Being a Better Parent (to Teens)

August 11, 2010

Over at a blog that I read (Motherhood Uncensored), Kristen has started a “Be a Better Parent” challenge.  She’s posting a different challenge each day, aimed at improving her Mothering Skillz.  Or, perhaps, behavior (since the skills are always there, the usual challenge is to be conscious enough in your parenting on a daily basis to APPLY the skills, right?).

Kristen has 3 young children (I think they are 5 and under), and a 4th on the way.  Reading the daily challenges, and their application to young children, brings me back to “the good old days.”  When my girls were young.  And my reaction at first was, “oh, I’ve outgrown this.”  Like I no longer need to think about what kind of parent I am, just because my kids can now wipe their own bottoms.  (Thank god.  I think that was my least favorite parenting task – that intermediate step between potty training and complete toilet independence:  “Mooo-ooommmm, I’m doooooonnnnneeeee!”)

Of course, I do.  I do think about it.  Writer Dude and I talk about what kind of parents we want to be, what kind of parents we are and how to address behaviors and issues as they arise.  We may also accuse each other of being “too strict,” or “too lenient” … but that’s (of course) the less productive side of the conversation.

But I am definitely less conscious about every single little thing, like I was back in the day.  Other than a small blip in Mouse’s 4th grade where I bought a few books, including Odd Girl Out, I don’t think I’ve read a parenting book since “Your Eight Year Old.”

And so I read Kristen’s first challenge (Being Present for the Kids) and thought “oh, I remember when I had to focus on that.”  Somehow ignoring the fact that I spend many an evening sitting in the living room with the kids, with my laptop on my lap, chatting with my mother, or reading blogs, or whatever.  Or perhaps we’re watching a movie, and I don’t stop picking up my Blackberry every time the light turns red (which means a work-related email, since the Blackberry is work, the iPhone is personal).

It was probably especially easy for me to dismiss this as applicable to me because the Kristen started the challenge the day my girls came home from a 3 week visit with their father in the Middle of the Country.  Meaning I was able to reflect on my life as a parent as bliss, conflict-free, and outright perfection.

Still, cute challenge, even if not for me.

Then Day 2. Punish Without Anger.  Again with the flashbacks.  Remembering the toddler years, where I focused on this on a daily basis, and on a daily basis, felt that I had failed.  Along with the flashbacks came gratitude that I’m soooo past that.

This is also Day 2 that the girls were home.  Mousey was all cuddly and smiley and so happy to be home and to just bask in the presence of WD and I.  Lemon was happy to be home, but instantly was in a snit over her birthday plans.  Her birthday that – at that point – was 2 months away (late September).  But while still in the Middle of the Country, she was texting me asking if we could repeat last year’s event — a trip to Vermont with a handful of friends.  I cautioned her about the availability of the cabin, the timing of a trial that I have going on in September at work, and other scheduling issues.  She somehow found within those cautions evidence that I had actually said not only “yes,” but also “yes, and you may invite 6 people, even though we own one small car that fits no more than 5 people.”  And then she took that “yes …” that she found in my non-yes-saying words, and applied it in the form of inviting 6 people, although she gave them the caveat of “if the trip works out.”

The snit was entered upon me saying “what ever made you think we could bring 6 people?”  And of course, then Life Was Over.  Because she already invited them!  Because now she’d have to UNinvite some of them!  That is so awkward!  Why am I so horrible?  Why did I say she could invite 6 people if she can’t?

In completely mature Suzie fashion, I rolled my eyes at her and said, “it’s time for dinner.”

In light of the Snit, dinner was hell.  Everything any of us said was met with a nasty attitude and death rays from her eyes.  I found myself clenching my fork so tightly that it was bending in half.  I was torn between storming away from the table myself and sending her to her room.  But instead, I just sat there, and clenched.  Afraid that if I opened my mouth at all I would say something Unhelpful. (In response to her yelling at us because she has bags under her eyes, because she can’t sleep at night.  While ignoring our saying that she can’t sleep at night because she sleeps until 1 p.m., and that while we’re working with her to get on a better schedule after her time in the Wasteland of Parenting that I otherwise refer to as the Middle of the Country at the Ex’s House, it isn’t going to happen in ONE DAY.  Deep breaths.  Please.)

And it occurred to me that perhaps dismissing the Being a Better Parent Challenge as irrelevant to me and my life was, perhaps, a mistake.  A disillusion.  Perhaps I do need to remember to let the anger go, and to address my daughters’ issues and behavior from a non-Suzie-centric location.   I would, actually, benefit from a return to consciousness in my parenting.

My plan is to apply Kristen’s challenges to my non-toddler parenting world, and see if I can Be a Better Parent.  Here are the first two, as I try to catch up:

Challenge 1 (Being Present For My Kids):

This one requires no translation.  I find it’s the same with the teens.

  • Lemon is a rambler.  She tells stories over and over and over, and sometimes, she includes volumes of details that are either (a) totally unnecessary, or (b) those “you had to be there” pieces of info.  Or “you have to know ____ really well.”  Or “you had to have been there hanging out with those kids or the past 8 months” sorts.  Yet, really, she’s 14.  And she’s talking to me (and WD).  She’s sharing stories with us, and she’s letting us peek at her social world, and her own social interactions.  Even if there are extraneous details, I need to listen.
  • Mouse is NOT a rambler.  She doesn’t share much about her social life.  She’s cuddly, and she’s chatty and she’s funny.  We talk a lot.  But not so much about her social life or her “school world.”  I wish she talked more about it.  If she looks over at me, and the computer is on my lap – will she be inclined to chat?  To start a conversation?
  • I find that the best thing I do to help foster present-ness between me and my girls is to take some time to do something with each of them alone on the weekends.  Often, we just go for a walk in our neighborhood.  Maybe to Starbucks, maybe to the bookstore.  We live in an area where we can walk to almost anything, and we do.  It’s a great way to just focus on being 1:1, without distractions.  I can’t have a computer on my lap while walking (although the iPhone is a scary second-runner up, I have taken to leaving it behind if I do not need to be accessible to the other daughter).

Challenge 2 (Punish Without Anger)

The coping mechanisms, and the types of “punishment” are very different for teens than they are for school age children.  There is no 1-2-3 Magic for teens (that I know of).  I can’t send a 12 or 14 yo into the corner (not something I did when they were 2 or 4, either, but still).   Yet the root of the issue remains the same. I need to separate myself from my own emotions when addressing our children’s behavior.  I don’t know that it is easier or harder now that the kids are older, and are capable of more rational thought.  When I know they’re capable of that rational thought but then they ignore that capability to become a spitting and sputtering ball of emotion, my frustration level may be even higher than it was “back in the day.”   Yet, like that night at the dinner table, I can keep quiet rather than explode (although “exploding” is rarely what I’m guarding against anymore).  I can remind myself that there are other things going on that are causing this behavior (this attitude), and that harping on it won’t fix it.  That same evening, after dinner, Lemon went to her room to sulk.  I went in and spoke with her about what was causing her disagreeability (is SO a word), and we had a decent conversation about her frustration about the birthday party situation, and she listened to me about my frustration in her moving forward with plans that had not been approved.  In the end, she spent some time looking at how much it cost to rent a minivan for the weekend ($300), and she said, “wow, that costs a lot of money – maybe this won’t work.”

I think of punishment very differently now that the girls are older.  And in this way that I think about it, it happens rarely.  I no longer think of “go to your room until you can calm down” as punishment.  I think of  “you got a C+ in a class that you should have gotten an A in (based on past performance and reports of incomplete assignments), and so you must be home at 4 p.m. every day, instead of 6 p.m., until you fix this” as punishment.  That is easy to do without anger.  I don’t know what it will be like for me if (when?) I have to deal with a teen coming home with alcohol on her breath, or more.  I am sure anger will kick in then.  But so far, the “bigger” things are easier for me.

I also know that I “yell” a lot less than I did when the girls were little.  On the rare occasions that I get visibly angry now, it is very unsettling to the girls, and they often end up quickly apologetic.  There are still times where I react badly – usually when I’m juggling many things, often work-related, and the girls don’t pick up on the signs and leave me alone.  Like the night that I had 15 deadlines crop up at 8 p.m. (very unusual), and had to log into the network and get some stuff done – Lemon decided that was an appropriate time to beg and plead to watch a movie (or a t.v. show, or something), and I snapped at her and made her leave the room until I was done.  She stormed off and posted on Facebook about the unfairness of it all.

This is getting too long, and I have work to do.

To be continued …


One comment

  1. […] Now let’s see if I can make it better! […]

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