Viewing entries tagged
Adolescence

“You Get What You Get and You Don’t Get Upset”

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“You Get What You Get and You Don’t Get Upset”

“You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”

I don’t actually know where this originated from, but for my children, it was their Auntie Tara, my best friend, who coined the phrase which became our mantra last summer, for the grandiose act of selecting a popsicle. If you pulled out a green, you get a green. If you pull out a red, you get a red. That’s just the way it is. You’re lucky you’re getting a popsicle.

And then it moved onto snack choices or the type of juice that came in the coveted drink box. My children would chant this phrase often to each other when one of them would snub an option that seemed lesser than what they were willing to accept. They were teaching each other the power of acceptance in times of disappointment, an invaluable lesson in the realities of life. You do get what you get and you don’t get upset. Actually, you can and often do get upset, but it’s not going to get you anywhere, another irritatingly valuable lesson.

With childrearing, this lesson is the same, yet can be quite challenging to accept. We begin with expectations for the pregnancy, what the symptoms are and sensations and then compare with everyone we know who is or has been pregnant. After birth, we watch for their steady progression in development and inadvertently start comparing each of their stages to every child we encounter and every chart our pediatrician has. If and when the next child comes, we are constantly comparing their development to the first and how one is so different than the other and how miraculous it is that they share the same genes. We are constantly comparing and contrasting our children to every child and “norm” around them, trying to feel out what characteristics, types of intelligences, and skills we want for them versus what we don’t want. At some point, we either acknowledge that they are who they are and we are okay with that or that they are not what we expected nor how we want them to be and we are hell bent on re-sculpting them. After all we did make them and we should be able to reshape them into our own works of art. If only the stork knew to deliver us clay instead of talking, thinking beings, we’d be all set.

In my professional experience as a counselor, the most frustration I hear from parents occurs when their children are not meeting the expectations they have for them. In my personal experience, the most frustration I feel occurs when my children are not meeting the expectations I have for them. Coincidence?

Let’s face it, when we don’t get what we want and expect, it’s annoying. If you were holding out for the red popsicle, but orange was the only color left, you’d be disappointed, but you really wanted a popsicle, so you take it. It’s still refreshing and gives you the gratification you were looking for, it’s just a different flavor than you originally requested.

When you opted to have a child, you asked for the star running back for the football team, you ended up with the president of the drama club, both with great leadership potential, but different. What makes one better than the other? How we choose to view it.

Maybe you asked for the salutatorian, because really the valedictorian has way too much pressure, so you lowered your expectations just for your child, after all you don’t want to ask too much. And then you ended up with the child who thought community college was a better match for them to strive for and they wanted to save you $120,000 in college tuition. Your child doesn’t want to ask for too much either.

I asked for a respectable member of the community who uses good manners and has excellent social skills. I ended up with a child who runs through the grocery store like a wild beast and touches every item on the shelves 35 seconds after promising he would choose good behaviors. But when he asks if he can have a treat for being such a good boy, he always says “please.”

I believe it can be advantageous to ask where our expectations come from. Are they social norms and standards we are striving for them to meet? Or are they dreams and goals we created for them that they don’t seem to share? Either way, they are still ours and not theirs. That doesn’t mean we should change them, it just means we can acknowledge where they came from and assess their merit and the level of effort needed to teach them if they are indeed worth it.

If you wanted your child to play soccer because you were a soccer player, but your child would rather sit on the side lines and draw, fine. Let them try soccer for a couple of seasons (sometimes they don’t realize what a great sport it is until 3 years later), and let all your relatives know that drawing pads and colored pencils are the greatest gift they could give. And when your child “accidentally” pops their soccer ball with a kitchen knife and they just can’t go to practice without it, call it a day and consider letting it go. You both gave it a shot. Feed your expectation, but don’t starve your child when they don’t want to pick out the same item on the menu that you want.

Speaking of food, I am super conscientious about what I buy and serve my children, but I must admit, my kids turned me on to popsicles last summer…even sometimes the ones with high fructose corn syrup…shhhh. Because of their insistence, I truly do not care which flavor I get. I do still have my preferences, but I am learning to adapt to all flavors and brands. And I am slowly discovering, that no matter what, popsicles are great and I’m lucky to get one at all.

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The Curse of Mother’s Guilt

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The Curse of Mother’s Guilt

“If Momma Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy”

There are hundreds and hundreds of pregnancy and baby books which guide you through the trials of pregnancy and living with a newborn, giving you every scenario of the excitement of your growing baby and the intense fear of everything that could go wrong. They cover every aspect of prenatal health and the postnatal care down to learning how to teach your muscles how to support your bladder for long term comfort and deciphering what every coo stands for in your newborn cherub. There’s advice on breastfeeding, post partum blues, twelve different forms of diaper rash and survival tips for living sleep deprived and feeling like mush. Yet the one fact that we are kept sheltered from is the warm introduction to our new lifelong companion, Mother’s Guilt.

Mother’s Guilt is one of the most powerful emotions you will ever experience which follows you around like your first boyfriend who just seemingly hit puberty. And not normal guilt like you did something wrong and were aware of it; useless guilt for not being in the same room when your baby opened their eyes alone or when they still seem hungry after they ate and you were ill prepared to meet their momentary whim. Guilt that you have to work to keep clothes on their back and a roof over their head. Guilt that you stay home with them and don’t love every minute of it. Guilt that they cry when you are not around and guilt that they do cry when you are around and you can’t soothe them. Useless, unnecessary guilt that grows stronger and more pronounced as they do.

When I first had my babies, I rarely left the house outside of work. I felt like I couldn’t leave them because no one could care for them as well as I could. Plus, I worked and oh the guilt that came with that—wow! I felt I had to compensate for my absence by filling our time together with meaningful activities and joyous outings. My time spent with friends was usually limited to play dates. My life was not my own; it was theirs. I was a slave to making sure they had everything I thought they needed. My husband regularly encouraged me to get out more, but I rarely took his advice. Instead, I built up resentment towards him because he seemed to live his life so freely and I was holding on to my guilt of not being everything for my children and slowly losing my identity of who I thought I was.

I am well aware of the fact that in order to effectively take care of someone else, you must first take care of yourself. I have offered that knowledge to others and meant it. But it wasn’t until I started living it myself that I discovered it really is true.

I started to take care of myself by learning to trust that my children would be okay without my watchful eye and acknowledging that I was not the end all be all for them. I began to attend “Book Club,” and “Ladies Night” and added in regular dinner dates with friends. It was time for me to be me and relinquish my role as mommy for a few moments to role of woman who has a brain and interests outside of managing every aspect of my child’s wellbeing. And an amazing thing occurred, I was re introduced to a friend I forgot how much I once liked and respected, ME!

As our child’s primary educators in life we are teaching them the importance of taking care of ourselves by our example and the satisfaction that comes with it. We need to train them and ourselves that the word “selfish” does not have to come with a negative connotation. We are teaching our children our values within our absence. When I go to the gym, my kids learn that I value health and wellness. When I go out with my friends, they learn the value of maintaining friendships and the necessity of tending to their growth. When I go to work, they learn the value of getting an education which allows me to work in a job that I enjoy. If we want our children to grow up to be individuals we must teach them that we too are individuals AND be okay with it.

Now my Mother’s Guilt has me playing legos for longer than I’d like and having a picnic dinner on the living room floor because its “fun,” but it feels much more manageable since I have found its natural remedies which are following my personal values and Mother’s Intuition to know when I am doing what is best for my child. I am still the greatest mother in the world to them because I want to be there and I want to take care of them, which makes balance that much easier.

As our children grow, so do their problems and our insecurities on how to handle them. We will always have questions on how to solve these problems, as we should. How do we know if we are doing it right unless we’ve done it wrong? Let go of the guilt and hold on to the faith that together, you will get it right.

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The Art Of Choosing Friendships

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The Art Of Choosing Friendships

“Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”

~Woodrow Wilson

It can be so exciting when our children begin to form friendships. Their first ones typically are created with the children of our own friends who we have carefully chosen for ourselves. When they start preschool programs or activities we sign them up for they may start to explore new relationships of their own. And suddenly our antennas are up and we are on alert of who is influencing our child. We tend to not want them to be friends with kids whose parents have parenting styles that do not match up with our own or who display behaviors we are not comfortable with. We may even try to control their experiences and censor what they observe, but really this is the perfect environment to learn. What better way to know the difference between what works and what doesn’t than to experience it head on? When we see a behavior that we don’t approve of, this is the time to explore with them why this behavior can hinder them and what the uncomfortable consequences can be. When we see a behavior we feel good about, we can emphasize how well that behavior can benefit them (and us!).

When was the last time you made a new friend? You probably hit it off with them making small talk about something you both were interested in or maybe you liked their sense of humor or how kind they were, and then one of you put yourselves out there, took the risk and set up plans to spend even more time getting to know each other. Do you remember the slight hesitation you may have felt exposing yourself or setting yourself up for rejection? Or the satisfaction of realizing you had someone else who could relate with you and you could share with? This reaction was learned through experience, through knowing the difference between friendships that work and friendships that didn’t. If you had not had the opportunity to explore those relationships, you would have never known the difference. Your child needs to learn this lesson too and the longer you block them from learning, the longer it will take. We often concern ourselves with the idea that if they spend time with friends whose behaviors don’t match up with our values, their friends’ influence will be stronger than what we have hoped to instill. Who they choose to follow is not within our control, but creating opportunities to form open and consistent communication to discuss these relationships can be.

Let them choose based on what they are drawn to. We all learn about ourselves and the world through relationships and friendships. We grow through direct experience and interactions with how we treat others and how they treat us in return. We learn to trust our choices and decisions when they work and learn to alter our direction when they don’t, sometimes after repeated tries! We owe it to our children to let them make their own choices, but keep the lines of communication open so we can help them see what is a good relationship that works for them versus one that doesn’t. It is also important to note that if a relationship is causing them harm in any way, you will be compelled to discourage its continuation and appropriately so! You may not have the ability to stop them from spending time together in school, but you do control over who is allowed to spend time in your home.

So consider letting your child mix their own cement and learn how to create lasting bonds that will work for them, but be prepared to add a little more water if it starts to dry up too quickly before its ready to set.  When these bonds finally do solidify into a friendship that helps support and inspire your child, experience gratitude.  Nothing beats a trusted and wonderful friend.

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Dependence or Independence? It’s Your Call

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Dependence or Independence? It’s Your Call

What is the goal for your children? Independence or Dependence? With the end result in mind, you can tweak your parenting style accordingly.

Of course you want them to tie their own shoes and do their homework unassisted, but it doesn’t happen without a few long, tiring lessons in between. In the beginning, we do everything for our children. We change their clothes, we teach them words to use and when to use them. We tell their bodies when to sleep and how to do it on its own. We determine exactly what goes into their bodies overseeing food intake, medications and immunizations. We monitor their every move. And then, at some point, which is different with every parent, we tell them that they are on their own and pray, beg, cry, scream until they do it “right”, a.k.a. Our Way.

And then the strangest thing happens…they don’t always do it Our Way. So we are left questioning our parenting skills and feeling guilty and looking to the professionals for solid advice, which is never realistically solid, because here it comes…effective parenting is not one size fits all!!

Here’s the real issue: before our children were even born we had expectations for them. We dreamed what they’d look like, how they’d act, the occupations they might try, the ways we’d love them and teach them to explore the world. When they don’t meet our expectations, we start to question what we are doing wrong and try to regroup. We never want them to hurt or feel pain, but we know they have to learn from their mistakes. And when they do start to hurt, we start to scramble to make it better.

We promote dependence on us, the parents. We tell our children to follow our lead and do as we say, but to think on their feet and make good decisions for themselves. It can almost be as confusing as saying don’t talk to or trust strangers, but be respectful and listen to your teacher on the first day of school when you don’t know them at all. We are teaching our children to TRUST and in turn, must learn to TRUST ourselves and the skills we have taught them. This insight is what will teach them independence. Learning to trust in oneself and the decisions you make, but also the importance of asking for help when you need it.

In order to build trust and confidence, the base building block of independence, we must allow our children to make decisions and live with them. We should continue to offer advice and support, but ultimately let them decide. When your child wants to sit up and read at night instead of sleeping, they will then experience the natural consequence of being tired the next morning and not wanting to get up. If your child will not eat their dinner, they will experience the natural consequence of being hungry when the food is no longer available. When your older child does not do their homework, they will experience the discomfort of a poor grade or repeating a subject. It is not your role to ignore, but to encourage their positive choices and offer suggestions when they make the ones that don’t work for them. Our sense of control over our child’s behavior is our most common misperception. The control we have is to support and love in whatever form that fits. We can not control their behavior, but we can control how we respond to it.

If anyone tells you this part of parenting is easy, it’s because they no doubt, do not have children. The transition of letting go of perceived control may be the hardest part of effective parenting, yet the most beneficial for both you and your child. Just ask the professionals.

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