Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Hands-On Approach to Parenting

For years, we've heard other parents say, "A house full of teens? Good luck!" And they wander away shaking their head, as if you've already lost some battle. True, the teenage years are full of heightened emotions, raging hormones, self-esteem issues, and basically trying to figure out who they are in this world. These are tough issues! So, why, as a society, would we think we need to take a more hands-off approach to raising teens? These years seem to be much more difficult to figure out than those pre-school years, when we were so incredibly involved. But we try to deal with it in all black or white. Either we look away and hope for the best. Or we tighten the screws to keep them safe. 

Neither really work.

Sometimes, a lot of times really, parents are simply too tired to go head-to-head with our teen in angst. And, it's true that if you come back to it in a day or so, lots of the emotion will have blown away and it's easier to get through the day. But the issues are still just under the surface. This is a missed opportunity on so many levels.

Your teen could learn to face their problems head on. They could see that you are not afraid to go into these treacherous waters WITH them.  They could see you're not afraid to stand by them and face the scary stuff that they are facing each day. You could show them that you think their problems are important, even if they seem petty and small to you. They are obviously causing your teen some difficulties. You can let them know that they are important to you and helping them solve problems is part of the job of parenting.

You might have to bite your tongue. Teens want to be heard - who doesn't? They really want to come to the conclusion on their own. So asking questions is better than telling them what should be done. Even if you think you know. Helping them learn to problem-solve is the key. Not doing it for them.

Relating stories from when you had similar situations as a teen might help. Watch their expressions though. You might be really "getting into" your story of your own teen years, and they are tuning out. Not because your story is dull (I'm sure it's not!) but because the shift of the focus went from them to you. They are the one who is in the middle of a struggle. Keep your story brief. ;-)

So often, they think we cannot relate. Or they're afraid we're going to judge them. Or point out their mistakes. These are the pitfalls to avoid in these parent-teen interactions. While it may sound hokey, they need to know that you are coming from a place of love not worry - because worry implies you think they cannot handle themselves. But from love. You want them to be happy. You want to be their safe place they can run to when their friends stab them in the back. You want to be the one who will not betray them. They will come to trust you, share more with you, and value your input. Win-win.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

For MY Trivial Pursuit Partner, I Choose...

Over the years, I've listened to lots of people talk about various educational paths for their child.  We ended up on the fairly radical end of the unschooling continuum, but others opt for a very rigorous formal academic program.  One program is called, "The Well Trained Mind."   When I listened to what their lives looked like and the goals they were choosing for their child, it always made me think of correlations.
  • You could dance with your family - or you could do a dance marathon.
  • You could swim and play at the pool with your kids - or you could make them train for the Olympic swim team.
  • You could go for evening walks after dinner with your family as a way to have healthy exercise incorporated into their daily routine for life - or you could train them to run in the next Boston Marathon.
  • You could read to them every night before bed, snuggling and immersing yourselves in the story - or you could create a booklist of classics and require your child to read a new one per week for years.

There's nothing wrong with The Well Trained Mind.  Just like there's nothing wrong with running the Boston marathon.  It just depends on what your goals are.  And how you want to spend your time.  And what kind of role you want to play in your child's life. 
Nurturer or Taskmaster?
Guide or Enforcer?
Model or Authoritarian?
These are all your options as a parent. 
By the quick look at the yahoo groups, it's clear that thousands of homeschooling parents disagree with me. And at the risk of saying too much or pushing too hard, I would ask these people a couple more questions.
If you find you are drawn to The Well Trained Mind, why is that?
Are you excited at the prospect of creating Super Smart Homeschoolers? 
Or do you feel learning the classics is the "correct" education? 
Do you wish you had learned this yourself? 
As parents, we have to be careful to check our egos at the door. Kids are not extensions of us. We cannot wear their accomplishments on our lapel as if they are OUR badges of honor.  And if you feel you have to outshine the neighbor's kids, think again. Someone else's kid will always do better, look better, seem better. As humans we want to compete. But resist the urge. Your child needs you to love them for who they are - not who you wish they would be. You don't really need to have that bumper sticker on the car professing your child's academic prowess.
For those looking at the "correct" education, by whose standards? And at what price? You might be interested in a peek at my idea of What Should They Learn? . It might be a little startling to those who like the Trivium. But there will be little time for these ideas if you are engaged in such a formal education at home.
If you wish you had learned it as a child, what's stopping you now? Realistically, I think this is the only answer that has any merit. If you enthusiastically take on learning  "The Classics," you will be able to share your enthusiasm with your children and they will learn a great deal of information they might not otherwise. 
Of course, all this might do is make them a really good Trivial Pursuit player.
And that would be a terrible trade-off! As a homeschooling parent, you have the opportunity to create a space for your child to love learning, to become who they were meant to be, and to get to learn and live right beside them in love and enthusiasm.  If you turn your world in to a high stress battleground, you forfeit all of that. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Exploring Your Interests WILL Take You Places!

So what do you want to be when you grow up?

How often do kids hear this? I know I heard it, my kids heard it. And it did have an impact. From an early age we start thinking about what kind of occupation we want for our Grown Up Life.   We show an interest in the way the body works, our grandma says we should be a doctor. We want to visit the pet store, our aunt thinks we should become a vet. We like little kids, maybe a teacher.  But if we show an interest in drawing, odds are, our dad will tell us, "You can't really make a living at that." If we want to play a lot of video games, our mom reminds us that "You can't do that for the rest of your life."

So we're pushed and we're pulled and all the while, we're just curious. We find things that make us happy and we want to do them.
Michael & Tomohiro

My son Michael, knew he was interested in travel. He especially liked to learn about other cultures. We had an exchange student from Japan when he was 12, and that was clearly the jumping off place. At 16, he went to Japan himself for 2 months as an exchange student. In college, he took a semester and studied anthropology and archaeology in Belize. He graduated with a degree in Journalism and a plan to become a Travel Writer. He's currently in the Peace Corps and working with high school students in Nicaragua.
Katie in CATS
My daughter Katie wanted to be on a stage from the very beginning. She'd sit on the counter in the bathroom and watch herself belt out songs from Fievel Goes West. She had an enormous ability to memorize lines. She performed in the living room along with shows on TV, moved into skits in our backyard with friends, then on to community theatre. Her interest in acting and singing continued to grow and she did more shows, took more lessons, landed some commercials, and even films. Because her desires didn't waver, she now is studying at the New York Film Academy and living her dream.
Alyssa applying Zombie Make-up
Alyssa was the one who was most interested in pop culture and the fashion/make-up world. She taped pictures of movie stars with their beautiful hair and make up all over her room. Her interest continued.  At a farmer's market in Austin, I spoke with a woman who was making her own natural make-up. I noticed that she did classes for younger teens. I was immediately drawn to that because I was secretly hoping Alyssa would curb her heavy eyeliner obsession. We signed up for the class and the woman offered Alyssa an internship in her shop. Alyssa learned how to make the make-up, how to apply it on models. She worked with photographers, learned about lighting,  and worked backstage at fashion shows. She had found her niche.  It was a natural step for her to go to a local cosmetology school and learn more. So when she found a Vidal Sassoon school nearby, she signed up and started classes.
Alyssa & her guinea pig 
Just to be clear though, each them explored all kinds of different paths before choosing the one they are on.  They took other classes, got jobs, joined teams, but over time, their interest in these particular areas continued to rise to the top, while the others fell away. A great example of this is Alyssa's love of animals. From an early age, she spent hours playing with pets. She read books about them, she cut out pictures of them... if there were animals, she wanted to see them! Later, she discovered horses and wanted to be around them all the time. Because people often told her, "You should be a vet," she started to tell people that's what she wanted to do. But she really didn't know what vets did…until we moved to a ranch in Texas. Her horse had turned his head into a Mesquite tree thorn. The vet had to come out to the house.  I will spare you the gruesome details, but after watching the vet remove the thorn, Alyssa decided she did NOT want to be a vet. She would continue her love of animals, but dealing with sick or injured animals was not her thing. Good to know before we spent thousands of dollars at Texas A & M for vet school!

What if we, as adults, stopped the conversations about what someone is going to be. And instead, just enjoy the moment. Play with the puppies. Find some cool drawing books. Learn to play the video game with your child.  Eliminate any pressures. No big plans. Just stay with it until it either branches into something else, or continues to go deeper. Because life works itself out. And without a lot of nudging in various directions, kids really WILL know what they like to do by the time they're in their late teens. They will have had an opportunity to really get to know themselves and their true interests. 

Sometimes, when you read about kids going off to college, you hear parents say, "How do they know what they want to be at 18?"  But kids who've been given the opportunity to freely explore what they like to do in their younger years, OFTEN know what they want to try for a career - or at least where they want to start. They just needed  that time and space to listen to their own inclinations without a heavy influence on what might be a successful career move.

Here we are at Olive Garden, Summer 2011
Michael is about to leave for the Peace Corps
Katie is going to an NYC film school
Alyssa is starting in a Vidal Sasoon cosmetology school

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pay Attention!

Consider these scenarios...
When I was little, I was one of those children who talked a lot and LOUDLY. I can remember my cousin actually turning to my dad saying, "Does she have a volume button?" Obviously, I did not. Nor did I forget the comment. I tell you this because I want you to know that I get it. My mom, who had an exhausting job, would have to come home to this high energy kid who wanted to talk and talk and talk.  I can remember sitting on the floor while she read the paper or a book and just nodded along at me. I'd ask her, "Are you listening?" "Mhm," would be her reply. Nothing more. I knew she was not listening.

When my kids were little, I was trying to juggle a variety of things at once. My kids were around all the time, since we homeschooled. They were ESPECIALLY around if I was on the phone with someone. Which was often. The internet was just taking off and I was thrilled about talking with other moms from around the country.  My kids would ask me questions and bring something to show me. They'd ask me, "Are you listening?" "Mhm," would be my reply. Nothing more. I wasn't listening to them.

Skip forward another decade and shoe is on the other foot. My teens are sitting with me in the car. I'm asking them something about their day. They're texting on their phone. From the moment they walked out the door, we would have a brief moment of kids "calling shotgun" for the front seat, then they'd be back to non-stop texting.  I'd ask, "Are you listening to me?" "Mhm," would be their reply. Nothing more. They weren't listening. 

I give all three of these scenarios because I think you'll be able to relate to at least one of them. No one was doing anything malicious in any of these situations.  And it didn't happen this way all the time. But people were just caught up in the moment.  Everyone has probably been the victim and the ignorer at some point in their lives. Probably at multiple points in their lives.

But I think as parents who want to do better - as PEOPLE who want to do better - we need to adjust ourselves.  Life flies by quickly. At 50, I'm well aware of that fact.  The people who are in our lives are there because we value them.  They deserve our attention. Real attention. That attention we give indicates to them how much we love them, how we appreciate them, how they MATTER in our lives.

It's a habit of laziness really, a lack of thoughtfulness.  It's not being fully conscious about the every day life decisions we are making. I really want to be present for the people that are in my everyday life. And I want them to be present with me.

If your child wants to talk with you, appreciate them. Give them your full attention. They are mentally noting how you interact with them.  It's telling them their worth and your interest in them. And think of how that translates for later in their life...if a mother is not interested in them, who would be? These are big messages we are conveying and so often, we don't even realize it's happening.

Make an agreement that there will be actual conversation with the person in front of you - your child, your partner, your friend. Put down the texting, stop reading your email, don't glance at your Facebook newsfeed. Let people know that they DO matter to you. Look them in the eyes and really listen to them.