon cards have (I seriously do not speak Pokemon). And can I tell you the only thing worse than having to listen to a child give me a 15 minute detailed description of their Pokemon cards is having to listen to multiple kids fight over who gets to tell me about their Pokemon cards first! Not to mention when you have two in the same grade/class, there is always fighting over who gets to tell me what happened at school. So when it’s just one-on-one time there is no taking a number, no waiting for your sister to finish her 20 minute story about what happened during the 5 minute bathroom break, or feeling jilted because your brother got to tell me about the cool new math game you played today. Also, I have a teenager now. There’s a LOT she absolutely will not tell me in front of her brother or sister, so this one-on-one time opens up so many opportunities for her to share. And trust me when I say, I savor every bit of it.

Third, I get to see the best versions of who my children are. Seriously, when it’s just me and one child, they are the kindest, funniest, most gracious, well-mannered child in the world. But get them in the backseat of a car with their siblings and they turn into screaming, fighting, selfish, rude, head-spinning heathens! So it’s nice every few months to see a glimpse of who they might actually be one day, and to know that, indeed, they may have actually learned a thing or two I tried to teach them.

Lastly, these dates create sweet, sweet memories. Just like I can still remember that day with my dad from 35 years ago, I know my kids will remember these days for a long time to come. Often, at the end of a particularly long or exhausting day, after I’ve said ‘brush your teeth’ 20 times, and ‘who left their dirty dishes in the sink’ 50 times; while I’m tucking them into bed and simultaneously complaining about the fact that I can’t see the floor of their room underneath all of those clothes, I get asked, “mom, do you remember that time we went to see The Music Man, just me and you?” Or “mommy when is our next mother/daughter date? I really want to go back to Polka-dot-Pot and paint that jewelry box we saw last time.” Or my favorite, “mom, do you remember that time we went to the monster truck rally and got to eat cotton candy, just me and you? That was the best day ever.”

And selfishly I think,  ‘oh please hang on to those memories and let them be stronger than the memories of the tired mom who lost her cool one too many times.’ And I know, these dates are just as much for me as they are for them.

 

Three things that having twins taught me about motherhood

See those two cuties above? Today is their 11th birthday. Eleven years ago today my husband and I went from being the parents of one sweet little girl to….

…being outnumbered.

Everything changed that day. And I wasn’t the least bit prepared for most of it.

It’s true, I cried when the OB/GYN told me I was pregnant with twins. And they weren’t tears of joy. It’s also true that their first year of life is a bit of a blur. We were in survival mode, living through what felt like one, veeeeerrrrrryyyyy long sleepless night. I nursed the twins for all of three months before I felt like Elsie the cow and started to realize I was never going to get to leave my house again.

In the early days I wore the title “mom of twins” like some kind of badge of courage or Purple Heart because parenting didn’t just seem twice as hard, or like it was twice as much work, it felt 1,000 times more difficult than life had been with just one. (and this is where I pause and tell all you moms with triplets or more that you are freakin’ rock stars).

But now, eleven years later, it’s hard to even imagine a life without our three kids. And somehow over the years I transitioned from being the “mom of twins” to just simply being Daniel and Olivia’s mom. (And, of course, also Hannah’s mom, but she’s now a teenager so that’s a whole new badge of courage I’m sporting these days.)

Most importantly, though, I realize that having twins made me a better mom. It forced me to let go of a lot of things (showering daily is overrated) and focus on what was really important (getting two babies to sleep at the same time for more than 4 hours). It allowed me to discover the kind of mom I really wanted to be, and I’m so grateful for that.

So, here it is, three things (because ain’t nobody got time for anything longer than that) having twins taught me about motherhood.

  1. How your child acts in public is not always a direct reflection of your parenting. Oh, the ignorant blissful days of having just one child. One easy, slept through the night, smiled at everyone, loved school, easy child. Or maybe more accurately titled, my Judgy McJudgerson days. My first daughter was a breeze and, for the most part, very well behaved in public. Of course it helped that there were two of us to take turns holding her hand, entertaining her, watching her, re-directing her, etc. So it was easy for me to wonder what the other parents were doing wrong. The parents of the little boy putting mulch down his pants at the playground who told his pre-school teacher he hated her; or the parents of the little girl whose head was spinning around Exorcist-style as she screamed at the top of her lungs because her mother told her “no” to the baby she wanted at Target. Clearly those children behaved that way because their parents hadn’t taught them any better.Wrong.

    Those are all real-life examples of things my precious little cherubs did when they were toddlers ( I won’t even go into stories of things they’ve done as they’ve gotten older). All things that mortified and humbled me as a parent. But in a good way. And I think every parent who has ever looked down their nose at another should be blessed with at least one temper-tantrum throwing, mis-behaving, inappropriate word saying, call-from-the-principal kind of kid. Just to remind us that, hey — they’re kids! We can teach them right from wrong, manners, respect and kindness, but at the end of the day they are little human beings who make mistakes and will try to push the boundaries. (And just to set the record straight, my “perfect” first-born has had more than her share of cringe-worthy and embarrassing moments to last a life-time).

2. Being a “perfect mom” is highly overrated.

With my first daughter I tried to get it all right. I really did. We introduced veggies before fruits. We played classical music and read to her all the time. We loved tummy time and all the made-in-America-old-school-Melissa-and-Doug toys we could find. I went overboard with the perfectly planned, everything-is-part-of-the theme birthday parties. School snacks were home-made and holiday outfits were coordinated and chosen with care. And this was all before Pinterest was a thing!

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, except that trying to keep up with it, times three, was exhausting and overwhelming. And worst of all, if I didn’t keep up with it, then I felt like I was failing at this mom gig. That is, until I finally realized that being a stressed-out, tired, “super-mom” actually made me a pretty crummy mommy. So I stopped. I threw in the towel on most of it. And surprise, surprise, my kids don’t even notice. I’m more relaxed and happier, which makes me more patient and fun to be around. And last time I checked no one has given me a citation for being the mom who phones it in on the school snacks.

3. Every child is different and needs to be parented differently.

OK, so you don’t have to have twins to learn this…anyone with 2 or more kids can probably tell you this. But the lesson was certainly magnified for me when we went from 1 to 3 kids overnight. Add to that the fact that two of them were in utero at the same time, shared clothes, toys, and a room for the first five years of life, and yet could NOT be more different if they came from separate families…who lived in separate countries and spoke different languages and grew up in different decades.

What worked with our first born generally does not work with the other two. And what works for one twin does not work for the other. And so on, and so forth. I call this out not because it’s earth-shattering news, but because once I embraced this knowledge it made a world of difference in my tolerance, patience, and flexibility as a mom.

While they’ve taught me so much more about motherhood, life, and the kind of person I want to be, those are the three that really stand-out at this moment. I’m sure in another few years I’ll have some new lessons — after all, I will have three teenagers in my house in just two years!

But for today, I just want to say: thank you, God for this double blessing. For using my fear and weakness, and two little babies, to push and stretch me beyond what was comfortable and easy, so that I could become a better mother, and a better person.

Happy birthday Daniel and Olivia. You are my sunshine.

Odd mom out

This week I read an article by actress Mayim Bialik about her reasons for not allowing her sons to have smart phones. Actually the article was more about some interesting research by Devorah Heitner, PhD on the child and adolescent perspective of the world, as seen through the lens of technology and social media.

First, let me say this post is not about smart phones or debating how much exposure children should have to technology. Really, there are enough people out there on their soapboxes about that. In my house, at this time, we choose not to let our kids have access to social media or own smart phones because it’s what we think is best for our children. All the other parents in the world must decide what’s right for their children. And that’s all I will say on that topic.

But back to Mayim’s article and Heitner’s research. One of the things that hit me hard in the article was understanding how our children process perceived (or legitimate) exclusion, and how magnified that can be when documented in real-time on social media. Mayim wrote: “[Heitner] gives the example of your 10-year-old watching a slumber party they were excluded from play out on social media. That made me cringe. It gave the 10-year-old inside of me the chills. I would be absolutely devastated to grow up now. I was left out of so much and it was painful enough to imagine the girls I wanted to have accept me spending time without me. To watch it online would be that much more mortifying and so incredibly painful.”

In that moment I, too could remember how it felt for my 10 year old, 13 year old, 18 year old self to feel left-out. How I processed those feelings and their impact to my self-esteem and psyche at that tender age. To think about growing up in this very different, very exposed world? It makes me just want to hug my kids, tuck them under my mama-bird wing and keep them safe and protected forever! That’s right kids, pack your stuff! We’re moving off-the-grid to middle-of-nowhere USA, where I will home school you until you’re 25 and then select a nice husband or wife for you, and you can build a lovely cabin for yourselves right in the back yard!

OK, maybe not.

Of course, I realize sheltering them completely is not feasible or even really healthy. They do need to learn how to stumble and fall, or else they won’t know how to pick themselves up. But then, I remember how much it hurts.

 

One of the great things about getting older is an increased awareness and comfort level with who I am as a person. Which, for the most part, means less concern about how other people perceive me. But somewhere, deep-down inside my almost-40-year-old self is still a 13 year old girl who just wants to be liked and included. And sometimes…sometimes she surfaces.

Like when there is that group of moms that always sits together at the middle school basketball games and never asks you to join them, even though your daughters are best friends. Or there is that woman from the office who walks past you and says hello to your cubicle-mate every day, but never, ever says hello to you. Or those two mutual friends who are always planning girl’s night but never invite you. Or the photos all over Facebook of the party you weren’t invited to, but half your friend-list was. Yeah, those are the moments that 13 year old girl who just wants to belong and be liked comes out and asks: “what’s wrong with me? Why don’t they like me?”

And I admit, even now, sometimes it just plain sucks to feel like the odd-mom out.

Of course I recover much faster these days. I do a better job of reminding myself that exclusion is not always intentional or personal. I can do that, now. I’m almost 40 and I like this version of me. I know who I am and what I have to offer. And I know I have some pretty darn-friggin-fantastic friends who love me.

But my girls? My son? At 10 and 13? I don’t think they’re there yet. So I may continue to protect them just a tad bit longer. I may choose to limit their exposure to social media. I most definitely will continue to tell them Whose they are, and how they have been made in His image. I will do my best to build-up their self-esteem and confidence while I still have some influence. Because one day, no amount of mama-bird protection will keep them from feeling excluded or left-out.

However, if they already know who they are and are happy with that person; if they believe wholeheartedly that their value comes from their Creator and not from their number of “likes”, then maybe it won’t take them almost 40 years to learn they are not the odd-one out.

Luke 12-7

 

 

I failed my child

Two nights ago I lay awake for hours, unable to find sleep no matter how much I willed it to come. One painful, desperate thought kept going through my mind: I had failed my son.

It’s been a really hard year for my boy. It’s been a really hard year to parent him, as well.

We’re not strangers to difficult years, though. The early years were especially challenging. When he was four my son’s pre-school teacher basically gave-up and asked he be moved to a different class.

By the middle of his kindergarten year, after consulting with a specialist and having him tested for a variety of learning disabilities, we were told he had severe ADHD and delays in fine-motor skill development. His disorder had also led to delays in his social development. But we were also told he was incredibly smart, and the child psychologist believed that with the right treatment and classroom modifications he could be very successful in school. And she was right.

For the next 3 years we saw a big difference in our boy. He responded well to the medicine and excelled in school, receiving straight-A’s two years in a row. Despite the initial delays in his social development he managed to make friends and was generally a very happy kid.

Then last year the small private school he’d been attending since he was 2 closed and he and his sisters started at a new school in September. It’s a good school with small class sizes, a special education resource, and Biblical foundation. But it’s different.

I completely underestimated how hard the change would be on my boy — a child who likes routine, who sees the whole world in black and white/right or wrong. He declined academically and acted out in the classroom. We met with the teachers, principal and special education resource multiple times. We put into place new plans for behavior management and test-taking. Still he struggled. My straight-A child strained to get B’s and C’s. And then came his first D’s and even an F.

At home my husband and I struggled, too. My son rebelled in various ways, trying to assert some control. His natural-born curiosity, fearlessness, and lack of impulse-control led to some really scary situations. We took him out of hockey, the only sport he’s ever loved, so he would be able to focus more on school. We took away his prized Lego’s when he refused to clean his room and when we found dangerous items he’d found and hidden. We tried incentives and rewards, we tried punishment and consequences. Many nights we sat by his side to help him focus on homework until we finally sent him to bed, drained from fighting with him. Other nights we were just plain tired and didn’t have it in us.

The school year ends next week and I can’t say I feel like there’s been much progress. And so, I am left with that sleep-stealing, heart-breaking thought that I failed my son.

I could have done more. I could have monitored his grades more, met with teachers sooner, and caught-on to patterns quicker. I could have spent more time double checking his homework. I should have showed more patience and less exasperation. I should have told him how wonderful he is more often and told him I was disappointed less.

Every note home from a teacher, every missing homework assignment, every stern look from a stranger, and every comment made by another parent strengthening the self-recrimination.

Then there’s all of the well-meaning (usually unsolicited) advise from others. I could write a book.

And because of all of this I have kept the truth tightly guarded, careful about saying too much to too many. Even with our closest friends, and in our small group Bible study where we have been reading The Power of a Praying Parent for the last 16 weeks, I have been careful about how much I reveal.

But then during our study this week a friend revealed her deepest worry and fear: that she’s failed her children. While our circumstances are different and the struggles our children are facing are not the same, I know how she feels. And as my sweet friend shared her fear, I felt God urge me to tell her that this is a season in her parenting journey and it will not last forever. I also tell her that I believe prayer is powerful, and when things are hard and we feel like it’s all out of our control, we must lean on God and prayer even more.

Later that night as sleep eluded me and the thought that I had failed my son echoed in my head, I wondered why I couldn’t find comfort in the same advice I’d offered my friend a few hours before. I didn’t think for one second that she had failed her children and I completely believed the words God had placed in my heart. But I couldn’t apply them to myself. I had prayed all year for help, for change, for direction, and I still felt at a loss.

So I did the only thing I knew to do: I turned to the Word to try and find some comfort and wisdom. Sometimes words of comfort come quickly, other times, not so much. I read through several Psalms, 1 and 2 Timothy, and parts of Isaiah. I was encouraged by the Word, but felt nothing I read was speaking directly to my failures as a mom. Then I settled on Ephesians.

“So overflowing is His kindness toward us that He took away all our sins through the blood of His Son, by whom we are saved; and He has showered down upon us the richness of His grace—for how well He understands us and knows what is best for us at all times…Moreover, because of what Christ has done, we have become gifts to God that He delights in, for as part of God’s sovereign plan we were chosen from the beginning to be His, and all things happen just as He decided long ago. God’s purpose in this was that we should praise God and give glory to Him for doing these mighty things for us, who were the first to trust in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:7-8, 11-12 TLB)

It was in these words that I finally found comfort. They reminded me that God alone knows what’s best for me and my family at all times; that we are His chosen and that He has a plan for each of us. They reminded me that I am to praise Him for all things…even difficult parenting seasons.

And this is what I was missing.

I have been so focused on the hard, the less-than, the short-comings, that I have not taken time to praise God for this year. I confess, I have not looked for the good. I have forgotten that this is only one chapter in a book that’s already been written, by an author who delights in me and my son, an author that understands how I feel before I do, and who knows what is best at all times.

And finally I realized, it was time to change my prayer. Instead of asking for God to get us through this season, to change my son’s behavior, or to show me how to “handle things” I need to say “thank you”.

Thank you God for this season. Because although it’s not been easy, I know it is still part of your plan for my boy, and for me. Thank you for understanding my son, even when I don’t, and for choosing us to be Yours. You know what is best for us and You see and understand things I do not. So I entrust my son to you. I let go of my failures and hand them over to You. For even though I fall short, Your love never fails.

To the other moms and dads who feel like they have failed in some way: remember you have a Father who knows what is best at all times, even when you don’t. Take comfort in that and sleep well tonight.

one chapter in a book that's already been written