Tag Archives: parenting

Parents: The Next Big Thing

Our kids came of age before the possibility of endless distraction– before tablets, smartphones, in-car dvd players, and baby car-seat iPad mounts. To say we are happy that we didn’t have these options would be an understatement. We’re glad that our kids had the chance to zone out in cars and planes, and they are good at it. They both were able to handle long trips without fuss, surviving many flights to Europe (where Anghelika’s family lived) with no personal video devices at all, often ignoring the cabin screens when they were young.

One notable exception comes to mind: Dave picked mom and kids up at the airport after a 10 hour plane trip, and our 5 year old son appeared in the terminal with wild and bloodshot eyes. This was in the beginning of individual screens on airplanes, and he’d watched Ice Age over and over again from take off to landing, about six times. When we got home, he fell asleep a couple feet inside the front door.

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Today the sight of kids with tablets or phones in restaurants, shopping carts, back-seats, and … well, everywhere, is common. And there’s no doubt that we parents have entered a golden age of peaceful conversations, focused work, and generally satisfying adult time. Whether its grown up conversation over dinner, work productivity, or simply a moment of silence, parents do benefit from time without questions or fussing, and our devices do a good job of capturing our kids’ attention and giving us a little of that precious time.

Recently, Anghelika saw a dad shopping in the market with his daughter, who occupied herself with a tablet in the car-shaped shopping cart. He was having a pleasant, uninterrupted shopping excursion. But what kind of interruptions was he worried about? We’re going to assume that the tablet wasn’t there so that she could catch up on her favorite shows and this was the only time in her busy schedule for her to do so. No, our guess is that dad put the tablet in her hands because he wanted her distracted. So what was he avoiding?

We think that he missed an opportunity and gained little in its place. There is really no need for a parent to have silence in the supermarket, a distraction-free experience for savoring the details of shopping without the interruptions of their child. No, the only reason to distract your child in the supermarket is because you don’t want to face the prospect of endless questions, demands or tantrums. Fair enough. We’ve all witnessed horrible conflicts in the aisles of the grocery store, if not with our own kids, then with others’. And it’s painful.

But shopping is the perfect time to engage your child and distract them with a little real life. Grocery stores are very interesting! Share your observations on popular culture. Talk about ingredients. Ask your child for their opinion. Plan menus with them. And when they (inevitably) make their strident requests for the kind of foods that adults cringe at … make a deal: tell them they can have one food item of their choice and they can change their mind as many times as they like. You will only have to buy one ridiculous food item and they will feel empowered. You can also help them choose by looking at ingredients, though that might take the fun out of it. You get the idea.

We think technology is alright. No, we think it’s great, really. But wow, it sure seems like it is becoming a crutch for tired parents. Here’s our plea: don’t replace yourself with a piece of technology. You matter to your kids, stay engaged. Share your thoughts, even if they are tired and grumpy thoughts. Get them thinking with you during the day. We do so many mindless things that we take for granted, but are wonderful teaching moments for our children. Involve them. Engage them. Let yourself be the Next Big Thing in their life. There are plenty of times when you can’t pay close attention to your child, or when you have to turn your focus away from them. Don’t miss the opportunities you do have. We should be the ones pestering our children with questions, asking them for help with all the mundane questions we face a hundred times a day. And when they have tired of all our questions, that’s the perfect moment to let them have a little screen time!

Original image (cropped here) by Flickr user L-T-L. Used under license. Post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog.

Pregnancy Is Not An Emergency

Over the years, our number one gripe about TV drama, scientifically measured by the number of times we roll our eyes and let out a big groan, is that you never get to see a child born without some terrible disaster taking place. One of our old favorites, the hospital drama E.R., was one of the worst offenders. Granted, it was an emergency room, but the number of times that seemingly healthy mothers were doomed by the very fact of being with child was ridiculously high. Cue the pregnancy alarm and turn on the ‘Oh no she’s dead’ music, STAT! … Fast forward to today, and NBC’s remake of the ultimate childbirth horror story, Rosemary’s Baby, is due in 10 days.

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Why would anyone risk starting a family after watching a season of primetime TV? It’s terrifying. Our first child was born in a hospital, and we survived. Add that to the plus column. But we chose to have our second child at home, because, we reasoned, childbirth was not a disease that needs to be cured in an operating theater. Our midwife was an R.N., and we were glad for her experience, because we were happy to have someone who knew the signs of trouble, just-in-case. But, we did not want to treat the beginning of our child’s life like a medical emergency, because it wasn’t. Of course, there are times when giving birth in the hospital is the prudent thing to do, and these days, hospitals do their best to make the experience less clinical and cold. We hope parents get educated about the options available to them when their baby’s ready. And we know that some parents will feel more comfortable giving birth in a hospital setting, and not because they expect things to go wrong, but for good reasons that we wouldn’t dare second guess.

But the wider culture seems determined to equate birth with danger, even horror. On the science fiction blog io9, a recent article lists 10 science fiction and fantasy stories that editors are tired of seeing (some graphic imagery on this site), and there, among the usual suspects (zombies, parallel universes, time travel, etc.), is “pregnancy horror”, because apparently, that’s a thing. Think about it: science fiction editors alone receive enough story submissions that feature a mother’s body as an object of horror that the market is saturated. Even though we personally don’t read these stories, we are not surprised. Strange as it is to see pregnancy listed along with zombies, we know that in our weird culture, what happens inside mothers’ bodies is enough of a mystery to become a metaphor for all sorts of fears.

We were tired of it years ago. How about this for a story idea: a man and a woman love each other very much; they come together and in the mystery of their love-making the happy outcome is that a child begins to grow inside the woman; and at the fulness of time, this child is born, not without some pain, but with a far greater measure of joy. Does this sound like a story we might tell to children? And what if it is a childlike perspective on childbirth? Does that make it less true?

 

This post first appeared on the Parenting On The Peninsula Blog

Teenagers: a Whole New Relationship

I (Dave) had a conversation with a mom recently who had some concerns about her teenage son. These concerns were of the normal kind: he’s becoming more remote, less talkative, seemingly out-of-reach for this home-schooling mom who has been actively involved in his life. And she is very involved, thoughtful, careful, and supportive, which makes the current slowdown in communication especially difficult for her. Our conversation took an interesting turn for me when we left behind the discussion about his needs and began to talk about her needs and desires.

For parents, it’s all about the kids. We are the adults, and we give while they receive; we sacrifice, and they grow; we support and encourage and build the structures that provide a launching pad for their future success. Every parent would agree with this ideal, but this altruistic perspective can overshadow the equally powerful ways that we parents are blessed and encouraged and helped by our children. The parent-child relationship is a relationship, after all: it’s a two-way thing. Sure we have to be careful not to burden our children by looking to them to satisfy our adult needs. But at the same time, it is foolish to think that being a parent is all give and no receive.

And so the conversation turned for me when we acknowledged that her teenage son isn’t the only one going through a massive transition. She also is transitioning from a mother with a young child to a mother with grown man for a son. This isn’t happening quickly of course: he still lives at home, eats what is served him, and lives by some measure according to his parents’ rules. But he is beginning to change: he will take less pleasure in childish interactions and will need less from his parents, even as he faces some very adult problems. As he separates—for this is what’s happening—mom is feeling the change acutely. At this point, it’s natural for parents to wonder why we aren’t able to engage our children as we once did.

All this is complicated by the radically different way that kids and adults think of this transition. Kids passing through adolescence believe they are becoming less like their parents. After all, parents want to continue to enjoy the things of childhood with their kids (toss a ball, read a favorite book, lie in bed and talk, etc.). Because kids no longer want to do these things, they believe that they are outgrowing their parents. It would never occur to them that they are in fact, finally, growing to be more like them. It is difficult for both parents and kids to know how to shift the conversation to more mature matters. When and how, exactly, do we stop talking about favorite childhood storybook characters, and begin to talk about sex, drugs, rock and roll, death, and taxes? That we are in no hurry to make this transition isn’t a mystery.

It’s important to understand the dramatic change that we parents are going through at a point like this. For better or for worse, we are losing a relationship with a child. The time has come to begin to get to know the man or the woman that has taken over our baby’s room. It’s critical that we speak honestly and truthfully about what’s happening.

To be honest is to own our feelings of confusion and grief, as our children change. We are losing something good, something simple, innocent, and sweet, and neither parent or child can really prepare for the confusion that comes with this radical change. Most parents don’t want their children to remain childish, but that doesn’t make the loss of child-like qualities less jarring. We have to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge the difficulty of this change. It’s natural, and ultimately good, but painful nonetheless. We also should be able to own the fact that we have been committed to nurturing and guiding our children, and they will need this less as they grow. It’s not easy to let that go.

To be truthful is to name what’s happening in our children, and name it well—they are growing up. They are growing in strength, responsibility, power, and maturity. It’s important that we choose our words carefully here! It is too easy to be frustrated with their silence and isolation and moodiness and abrasiveness, and name these as problems, and point to them as the cause of family tensions. How much more encouraging and empowering to give them words for the positive transition that they are pulling off, even if it isn’t always smooth sailing. Strength, single-mindedness, courage, intelligence, passion, joy, and a keen desire for justice can be found in every teenager. Sure these new attributes are often to blame for clashes with parents, but we should see them for what they are—a part of their differentiation … and the beginnings of their adulthood.

Our children will probably always need us … or at least there will always be ways that parents can help their children. We see their strengths clearly, and we can speak up about them. We also see the weaknesses, but we know the world will do a fine job of pointing these out. We get to bless our kids. And maybe, as we encourage them to charge forward into adulthood, we will continue to get the blessing that only a parent can receive.

 

This post first appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog

What We Don’t Know

We could talk your ear off about childhood and parenting. Between the two of us, we have lots of experience and training. Anghelika directs a parent-participation preschool, and has worked with kids and parents for 25-ish years. Dave teaches and tutors kids from 1st to 12th grade and is a clinical psychology student. But ask us about the kid in our house who is finishing High School and we are no longer experts. We are parents. And being a parent is totally different than knowing a lot about parenting.

It’s so comforting to be old, experienced, and learned. Except when it’s not. Because our kids, who are entirely unique and not necessarily inclined to behave according to expectations, always surprise us.

In the field of psychology, there’s an eagerness to establish a science of how people tick. This will, it is believed, counter the assumption that the cure of souls is a touchy-feely affair. There is a lot of good research out there, and lots to learn about how people work, generally speaking. But the best minds in psychology (in our opinion) are the ones that recognize that people are too complex and … well, alive, to fit neatly into a formula about how humans grow or develop.

Generally speaking, as educators and parents with an almost-empty nest, we know some stuff about parenting. But parenting, like counseling or teaching, is not really general. It’s personal. As parents, we have the same problems that all parents have: we get confused, frustrated, and disappointed. We worry, panic, and despair. We also laugh, cry, hope, and rejoice. Not much of it is scientific. Not much of it is predictable, even if a scientist might be able to predict it. Yes, we are a bundle of contradictions. We’re parents: we can’t be systematic or formulaic with our kids.

One of the best things that we can do is to keep learning from one another, because when we engage with other parents (and the occasional expert), we get to have our assumptions challenged and we get to learn tricks about making good soil in the gardens of our homes. But, we have to remember that what happens in gardens is often mysterious. We can prepare the soil, but we can’t make the flowers grow.

So we do our best to prepare the soil, but then we stand back and watch with no small measure of wonder at the growing of our kids into amazing individuals. We try to be present, to let them reveal to us who they are, and we get ready to be surprised and inspired.

We have seen some pretty surprising and inspiring things in our home. We could talk your ear off.

[This post originally appeared on the Parenting On The Peninsula blog]