Archive | Parenting

Authenticity: Life Lessons from my 18 Year-Old

tiger mom

tiger momIt’s a bit of a cliché to say that we learn more from our children than we teach them. I remember a close friend of mine coming to stay with us when her son was about six. They happened to show up on my husband’s birthday. When her son realized this, he produced a dollar from his pocket and gave it to my husband as a gift. It was one of the most touching things I’d ever witnessed. She turned to me and said, “He does a thousand things like this, every day.”

My own son is now 18. Yesterday, he finished his A-Level exams, which are equivalent to your final exams in High School. In a couple of months, he will be heading off to college.

My son has not been the easiest child to parent and we have definitely had our run-ins. He’s still not nice to his sister. And when I ask him to take out the weekly recycling, you’d think that I’d ask him to fill out my annual tax return.

But one thing he has always been is true to himself. From an early age, he would develop an obsession with a given topic and immerse himself in it. As a toddler, it was cars. He was so consumed by automobiles that when he was two, my husband and I abandoned getting him books at the local library. Instead, we took to obtaining those free, used-car supplements they used to give away in newspapers so that he could stay up to date on the latest models from Honda, Chevrolet and Cadillac.

When he was eight, he insisted on dressing up as Tamerlane for Halloween. (You know, the Turkic-Mongol ruler from the 14th century? Not a household term? Wasn’t for  me either. Can’t you just go as Batman like all the other kids?) He also began reading the Game of Throne books long before these were age-appropriate. (Though I blame my husband for that. No, honey, they aren’t quite the same as The Lord of the Rings series. Sorry.)

A few years back, as it came time to think about college, I began – in true Tiger Mom fashion – to harangue him for not doing more extra-curricular activities. British Universities could care less if you’re on the debate team or volunteer at the local homeless shelter. But American Universities eat that sh$% up. And since I knew that he was going to at least contemplate studying in the U.S., I began to entreat him to start thinking more strategically about how we would position himself to an American college audience.

He largely ignored me. Sure, he did a bunch of activities at school. But he never once did anything that didn’t genuinely interest him. Even after all these years, his main hobby remains – wait for it – reading.

“Reading isn’t a hobby!” I would shriek periodically. “You can’t list it on your application! You need to have more leadership roles!” And no, I’m not suggesting you follow my parenting lead. (Although at least I didn’t bribe someone to say that my son rowed crew or that he needed extra time on the SATs.)

I ranted and raved. And he kept on doing his thing. Eventually. I accepted that my trying to control his path in life was really about me trying to manage my own fears and anxieties about myself. So I gave up.

Needless to say, the whole college thing worked out just fine. But he also taught me a valuable lesson in my own life. Round about time that he was applying for college, I was trying to launch my own business. There were plenty of moments along that journey where I was tempted to throw in the towel and just go get a job – any job – that I *could* do. Rather than creating the job for myself that I actually wanted.

Watching my son gave me the courage to take some risks. Which in my case mostly meant creating a career that reflected my whole self, rather than just one part of it.

Which is another way of saying that my son taught me the value of authenticity. He showed me that the best path forward is always to be true to yourself. 

So thanks, pal. I needed that.

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Image: Siberian Tiger Mom with Cub by Mathias Appel via Flickr

 

Tips For Adulthood: Teaching Life Skills To Teenagers

teenagers

teenagersI think it’s fairly uncontroversial to say that parenting teenagers can be challenging. The teenage brain is still evolving, teenagers are very stressed out and anxious, and they can be an absolute nightmare at the dinner table.

Above all, we know that teenagers are prone to take risks. (Warning: Don’t read this article if you don’t want to imagine all sorts of dangerous s$%t your teen might be getting up to right now…).

And so those of us trying to parent a teenager spend many of our waking hours wondering: how will they ever “graduate” to adulthood? Will they have the life skills they need to succeed as grown ups?

We vaguely know the sorts of things we’d like them to be able to do as responsible adults – which run the gamut from the more practical life skills (how to use an ATM machine, how to get the oil checked and – yes, you guessed it – how to change a lightbulb) to the more abstract life skills (executive function skills, moral integrity, emotional awareness).

If you’re like me, you’ll read through the lists in the links above and find yourself nodding your head vigorously.

But how, in a person who is biologically, emotionally and socially conditioned to resist our best efforts to impart these skills, do we get them there?

This week’s tip list brings a raft of suggestions for teaching life skills to teenagers. To wit:

a. Give Them Responsibility.  I was amazed, when reading this article in the Washington Post, at how much of the advice for teaching life skills to teens boils down to this: start giving them responsibility. (I know, I know, duh.) Whether it’s about giving your teenager a quarterly clothing budget (to practice managing money), bringing them along to the insurance agent when you add them to your automobile policy (to teach them about handling emergencies) or instructing them in those most basic of skills – how to address an envelope and how to write a check – the advice is that you need to get them going on these small things now.

b. Offer Them Things To Read – A close cousin of the “give them stuff to do” is “give them stuff to read.” Of course, not all kids will respond to a reading list, but some  (my own, for example) tend to respect advice more when it comes from an expert. I’m a huge fan of adolescent expert Nicola Morgan, whose website is chock full of resources – for parents, for teachers and also for kids themselves – about topics ranging from sleep to exams to stress. On the life skills end of things – since a common one that comes up is learning how to manage time – Nicola has a whole study skills guide for kids.

c. Play Games. If books aren’t your kids thing, try games and activities. This site lists “fun” life skills games for adolescents of different ages that gets them working on things from anger management to job hunting to healthy eating. (I want to play the Shhh! game!)

d. Outsource it. You don’t need to do it all by yourself, either. There are organizations that specialize in helping teens adjust to adulthood. I was recently at a food allergy clinic with my son and the doctor told us that once my son turns 16, he will join an adolescent clinic where the kids come to get their allergy testing themselves. Because kids with allergies face special risks when it comes to things like alcohol and drugs – (bottom line: you don’t want to eat the wrong thing when you’re high) – but also with food preparation and consumption, it’s important, the doctor said, that my son begin learning how to cook and shop for himself now. They’ll start him off with seven “safe” recipes he can make on his own. To which I said: Bring it on…

e. Go with the flow. Finally, if the idea of trying to turn your kid into a responsible adult before s/he is ready doesn’t float your boat, exhale deeply and just let go. There’s a lot to be said for letting teens be teens and enjoying this period of life for what it is – one of experimentation, fun and creativity – rather than trying to rush them through it. After all, we were teens once too.

How about you? What tactics have worked for you when teaching teenagers life skills and which ones do you think matter most?

Image: Teenagers at Play via Wikimedia.com

 

Suffragette: Why All Girls Should See This Film

suffragette

Votes-for-Women_pin-2LONDON – In the full flurry of mid-life  –  between the job and the kids and the husband and the commute – I’m one of those people who rarely ventures out to the movies anymore. But I’ve got a recommendation for all you parents of tween and teenaged girls: take your daughters to see Suffragette.

This is not a brilliant film by any stretch. It’s got some fantastic actors – including Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Marie Duff. But there are a few too many heart string moments in the life of one protagonist for my taste. And as someone whose predilections tend to run to films about the Holocaust, family dysfunction or – ideally – both, I tend to be very wary of anything that smacks of Inspiration (capital I).

But Suffragette still merits a viewing, and ideally on the big screen. Here’s why:

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

 

Image: Nawsa Suffrage Votes for Women via galleryhip.com

Working Moms: Don’t Use Academic Research To Validate You

working mothers

working mothers

Like many out there, I was overjoyed to read the results of a recent study from Harvard University claiming that being a working mother  has tangible benefits to our kids. More specifically, the new research showed that working mothers are good role models for their daughters.

I was on my way to work when I read about the study and entered the office with an extra skip in my step. One of my colleagues, also a mother of two, called out to me before I even got to my desk. “Did you hear?” she said. “Work is actually good for our daughters!” She was positively beaming.

“Yup!” I replied triumphantly. “Already tweeted it!”

We high-fived each other across the cubicle, leaning in (to borrow a phrase) to the nine hour day that lay ahead, a tad less anxious than we’d been the day before and – in my own case – suddenly awash in confidence that missing my daughter’s cross country tournament the week before hadn’t permanently damaged her self-esteem. To the contrary, now she’d be even more confident and motivated because she had me as a model, holed up in an office miles away, toiling away on that final edit to the paper whose deadline took greater precedence over watching her run a race.

Continuing to ride that high, I immediately jumped on Facebook to contact a friend of mine who teaches family and child policy at a prominent American university and is up on all of this research. “Isn’t this great?” I wrote, linking to the study on her Wall. “Because didn’t most of the earlier studies say the opposite? And P.S., Yay!”

Actually,” she wrote back,”this body of research is so hard to interpret because so little of it is well-identified and there are so few plausibly causal estimates. Mostly people seem to conclude what they want from the existing literature. Thus, YAY! indeed for this latest study.

Fffffffffffffttttttttttttttt.

That’s the sound of the air coming out of my Guilt-Free-Mom balloon upon receiving her dispiriting reply.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

Image: Women in the Workforce via Wikipedia.com

Dear USA: It’s Time For A New Maternity Leave Policy

pregnantwomanIn the seemingly endless competition to see which country ranks “best” on a host of well-being indicators, here’s one race the United States will never win: its policy on maternity leave.

This point was driven home by the announcement last week by the telecommunications giant, Vodaphone, that the company will now guarantee a minimum of 16 weeks’ maternity leave for all new mothers. These women will also be able to work reduced hours (30 hour work weeks) at full pay for the first six months after they return to work. The kicker? This rule applies to all countries where Vodaphone operates, including those – like the United States, most African countries, and India – where statutory maternity leave policies are considerably lower.

Well, not to be a wet blanket, but here in the U.K., where I live, that headline wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. In accordance with U.K. law, women can take up to one year of maternity leave; 39 weeks of that leave is paid (the first 6 weeks at full salary and the next 33 at a percentage of income), with the remainder unpaid.

Read the rest of this post at The Broad Side

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Obama As Father Figure

As we careen towards the finish line in this tumultuous electoral season, President Obama is asking voters to renew his contract as a father figure. And with his new, 11th-hour message that this election is all about “trust,”I think the father-thing is going to resonate.

Without going all Carl Jung on you, presidential campaigns are often about archetypes. John McCain as warrior.  Paul Ryan as super-hero. Joe Biden as the loyal friend.

In 2008, with the whole “hope and change” narrative – not to mention his youthful good looks and energy – Obama was situated somewhere between Jesus Christ and Rock Star in our collective unconscious. But now look at him. After four sobering years of economic crisis and an Arab Spring that just won’t quit, that increasingly-visible graying of the hair above his ears is symbolic. The President has aged, matured, and  – like the rest of us parents – seems both wiser and wearier as a result.

It’s evident in the way that he speaks to us. As I’ve watch the presidential debates with my own kids, I’ve been struck by how parental he sounds. Particularly in the third and final debate, where the president could barely mask his disdain for Mitt Romney’s less-than-up-to-date grasp of our military, many pundits – including my colleague, Melinda Henneberger – saw his tone as patronizing, and wondered whether it wouldn’t alienate undecided women voters in particular.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

 

Image: Obama 2008 Presidential Campaign by namakota das via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Using The Seven Up! Series To Teach Kids About Adulthood

As a parent, it’s sometimes difficult to know which of life’s hard knocks are appropriate for children to know about and when it’s time to introduce them.

I myself came under considerable criticism a few years back when I spoke to my then five year-old daughter about the Holocaust. And I’ve raised more than a few eyebrows (including two of my own) for letting my son read the entire Game of Thrones series when he was ten. (If you want a quick primer on sex, violence and everything short of videotape, do give those books a go…)

But one decision I have not regretted was encouraging our children – now 8 and 11 respectively – to watch the Seven Up! Series with me and my husband.

If you’ve never seen Seven Up!, drop whatever you’re doing right now and go rent it at the library/netflix/love film. You will not be disappointed. Seven Up! began as a documentary about childhood in the class-torn Britain of the 1960s, centered around the famous Jesuit aphorism: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man .” The Director, Michael Apted (an assistant on the first film), interviewed 14 seven year-olds from strikingly different backgrounds in England and traced their evolution, the hypothesis being that knowing them at seven would give us insight into the “man” (woman) in adulthood. He then went on to make a new film every seven years, the most recent installment  being 56 up!

Across the films you are privy to the remarkable dreams of childhood, the dashed hopes of adulthood, along with the inevitable personal crises, marital difficulties, and economic challenges that invariably accompany the process of growing up.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Sure, there are some pretty depressing stories in here – including one bright-eyed youngster who proudly announces that he’d like to grow up to become an astronaut but ends up homeless and mentally unstable. But there are also real rays of hope: kids who look like they’ll fall into drugs and crime but don’t, tough women who really enjoy their lives despite not having a lot of money, and poor little rich girls who look like they’re destined to remain lonely and miserable but somehow manage to pull it together and lead a happy family life.

My husband and I wanted our kids to see these films because as much as they shine a spot light on some of the gritty truths of adulthood, equally they teach kids that everything isn’t pre-determined at birth, that happiness isn’t just about having money, and perhaps most importantly of all, that life can be full of surprises-some awful and unfortunate, yes, but some exhilarating and inspiring.

Sure, I’d love to shield my kids from evil and sorrow. But they will confront them. And I want them to be ready.

How about you? What books/plays/music/films have you shown your kids that offered a glimpse into the realities of being a grown up?

 

Image: OB/FM 12 by Slinky789 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Guest Post on Cafe Mom’s The Stir

I’m so excited.

Today, I’m being featured over on Café Mom’s The Stir, in their month-long Mother’s Day tribute to bloggers they love.

I’ve long been a fan of The Stir, a great parenting blog that mixes serious parenting tips with a lot of humor.

They are featuring a post I wrote on RealDelia a couple of years back, about how we talk to our kids about evil in the world.

Here’s the beginning of the post. Please be sure to head on over to The Stir to read the rest.

Enjoy!

 

*****

 

My daughter came home from school yesterday and told me that her best friend had a “hate list.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a list of all the people in the world that she hates.”

“Don’t make one yourself,” I said quickly. “That’s not nice.”

“Yeah, but I only have one person on it,” she responded.

“I don’t care. You’ll hurt someone’s feelings.”

She looked up at me, wide-eyed. “But it’s Hitler.”

Read the rest of this post at The Stir

 

Image: Like it or hate it, or maybe it’s ok by emotionaltoothpaste via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

The Mommy Wars Inside My Head

It’s been exactly two weeks since the dreaded “Mommy Wars” re-exploded into our collective lexicon. Since then — courtesy of figures as disparate as First Lady-hopeful Ann Romney and French feminist Elisabeth Badinter— we’ve been pitting stay-at-home-moms against working moms in an inexorable, intractable struggle.

I’m completely on board with all those who think that this faux cat-fight sets up a false dichotomy within the female voting block that’s neither productive nor accurate. As far as I’m concerned, the real wars aren’t the ones that go on between women, they’re the ones that go on within women.

And I’m exhibit A.

 

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: Dressy Bessy, the long view by massdistraction via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

Tyler Clementi Tragedy: Lessons For Parents

Dharun Ravi – the 20 year-old who was convicted last week for spying on his former Rutgers roommate, Tyler Clementi, with a webcam – has finally spoken to the press. And as a parent, I feel more conflicted about this case than ever.

This was never a straightforward case from the get-go. As Ian Parker’s remarkably detailed article in The New Yorker pointed out, there was no question that Ravi used his webcam to spy on Clementi while the latter was engaged in a sexual encounter with a man in their shared room at Rutgers. And there was also no question that Ravi had invited others to join in on a (failed) second viewing of another, similar encounter and then destroyed electronic evidence ex post.

What was never fully established was how much this incident drove Clementi to kill himself by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge the next day (as opposed to pre-existing mental health issues). Nor was it clear whether homophobia was what drew Ravi to invade his roommate’s privacy in the first place.

Like many, I was fascinated by this story from its inception. For starters, Clementi attended my public high school in suburban New Jersey – Ridgewood High – where many of my childhood friends now send their kids. So I always felt a personal connection to the case.

Read the rest of this post on The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: 1 in 3 Teens by Tayrawr Fortune via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.