The one thing I have learned about parenting, particularly about parenting teens – we can’t do it alone.   The support of others, advice, guidance, wisdom – it is what gets me through this challenging (and of course, often highly rewarding!!) time.

I so appreciate my new friend Lorraine Sims thought provoking essay which she gave me permission to share:

HELPFUL STORIES FOR WOMEN WHO CARE FOR FAMILY AND HOME

by Lorraine Sims

I write this as a parent who has experienced the turmoil of adolescence, and as a friend who has listened to the frustrations and solutions of many other parents.

Raising a Child to Adulthood

            I am sure there are millions of families who breeze through adolescence smoothly and gracefully.  But I’ve never met one.

As parents, we are not properly prepared to guide our teens through this difficult period as they struggle for their independence, while still being dependent on us.

Our modern society has forgotten how to know when our young have grown up, have reached adulthood, and are ready to leave home.  In our human culture, we fail to recognize the right time.  We either push our young out too soon, out of anger and frustration, or we hold onto them too long, out of fear and worry, turning them into 30-year old boys or 40 year old spinsters.

In the animal world, the lioness and the bear will teach their cubs to hunt for food, to protect themselves from predators, and to guard their territory from invaders.  When the young have competently demonstrated to the parents that they can fend for themselves, the parents will release them unto their own resources.

Birds build their nests with sticks pointed upwards toward the nesting chicks.  When the chick becomes a certain weight, the sticks begin to prick into the bird’s underbelly, making it uncomfortable to remain in the nest.  With each passing day, and increasing weight, the chick gradually leaves the nest, and the parents teach the young to fly.

Perhaps we should place sticks in our teen’s mattress and, when they reach 120 lbs and complain of stinging sheets, we will know that ‘it is time’.

The signs are evident when our young are ready for independence and to fly the coop.  It occurs naturally in their teens at 15, 16 or 17.  They evolve naturally – it is in their nature.  There is a gestation period of childhood, of adolescence, which transforms into adulthood.  The signs are often frustration and anger.  They want to fly free.  But if we are not confident that we have done enough to prepare them to fend for themselves, we clip their wings and restrict their freedom.

The natural shift has taken place within them, and now the shift must take place in us. We must see that it is time to let go.  Not to let go of

love

or care

or protection,

but to let go of control.

It is most difficult for us, as parents.   We have been controlling their every waking moment since the day they were born.  We have invested 15 or 16 years in our child.  Our blood, sweat and tears are in that teenager.  We won’t readily give that up.  There is a big part of us in our teen, and if we let go, it’s like loosing part of ourselves.

We are not confident that they are ready to be responsible for themselves – to protect themselves from predators, to create their own earnings and to secure their own homes.  We blame ourselves for not teaching them how to be fully independent, to be respectful of others, to ensure self-protection, and be responsible for themselves.

But they must learn on their own now.  They are ready to graduate to a bigger classroom in which they learn life skills and life lessons.

When they are ready, but we are not, it can become dangerous.  We push them out into the world, or hold them down and restrain them.

The shift for parents is very difficult.  We fear loneliness and abandonment when our children leave us. But, we must recognize that it is a natural part of the human condition.  We will survive and, in fact, will also embark on a period of transition, for this is a new freedom for us as well.

The shift begins with the acknowledgement that we have done the best that we could with the resources we had.  And, in the moments of happiness and joy, and the love and care we instilled in them, we prepared them to be full and whole human beings.  We must look deeper into ourselves and into our teens to see the good and the great that we have instilled within them.

While I have not met a family who breezed through adolescence gracefully, I have read that adolescence is a calm and smooth transition in indigenous cultures.

There are many factors contributing to this:

–     natural food that contains no chemicals which alter behaviour.

–     no outside influences pressuring the teens to look or be false in any way.

–       a whole village to raise a child with support from elders and community to guide and love the young.

–       an understanding and comfort in knowing that, at every age, the family will remain together – they are not raised by two absent-working parents, or a struggling single parent, and do not send their grandparents parents away to old age homes, or their children to foster families.

Here in North America, our culture is very different – our parents and grandparents immigrated from Europe – creating an independent culture – one that breaks from family in search of new adventures, new territories, and a better life in which to raise children.  This independence is infused into our psyches, our families, cultures and nations.

When a teen’s fight for independence begins, we as parents become scared and frustrated.  We forget that it is in our nature to strive for independence and to quest for freedom.  But we haven’t been taught how to handle ourselves or our teens when they:

–       stay out too late

–       shrug off their responsibilities

–       skip classes

–       achieve low grades

–       display a rebellious attitude

–       don’t even seem to know when to put on a warm coat, find their keys or clean their own environment.

–       begin to taste liquor and drugs

–       become involved with ‘new’ friends who may lure them into criminal activity

–       become disrespectful to us and others in authority

We get upset with ourselves because we think we have failed in our parental duties.  In an effort to ward off the dangers or enforce ‘correct’ behaviors, we put tighter controls on them to protect them, prevent them from making mistakes or punish them.  But punishment does not change behaviour, it only changes the relationship with the punisher.  And not for the better.  We know this from our own experience, but keep perpetuating the damage, due to a lack of new strategies.  Afterall, we learned our parenting techniques from our own parents, and we know that their methods were flawed.

When our teens say they don’t feel trusted or respected by us, we talk louder and over them to assert that we are right.  Afterall, we have 25 – 35 more years of life experience than they do, so we must be right.  In facts, perhaps, but not in feelings and insights.

The right to express feelings, the right to be heard, acknowledged and validated, outweigh the need to be right.

When our teens become so exasperated with our rules, our restrictions, our punishment, our unjust conditions, and misguided good intentions, they have difficulty processing it all and don’t know how to respond, through lack of life experience.  They resort to what they know, and what has worked in the past; they yell and scream and slam the door to express their frustration.

Then, in a moment of fury and in the absence of any new parenting skills, we revert back to our old methods that worked 10 years ago – we treat our teens like children.  We threaten to hold their belongings hostage or we damage their possessions as a way to demonstrate our might and authority.  And it backfires.  It ignites a raging battle.

We demonstrate our supremacy by punishing with cruelty, withholding our love, forbidding their planned activities, and by confiscating their belongings – those treasured items that connect them to their life source and a sense of belonging.  We take away their

phones

their computers,

their life lines to others

their tools for creative expression and healing

their art supplies

their musical instruments

their scientific instruments

and their sports equipment

We take what is not ours.  We behave like children.

Not only do we steal their belongings, we often steal their dreams.  In our misguided intentions to ‘steer them in the right direction; for their own good’, we push them off their natural path, and forget the guiding principle of child-rearing:

Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.

 

Inherent in each child and adult is their natural talent, their highest potential and their greatest contribution to the world.  These inborn qualities match perfectly with each individual’s greatest joy and biggest dream.  When we rob our children of their right to pursue their dreams, we create great internal distress that can result in hostile external problems.  Frustrations emerge and struggling behaviours surface.  This, too, can result in yelling, screaming and even violence (if violence was experienced in childhood).

 

So how do we break this stalemate of behaving like children and treating our teens like children?  How do we proceed now that both the parents and the children are adults?  How do we live together and evolve into this new relationship?

Here is the crux of it:  Even though both we and our children are now adults, only we are the parents.  We are the ones responsible for demonstrating maturity.  It is up to us to end the cycle of anger and frustration, and show a higher wisdom.  We must take the higher road – unconditional love.

This doesn’t mean that we condone or support any of their troublesome behaviors; it means that we release them and allow them to learn for themselves.  It means we let them go.

To let them go does not mean we abandon them or push them away.

To let them go does not mean we give up or stop caring.

To let them go means we trust that our teens will be safe and responsible.

To let them go means that we, as parents, believe we have done our best to instill moral values and compassionate qualities in our children.

To let them go means we release our tight grip.

To let them go means we ease the tight pain in our hearts.

To let them go means we allow them to make mistakes.

To let them go means we express our love – without condition.

Even when the evidence shows us that our teens have not learned how to be respectful, how to be caring or how to be responsible, we must let our adult children go – with love.  When we let our adult children go, they feel the release, they sense the freedom and this gives them an opportunity to grow and mature.  Our release must come first.  We often say that we will treat them like adults when they behave like adults, but this perpetuates the cycle of frustration.  It is our responsibility, as parents, to initiate the new cycle, by letting them go and letting them grow.

It takes great strength and courage to raise a child to adulthood.  It takes physical strength, emotional wellbeing, mental acuity, and spiritual love.  Adolescence is an opportunity for our children to grow up and for us to mature.   In the experience of adolescence, our learning curve usually peaks with our first child.  After we have experienced it once, we are much wiser the second time.

There is an adjustment period.  It may take a year of gradual release, trust, and then even a feeling of happiness that they are experiencing the world on their terms.  It doesn’t mean they move out of the house; it means that they move out of the way of our control.

The best way – the only way – to ensure our grandchildren grow up happy, healthy and wise – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, is to ensure our children grow up happy, healthy and wise.

Lorraine Sims,

Mother of two teenage children

March 22, 2012

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Parenting Resource for Teens

Not all parents have teens that are experimenting with, or struggling with substances.   But for those of us who are, this is a great resource.   

I’m not sure which one of us was feeling more nervous.  There wasn’t a lot of conversation in the car on the drive to his new school on Monday morning.  I could feel the tension crackling in the car as the sounds of the radio filled the gap in our nonexistent conversation.

We’ve shared quite a few first days of school over the years, he and I.  That first day at day care when he was one year old and I returned to work.  He cried, I cried, but somehow we got through it – that first day.  He made a new friend there, loved his daycare ‘mom’, and eventually came to really enjoy going there, waving happily at me as I turned to leave him and walk out the door.

Then there was the Montessori pre-school.  He cried, I cried but somehow we got through it – that first day.  He made a lot of new friends there, thoroughly enjoyed his teachers, he excelled in many subjects, played the lead in one of the plays they performed for the parents.

Then came kindergarten.  He was so brave, so excited, that first day.  He grudgingly posed for a picture before I gave him a hug that he tried to shake off.  He was a ‘big boy now’. He turned to wave at me as I wiped a tear from my eye.  He loved that school, made so many good friends there – boys that are still a significant part of his social life.  It was at that school that we began to understand that he learns differently than many of his friends.  Through testing, his  ‘designation’ was determined, and learning ‘accomodations’ began.   Although standard testing had identified his ‘giftedness’, as well as his learning disability (I prefer the term learning differences) several of his teachers questioned that part of his GLD designation as he struggled to focus in their class, disrupting their teaching, handing in work that was incomplete, or blank test pages.

There were several times when he cried, I cried, as we struggled through the challenges of trying to get homework completed, teachers to understand him, playmates to forgive his emotional outbursts when the tension of being an ADHD student, and his emotional excitability spilled over into after-school play-dates.

Then there was the incident in grade seven when his teacher, the principal and the SEA (Student Education Assistant) sat down with my husband and I, suggesting that my son be given an ‘incomplete’ in math, and registered in the math essentials program upon entering high school.  We were told he just wasn’t capable of completing the grade seven math curriculum and that this was the most appropriate option for him.  My husband (my son’s step-father), who is a university professor, argued against this suggested course of action.   He was concerned that we would limit his future options by ‘giving up on him’ in this manner.  He suggested that we work more closely with him at home, and review the course material and the teacher agreed to re-test him on the concepts.  With diligent, one on one (my husband did most of it with him) at home review (not easily done – he cried, I cried – husband didn’t cry), he learned the curriculum, re-wrote tests, and achieved A’s on most of them.  It was hard work, but he was capable of it, just not capable of learning the material in the traditional classroom setting.  But he passed, and off he went to high school.

First day of high school:  I drove him down the street to the school, he hopped out of the car and off he went.  I don’t recall if he looked over his shoulder to thank me for the lift.  He probably did.  No tears, just high hopes for a successful passage through the high school years.

A year and a half into high school he was excelling socially, but sinking academically.  He had spoken to friends who had attended an alternative school in our community, and on the first day of school after the recent spring break, he told me he just couldn’t do this anymore, and asked if he could try the alternative school.

I was taken aback by the request, but made the necessary phone calls to check out this option.  Two weeks later, after many phone calls, a meeting with the district advisor and the principal of the alternative school – he was given the ‘green light’ to commence classes there.

My husband expressed concern about making this decision.  He questioned whether this school was going to address what he saw partially to be a work ethic challenge, and wondered whether we should just take more time to guide him into a more diligent homework routine:  to have him work harder, do more homework, put in more effort.  That discussion became quite heated as I found myself defending and explaining the challenges of being an ADHD learner.

My son’s father expressed concern about making this decision. He had heard about this alternative school’s student population and was concerned that we might be putting our son into a situation where he would be tempted to ‘go down the wrong path’.  It’s true, many of the students at this school have ‘ended up there’, rather than choosing this as an academic option.  They have been suspended or expelled from other schools for behavioural issues, often related to learning disabilities, sleep disorders that impact their ability to get to school on time, or other home-life issues.

My mother expressed concern about making this decision, handing me a newspaper clipping about how students in alternative schools often ‘fall through the cracks’.

My son’s friends expressed their concern about making this decision.  I believe my son told them that I was ‘forcing’ this change, not wanting to admit that he himself had decided to try another learning option.

My son himself expressed concerns.  He too had heard the ‘stories’ of some the ‘troubled’ students at this school, and was worried he might be bullied.

My sister, who also parents children with learning differences, was incredibly supportive.  So were my Facebook friends.  I’ve never had so many responses to a status update – seventeen supportive messages (thank you all).

There was a lot of pushback on this decision, but ultimately we (my son, step-dad, father and I), reviewed all the ins and outs of this option and decided to give it a try.  We all agreed that it’s worth it to try the smaller classes with 6:1 student/teacher ratio.   We agreed that having all the school supplies in each classroom would certainly address his organizational issues, and that the shorter classes would help his attention challenges.  The breakfast/lunch program was also appealing – no more hollering “eat your breakfast!”, as breakfast is served at the school, mid-morning, when most teens wake up enough to eat.  No more hollering “make a lunch/remember your lunch”, as a hot lunch is served to each student in their homeroom.

And so it came, another first day of school at a new school.   We pulled up in front of the school.  No hugs (someone might see), no tears.  He got out of the car (no backpack – school supplies and a day of nutritious meals are all in the school) and without looking back, walked into a new learning and social experience.

I tried not to linger.  I tried not to worry.

Basically, I’m hopeful.  Hopeful that socially he’ll choose to hang out with the students who are there to learn, not the ones who are slipping off down the trails to smoke cigarettes at lunchtime and breaks.  Hopeful that he’ll take full advantage of the learning environment and take pride in excelling academically.  Hopeful, that he’ll become a successful ambassador for this ‘alternative’ school.

Hopeful that one day, being a ‘learning differenced’ student won’t be considered ‘alternative’ and won’t in anyway be marginalized.

Hopeful that one day, in the not too distant future, we’ll be shedding some happy tears as he heads off to another first day of school – post-secondary.

the sky is the limit

Would you drug test your teen?

When I ask parents of teens that question, it sometimes generates a strong reaction.  Both positive and negative.

This is a unique and complex parenting era.   To drug test or not to drug test isn’t a question that my mother would have considered when I was a teen, although had the tests been available, she may have considered it.  Drugs were readily available in my teen years, but somehow it seems that more than ever before, pot use is glamorized in movies, music and YouTube videos that teens watch.

Whether they indulged in drug use during their youth or not (or still do) many parents today are aware that the marijuana available today is significantly stronger in TCH content than in previous decades.  And research on the negative impact of drug use on the developing brain continues to emerge from the scientific community, heightening parental concern.

As a parent of a teen, I have engaged in conversation with parents in my community on the topic of drug use amongst our teens.   The parents I have spoken to admit that while they are aware that their young teens are experimenting, they are confused as to how to overcome both the social and peer influences.

A recent conversation with the local high school counsellor exposed the dilemma that schools face in addressing drug use amongst their teen population.  Although the local high schools will suspend or even expel students for obvious drug use, the school administration is aware of drug use on the periphery of their property that is difficult to monitor or control.

In the fall of 2009 I invited a small group of local parents of teens to participate in a series of dialogues to exchange information on what we were witnessing with our own teens and in our community.  When our parent group discussed various tools we’d incorporated into our parental tool kit, the drug testing ‘tool’ proved to be a controversial option.   Is it too invasive, does it indicate a lack of trust, is it exerting power ‘over’ are some of the questions we explored. 

I’m continuing to read up on this topic, and would appreciate hearing your stories, and your opinion.

For years I’ve known that this conversation was going to arise one day.  

I thought I’d planned for it.  But I still wasn’t fully prepared for it.  

I knew one day he was going to want to try it.  After all, I’d tried it.  

But when your teen lets you know that he’s thinking about trying it – what do you say?   Because when it comes right down to it, I don’t want him to try it, like it, do more of it, let it lead to trying other things, and possibly allow it to do to his life what it did to mine – temporarily, or possibly even permanently derail it.  

smoking-pot-23

Today is 420.  

Funny, I didn’t know about 420 until my teen told me about it.  

Lots written about it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/420_(cannabis_culture)

http://www.concept420.com/what-is-420.htm

http://420.com/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/20/what-420-means-the-true-s_n_188320.html

So, even though my son sees me working on my undegrad degree in my late 40’s because I was too stoned in my teens and 20’s to focus on my education, is he still going to try it?  

And how do I most effectively guide him through yet another major life decision?    

How much influence do I have?  How much control do I have?

You can find previous posts at:  http://whitelightcommunities.gaia.com/blog