No Milestones to Mark These Important Moments As Parents

One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of parenting is how quickly it can feel our children are growing up, how rapidly we move from one parenting stage to another. Some of those moments are very clear, marked for all the world to see…things like graduating elementary school, high school, college, etc. At those moments it is easy for parents to take a moment and reflect on how far they and their kids have come in this amazing and crazy thing we call life.

But there are hundreds, dare I say thousands, of moments in our parenting lives where an important milestone is reached, but we don’t know it at the time. We don’t realize we just experienced the end of one phase and the beginning of another.

Yesterday, my wife and I spent the day pretending we were parents of only one child. While we have 13 year-old twins, our daughter was with some friends and we took our son, Lucas, out to try and make his room nicer. We spent the afternoon at IKEA, bought him a bed frame and new sheets as well as some other stuff (you can’t walk out of IKEA without “other stuff”). We also spent quality time at Hot Topic (AKA Emo Heaven). All three of us had a great time, my wife and I being able to only focus on one child, which is a rarity for us, and Lucas not having to share anything–including us–all afternoon. It will definitely be remembered as a special day.

At one point, however, I turned to Gem and said, “He really is a teenager, isn’t he?” It’s not something I can pinpoint, but watching him walk around, interact with the world, it was so clear to me he’s not our little boy anymore. Now, sure you can say, didn’t he just have his Bar Mitzvah? And he certainly didn’t look like a little boy there. Maybe it was the mall environment, but he seemed different. There was something about the way he moved, the way he handled himself that made it clear he is growing up, more a young man than a little boy.

When did that happen?

While there are several moments, more formal rites of passage, marking transitions from one phase of life to another, so many moments are never marked and by the time you realize it, the moment has long passed, leaving a little sense of loss, of what we miss, mixed with the joy and pride of seeing our children in this new phase.

I don’t remember the last diaper I changed. All of a sudden, we were no longer changing them. I don’t remember the last time we used the double stroller, but I remember it being in the basement and feeling a sense of loss. What was the last bedtime story I read to our children? When was the last time I carried one of them up the stairs to bed after getting home late at night?

These special moments, moments that I both enjoyed and probably complained about (except carrying them to bed–I never once complained about that), happen and then disappear like those little babies and toddlers we so easily held in our arms. Where are those children? When did those moments end?

Watching my litt–I’m sorry. Watching my teenager, my young man yesterday made me not only realize that there are so many moments of parenting that are gone, that I’ll never experience again. And there is a genuine sense of loss over that, the passage of time, a feeling we may never feel again.

But it was also an excellent reminder that all that work is paying off. He is growing up into a healthy, creative, intelligent and pretty damn awesome young man.

When I kissed and hugged him goodnight last night, he thanked me for hanging out with him in Hot Topic.

And I realized that it’s not that these special moments are gone as they grow older–they’re just different. If Hot Topic was a special moment for him then I am already looking forward to the next time we go there.

Whether it is Hot Topic or something else, I just want to be ready to enjoy whatever new special moments we can create together.

Guest Dad Post: Teaching While Learning At The Same Time

By Tom King

The beauty – and terror- of pre-school kids is they are still unpolluted by the larger world.  Whatever comes from them is almost 100% the direct result- forget byproduct – of what we as parents have put into them.

So recently when my son was angry I saw myself reflecting back and could tell he was struggling (like his Dad) to communicate and cope with the frustration.  I decided to try help him through it while also giving him a “tool” to use for the future.  I said, “It looks like you have Angry Ghosts in your eyebrows!  How can you get rid of them?”

This immediately both confused him and piqued his interest.  He started thinking through the options.  Here was his list:

– Grunt it out

– Fart it out (he’s 5)

– Jump it out

– Run it out

– Laugh it out

– Pull it out

In talking him through this exercise, we both connected in a way that was less threatening to him and less intimidating for me.  He’s learning coping mechanisms- but the truth is, so am I.  There really is power in teaching.

In my work, I’ve noticed the order in which I do things is often as important as the tasks themselves.  Many times, it is more important.  True success, however, doesn’t come until and unless I hit both.  So, here is the prioritized steps list my son and I agreed upon for getting rid of angry eyebrow ghosts:

1. Blow them out

2. Talk them out

3. Sing it out

He has an amazing imagination.  I can’t wait to hear about the songs he makes up along the way, but I’m hoping he learns something it has taken me a lifetime to sort through- creativity can be a curse as much as it can be a blessing.   Steps 1 & 2 are so important to finding real happiness within myself as well as  others.

Parenting is an amazing thing; we literally have to teach these little people everything and at times it is overwhelming.  It takes constant reminders to myself that if Step 1 doesn’t work, all that needs to be done is go to the next step and trust everything will be ok- or at least we’ve done the best we can.

The impact of this exercise paid immediate dividends for both of us.  By the end of our conversation he was laughing and I wasn’t riddled with anxiety over how to relieve him of his pain.  Truth is, that’s not my job, anyway.

Like all things with parenting, we will see if it sticks- but in the meantime, there is no question we’ve both learned something.

The Standardized Tests Challenged Us As Parents

Today is the day! A day we’ve worked so hard to get to, a day that appeared in the distance for real around January. We’ve been working with our kids on this for a few months, talking to them, helping them, talking with others about better ways to support them. It has been an exhausting and trying process, but it is finally here.

The New York State standardized tests.

The most stupid, obnoxious and utterly useless tests I could possibly imagine. The kind of tests that makes me question what kind of people actually oversee the education departments in this state and country. Do they even care about kids?

Oh for a second there you thought I was talking about tutoring my kids for this test? Heck, no! I’ve been talking about helping my children deal with the stress of these tests on them (and their classmates and teachers). Starting around January our children started getting stressed and worried and anxious about these damn tests. In January! The test is here and it is the middle of April.

Why would our kids worry so much? Because they are extremely attuned to the feelings of the people around them and they can feel how important this test is to the principal and the teachers. They can feel and absorb the stress of their friends and classmates, some of whose parents believe these tests are difference makers and their kids must do well, must achieve.

Whatever happened to being a child? Whatever happened to teaching so our kids will learn, not teaching so they can take a test that doesn’t affect their grade?

Therein lies the really interesting part for us. My wife and I argued about this, but not the kind where the gloves came off. The kind of argument where you believe what you believe is right, but you can totally see where the other one is coming from.

We both felt that this was one of those moments in parenting where we were certain this is one of the big decisions we make. What would happen if we screw this up? How would it affect them down the road? We both could see if we didn’t do something, it could turn out badly for them, but we could also see if we did do something, it could also turn out badly. Both options left us worrying about dire and/or unintended consequences. We can’t look forward into the future to see how it plays out one way or the other, but we have to make the decision now.

Do we opt our kids out of these stupid tests or do we let them take them?

One side argued; What if we let them opt out and they believe they are quitters, not believing they can handle these types of situations in the future?

The other side responded; What if we let them take the test and the stress makes them sick, hurting them?

In response; What if taking the test gives them a sense of accomplishment, that even though this was challenging they still did it?

In return; What about the fact that they are 10 years old and shouldn’t have to deal with this level of stress yet?

Is there really a right argument here? Was one of us really wrong? I don’t think either of us believed the other was wrong, just that we were right. Fortunately, our discussions never got too heated and in the end we compromised: we told them they could decide whether to take the test or not.

Maybe we punted, on reflection. Maybe we didn’t make the tough decision, but left them to deal with the weight of all of this. I don’t know. But what I do know is that after some serious deliberation, they both decided to take the test. Maybe they took the test in part because despite telling them for the past couple of years we don’t care about this test, by giving them the option to opt out we finally proved to them we really don’t. Maybe that lifted enough weight off. I’m not sure we will ever know.

I leave for work today feeling so proud of my children, that they were doing something that was hard and challenging. I hope they walk out of this having faced their fears and realized that their fears are much scarier than school, life.

In the end, the only thing of value my kids can learn from these stupid tests is who they are and what they can do will never be evaluated by a standardized test.

Happy Valentine’s Day to My Son!

I went card shopping for Valentine’s Day last night. I found a beautiful card for my Sweetie, who I have loved for more than 20 years. I found a beautiful card for my Sweetie Girl, who I have loved for over 10 years. But you know what I found out?

They don’t really make loving cards for boys.

I am lucky enough to have a Sweetie Girl and a Sweetie Boy (they are twins). I love them both very much, but also very differently. My son is so much like me in so many ways. He is sweet, intelligent, incredibly sensitive to other people and very perceptive. He is utterly unafraid of affection and I don’t think he even knows there is an issue for many men about hugging and kissing. We hug every morning before I go to work and when I get home and when he goes to bed and any other time we can squeeze a hug and kiss in. We are not shy in my family about showing our love. In fact, if you come over, be prepared. We love and are pretty out in the open about it.

The card for my Sweetie Girl includes an emphasis on no matter what she does or how I feel or what my day is like, I love her no matter what. Sure, it had pink and purple and maybe even some flowers, but frankly, she won’t care that much about that. She needs reminders that our love for her is always present, no matter what she does or how angry we get with her.

Is it not cool to say that to a son?

Truth be told, I don’t think he worries about the unconditionality of our love the way she does (she got that from me), but I would’ve loved to give him a card that said something very similar (without the words “To My Daughter” on it). But all I could find were funny cards, joking about love and cards with superheroes on them.

I spend a lot of time in the world of fatherhood, with people who believe like I do, that fathers are extremely important to their children and that all dads have so much to offer their children just by being present. I try to help moms and dads make sure dads can be involved and get comfortable enough to be involved. I read dozens of articles about parenting and fatherhood every week.

Last night reminded me we still have a long way to go. The fact that we still think as a culture that it is not acceptable to show love and affection to our sons the way we can with our daughters means more boys will grow into men uncomfortable with giving and receiving love and affection.

But not my boy. I love my boy and he loves me and I hope the whole world knows.

Working Mother Quotes Jeremy On Making Dinner Special

Working Mother Magazine quoted Jeremy in their June/July 2012 issue. The article, entitled Low-Tech Table Tactics, is a brief article on how to take advantage of bonding time during dinner and includes tips from Jeremy.

In our topsy-techie world, it’s easy to succumb to digital distractions—smartphones, TV, gaming devices—at the table. You may permit them to help the kids (and you) make it through dinner, but “they mean lost opportunities to build strong family bonds,” says parenting expert Jeremy G. Schneider.

His tips include

  1. Playing music
  2. Promoting discussions
  3. Creating a topic list in case it is hard fro family members to talk

The article is a good reminder that even in the crazy days of school or summer, make dinner special time for you and your family to come together and connect.

School Family Asks Jeremy for Advice on Cheating Children

SchoolFamily.com has published an article on children who have a good track record in school and good behavior, but then get caught cheating called, When Your Child Cheats, Take A Parental Time Out. In the article, they quote Jeremy extensively about the things a parent needs to consider when their child cheats and what it may mean for them and their family.

“Parents need to take a time out for themselves to view their reaction,” says Jeremy Schneider, a New York-based therapist, blogger, and syndicated columnist who specializes in parenting and relationships. “Otherwise, we go off on [the child] because we’re embarrassed, angry, whatever, and end up adding fuel to a fire that might not be there.”

It is important to understand how your child got to the point where they felt cheating was the best option for them to solve their problem.

“There could be time-management issues that she needs help thinking through. There’s so much pressure [for teens] to succeed at such an early age now, vs. getting the skills they need—mentally and emotionally—to succeed in life.”

Parents may also need to think about any pressure we’ve been adding to our children’s lives.

Another factor is that kids want their parents to be proud of them. “They feel an added pressure to prove us right,” Schneider says. “And when they aren’t able to, they want to save us from that experience [of them not doing well], but sometimes without thinking through the consequences.

“It’s hard to remember how our kids view us,” he adds. “Not as people, but as all-powerful beings. A sense of desperation to avoid [letting parents down] can lead to cheating.”

When good kids cheat, it is more a symptom of a larger problem, than the actual problem itself. By addressing the larger issues, there is a very good chance we can prevent the cheating from ever happening again.

The Online Mom quotes Jeremy on Technology and Parenting

The Online Mom posted an article recently entitled, Want your child off the screens? Try turning off yours, which quoted Jeremy helping parents think about how much time they use their own devices and what kind of example that gives their children.

Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook gives a personal example of how she uses technology while trying to set limits with her own son and then goes on to explain;

Unfortunately, when you’re a parent, the nuance of social media and technology can’t wait for human evolution and/or for the excitement to die down. Which is where marriage and family therapist and technology expert Jeremy G. Schneider comes in.

Schneider suggests parents take this family tech quiz:

Do you frequently respond to emails (work or personal) while your kids are right next to you?

Do you frequently take time out to post to Facebook or Twitter when you’re with your family?

Do you rush to your computer immediately after dinner to jump back into your online game to unwind at the end of the day?

Do you put in your headphones while you clean up after dinner so that no one can talk to you?

Now consider this: How would your kids answer those questions about you?

Ms. Hook concludes the article with this excellent quote;

Funny how the rules of technology keep changing faster than we can keep up. But the rules of good parenting remain the same.

The challenge for most of us, is remembering the rules of good parenting in the chaos of technology all around us.

Modeling Technology Behavior for Our Family

This past week, I read several articles talking about ways families can stay connected and how teens rely on their parents for how to behave on the Internet and with mobile devices.

I am the role model for my nine-year old twins in so many ways, of course, it makes sense that they would follow my lead when it comes to technology. Will they spend time hanging out in front of iTunes like I do, listening to music, buying new songs, updating playlists? Probably.

But will they spend so much of their time texting their friends or updating their status when they get their own phones? Only if my wife and I do. Many parents are upset that their kids spend so much time using their mobile devices when they are supposed to be spending family time.

However…

  • Do you frequently deal with emails (work or otherwise) while your kids are right next to you?
  • Do you frequently take time out to post to Facebook or Twitter when you’re with your family?
  • Most importantly, how would your kids answer those questions?

The truth is, even if I think I don’t use my phone that much, if my kids perceive I do, that’s all that matters. They will learn I don’t truly value my time with them, that it is okay to prioritize our gadgets over our family. As with so many things, if my kids feel that way, whether I think so or not, that is all that matters.

Take some time to open up that discussion with your family. “Do you feel I use my ‘mobile device’ too much?” Maybe you can create a code word to help them remind you to stay with them, a code word you could then use with them when they do the same to you.

Family connectedness is extremely important, but it will take a little work on everyone’s part to help make it special.