Archives for posts with tag: parenting a teen

Several times a year, I observe one of my patients in the classroom as part of my assessment. This step is particularly helpful in assessing very young children. Once kids get older than 1st or 2nd grade, it’s hard to get a good observation in just an hour because the behaviors of interest just don’t occur as frequently by that time. So when I observe in a classroom, the kids are anywhere from 2 to 7 years old.

This morning, I observed a student in a classroom of 3-6 year old’s.   I haven’t seen little kids like this in some time due to changes in my work I made in order to accommodate my cancer treatments as well as to reduce my treatment load (I used to see lots of little kids and their families) so I could get home earlier for family reasons. Honestly, I miss little kids.

What a sweet little classroom it was. I see a lot of wonderful teachers. The teacher in this classroom was excellent in a way I don’t see a lot. The quietly compelling teacher. The gentle but engaging teacher. The patient but direct teacher. She was just lovely to watch.  I told her this as I left the classroom. She smiled, gently set her hand on my arm, and then put it over her heart. The students loved her. They trusted her. They followed her direction, which she did with encouragement and love.  I try not to attract attention when I observe but even so, when children happened to pass where I was seated, they smiled at me and I smiled back.

Sometimes visiting a little community like this is a truly beautiful experience. This was one of those times and I found myself feeling very moved, my eyes nearly welling with tears. It is not that small children learning in a nurturing environment, where they receive and give love, is not worth tears of joy. But there was something else I was feeling, wistfulness, a longing sadness for things lost.

I have had this feeling every morning since Sunday. At first I thought it was just related to my having had a wonderful two day visit with a friend, come to an end, kind of like that let down on Christmas after all of the packages have been unwrapped, the guests have left, the floor is a mess, and the dishes need to be done.  That was part of it but not all. A couple of days ago,  I also realized that the two day visit had given me a very much needed break from the stress not only from my job but from my family life. For two days, I concentrated on fun and entertaining people. We are not supposed to admit this as parents, especially mothers, but I must say also that I experienced many hours of feeling almost childless and this was enormously lightening. It was almost like I imagine not thinking of having had breast cancer for an entire day.

This morning, I understood another layer. I miss having a small child. I love my daughter; she is a force of nature and a singular sensation. It is still normal for her to say something if not very sweet, at least positive about my husband or me, each day. But there are also the other times, the hard parenting times. These are times that stress out the family a great deal. When I was a researcher at the University of Washington, we followed a treatment model for parenting teens, which included a  focus on guidelines, monitoring, and consequences (positive and negative). My husband and I are in the camp of parents who provide all three parts. Most parents provide guidelines to their teens, many provide consequences, effective, ineffective, fair, unfair, and/or harsh. A lot of parents, however, do not adequately monitor or supervise.

Consequently, our kid gets busted for stuff that other kids get away with because their parents aren’t paying good enough attention. And this makes here angry and insulted in only the way teen can get. Instead of “Oh no, you caught me doing x, y, and z” it’s “I can’t believe you violated my right to do x, y, and z, not that I am admitting to doing any of those things!”

Testing parental limits is a normal part of growing up for a teen. And she did it when she was little, too. And sometimes she even said really mean things to me, as mean as a four year old could be, “You’re not my friend!” “I’m going to punish you!” Or in the words of the young patient I used to have, “I’m going to put you in time out for a hundred fousand years!!”

When our kids are little, some of these statements can sound pretty funny, especially if your child still can’t pronounce /th/ in “thousand”. They are also, little. Little kids can make a powerful racket and they can express powerful feelings but in the end, they are small. They are not powerful. But teens have a lot more independence. They have a lot more power. And they often don’t want our help or limits even when they need them. When a little kid has a tantrum after testing limits, it’s typically over in a short amount of time. Even kids who have horrible and intense tantrums are usually done in an hour or two. Not to dismiss the stress of those kinds of tantrums because it is considerable, but an older child due to their increased cognitive development, can hold a grudge for a really long time. And they can test for a really long time. And because they are harder to supervise, there are tests you fail as a parent because you didn’t even know to show up for them.

We all want the best for our children, to be happy, to be responsible, to have healthy relationships, to be able to contribute positively to society, and to be able to care for themselves and others.  Some days it is incredibly exhausting and I know that it is for her, as well. And then empathizing with her tumult, creates inner turmoil for me.

Little children are so much simpler. Their world is so much smaller and they are typically happy to have you be in it. When my daughter was in preschool, she used to tell me how much she loved me in delightful ways. One of them was, “I love you more than the world has changed. And the world has changed A LOT!”

I miss my little girl. I miss her as much as her world has changed. I love the young woman that she is even more. But most of all, I pray for her happiness and her health, that her unique gifts will be fully appreciated out there in the world without my husband and me.

There’s a vaudeville theater in my neighborhood, Kenyon Hall. It’s about two blocks from where I live, located in an old house. They have an antique Wurlitzer organ, which is occasionally played as live accompaniment to old silent films. They used to sell root beer floats for a dollar each on these movie nights.

We haven’t been there in a long time. There was a change in ownership and the types of entertainment offered there has narrowed. About ten years ago we went there with friends along with our daughter for a comedy juggling act, Brothers from Different Mothers. They were very funny and excellent jugglers. I laughed a lot.

Now, when I laugh, I do so loudly and with my whole body. Kenyon Hall is a small venue with no stage. We were sitting in the front row because we’d arrived early and wanted to make sure that we could see. I was quite noticeable and also conveniently close to the two performers.

I’d not seen them perform before so I didn’t know that they used audience members in their act. When it came time for that part of the show, I was promptly asked to go up front with them. I can’t remember everything that they had me do. But I remember being a very good sport about the whole thing.

But one part of the performance actually got a bit stressful. I was to grab one of the balls from one of the guys while he was still juggling. PERFORMANCE PRESSURE. I missed 2-3 times and I noticed that the juggler was holding the ball for increasingly longer times in order to make it easier for me to grab from him. I knew that there was only so long he could do this before having to attend to the other balls in the air. I also knew that if I didn’t get it soon, the act would drag. I mean, a woman hyena-laughing while trying to grab a juggling ball gets old after a few failures. Each time I tried to memorize the timing and rhythm of the balls in the air. On the next attempt, I got it, much to my relief. I had not spoiled the joke with ball dropping ineptitude.

I know it is cliche to compare one’s life to juggling balls. We all try to keep the balls in the air. However, when we parent, we are also trying to do a hand off balls or take balls from another, all in order to make sure no one’s load is burdensome. And we do it while each of us is juggling a full set of balls.

When my husband and I have an established and coordinated routine, this can go pretty smoothly. We know what to expect, can plan for it, and we’ve handled it before.

Then there are the times when the unexpected happens or we have to learn a new routine. At these times, it can feel like juggling water. I feel all of the responsibilities but can’t put my hands around them. What’s worse, I can’t tell which responsibilities are mine and which ones are John’s. They just splash to the ground, undone, and making a huge, undifferentiated mess. “Who’s water is this?” “And who stepped in it with muddy shoes?” “Who’s going to clean it up?” “What happened to the mop?”

I have been more irritable lately. I initially attributed it to the heat as well as my hatred of driving through downtown Seattle, something I am doing at least once per day right now in order to get my daughter to activities. All of these things do contribute to my mood.

Today, I woke up feeling sad and it took awhile to shake it. I realized that part of the reason is that each day is a different set of logistics and responsibilities. Our daughter’s schedule is different, every day. My schedule is different, every day. And not only am I taking my paperwork on the road, John and I have to figure out who is doing what, every day, almost from scratch. This means we have to remember to talk to each other about logistics and texts and phone calls from each other need to be exchanged. As a couple, this is not our strong suit. I over-communicate and my husband doesn’t communicate enough. It makes both of us a source of aggravation to the other.

Our daughter has two more years of high school. She will likely be driving in a year or two. There are some wonderful things that come out of spending time with her in the car. Yesterday, she told me what a fun time she’d had talking with me on the way to and from her activity.My husband and I have more evening time together during the summer, just the two of us.

Those are opportunities I can grab and hang onto.

 

 

 

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