Holding On Until She Lets Go

I gave myself a treat this week. The other night I drove up to Connecticut to watch my Sweetie Girl perform in a musical. But instead of going home afterwards, I stayed in a B&B and then spent a few hours with her.

Now I know some parents of 13 year olds complain how their kids don’t really talk or answer questions, but I barely got to say anything at all over the four hours we spent together. My lovely daughter told me every single detail about the musical and her friends and the scenery and audio and sound effects and each individual actor and their issues and concerns and strengths and weaknesses and which songs were her favorite and which performances were the best and all of the melodrama and so much more.

Periodically, I would marvel that this was her first time at sleep-away camp and while she genuinely claimed to miss us, you couldn’t tell. She made new friends and gave her entire being to this musical with rehearsals frequently taking up 5-6 hours of her day every day.

And not once did she complain. Not once did she say it wasn’t worth it. She LOVED it. I mean, this girl of mine L O V E D every moment. What was in the Spring an interest is now a burning passion; being on stage and performing. It is incredible how much she is like her daddy in that way.

But what was amazing to me is that when I showed up to get her, she ran to me to give me a hug. When we walked outside, she held my hand. She gave me a big hug and kiss when I left. She is 13 years old and not embarrassed by affection with her Daddy.

And every time it happens, I wonder if this could be the last time. Could this be the last time she holds my hand in public? Or the last time she runs up to me to give me a hug?

But considering my past and trauma, this surprisingly isn’t me being pessimistic or negative. No, this is me trying to savor every moment. My little girl is not so little anymore. She’s a full-fledged teenager. Of course she held my hand when she was 4 or 6 years old. The fact that she still holds my hand at 13 (and a half) years old could easily be construed as a miracle.

And it feels that way every time. I don’t (really) care that she is now taller than me, that she texts her friends and barely responds to mine. When my daughter wants to hold my hand when we’re walking together I thank my lucky stars and I hold on until she wants to let go. When she runs up to me, I brace myself to catch her the best I can and swing her around, not quite like I did when she was 5, but good enough for government work, and for her to know I love her.

And honestly, that is one of the best feelings in the world. It is a moment when I can feel her love, where I am 100% in the present, where my past is just a faraway spot in my rearview mirror. It is a moment where her love for me, her Daddy, and my love for my Sweetie Girl swirl together in powerful vortex where we both feel better, feel special.

It is amazing to watch our children grow up and see how independent they become and how they learn how to handle new situations. That’s what makes it even more important to celebrate, embrace and bask in those moments when they still show us affection and love just as freely as they did when they were younger.

As I was leaving, I thanked her for such a special day and she smiled at me, that beautiful smile that reminds me so much of her mother, and she thanked me for such a special day. A day of driving and eating and talking. And of hugs and holding hands and reminding each other we love each other. And of musicals, of course.

I’m going to hold on to this day as long as I can–especially the feeling we had together. Those are the days that make being parent the most amazing job in the world.

Life Can Be Both Hard AND Good!

We were sold a bill of goods when we were kids. Most of us grew up believing that being a child was so hard and that once we became an adult life would become much easier. I think many of us looked at our parents and didn’t see how hard work was, didn’t see how challenging relationships can be, didn’t know how stressful it can be to be an involved parent. As kids we didn’t understand how hard our parents worked to try and deal with all that life threw their way. To us, as children, it seemed pretty easy.

The problem with that is most of us grew up thinking life should be easier as an adult. But alas, life is not at all easy. What makes this all even worse, is many of us then judge ourselves on the fact that our life seems so challenging.

If my life is so hard, then I must be doing something wrong.

Therein lies the rub.

One of the most challenging things for me to remember (and I am still working on it), is that just because we experience the complexities of our adult lives as partners, parents, friends, individuals, employees, etc. doesn’t mean that it is bad.

There’s a great saying, “Happiness is not the absence of problems. It is the ability to deal with those problems.”

We need to try and move away from judging ourselves harshly that we have problems. Of course, we have problems. This life, especially when you are working to make it better, is hard! We’re trying to be better as people, better as partners, better as parents, caring intensely about what we do and who we are. Of course, that is going to be hard! Not to mention work challenges and financial issues, as well. Not to mention the running around we do and the limited time we have to take care of ourselves for whatever comes next.

The fact that we have problems isn’t a sign that something is wrong. The fact that we have problems means we are living this life the best we can.

But are you having any fun?

Do you feel the love of your family and friends?

To help make this transition from thinking “If this life is hard then something is wrong” to “Life can be both hard and still good” we need to make more of (or take better advantage of) the time we have to ourselves.

For instance, do you commute or run errands or take lunch alone? This could be an excellent time to focus on yourself, on the things you want and need, for seeing how you feel and are experiencing the world. Listening to music that makes you feel good. Reading a good book. Drawing or writing about your feelings, giving yourself time to process and express your feelings can do wonders for helping you to realize, yes, this is hard, but there is some good stuff here and I want to enjoy it.

What if we were happy, but didn’t realize it? What if we realized we were both overwhelmed and happy with our lives? I bet you could minimize a little of the sense of being overwhelmed, reduce the judging that life shouldn’t be so hard and increase the awareness of the happiness and love in your life.

It starts with taking a little more time for yourself to connect to the good you already have in your life.

The New York Times Motherlode seeks Jeremy’s help to resolve a quandary

The New York Times Motherlode section has been featuring parenting quandaries and asking experts to respond and give their feedback and perspective. This week Jeremy Schneider was chosen as one of the experts included in the quandary resolution.

The quandary involved teenagers coming over to a house to watch Glee. The mother, called Sylvia in the article, prepared the basement so the teens could watch down there. She had checked on them and they seemed fine, but she received reports from her daughter that a couple of the kids seemed “drunk” though the mother was not convinced her younger daughter knew what that really meant.

The next day one of her teenage daughter’s friends remarked that she thought two of the boys had been drinking–possibly before they even had gotten to the house (since there was no alcohol for the teens to drink in the basement).

The quandary was should the mother tell the parents of the two boys–especially considering the mother of one of the boys in question picked up her son after the Glee party. Jeremy’s full response was

Sylvia seems to have done quite a bit to prepare an environment for her kids’ friends so they could enjoy Glee together safely. There’s no way she can control what they do before or after they are at her house. Should she have checked in on them while they were watching the show–especially after her daughter reported them acting weird? Maybe. But her daughter confirmed that they weren’t drinking in the basement; should Sylvia kick the boys out for “acting strangely” in front of her daughter and her friends? If she had seen evidence of them drinking, there would be a stronger reason to contact the boys’ parents. But especially since one of the boys’ parents actually saw them immediately after the gathering, there is no reason to contact the parents.

She can sleep peacefully at night knowing she did well as a parent that night.

 

eHow Features Jeremy in The Christmas Balancing Act

Jeremy was again featured on a major website this week. eHow.com published an article called, The Christmas Balancing Act to help parents to enjoy the holiday season without too much stress and pressure.

When stress gets the best of you in December, it may be time to take a step back, slow down and refocus. Jeremy G. Schneider, a New York-based family therapist and father of 9-year-old twins, said he struggles with balancing not only holiday gatherings and shopping but also four family birthdays in December. “There’s pressure to get gifts, there’s financial pressures to somehow pay for it all, there’s obligations to family and friends and work parties and we lose sight of what the holidays are about,” Schneider said. “But that has made us focus even more on taking time out for ourselves.” Schneider opted to take his family on vacation during the holidays one year to slow down the stress of the holidays. “We went to Disney World to get away from it all and just spent some time together, the four of us.”

They also discussed ways to reduce the financial cost of the holidays, which can reduce the emotional toll as well.

Finding ways to minimize the cost of Christmas has also helped the Schneiders reduce stress and maintain holiday cheer. “We do things to minimize costs, such as a Secret Santa-like gift giving, so we don’t buy presents for everyone in all of our families, and we set a strict limit to the price of the gift.”

 

Use A Pacifier to Soothe Her to Sleep?


I had dinner with one of my closest friends the other day and we walked out of the restaurant into the blazing, devastating heat and slowly made our way into a Whole Foods at Union Square just to survive. While we walked around the Whole Foods, going down the escalator, wandering through the aisles, then going back up the escalator to start all over again (it was cooler downstairs than up), our conversation soon turned to parenting.

She had just spent a couple of weeks taking care of her new niece and explained one of the challenges her sister was having. Her niece, let’s call her Sara, had been having trouble sleeping through the night, waking up 3, 4, even 5 times a night. Sara’s grandmother was recommending giving her a pacifier so she could learn to soothe herself at night. But Sara’s mother didn’t want to use a pacifier for a number of reasons. And, understandably, she liked being the one that could make her little girl feel better, feel safe enough to go back to sleep. I know I love that feeling as well.

Of course, the problem was Sara and Sara’s mother were exhausted, neither of them getting enough sleep. My friend and I talked about whether my wife and I used pacifiers (which we didn’t) and what my thoughts were. Fortunately, I had one of those moments of insight and understanding. Sara’s grandmother was right that Sara needed to figure out how to soothe herself at night, but it didn’t have to be a pacifier.

When we tried to help our kids sleep through the night, we tried a number of things and finally found some that worked for each of them (because of course, it was different for each). For my girl, she used an Elmo stuffed animal, while my son used a blue woobie (a very small blanket) with satin edges and a little teddy bear in the middle. I explained that we didn’t hit pay dirt right away with both of them, though it was much easier with Lucas than with Dorit. Dorit didn’t like the woobie she had and finally we realized she felt connected to Elmo and that helped.

The truth is it is so much of trial and error. We tried something for a few nights and if it didn’t help we tried something else. If it did and they slept through the night, we didn’t change anything at all until it stopped working…we didn’t change our clothes, we didn’t shower, we changed nothing. We were so relieved when they slept through the night we would do anything to replicate it.

My friend yesterday let me know that they found a woobie for Sara and that both mommy and little girl are sleeping much better. Who knows how long it will last (I hope a LONG time!), but it was a nice reminder that parenting is so much about problem-solving and about trying to hear what our children are telling us in their own special way.

It also was a pleasant reminder that there isn’t a right way to do this parenting thing, only a way that works best for our families.

The Kids Are Away and Conflicting Emotions Are in Play


My Okapis are away (at their grandparents) and it is time for the parents to play.

If only it were that easy.

For my wife, it is very hard for her to be away from our kids. The same kids she gave birth to at the same time. The same kids she spent all day with for the first 4.5 years of their lives. The same kids she has taken to school (or camp) and picked up almost every single day since. She loves our children with every fiber of her being and the downside is when they are not around she feels an ache of missing them.

For me, the guy that has had to work away from home ever since they were born, it is not as hard. I am used to putting my family in a special place and locking it up so it doesn’t make me as sad when I am not with them. I wouldn’t be able to function if I felt the ache of missing them every day. In fact, I get excited, not that they aren’t around, but that I get to have more time with my wife. She was my first real love and everything good in my life started with her. It is so easy to have our husband and wife roles consumed by father and mother roles and it is nice we can get back to us.

Obviously, I love my Okapis, but I really enjoy the time when they are away (and even feel a little guilt writing that down for people to read). The truth is coming home at night is easier and less stressful (no worries over dinner and showers and getting them to bed on time). Getting ready in the morning is ummm…easier and less stressful. Basically, without our kids life is easier and less stressful.

Last night we went out with a good friend and had dinner and drinks at one (kind of crappy) place and then had more drinks and dessert somewhere else (that was much better). Wonderful conversation, good friends, tasty margaritas (at least at the second place) and delicious desserts (fried Oreos!). Then Gem and I came home and we watched another couple of episodes of Battlestar Galactica (we just started it over the weekend and are really getting into it). The whole evening was relaxed and lovely.

Then we went to bed and walked past their empty room and even I felt the ache of missing them. They’ve only been gone less than 36 hours, but I’m a jumble of emotions. A sense of freedom. We can do anything we want without worry. Go out to dinner, have drinks, stay out late, go into New York City. ANYTHING! But they’re doing stuff and experiencing things I don’t know about. I am missing more of their lives and that is sad for me. Are they okay? Are they going to sleep without us? How are they feeling?

My Okapis are gone and conflict is in the house. My wife is torn between her ache and her wanting to enjoy the time with me. I am excited about the time with her, the freedom, but feel a guilt about enjoying time without them, as if parents don’t need their own time. As if, when we pick them up this weekend, I won’t be one of the happiest men alive to see them again.

In the meantime, however, I plan to have a lot of fun with my wife and our friends, coming home whenever we want and making as much noise as we want.

It’s the Balance of Technology That Matters Most For Our Kids


There is some research now on the effects of technology and social media on our children. I’ve been tweeting about it a bit lately. It worries me because obviously I care about my children’s ability to function well in society, to develop strong interpersonal skills, to be able to entertain themselves without a screen. But I also know if they are not incredibly comfortable with technology, they are going to fall behind and have trouble. Technology will only play a more significant role in all of our lives as we get older.

I enjoy knowing how my friends are doing via Facebook. I post on Twitter and try to keep up because I need to. I have four email accounts I check frequently. Heck, I get text messages every time someone scores in a Phillies or Eagles game. We have four computers, an iPad, two AppleTVs, two Kindles and who knows what else in our house. Our children are going to spend time in front of a screen.

I know I can help them by setting limits for them. I can help them by teaching them about technology and how to use it and the benefits of it. But it has struck me that the trick will be to teach my kids how to balance the influence of technology in their lives, to be able to have control over it than feel controlled by it.

How many adults do you know who can’t have a meeting without looking at their phone? How many adults do you know who can’t have a meal without checking their phone? Or watch a movie and are checking their friends’ Facebook status or email or Twitter or whatever it is?

Back in the day it was much easier to be in the moment, to experience what was happening when it was happening. Now, it is much easier to distract ourselves, but it is also much easier to not be fully present. By splitting our time, maybe we catch the drift of the movie or conversation and we keep up with what our friends or favorite stars or teams are doing, but there is a price, a toll we pay.

We’re missing the experience, the connection of the moment whoever we are with, whatever we are doing.

None of the best moments in my life happened on my Blackberry. My best moments are those times when I’m somewhere with my Okapis (my nickname for my children) and we are so fully in the moment that nothing else in the world matters. The best times are when my wife and I are somewhere together, fully together, and the world only exists for us. None of those moments happened with a Blackberry in my hand, but with it tucked safely into its holster on my hip, forgotten.

That’s what I want them to understand.

I want them to know how to use technology, to be comfortable with it, but to be able to know there are many times when we need to stop and live in the moment as well. I want them to remember what is happening right now is almost always more important than what is happening on some screen.

Loving Him At School

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

I had the privilege of taking my kids, eight-year old boy-girl twins, to school the other day. It’s funny because I do it enough that I know what to do, but not enough that I have gotten good at it. It takes me 15 minutes to get their lunch ready though I know my wife can do it in less than five. I worry so much about getting to school on time because I don’t remember how long each “step” takes for my kids to do. Getting dressed is how long? Eating breakfast? Brushing teeth and hair? I never remember so it ends up being a bit stressful.

But the walk there is usually quite nice because I already know how long that takes and it always feels like special time, the three of us (Los Tres Amigos), being together. Often one or both of them will hold my hand. When it is cold we do this thing we started at the zoo a couple of years ago. A perfect example of how something so little and seemingly meaningless, can have such weight in their lives.

The zoo was very cold the day we went and my kids’ hands were cold. I am a short guy, always have been, and the sleeves of my jackets are always a bit too long. I offered to let my kids put their hands in my sleeves so we could hold hands without them getting too cold. Now, every time it is cold out and we’re walking together, they ask if they can do it again.

We got to school and we stopped and they each gave me a hug and a kiss and I told them I love them and I watched them run into the school with their friends.

But then my son, Lucas, turned around and said, “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too,” I replied and immediately wondered how much longer he’ll be okay with me telling him I love him outside school with his friends around him.

For however long he lets me do it, I am happy to do so.

Our Ten Days of Decadence

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

I am relieved to announce that our Ten Days of Decadence, oh so similar to the Twelve Days of Christmas, is finally over. Our Okapis (twin four-year olds) are completely spoiled now and we have 50 weeks to deprive them until next year.

Our Ten Days of Decadence (TDoD – kind of like the sound of my head hitting the wall over and over again) started Friday, December 15th and ended Monday, December 25th.

My family is Jewish and we celebrate Chanukah, which started Friday the 15th. In celebration of Chanukah we get our children small gifts for each of the nights. To give you a glimpse into how decadent the TDoD was, we didn’t even have a chance to give them most of the gifts we bought because they had received so many! Let’s see, they got Chanukah gifts from their grandparents, two sets of great grandparents and from their aunt, my sister, visiting from California. They got so many Chanukah gifts from family that we didn’t really need to buy them anything at all. We just only seem to remember that AFTER we buy them new gifts. Next year, nothing, I tell you. We’re buying them nothing!

But, in case you’re thinking, so what’s the big deal with that? Eight nights of presents, sure that sounds wonderful, but not all that decadent. Was there anything else?

Why yes, yes there was, thank you for asking. See, while the 15th was the first night of Chanukah, the 16th was their birthday party. Yes, their birthday is on the 17th. Since they were turning four years old (can someone please explain to me how that happened?), we decided to do things slightly differently this year – we held a party at our local recreation center for our Okapis to play in the gym with their friends and have pizza and ice cream cake. Their take from that party, the number of birthday presents they received was overwhelming to me, to everyone who saw them. We had about fifteen kids attend, with each one buying one gift for each of our Okapis (15 X 2 = 30 for those struggling with the math at home). That doesn’t include ALL of the presents from our friends and family who often give them more than just one gift. And they have a lot of family; grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, and aunts – they barely all fit into our house! With all of the presents some people had to stand outside. The cops came by to see if we had a license to run a club out of our house, there were so many people. Next year, I think we might hire some bouncers to handle all of the traffic.

Afterwards, we did what we normally do, we invited some of our close friends and family over to continue our birthday celebrations. Why do we need two birthday parties for our Okapis? Well, the first party was just for them to have fun with their friends and enjoy being the center of attention that you often only get to be on your birthday when you are a kid. The reason we continued the party at our house is because not only is it Chanukah, not only is it their birthdays, but it is also my wife’s birthday (the 18th).

And my birthday (the 22nd).

That’s right. All four of our birthdays and Chanukah fell in the same week this year. At the party at our house, we had four birthday cakes, one for each of us, of course. Everybody sang Happy Birthday to all of us and everyone, as they do every year, has no idea what to say when it comes time to use our names. “Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday Dear …” Some just use our last name, some try to fit all of our names into the tiny space, some just have fun and mumble nonsensical things since no one will know anyway. It is quite hysterical and I hope we never figure out a specific way to handle that, frankly.

Of course, after the birthday party, there were still several nights of Chanukah left – not too mention ALL OF THE FOOD!! We had leftover ice cream cakes (2), cookies, the other birthday cakes and so much other food. There was so much dessert I was barely making a dent in it all – and that’s not a problem I usually have, I got to tell you.

During Chanukah, we only had one night with just ourselves. Every other night, we either had family or friends over or we went to grandparents or great grandparents houses, with always so much food to eat and more presents to be had. This year, Chanukah ended on my birthday (Friday the 22nd), which we celebrated at my wife’s parent’s house with more cake and more presents for everyone. At one point during that Friday night my wife turned to me and said, “Thank goodness the presents are over for a year.”

“Uhm…Monday.”

Did I mention my wife’s family celebrates Christmas?

“Oh right! Monday is Christmas.” Which, of course, meant more presents! I actually had done the same thing a bit earlier, thankful it was all over and then remembering about Christmas with a slap to my forehead.

So this year Christmas ended the Ten Days of Decadence with a bang. More presents, more candy, more chocolate and not a nutritious meal to be had.

Now that it is all over. Now that there are no more parties, no more family events, no more chocolate, no more presents, I am looking forward to the next 50 weeks where we can remind our Okapis once again not to expect presents with every meal, not to expect candles every night or birthday cake or anything good for that matter for another 355 days.

How long do you think that will last? A week? Maybe ten days?