Older Teens/Young Adults – What I’ve Learned From Motherhood

My kids both had birthdays this week. They’re now 19 and 16 years old respectively. The 19-year-old is a commuter student, living at home while attending college. Witnessing my kids enter their young adult years, I find myself thinking a lot about my parenting “career” and how reality has or hasn’t meshed with my expectations.

It seems I know many people with new babies and/or young children right now, too Because life goes on, I suppose. Hearing the conversations and concerns of these newer parents brings back so many memories and brings forward an insight. Please forgive me for clicheing here, but now that I have a longer view, I’m more aware of what it means to miss the forest for the trees.

I see these earnest discussions on-line, the same kinds in which I engaged back in the day, about things like whether it’s okay to use the words “good job” to encourage your kids. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. If you don’t use those words, or you do, it’s not going to make or break your child. If you love your kid and make them a priority and try your best, then you’ll pretty much do your best for them. It’s okay if you look at a drawing they made and say “Good job.” And it’s okay if you say, “I especially like the shade of blue you used for the sky.” And it’s okay if what you say is, “I love it.” And it’s okay if you say “You really worked hard on that.” What they care about is sharing their joy and accomplishment with you. You’re not going to give them a bad character by choosing one set of words over another. I wish I had spent less energy worrying about things like this over the years.

At least I’ve learned to stop clicking on links to articles that recount the ways in which well-meaning moms and dads (usually moms) are ruining their kids. Ruining them, I tell you. Because they help too much or too little with homework, or they praise too much or too little, or they’re too critical or too accepting of clothing choices. Which brings me to the next lesson I’ve learned as a parent. A million or more people are trying to make money by feeding into your desire to know how to do this sometimes bewildering job. Be selective about where you get advice. I’ve read a few things that helped me in a practical way and many things that were waste of the alphabet. In general, I’ve benefitted by reading accounts by other parents who admit they don’t have all the answers, who want to share the struggle and joy and what worked for them. I’ve found no benefit in articles and books that issue heavy-handed judgments for, I don’t know – spending a few minutes looking at your phone while you push your kid on a swing. I was going to mention specific books, but I think I’ll save that for a separate post.

I do have a few other gems to share, however, now that I’m an all-wise and knowing mom who has mostly raised her kids (ha!) The first being, that you never get to the point where you feel you have all the answers, or if you do, that’s when you get into real trouble. The life of a parent is a life of continual surprises. Here are a few more things, as they occur to me randomly:

*There is no finish line. When I was trying to decide whether to have kids, I’d think to myself “Well, it’s an 18-year commitment.” 19 years in, I laugh at young me. I see now my mom is 89 and still concerned about her children, still wanting to make sure we’re okay, still offering advice for treating that head cold.

*You get what you get. You can’t custom manufacture your children. They come into your life with personalities and characters and talents and struggles that are not of your choosing. A friend of mine once said she thought of it as tending a garden where someone else picked out the plants. A daisy is a daisy, a sunflower is a sunflower, and a bell pepper plant is a bell pepper plant. You can’t change one into another. What you can do is work on nurturing and creating conditions to allow your daisy to thrive as a daisy or your bell peppers to thrive as bell peppers.

*Keeping with the garden analogies, you can’t force a plant to grow by pulling on it. Again, you can nurture it and do your best to give it conditions in which it will grow and bloom. And that’s all. You can’t make your children reach developmental milestones on your schedule, or at all. Often, I found if I was having a real struggle teaching my kids something, the best tactic was wait and try again later. As a small example: my son didn’t learn to tie his shoes until he was seven. But then he learned in five minutes and I never had to show him again. Because he was ready. True story. In the meantime, I gave thanks for Velcro.

*Things will happen to your children over which you have no control. Sometimes these things will change the way you parent. A few years ago my son had a serious health crisis, involving major surgery and the need to keep him from being too active for several weeks. All of my carefully constructed policies about computer time went straight out the window. Also, because I had been so afraid he might die, I became much more indulgent in fulfilling my kids’ desires. It wasn’t a rational or planned response; it was pure emotion that made me say “Whatever they want, I’m going to get it for them if I can.” The pendulum swung back soon enough and I adopted a more balanced approach. But, boy howdy, did that event put my mind into focusing on the present, since the future is so uncertain. (He’s healthy now, by the way.)

*There’s nothing like seeing your child imitating your behavior to motivate you in breaking bad habits.

*Forgiveness is essential. Model it. Expect to need it.

*Don’t be too attached to your things. They’ll get broken or lost. One of my kids has broken a total of four windows over the years, each time in a new and creative way. One pulled the sliding door of a minivan right off its track, when we were already running late, and it was raining. People before things. Make it a mantra.

*Once you have a child, your comfort zone is a thing of the past. You will primarily reside outside of it. The upside is that you’ll experience a lot of personal growth. I’ve gone a long way in overcoming my own social anxiety because I’ve been forced in my role as mom to call strangers on the phone for various things, interact with teachers and other parents, and have awkward but necessary conversations. I’ve found myself in the principal’s office for the reasons you don’t want to be sitting there. I’ve reached out with invitations in ways I used to avoid for fear of rejection because I didn’t want to model fear-based relationships to my kids. I’ve found myself calling a woman I barely knew to tell her that her kid had pilfered Grandpa’s prescription pain pills after I found out about it accidentally. And you know what? I survived all of those things. I’ve discovered that discomfort is temporary and not fatal. And this discovery has helped me cope in other areas of life, including my paid work.

Despite my occasional fantasy of packing my car and driving away to find a studio apartment somewhere by myself, under an assumed name, I’d say motherhood has been good for me. It’s taught me a lot about life and generally made me a better person.

Happy Mother’s Day

Both of my kids’ birthdays fall near Mother’s Day each year. So we roll it all up into one big celebration. My son will be 15 tomorrow and my daughter 18 on Wednesday. They may be young adults, but they chose a zoo outing for the birthday activity.

As we entered, my daughter said, “We’re adults now. You don’t have to stay with us.” Followed shortly by “Will you get us wristbands so we can get into the children’s zoo area?”  Yep, that pretty much sums up the age.

Today, we’ll bring my mom over to the house for lunch and a movie.

Anyway, happy Mother’s Day to moms of all kinds!

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Holidays With Young Adults – What Now?

Seed Cake - Yum!
Seed Cake – Yum!

It’s noon on Easter and my 17-year-old is still asleep. But she made a seed cake for us some time during the night. It was on the kitchen counter when I got up this morning. We’re not a formally religious family, so we don’t do the whole big church thing for Easter. Our tradition has been to decorate eggs the night before. Then I get up way too early for a non-work day and hide them in the yard for the kids to find. (Handy hint – make a written list of hiding places as you go.)

When my daughter was around seven, she said to me “You know, some people get candy on Easter.” After that, we added a few  candy-filled plastic eggs to the mix. Even though our holiday celebrations have never been elaborate, they’ve been fun and have brought me great joy as a mother. One of the best perks of being a parent is having a reason to do again all of the fun things you did as a kid – play at the park, blow bubbles, decorate Easter eggs, re-read all of the “Little House” books.

But now my kids are big. They’re 17 and 14 years old respectively, coming right up on 18 and 15 in a few weeks. So much of how I mother is no longer relevant. I’m grasping around for new ways to connect, and the holidays seem to bring this dilemma to the fore. As recently as last year, we did an egg hunt. A few days ago, we discussed whether they wanted to do one this year. Everyone was ambivalent. It’s been fun, but they are kind of old for it. And this is our ninth Easter in the same house. All of the hiding places are well-known. A day of rain yesterday, resulting in mud and more mud made the decision for us. We’d still decorate eggs – of course you have to do that! – but no morning hunt.

The kids’ egg creations have grown funnier and more imaginative with each year, so I thought we’d have a great time just dying and decorating, but reality didn’t match my vision. I was tired after a long day at work.  My daughter’s feelings got hurt when I thought she was about to knock over the dye cups through her exuberant hand gestures while telling a story. My son, who is recovering from a cold, wanted nothing more than to be left in peace to play a computer game. And I was annoyed that people couldn’t just enjoy this cheerful family tradition dammit! By the end of the evening, I’m pretty sure my husband was the only one who had not shed tears. While the kids retreated to their rooms, he and I dyed all of the eggs ourselves, because I had gone to the trouble of cooking them and setting everything up after working all day. I wasn’t about to put 18 plain white eggs back in the fridge.

But later in the evening my daughter invited me to watch Doctor Who with her. And sometime during the night she made us a cake. I’ll take some to my mom later today. My son seemed happy enough to have candy with breakfast.  So maybe all is not lost. As my kids become young adults, we need to develop new family traditions to replace the old. We just need to get past the hurdle of figuring out what those are going to be.