Beverley is my parenting hero….

How Does She Do It?

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I deeply love my teenage son.  I am also often enraged by my teenage son.

The teenage years are challenging for both parents and teens.  What does a parent do when their young teen, I’m referring to those particularly age 15 – 17, is making choices that are negatively impacting their lives both at home and at school?

I spoke to Alyson Jones to find out what she advises her clients when the situation has become challenging enough to reach out for help.

Q.  What should parents do to examine their own ‘triggers’ in the situation?  How do parents avoid taking things too personally ie:  an attack on their authority?

A.  You have to have a bit of distance to do your job to guide your child.  If you were the boss at work, how would you respond to that difficult employee?  Our children evoke the most intense emotions and we sometimes find ourselves riding that emotional rollercoaster with our teen.  It’s important to try NOT to do that.  There is so much neuro-biology happening with teens.  This is NOT an adult brain.  The teen brain is still developing and although the teen may sound rational, their impulse control, management and regulation of emotion is still being developed.  Your job is to guide and provide structure and to NOT get emotionally involved when your teen is pumped up.

Q.  How do parents identify what their role is in the negative interactions with their teens?

A.   Be aware of your own emotions.   That’s not to say be completely dispassionate, but when the blood is boiling, your hands and jaw are clenching, be aware of your own emotional reactivity.  Parenting teens pushes us to our own growth.  We have an opportunity to examine, “where are my blinders, what am I missing?”  Allow yourself to take a step back until the anger dissipates.  Remember to ground yourself first.  When you take some time to cool off before engaging in a difficult conversation, that models for your teen the importance of taking time to consider good decisions.

Q.  How do we involve them in choices so that they feel empowered and not controlled?

A.  Parents need to be transparent with their own powerlessness.  What I mean by that is not that the parent is powerless, but letting teen know that when they’re out there in the world they are going to make their own choices.   As a parent, you can’t control it anyway.  It’s important to be in the LEAD, not controlling.  Ensuring that you outline what is is best, what is allowable in your own home is key.   Ensure that you provide content of what you want them to learn and then provide them some opportunity to make choices within that framework.

It’s important to remember that your teen does actually want to please you, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

Q.  How do parents of teens find ways to connect with their teens that are relevant to the teen?  How do you nurture communication with an uncommunicative teen?

A.  If they’re not putting it all out there, sometimes it’s following parent intuition.  Having a sense of their parent knowing them is important.   You don’t always ask a lot of questions…say you understand “I understand the pressure you’re under with your friends etc.” , and if you’re wrong, they’ll be happy to correct you.   If you hit it on target you nurture empathy, if you hit it wrong they may correct you and provide further information.   Learn to ‘hold onto yourself’ – if you don’t get it right you can just say, thank you for letting me know I don’t have that right.  Let them know you’re paying attention.

Q.  Sometimes parents lose it, or make decisions that we ourselves question later.  When is it appropriate to apologize to your teen?

A.   Be very careful what you’re apologizing for.   It’s best not to get highly apologetic, don’t beg their approval as you’ll lose your leadership role.   But when there’s something to make it right, make it right.   You have to be cautious about handing them the power.   If you feel it’s appropriate to express an apology, be sure that while apologizing keep you keep your balance.   Maintain your leadership.

Maintain your dignity – both yours and your teen’s dignity is important.

Find time for self-care.   Looking after yourself leads to better self-awareness so you don’t lose your ‘self’ in the middle of the challenging moments.

We have to anticipate that there are going to be challenges during the teen years.  Demonstrate to your teen that your relationship with them is strong enough and resilient enough to bounce back from the challenges.

 

I’ve just spent a week on Kauai and in Waikiki with my teen. Although we do share mealtimes at home, being with him 24/7 really raised my awareness of just how few vegetables my teen is eating and just how much sugar he’s drinking. It’s tough to make dietary shifts on a holiday, particularly when the majority of meals are being eaten at restaurants, but given that this was a learning/vacation, I realized why increasingly my son’s teachers aren’t seeing him at the start of the school day.

For a few days of our holiday I observed, but didn’t comment, as he drank up to six sugary drinks in a day; gatorades, pops, juice ‘nectars’. I’ve guessed for awhile that his sugary drink intake might be impacting his bad sleep patterns, but as he’s either at school, or often with his friends, it’s nearly impossible for me to gauge just how many of these drinks he consumes when we’re at home. Noticing how he was really struggling with sleep on our holiday I finally bribed him. He loves new clothes, so I made him a deal: drink nothing but water today and I’ll get you that funky T-shirt and those boarding shorts you want.

He agreed. He slept SO well that night and was significantly more prepared to greet the morning while it was still morning the following day.

Now, the trick is, how do I get him to do this at home?

Inspired by this mom blog: Homeschooling mom/bogger

I couldn’t help but relate to this….

The Parent Trapped

…and am very grateful that I have the resources I need to deal with my challenging, yet lovable teen.

In the past couple of weeks just about every major newspaper (including the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun) in Canada and the U.S., several in Hong Kong and elsewhere on the globe (even ‘down under’) have run coverage on Yale law professor Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom essay that originally ran in the Wall Street Journal.  If you haven’t read the original article, purchased the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother yet or read any of the follow up pieces (first of all, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!) the gist of it is that Chua raised her two daughters in a rigorous manner insisting upon academic (A’s only, NOT A minuses) and musical excellence (piano or violin ONLY) and limited their personal choices (extra-curricular activities) and social time (no sleepovers – EVER).

Chua has been quick to point out in interviews that her book is a memoir NOT a ‘parenting’ book.  Nevertheless, controversy has erupted (at last count over 7,000 comments had been posted to the Wall Street Journal piece) as parents throughout North America and beyond weigh in on Chua’s assessment of the benefits of Chinese vs. Western parenting styles.

In my household the parenting debate centers on Canadian (mine) vs. Australian (my husband’s) parenting styles.  There are some similarities to the Asian vs. Western debate.  A big part of it is whether or not to be concerned with the self-esteem of our children. Chinese parents, according to Chua don’t fret about their children’s self esteem the way western N. American parents do.  My husband claims that in his experience, neither to Australian parents.  Chua also claims that “the dominant or prevalent Western approach right now is much more permissive than parenting was in the West, say, 60 years ago. Western parents romanticize the idea of pursuing passions and giving your kid choices. If you give a 10-year-old the choice to pursue his or her passion, it’s going to be doing Facebook for six hours.”  She doesn’t think that “it’s going to be playing the violin or doing any school work very seriously”.

Chua also claims “westerners are too quick to let their kids give up. It’s very familiar to see an Asian kid and Western kid both start on violin. Six months later the Western child is switched to the clarinet because the violin sounds so terrible when you start. But the Asian kids will still be playing the violin because the parents make them. Then often the Western child is moved to the drums or the guitar because that’s going to be easier. I wasn’t going to allow that. Let’s stick with something before you decide whether you like it or not.”

Alyson Jones and I had a conversation about Chua’s view and how it relates to our passion for parenting as a leadership journey.

Alyson: How do we provide effective leadership for our children?  I truly believe that in North America we’ve lost the vision of what that is for our children in our parenting.  In our society parents are often so worried about doing their jobs well.  They’re questioning, “am I doing my job well, am I meeting the emotional needs of my kids, the physical needs, educational needs?”, that they’re not actually doing their job.  The doing of it is hard work!  And parents are all too often too consumed thinking about it rather than doing it.   The saying no, holding limits, the following through on things, these are difficult and take self-discipline.  From there we provide discipline to our children.  Children need to respect and take their parents seriously.  The way children will respect and take their parents seriously is by them showing consistency and following through on what they say.  If we’re inconsistent we’re only hurting ourselves as parents and we’re certainly not doing our children any good.

We can’t get too caught up in our children’s ‘self esteem’ or our ‘relationship’ with our children, although I really believe strongly in the relationship piece, and that we parent through the relationship but the relationship is not separate from the structure.

In many ways our relationship with our children is earned through the structure.  It’s a balance.   And we’ll make mistakes.  We need to be attentive to that and be honest when we ourselves have made mistakes.

Laura: Chua’s piece has really brought something to the forefront of the parenting dialogue.  We’re examining what’s different between cultures and also between generations of parents.  And when we bring that into the leadership realm, both in parenting and in the business environment, there’s an inquiry and an evolution that is taking place there as well.

Alyson: Leadership terminology is more commonly used in a business setting.  When we think of organizations we can see the value of having a boss.  The organization will not work well if everyone is the boss, nor will it function if no one is the boss.  Everyone needs to have their roles.  Having a clear division is a positive thing.  Feeling understood and valued is also important both in organizations and in families.  This can create a desire to contribute and passion for what you’re doing.

It’s finding the balance.

Laura: Passion is an interesting element of this inquiry isn’t it?  Chau’s attitude seemed to be that she wasn’t giving her daughters a choice about what they would be passionate about.  She decided that they would be focused on specific academic and musical pursuits and there was to be no argument about it.  Discipline over passion.  Our N. American parenting style tends to be about finding out what our children are passionate about and encouraging that.  And if they decide they’re not interested, well then they’re off to the next thing.

Alyson: That’s so true.  All too often we’re enrolling our children in too many things rather than providing them with opportunities to gain mastery over a few things.  And most children will choose to avoid the hard work that it takes to get good at anything.

Laura: That’s so true.  I remember my son showed a passion for tae kwon do, but left to his own devices he would have eventually drifted off from it.  There were times over the years that he was engaged in that practice that I had to ‘hold his feet to the fire’ to get him to classes but eventually when he earned his black belt it was HIS self-discipline that took him there.   And he sure feels good about having achieved that.

But even so, I do find that I’m more of a momma bear than a ‘tiger mom’.  I’ll push from time to time but I do negotiate a lot with my son. In my view this has built his self esteem as well as his ability to advocate for himself.  Of course some would say he’s learned skills of manipulation but I try to look at it in a positive light.  He’s certainly persuasive.

Alyson: In the end self-esteem is something they earn.  They earn it through the difficult things.   It’s not something we give them.  Joy is a great thing as is celebration but it’s not where we get our deepest lessons.  Learning to deal with disappointments and the reality of life that sometimes you fall but you get back up and go again.  This is where parents need to do their job and hold their children to their commitments so that they EARN their self-esteem.

Alyson and I look forward to your thoughts on this topic.  Please post feedback and we’ll be deepening this dialogue in the days and weeks to come.

 

I’ve been looking for new ways to spend quality time with my fifteen year old son.  Some might question my choice, but I chose to take him into Canada’s poorest ‘large urban’ postal code last Friday night and introduce him to 30 survival sex trade workers.  Actually, I wasn’t the one doing the introductions.  Jen Allen, a former survival sex trade worker turned advocate was conducting the introductions.

Jen Allen runs Jen's Kitchen - an outreach program

Let me explain.

2010 came to a close with me really wondering about my parenting skills.  My teenager was making a series of choices that were leading to an ever increasing series of consequences that were expanding beyond my domain.  He was hurting himself and others in the process.  I was frustrated and frightened and  at a loss for what to do next.

I began 2011 forming an intention formed to do things differently.  More creatively.   I thought that introducing my boy to some folks I consider leaders, people who inspire me, would be a bit more worthwhile than spending my time with him either lecturing him or just delivering consequences.  My hope is that he will find inspiration from these introductions and find a pathway to making better choices when faced with some of the challenging options that all teenagers encounter.

Jen Allen inspires me.  I met her over five years ago and volunteered only once before to help her with Jen’s Kitchen.   I was a bit shocked when I phoned her to see if my son and I could do a volunteer shift with her that five years had passed since I had last made that offer.  She gave me instructions on how to prepare 30 meal bags with sandwiches, juice boxes and granola bars.  We met her on Powell Street near the ‘strolls’ with our bags of food that my son had prepared.  (btw – it was less than $40.00 to supply a meal, drink and snack to 30 survival sex trade workers)  It was a bitterly cold, windy night last Friday and since this was my son’s first time volunteering with Jen, she chose to conduct our outreach from the car rather than walking the streets and alleys as she more commonly does.

As I drove Jen directed me to slow down when she saw a woman who she recognized to be ‘working’, rolling down her window to call out “are you hungry?”  Most said yes and gratefully accepted the brown paper bag offered.  As we drove up and down the streets Jen provided a running commentary combining history, statistics and anecdotes.  My son was full of questions and Jen also questioned him, ensuring that he had properly absorbed the information she was sharing with him.  She has tremendous compassion for the women she serves, but is a no nonsense advocate that is willing to take on the police, policy makers and has a goal of meeting with the United Nations this year.  Jen’s position is that the sex trade has always existed and always will, and ensuring that the women who work in the trade are safe should be a priority.

It was a powerful experience for my son. As we chatted with Jen over dinner in a Chinatown restaurant he asked if he could help her again next month.

I’ve been in Boston this week at the International Leadership Association Conference.   I am always open to the unexpected when I travel, but I received an unexpected gift at this conference.

The ILA incorporates many ways of thinking about and practicing leadership.  One of the sessions I attended explored Leadership and the Language of Poetry. All the participants at the well attended session were invited to take 15 minutes to silently tour a display of 145 poems that had been printed out on individual sheets of paper, and make note of those that ‘spoke’ to us and our leadership journey.

Several resonated with various areas of my professional leadership journey.  Many of them moved me deeply.  I wasn’t the only one who was soon shedding tears as we quietly knelt on the floor before sheets of paper, or stood side by side at tables neatly laid out with pages and pages of poetry.

We were then invited to choose one.  Only one.

One poem touched me deeply, resonating with my journey of being parented, becoming a parent and my thoughts about parenting as a leadership journey.

We broke into small groups and were asked to read our chosen poem aloud to the others.  I found myself gasping for breath and reaching for more tissues to dry the tears that were now flowing freely.

The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm

my father recited a story in a low voice.

I watched his lovely face and not the blade.

Before the story ended, he’d removed

The iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,

but hear his voice still, a well

of dark water, a prayer.

And I recall his hands,

two measures of tenderness

he laid against my face,

the flames of discipline

he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon

you would have thought you saw a man

planting something in a boy’s palm,

a silver tear, a tiny flame.

Had you followed that boy

you would have arrived here,

where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down

so carefully she feels no pain.

Watch as I lift the splinter out.

I was seven when my father

took my hand like this,

and I did not hold that shard

between my fingers and think,

Metal that will bury me,

Christen it Little Assasin,

Ore Going Deep for My Heart.

And I did not lift up my wound and cry,

Death visited here!

I did what a child does

when he’s given something to keep.

I kissed my father.

~ Li-Young Lee

Perhaps there was something particularly poignant about sharing a space of appreciating poetry in such an unexpected way that cracked something open in me.

What I love about poetry is that another’s experience or story gifts us with an opportunity to connect with our own experience or story and to feel something, perhaps in an entirely new way.

My own story is about my father leaving my family when I was seven, about me choosing to leave the father of my child when our son was seven.  My story has been about a longing for such tenderness from ‘father’ at the age of seven, both for that little girl who still lives inside of my adult body, and also for my teenage son.

I also volunteer with several social profit projects that provide leadership opportunities to marginalized women and children who have either been abused by parents, or tragically lost their parents.

My own story has been re-written many times since I was seven years old, and since my son was seven.  I’ve come to realize that what may originally appear to be losses, are often unexpected gifts.

I’ve witnessed remarkable growth in those who have found tenderness from people other than their absent or abusive parents, who have become nurturers and shared that tenderness openly.

If this poem speaks to you, or if you have a poem that speaks to your journey as a parent, please share your comments, reflections, wisdom.

If you would like to know more about weaving music, art and poetry into leadership, visit:

http://www.pianoscapes.com/

www.davidmarkwardt.com