When I attended college (back in the stone ages), there were different course requirements, depending upon the major you chose. For example, I was required to take courses in marketing each year. Freshman year the course title was Marketing 101, sophomore year the title was Marketing 201, and so on. In Marketing 101 we learned the basic principles. In Marketing 201, we built upon the foundation we learned in 101, but the subject matter was more sophisticated, and therefore more challenging.
I feel like my life could be entitled Parenting 201 this summer. My kids are 10 and 13, so theoretically I’ve known them for that length of time, but honest to God this summer it seems like aliens have taken over their bodies. No, I should clarify that statement. My 13-year-old daughter seems like an alien has taken over her body, my 10-year-old son is just joining in on the fun and games because that’s what little brothers do!
Maybe it’s because I’m in recovery, since I don’t remember thinking about this as in-depth as I have before now, but I’m trying to figure out where I’m going wrong, and I’m not coming up with any solutions. First, let me qualify the problems, as I see them, and perhaps writing them out will help me to process:
1. Time of Year. Separate from anything else, summer is a universally challenging time for any parent, due to all the unstructured time. Here is a miniscule example. Yesterday we had dentist appointments at noon, my son and I are waiting for my daughter to finish up.
Danny: “Let’s pick something up for lunch on the way home from here.”
Me: “No, we just had dinner out last night, do you remember how I drove 20 minutes to take you where you wanted to go? We are not eating out again. I’ll make lunch as soon as we get home. What would you prefer, a hot dog or peanut butter and jelly?”
Danny: “Could you grill me a hamburger?” (and yes, he did specify the way in which he would like his burger cooked)
Me (as even-toned as I could muster): “Would you like a hot dog or peanut butter and jelly?”
Danny: “What do we have in the fridge in terms of lunch meat? Could you cook up some bacon?”
Me: “This is the last time I am asking: do you want a hot dog or peanut butter and jelly?”
I will not bore you with the rest of the discussion, but the point is, this is one of about 1,000 such “teaching moments” on any given summer day. And I will not even begin to complain about the intra-sibling fights that take place each and every day. So, to recap, summer is a challenging season.
2. Changing personalities. This is the heart of the problem for me, and I will probably focus more on my teenage daughter with this issue. I know I am not covering any uncharted territory with this one, parents have been complaining about teenage girls since teenage girls first came into existence. So I do realize that I am not in a unique situation; what confounds me is what the hell to do about the behavior, along with my hurt feelings that my once-angelic daughter who acted as if I hung the moon now looks at me insolently, has nothing but sarcastic comments back to me, and argues EVERY SINGLE THING I say to her. Sometimes I try being honest with her (“When you stay at your cousin’s house for 3 days and fail to call me even once, it hurts my feelings”), I try the hard-lined approach (“You will speak to me with respect or you will face consequences”), I try sarcasm back (yes, I know this is not the best parenting technique, but sometimes my frustration level is so high that I need a release myself), and sometimes I try just ignoring whatever situation I’m in and hope it goes away. By the way, none of the above has been very effective.
3. Finding the balance. This concept applies in about a million ways: balance between letting them find their own way, and guiding them to make the right decisions. Balance between allowing them to speak their mind and shutting down the incessant “but what about…” statements. Balance between respecting privacy and knowing how and with whom they spend their time. Balance between allowing them a relaxed summer and having expectations with regard to chores, reading and the like. I’ll stop now, but I could keep the balance list going for another several paragraphs.
So that’s where I’m at, parenting-wise. I try, as best I can, to incorporate the principles of recovery into parenting. When decisions seem impossible, I do my best to turn them over. When things get heated between me and either of my children, I make my amends as quickly as I can. I try as much as possible to accept that there is much about these kids over which I am powerless, and that list grows longer with every year they age.
Anyone out there experiencing the same? I’d love to hear from you. Even better, anyone have the magic solution to all this parenting stuff? I’d really appreciate it if you could share your wisdom?
Today is the miracle of sharing what’s on my mind and in my heart. Just having typed this post, without even receiving feedback, I feel lighter!
If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got. -W.L. Bateman
Years ago, my Mom was driving up to the college I attended to visit me. I’m not sure if it was her first time driving on her own, or she just took a wrong turn somewhere, but she got lost, and it took her a while to find her way to the campus (this was before the age of GPS and cell phones). When she finally arrived, she was in a state, and exclaimed, “I could see the college, but I just couldn’t get to the college!” This quote has stood the test of time amongst my group of friends, and we will still occasionally throw it out there.
Fast forward a couple of decades. My husband and I are sitting on a beach and I was trying to open up about my struggles with recovery (this was during the 8 months where I was trying and failing). I said to him, “I can see where I want my life to be, but it’s like it’s sitting across a crowded freeway. I can see the destination, but I have no idea how to get there.”
So what’s the answer when we know what we want, or as the case may sometimes be, what we don’t want, but we’re completely unsure how to enact the right change? In using my own journey of recovery as a reference point, I believe the answer is simply do something. If you don’t like your current circumstances, whatever they may be, then the plain truth is that you have to change something. I can hear the defenses going up…. but what do I change? what if I make things worse? what if I create a new set of problems? I know all of these defenses because I’ve used them all myself, about a thousand times. They are the rationalizations of someone who wants to remain stagnant.
When you make a change, then the outcome is uncertain. But if you know you don’t like the current circumstances, and you refuse to make a change, then the outcome is certain… you will continue to live and feel the exact way you do now. When you look at it that way, the answer is pretty simple!
As someone who really, really, really hates feeling cold, I have so appreciated this balmy 40 degree day (for the past week, we have been living in the teens, temperature-wise, in the Northeast), and it is supposed to get even warmer tomorrow!
It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory. ~W. Edwards Deming
I had to laugh when I read the quote I printed above. At this time of year, anyone with school-age children will know exactly why I chose this topic. Whether you are a working Mom or the stay-at-home variety, summertime has a unique set of opportunities and challenges. I am 1 hour into the summer vacation and I have already yelled at one child, negotiated an argument, and sent both children outside to play.
So I can look at this new situation in one of two ways: 1. Dear God it is going to be a long summer (this was the thought I had after I yelled but before I drank my coffee). or 2. Wow, do I have a great opportunity to do things different, as a woman in recovery, this summer! Obviously, since I am writing the two options for the world to see, I am going to attempt the latter choice (with the option to occasionally wallow in the first).
What is awesome is taking the lessons learned in recovery and applying them to everyday life. Just because I started the first day of summer on a frustrated note does not mean my whole day is ruined. In fact, it is just the opposite… it is an opportunity to learn, and apply that knowledge to the next frustrating situation that arises. Which, at the rate this morning has gone, will be any second… how lucky am I to be able to use the knowledge I’ve gained so quickly and so often?!?