Category Archives: Survival Parenting

Parenting

No one is born knowing how to be a parent.  We learn from our own parents, some good, some bad, some downright nasty, horrible, and awful.  We look for role models, and sometimes we attend classes on parenting.  There are some good books out there but also some that are extremely biased in some way or another.

Over the years, and I have three kids ranging from independent adult to 17 year old Junior in high school, I’ve found that no one knows anything.  I could write a book on parenting, I have the experience – AND – my experience is uniquely mine and that of my children.  Some of it might work for another person, but odds are not all of it will.  Some advice worked and was helpful, some advice made me wonder what drugs the giver of the advice had been imbibing.

I took two Love and Logic classes in addition to a parenting class required by the state when I divorced the father of my sons.  I had books and CDs and parenting magazines.  I had techniques I practiced and used.  I went to lectures on parenting.  I considered my own parents who were less than stellar examples, and also the parents of kids I had babysat when I was younger.

I was a conscious, thoughtful, concerned parent.

My boys were undermined by their father’s desire to get back at me for leaving him.  He used them at every turn to make my life difficult, but all he really succeeded at was making their lives confusing, painful, and directionless.  This was a battle my second husband and I fought directly, doing our best to reinforce self-discipline in school work, following the direction of the child therapists, and making sure there was structure in our home.  These were techniques, these were rules we followed.

A personal hero of mine may be known to most as “that guy who wrote ‘The Trouble with Tribbles'”.  He also wrote (among other things) a book called “The Martian Child” about adopting his son as a single man.  Below is a musing he had today on parenting, and it’s in the same spirit as the book, which I wish I had read when my kids were tiny.

“One of the things I did right as a parent — and it works everywhere else too — was so simple that it should be one of the first commandments of parenting. Or anything else.

The group home parents had told me that they had issues with Sean coming home from school and being badly greeted by the other kids. So much so, that they arranged to bring him home from school first, so he wouldn’t walk into the house and be greeted badly.

So…after he was placed in my home, I made up my mind that part of my job was to change the way he experienced the world. My job was to fill him up with happy memories. So…

Every day when Sean came home from school, I made sure he knew how happy I was to see him. We’d have milk and cookies together, or a sandwich. But I’d make sure that coming up the walk and coming into the house would be a good experience every day — so that he would always feel happy to be home, never afraid, never shut down, never alienated. This was his safe place, his happy place.

I still do that today.

Now … here’s the important part. I might have been annoyed at something, anything. I might have been angry or upset or busy with work, or even on the phone. I’d always put that aside and make sure he knew he was the most important person in my world.

I think that’s one of the reasons we have such a great relationship today. You don’t build great relationships by waiting till they’re grown up — you start on day one and you keep building every day — you never stop.

Now, the same applies to every other relationship. You start out by being happy to see the person. Whatever else needs to be handled, whatever other conversation needs to happen, whatever other issue needs to be addressed — start out by being glad to have that person in your life. If nothing else, it sets context that they are more important than whatever upset you’re having.”   – David Gerrold

My category for these sorts of posts is “Survival Parenting”.  I chose that name because everything I did, every choice I made in parenting was to keep not only my head, but the heads of my children above water in stormy seas.  

Like every single solitary parent on earth, I’m sure including David who is an amazing Father, I made mistakes.  I probably made more than a lot of people – AND – it wasn’t for lack of trying.  I have one regret.

I regret that I didn’t demonstrate my love for them more often.

Boys naturally grow away from their Mommies, and that certainly happened.  I didn’t have to let it happen so easily.  I could have let them cuddle a little longer.  The laundry was still going to be there.  I could pick the toys off the floor later.  We could eat dessert first more often when there wasn’t time to cook dinner.  I could have made more cookies for them to have when they came home from school.  I could have found a way to simply ignore the garbage coming from their father so that they would know it was inconsequential, and that they were really truly loved.  Somehow I didn’t get that part through strongly enough while I was enforcing boundaries.

It truly is my belief that David is right.  If there is love, acceptance, and valuing the child first, then the rest can come later. The person will understand and truly know that she is more important than the problem and that she will not be left alone to tackle the problem.  I believe that if we value the child first, give him that secure base of love, the rest will follow.  We won’t be spoiling the child, we will be showing the child that he matters and that he has an impact on his surroundings.

If, as David encourages us, we do this in other areas of life as well, then we set the example for the child that other people matter and have value as well.  This teaches the child to be considerate of the people she values.

Look at it this way; I had a friend in college who acquired a puppy, and he was all about the discipline and the rules.  So much so that the dog wanted nothing to do with him when he called her to him.  She would run in the other direction, he would be forced to catch her, and then he disciplined her for running away.  Well, if that was her experience when they were together, what reason would she have to come when called?

If we focus on the rules, boundaries, and discipline first, what reasons do our kids have to be happy to come home?  What are they learning from us except that rules are more important than people?  Are those the sorts of adults we want in our world?

If, on the other hand, the dog learned that being with my friend was a happy joyous fun thing, she would have been more willing to learn the rules and boundaries to please him and to show him that he was as valuable to her and he was to him.

Pretty simple stuff really.

Not that I am comparing children to dogs … it’s just sometimes easier to see things when we hold them away from ourselves.   Forest for the trees and all that.

At any rate, thanks for reading all the way to the end.  I appreciate that.  And I hope you found something useful here.  I always find something useful when I read what David writes. 

 

Raising Teens

There are no books to prepare you for this.  There is no road map.  No magazine article with the perfect solution.  No one on earth can prepare a person for parenting a teenager.

One day you have this sweet smiling happy complacent child.

The next day you have a person in you house with the vocabulary of an ex-Marine trucker prison guard.

You try to remind yourself “It’s only hormones,” and that “The brain is still developing” as you watch your darling baby make changes that will be devastating to him for the rest of his life.

You reason.  You beg.  You plead.  

Then you threaten, you yell, you contemplate sending the kid to some military camp in Paraguay.

At the end of the day, nothing changes.  You can’t make another person do anything, even if you spent 9 months gestating and another 16 hours in labor to create that person.  

Because that person is insane.

Yes – there are hormones and unbaked brownies for brains.  Yes there is the developmental need to break from one’s parents to become independent.  Yes there are sweaty socks and T-shirts that should be burned.  It’s temporary, but it’s insanity.

None of this new behavior and vocabulary comes close to being anything rational or useful for life.  You get to a point where have to question how any of us made it to adulthood at all.  Certainly many of us didn’t.  I have a laundry list of lost friends.  Kids who died doing all sorts of stupid things, and some who died because others were doing stupid things.  Car crashes, drugs, drownings, the girl who really thought she could fly, the boy who blew his brains out.

Why doesn’t this other person get it?  Why doesn’t he or she understand you when you plainly spell out how the world works and why refusing to do things one finds boring is a first class ticket to homelessness?

Positive reinforcement?  My kids found a way to take that away from themselves.  Instead of working towards something, they would decide that the payoff simply was not worth it.  They have no intrinsic value system, and absolutely no extrinsic value system.

Negative reinforcement?  My kids have decided it doesn’t exist.  But they won’t actually test that theory.  I promise that if they do the work, I will get off their backs about it.  They must really enjoy being nagged.

I have to wonder if this is some bizarre phase of evolution in which an entire generation is set for a big die-off because they refuse to learn how to sustain themselves.  There are only so many ways to teach a kid to shower.  I imagine if they ever move out that I will have to call to remind them to brush their teeth and do their laundry.  When I die, they will move into comfortable to square cardboard boxes under a bridge somewhere.  I suspect they will bring down the property values of the other hobos boxes.

They’ve been to therapy.  They’ve been to the school counselor.  The way they fail their gifted and talented classes, you’d think they love summer school and credit recovery.  They like to do things twice.  It’s apparently easier than doing it once.

Logic does not apply here.

You can’t give me an idea or a piece of advice that I haven’t tried.

I can’t use counseling techniques learned in school, because they are for a different kind of relationship than parent-child.

The school is useless.

Counseling has been fruitless.

My kids resist work as if it was death itself.

Don’t give the parent advice.  They’ve already heard it.  There is truly nothing new under the sun by the time the kid is a teenager.  Different distractions?  Sure.  But they are still distractions.

The fact remains, they are insane, we have to live with them, and they are hormonal lunatics with undeveloped frontal lobes.

Experience tells us that in spite of that, the chances for survival are pretty good.

DeTox – Day … oh who am I kidding?

There is no longer a detox.  I’m just not Facebooking as much as I was.  And there is so much to write about.  Today might be a two- parter.  

Let’s start with the post I never got to finish:  My Cat is a Mass Murderer.

She’s an indoor cat, she’s technically not allowed outside.  But the dogs let her out in the evenings.  They may be trying to get her eaten by an owl or possibly they have made a deal with a pack of coyotes.  Perhaps she’s just running between their paws.  Maybe she plans to split the catch with them.  No matter how she does it, she gets out.

And then she hunts.

When she was a young barn kitten, before we brought her in, she was a terrible hunter.  I, myself, witnessed mice outsmarting her.  In middle age, she’s suddenly become Queen of the … um… pasture.  

At first we thought the mice were getting in the house and she was catching them.  Then we realized that she was bringing the mice in and letting them go so she could refine her skills indoors.  (A previous blog post recounts how, as a result of this game, I had to refine my mouse catching skills as well.)  So far her count has been about 3 indoors, and perhaps 4-5 outside left on the stoop outside the dog door.

Maybe she’s trying to intimidate the dogs?  “I am a mighty huntress!  Look out or you’re next!”

She eats them just as BKliban describes.  We only ever have to clean up the back half of mousies.  She bites their heads off and then I don’t know what she does.  We haven’t found a secret cache of tiny mouse skulls anywhere.

Mousies

I would prefer a pacifist cat.  One that simply watches wildlife out the window as she contorts herself into implausible grooming positions.  One that is content with kitty kibble in her bowl and a soft kitty bed near the fireplace.  Living with a mass murderer who likes to sleep on your head at night is a little disconcerting.

DeTox – Day 18 Survival Parenting, Driving, and the Internet

I was born the last year of the “Baby Boom”.  

In my life time, telephones have evolved from rotary to push button to cordless to whatever 4G is.

When I went to college the first time, I brought with me the Smith-Corona typewriter I had been given for Christmas my senior year of high school, a box of typing paper, and a bottle of Wite-Out.  Only one kid owned a personal computer.  The rest of us had to go to the computer lab and sign up for a time to use one of the 16 available IBMs, or 4 available Macs, armed with our five and a quarter inch floppy discs.  Printing was expensive and slow.

It is no wonder then, that few in my age group were prepared to deal with our own children and computer usage.  After all, aren’t computers great tool that help us find information, write papers, stay in touch with people who are far away?  Don’t computers enhance our lives by allowing us to relive old childhood TV shows, find friends from summer camp, meet our future spouses?

My children learned to use computers by playing matching games on the Blue’s Clues channel of Nickelodeon.  I bought them all of the Magic School Bus games, and they learned to navigate puzzles and quizzes that taught them about the ocean, volcanoes, dinosaurs, and other topics in science and math.  

Somewhere along the line, I lost control.  I’m not sure when or where that happened.  For a while, when they were losing teeth and learning to ride bicycles, they had little or no computer interaction.  Now I can’t pry their fingers off the keyboard with hot pincers.  How did this happen?

I remember, as a child, being grounded from going outside to play with my friends.  It was the worst 15 minutes of my young life.  I sat in the second story window, gazing forlornly out at my friends on their bicycles and skateboards.  I was the most pathetic child ever to take a breath of climate controlled air.  The only thing that could prevent me from wilting away to a husk of a 10 year old child was the ability to inhale deeply from the humid New York City streets below.  This air-conditioned prison was going to be the end of me.  My step-Father could handle only so much.  I was finally released back to the wild as the dinner calls from the doormen started coming in.  

“Peter, your mother wants you in now,”
“Corin, time for dinner!”

Evenings meant meals and books.  After all, there was only one TV in the apartment, in my parent’s room.  I could watch what they were watching, or I could read.  I read a lot.

I can not tell you the last time I saw one of my boys pick up a book to read for pleasure.  Perhaps the Lord of the Rings series, when the movies came out.over ten years ago.  I’ve since bought them such amazing classics as 1984 and Dune, only to be met with disinterested grunts as they turned back to the screen.

I’ve tried limiting screen time. I’ve begged for family time.  I’ve cited studies about attention span and sleep patterns and health. I’ve set the router to turn off at 9:30pm.  I’ve been met with such hostility and arguments of such high caliber that my determination was worn out within a few hours. (Not that it mattered, it turns out that the cell phones given to them by my ex-husband can act as wifi hotspots.)  I’ve tried getting interested in their games. I find myself baffled at how these online quests could hold anyone’s attention for more than a few days, or a week at most.  I’ve been promised by psychologists that the boys would grow tired of these games and want to live their own lives.  I find no evidence yet that this could happen.  Ever.

Worst of all, I cannot get these boys outside.  They won’t walk, they won’t bicycle, they won’t willingly go hiking or camping and we live in the outdoor paradise of Colorado.  Have you even encountered a teenage boy who wasn’t dying to get his hands on the car keys?  I have two of them.  My oldest didn’t get his license until he was 19.  The youngest, now 17, regularly grumbles about having to drive to get the hours required before he can take the practical test. 

I must be an awesome chauffeur.  

Nonetheless, today I am getting that 17 year old to the DMV and we’ll see if he has learned anything this past year of driving.  I’m exhausted.  I simply cannot drive him to every event anymore.  I have things I have to do as well.  

I expect great resistance.  There will be moaning, and probably groaning.  I suspect he will gravitate to that computer as if it had a mystical power over his every movement.  Voices might get raised.  With enough coffee, I could triumph, but the day is yet to be won.  Wish me well.

DeTox – Day 12 A word on survival parenting

My oldest son dropped out of high school and went to live with his father.

Let me just note; This is Not a Good Thing.

But, he’s 19 now, so I don’t really get a say.  The rules in my house were apparently too strict (take a shower, finish school, apply for jobs) and so he left.  Thanks to Eminem, he still wants to have a relationship with me.

Which is not to say I am anything even approaching Debbie Mathers in the realm of parenting.  I’m not a substance abuser.  At worst, I was more wrapped up in my own stuff sometimes than in the kids stuff, but mostly I was a naggy Mother.  Not that it helped anything at all, he’s still a high school drop out without a job who rarely showers and hasn’t seen a stick of deodorant in two years.  The deodorant thing, that’s genetic, on his father’s side.

So we go out to breakfast once a month now.  The hubby and I suspect this is his only true meal.

This week was our lunch date.  Though I asked him to shower, he still got in my car wreaking of Eau de Young Man Avec No Old Spice.  We sit outside at the breakfast place we frequent in Boulder.

I’m a Mom, so I asked about his diet.  There are some things a Mother just really does not want to know and shouldn’t ask.  Ever. I suspect this varies from Mother to Mother.  This particular Mother is a lifelong vegetarian, who has made every attempt at feeding her kids healthy, balanced meals.

Their father, however, is the guy who in his twenties, when he got a job and lived alone, ate nothing but tuna fish sandwiches.  When we lived together and would go to the grocery store as a couple, he’d fill the cart in such a way that it looked like we had a house full of 12 year old boys who craved nothing but sugar.  When I tried to make him healthy lunches to take to work, he complained – not enough food, not enough variety, not the right bread.  So I stopped making sandwiches.  

When the boys were younger, their father stocked the freezer with pizzas, taught them how to use a microwave and went to bed.

So I should not have been surprised when the kid’s answer was, “Well, Dad was tight on money so we didn’t shop for a while.  I was eating, well, basically scraps.  At one point, I just opened a  Manwich from like 2010 and drank it right out of the can.  But then about a week ago Dad and I went shopping.”

Which should have been a good thing.  The son does tell me that he’s been eating fruit every day.  However, his father’s SUV had issues, and was in the shop when they went shopping.  They are now driving a rented sedan.  When they went shopping, in the Colorado heat, they put the food in the back seat and for some reason decided the safest place for the carton of eggs would be on the shelf under the back window.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

I wish I could tell you that the 52 year old man in this story had the intelligence, responsibility, and restraint to just throw the eggs away.

But I can’t.

He was so fascinated with the fact that the eggs cooked there in the sun and heat, and that they were essentially hard boiled when they cracked them open, that he ate them and fed them to my son.  

These are the genetics I chose for my children.

Dear World,
I’m sorry.
Me

They are both miraculously still alive.  I’m sure they ate them all in one setting, in a feast that would draw envy from Templeton the Rat.

My son boxed up the leftover breakfast potatoes from our favorite restaurant for lunch later.  I told him he could put cheese on them when he reheated them, to add protein.  I was then informed that the only cheese in the house was Velveeta.  Slices.  I just smiled, probably looking a little like an in-patient at a mental health care facility who is too drugged up to remember what brought her there.  I nodded.

I dropped the kid off back at his fathers building and sent him off with leftovers and the homemade chocolate chip cookies I’d made for him.  That should last about an hour before it’s back to frozen pizzas and Manwich juice.

Some days it’s best to just remind myself I am not the Mother from Weeds, and that even she managed to raise two sons to adulthood.

The Interpretation of Values

Image
Note the pen for size. This is not a huge bookshelf.

From the time they were young, my sons interpreted values in a way that suited them best.  In other words, they would take a values lesson and bend it so that it benefited only themselves.

For example, the “Golden Rule”.  Do unto others as you would have done to you.

Most of us interpret this to mean that we should be kind to others, because we want to be treated kindly.  And I do believe that is the intended message.

My children, however, had a completely different interpretation.  They believed that if someone hit you, it was because that person wanted to be hit, and so my sons would hit back.  They explained as much to me when I questioned them.  My heart sank.

“Turn the other cheek,” obviously means that person wants to be hit again on the other side.

These are not my values.  My values are kindness, charity when I can afford it, understanding, tolerance, and the ability to make room for people, even if that means walking away from a person or situation with which I disagree.  My values are to talk things out quietly, listen to one another, find a solution.

I have tried to redirect my son’s interpretations of values, so bring them more in line with my own.  They have resisted at every turn.  It is a rare occasion, and usually the younger son, when thoughtfulness for another person is displayed.  These are not children who gleefully give gifts as I do, more excited to see the look on someone’s face when opening a present than I am to receive a gift.  These are children who are constantly looking for the payoff, “What do I get?”

This month, my younger son asked his brother if he would personalize the bookshelf project the older brother had in class.  This immediately turned into a transaction.  The praise of the younger for the elder’s work was seen as an opportunity to exploit, whereas had I been my older son it would have been an opportunity to surprise my sibling on Christmas morning.  (They still celebrate Christmas, though this is not a “religious” holiday in our home.)  Prices were named, specifications were requested.  No longer was this appreciation and thankfulness, it was capitalism at its most base and vile.

Of course this went poorly.  When the elder completed the project and saw how the younger coveted the shelf, the price went up.  Possibly the price increase was linked to the desire for a new online game purchase price.  Conflict ensued, and escalated swiftly.  Previous debts were called, mathematical ability was called into question, and costs were calculated.

That’s the interesting part.  The elder son was calculating material and labor costs.  The fact is that he acquired none of those costs.  He made the bookshelf as a required project for class.  He had to make it.  He had to etch it, and it made no true difference what was etched, so his brothers request was free as well.  As to the cost of the oak, if anyone paid those it was me, in the form of “materials fees” charged by the school.  At that, it was less than $10, and the elder son was demanding over $30 for the finished project.

Calling in previous debts, the younger son calculated that he should have to pay only $5.50.

I honestly don’t know how this happened.

Where did I go wrong in teaching kindness, sharing, doing for others?  Is the fault mine or are these two particular brains wired in such a way that looking out for Number One is the only way to go?

Again, the younger son is less selfish, less likely to hold back when he could share.  Which is a problem when there is such a power imbalance; he will buy games for his brother with the promise of being paid back, but he never sees the money again.  The younger son worked all summer to build himself a little bank account, and it is mostly depleted with the purchase of games not only for himself, but also in the form of these consistently defaulted loans.  The problem is now how to reinforce the generosity and willingness to help, without teaching him to be a doormat.

Separately, I spoke to each boy.  They are teenagers now, entering society soon, and this is my last chance to try and get through to them.

To the seventeen year old, I explained my disappointment in his decision to sell what could have been a wonderful gift that would have been wildly appreciated.  Instead, it’s a point of contention, causing them both to be angry at one another.  I could not reach him, I was told that he was so angry now that the deal had been broken that he wanted to throw the shelf in a wood chipper.  Then he broke a highlighter by throwing it hard into the floor, and stormed upstairs to slam his door.  Twice.

I called the fifteen year old into my office for a lesson in price comparison and value.  We scanned the sites of custom bookshelves until we found one that was comparable in size.  Quality was questionable, it was most likely mass produced in China, but it was hand painted, and it was the right size.  It cost $20.08 on Overstocks.com.  I tried to make it clear this was not a lesson in bargaining with his brother, but rather in understanding purchase price and value before buying anything.  He nodded a lot, said, “So, $20 would have been a fair price,” and left.

Communication is 50% interpretation.

I can’t tell you if anyone learned anything.
I can tell you what I hope would happen.  I would like my children to feel compelled by love and compassion to give gifts to one another this month.  I would like to see that shelf wrapped up under the tree, to be opened by my younger son.  I would like the gift inside to foster a sense of thankfulness as well as gratefulness for having such a caring brother.
I would like the younger son to have purchased a gaming gift card for his older brother, and I would like this gift to foster a sense of thankfulness as well as gratefulness for having such a caring brother.  I would like that day to be peaceful, loving, appreciative, and wonderful.  I’d kind of like angels singing and holy light to shine through the windows too, but I won’t push my luck.