Why I’ll Let My Teens Have Sex In My House

My husband and I were high school sweethearts. We met at 14, started dating, broke up, got back together, got serious AF – and at 16 years old, we started having sex. And for the years that we still lived at home and were enrolled in high school, we had a shit-ton of very loving, safe, and consensual sex with careful and correct use of birth control … in our parents’ home, and with their knowledge and permission.

Looking back at the whole experience now, as a parent, I have a few thoughts. First, as the mom of a 12-year-old, I can’t freaking believe how close in age my son is to the age that his dad and I met, fell in love, and became sexually active. I mean, hello? This kid can’t even remember put to on deodorant. I can’t imagine him entering into a relationship anytime soon – and the idea of him becoming sexually active in the next few years? As a mom, the idea of it seriously freaks me out.

And yet, if he does go that route – and with the average age that kids lose their virginity these days at about 17 years old, it’s isn’t too far-fetched – I will likely do the same thing my husband’s and my parents did. I will knowingly let him have sex in his room, under my roof. Though I sure as shit don’t need to know about each and every time it happens!

Let me tell you why.

Growing up, my mom was very upfront and frank about sex. I understood how it worked in a clinical sense from a very young age, and was in touch with how my body worked and even what I liked sexually before I had sex. Thanks to my mom, I also understood that sex was a sacred act, at least in the sense that it should happen between two people who love and trust each other.

And I understood – because she had always been so open about it – the importance of safe sex. I knew about all the birth control methods that were out there, not from health class, but from my mother and her handy copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. In fact, I remember schooling my friends about how to use condoms –that yes, you had to use one each and every damn time so help you God.

So at least in my case, being open about sex had huge benefits in terms of my ability to start my sex life in a mature and responsible way. In fact, my mother was the first one I told that I had lost my virginity. I won’t pretend it was the most fun conversation on earth. I mean, I was a moody teenager at the time and I remember being pissed off about at least one thing my mother said.

But I also knew that telling her was important. And I was right. She helped me make an appointment soon after to see a gynecologist. She and I discussed birth control in general. It’s one thing to know about birth control theoretically, but it’s quite another to discuss it with an experienced adult, and it’s something all kids should have, in my opinion.

The part about me and my boyfriend having sex under her roof wasn’t spelled out exactly. But she knew, and I knew I had her blessing.

I remember hearing of friends of mine who had sex in all kinds of questionable and potentially unsafe ways. Often, especially in those scenarios, birth control was “forgotten,” and sex happened with people who my friends didn’t exactly trust. Knowing that I could take my boyfriend into the comfort of my own home – which was well stocked with birth control – and that sex was not something you did on the run, or in a secretive way … all of that was major for me as a young person just finding her groove as a sexual being.

I was lucky in that my husband’s parents took the same exact approach, and so we had two safe places to get it on.

I know my story is just one, and can’t be used as a model for every kid, in every situation. But I also know that kids – yes, even my kids, and your kids too – are going to have sex. Not all of them will being doing it at 16, like I was. Some will even start earlier, and others will start later.

But they’re going to be doing it, whether we want them to or not, and whether we think it’s time or not. And OMG, I would much rather my kids have sex and hook up in my home, where it’s safe and clean, and where birth control will be plentiful (because yes, I will be buying my kids’ birth control, or at least making sure they are buying and using it themselves).

Do I think this is going to encourage my kids to have more sex than they otherwise could? Nope. I may have been a teen 25 years ago, but if I recall, teens are going to find a way to have as much sex as they damn well please no matter what their parents say. And I would much rather they do so in a safe and educated way.

I truly believe that allowing my teens to have sex under my roof will only encourage safer, more loving and committed sex. By telling them that sex is banned in our house, I am basically inviting them to do it in some shady place where they are more likely to be unsafe. No thanks.

Of course, my kids may still be stupid about sex. Aren’t we all at least a little stupid as teens? But I’d much rather they act stupid in my home than anywhere else, and that they know, should they do anything abysmally dumb – whether it’s with sex, relationship, drugs, you name it – they can come to me, and we can figure out, together, how to address it.

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6 Things That Help Me Deal With The Madness Of Raising Teens

The universe has its own sense of humor when it comes to raising a teenager. And while most mamas attempt to solve problems and avoid issues, most answers backfire when raising teenagers.

Even though we spend over 15 years studying the formulas, it’s still an impossible test to pass. The test rules are simple and made up of a list of statements. As your child grows into a teen, you just put a check when done.

A few examples: Your teen is well balanced and loves talking about what’s on their mind.

Your teen always keeps their room super clean and helps around the house without being asked.

Your teenager perfectly manages their phone time and doesn’t give into peer pressure.

Any checks on those so far?

No? Not even one?

I thought so.

I remember when my two beautiful daughters fell from a pink cloud right into my arms. My vision for their future was all about family, love, respect, and caring. How could it be otherwise? And I spent their entire childhood creating moments that would help them make the right decisions and be true to themselves with the understanding that family always comes first.

It all went as planned.

Until one day, I’m not really sure when exactly, my angels became imposters. Not at the same time, of course. That would have been too easy, like when they get chicken pox, and you quarantine them all together. Problem solved.

No, they underwent this turbulent transformation with little overlapping, stretching out frustrations to the max.

Talk about a rude awakening! What had I done? How could I have created the exact opposite of what I strived so hard to achieve?

I was heartbroken. Yes, it’s the right word. And I questioned my value as a mother, listing everything  I did wrong because of course, I was responsible. Moms are always responsible right?

Wrong.

I wasn’t responsible, and neither are you.

After a few months into the human tornado, I decided to take back my emotions, center my rational self and learn to make sense of it all.

1. You are not responsible.

Guilt is the first and most important thing to get rid of. Not easy, but vital. As mothers who have always provided for their babies, we do have a tendency to think we are the reasons things happen.

But when it comes to teens, this no longer applies. They are clearly going through a metamorphosis, signed by nature. And not by how you raised them. The difficulty lies in watching them go through these rocky changes without constant intervention, in addition to dealing with your own feelings of being left out.

2. Yesterday’s choice.

At first, when one of my daughters did something completely off track (in my book), I immediately tried to offer other solutions or possibilities. I thought it would shed some light on her urgent choices.

Except that a few days later, her choices had changed. Not because of my infinite wisdom, of course, but because teens change their minds faster than a yo-yo when the string doesn’t get stuck.

Don’t waste your efforts explaining, solving or pursuing the plethora of questions, unless you are convinced they genuinely believe in their choice. And even then be prepared for everything to turn upside down again.

What was true yesterday is no longer true today. And it will probably be different again tomorrow and until they are well in their 20’s.

Strong nerves alert. Keep that patient muscle active.

3. Don’t provide, just listen.

Most teens don’t spill their thoughts easily. I used to take it personally when I could hear the air particles rub together in the living room because my kids kept silent.

Much later I figured out this was normal. Depressing but normal. Nerve-wracking but normal.

Don’t take your teen’s behavior personally.

I used to ride an emotional roller coaster when driving them to school between long periods of silence or outbursts of incomprehension. The radio button saved me more than once. This was not my idea of being a close-knit family. And then out of the blue, they utter words. Incoherent or short words but their mouths move and sound comes out.

At that precise moment, you think happily and with relief that things are finally getting back to normal.

But no.

It’s just a fleeting moment in time and it will pass, unfortunately. But when they talk, you need to listen. Nothing is going back to like it was, and no they are not talking because they think you’re the best person to confide in.

Don’t be like me, always tempted to provide a solution. And if I don’t really understand the problem (teen incoherence, remember?), then I tend to keep asking questions until I can fix it.

That worked for 15 years. Ha! Not anymore.

Unless they are explicitly asking for your opinion, avoid offering anything. It will push them back into the safety of their silent bubble and confirm that moms knows nothing because we go too fast for their thought process.

All we can do is be there if they need anything.

4. Back off and give sporadically.

Remember when you’d do anything for your child? Going out of your way was the norm, and putting their best interests before yours was almost a rule. I continued to do this as my child became a teenager and of course, it backfired.

The crucial point between childhood and young adulthood is a stormy passage for teens. Their minds are like a puzzle with missing pieces and nothing really fits.

And guess what? We represent the childhood they want to move away from in their quest for young adulthood. Which means the more we want to come closer, the more they avoid us.

Back off a little. Remove yourself from the center and focus on the big picture.

Eventually, they will come forth when they feel we approve of them no matter what.

5. Keep rules basic.

I knew I’d deal with my kid’s teenage years eventually. But I never expected to be sucked into their whirlwind with such force nor have their exasperating behavior test my endless patience to this point.

Yet it happened.

I say blue, they say green. When I say okay, green, they go back to blue. This constant resistance over time is exhausting. Not to mention the nods that clearly say I hear you, but actually, they don’t.

Their wide-open ears are exclusive for friends as their fingers talk secretly on screens of all sizes… and I got very little except rolling eyes, and I’ll do it later.

At first, my emotions ran rampant simply because I had raised these creatures but no longer recognized them. Maybe they were someone else’s kids, and they lost their way?

And then I went back to basics. Basic rules. Basic words. Basic expectations.

Bend a few rules but keep essential house rules. Yes, they have to participate, pick up their stuff.

Don’t repeat and don’t it for them. Clearly assign house chores because no, they don’t live alone on a far off island.

Avoid monologues… If you want them to hear the words that come out of your mouth, make them short, simple and to the point.

You want them to do something? You don’t agree with their choice?

Unless it’s dangerous,  let it go.

6. Remember the child.

When you’re short on patience, or if your emotional well being is almost out the window, take a moment to breathe deeply. Remind yourself that your child is still your child and not some mutant from a sci-fi movie. Of course, they no longer need to be overprotected but they definitely still need your love.

Things will change many times over, and you’ll both experience unexpected growing pains in different ways.

In the meantime, focus on one situation at a time and implement simple changes in communication to avoid overload.

It may take time, but teens give us plenty of opportunities to practice.

So go forth with your newly acquired mama wisdom and be very kind to yourself.

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I’ll Have 4 Teens At Once, And I’m Already Freaking Out

I had a hard time asking for help with any of my newborns. It’s not necessarily something that I’m proud of… it just is what it is. We have two sets of twins who are three years apart. So, let’s be real, I should’ve been more receptive to those offers of help — and should have made my own requests too. But I valued time spent alone with my babies, and I knew these moments would be fleeting.

Or… maybe I subliminally realized I needed to savor all of those “can I ask you a favor” cards for my kids’ later teenage years. Because we are going to have four teenagers at once in this household at some point, and OMG HELP ME. No, seriously… Send. Help. Pronto. 

First of all, moms with multiple menstruating kids, I’m dying to know if Starbucks has anything that can cure “we have three teenagers and a moody mother PMS-ing this morning?” If so, will someone please go pick one up for me so I don’t have to do real pants and people? We know how much the PMS-ing mother hates real pants and people. And if there’s no coffee to cure that ailment, then I guess a Moscato fountain will suffice. Oh, and we’ll need a pallet of menstrual products and chocolate. STAT.

And then there’s my lone son. Have I mentioned I seriously don’t know the first thing about teenage boys?

Valid question… when their voice starts to change, am I supposed to say something about it in a loving way, tease him about it, or act like I didn’t just hear a dolphin’s death cry between words? I’m breaking in a sweat just thinking about the probable response that’s reciprocated if I choose wrong.

HELP ME! WHAT DO I DO WITH A TEEN BOY?

How do you even carry a conversation to someone who only speaks/grunts to their parents in syllables and what sounds like an injured mammal squawking or ends every conversation with an exasperated sigh and dramatic eye rolls?

For example, what I’ve witnessed usually goes a bit like this:

Mom: “How was your day, sweetie?”

Teen:*annoyingly huffs, looks down and fiddles with sweatshirt draw-strings* Mehhhhhhh, I dunno.

You “dunno?” As in, you’re just a robot programmed to run through the motions all flipping day, huh? You “dunno” about ANY of it? Hmmm, how peculiar.

But I guess when I look at the big picture of my kids’ teen years, piss-poor attitudes should really be at the bottom of my list. I can deal with a teen who has a crappy attitude. I was a teen with a crappy attitude… and I remember how that role plays out incredibly well. What I’ve never been is a mother in the passenger seat while her teen sits in the driver seat. Now, that terrifies me.

I’d consider myself to be an anxious woman. In fact, my husband and I bicker constantly when I’m riding with him in the car on account of my professional backseat-driving skills. I try not to do it. I really do. But I. CAN’T. HELP. IT. We’ll be coming up on a semi and every muscle in my body cringes to tell me, “This is it. Head-on collision, baby. Prepare to meet your maker.” And as irrational as I (sometimes) know it to be, I can’t help but to curl into the fetal position and squeal, “LOOK OUT!”

I know it’s so annoying, and I know that he probably isn’t going to wreck the car. Yet, that doesn’t stop me from gripping the handlebar like my life depends on it and almost causing a real accident from my screaming frenzy.

So, yeah, I’m a lot of fun…. I’m sure my kids will love practicing their driving skills with me just as much as I’ll enjoy teaching them.

I can already imagine what that attitude is going to sound like. Something along the lines of, “MOM, would you just chill?!,” with an exasperated teenage huff and puff at the end.

Boy, I am seriously concerned for those future teenage days ahead. But honestly, in all seriousness, perhaps I’m a little more concerned for them than I am for me.

May they never feel lost in the big, humble-jumble of our wild life. Everyone says the newborn days are the most difficult, but that’s a lie if I ever did hear one. As I’m learning, it never gets easier; it just changes.

One day, my kids won’t think I am their everything. I’ll always be important and cherished by them, sure. But they will have others in their life besides me to call their best friend, and that’s something my mommy heart just can’t handle.

Parenting is bittersweet. Even though they tantrum all the time in their young years right now, I’m living in the sweet stage. But in a decade from this day, I’m sure there will be certain days where I feel lost in the bitterness of four teens.

I don’t want to say what will happen in those years, and I don’t dare say, “This will never…” We all know parents who say “never” are usually the ones who end up eating their own vinegar-soaked words in front of a laughing crowd. What I will say is that I’ll need the help I never asked for before.

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We Need A Middle School Moms Support Group, ASAFP Please

When I was a new mom, people would often ask me how I liked being a mom? I never really knew how to respond to this. I mean, I loved my son but being a mom? Well, that shit was hard.

Except it took me a long time to find a group of people who were also willing to admit this because it seems like most new moms say things like “I love it!” and “It was love at first sight!” and “Isn’t being a mom the best?!”

There was a while when my kids were little when parents seemed a little more willing to talk about how hard it all was. Maybe it was because those middle-of-the-grocery-store threenager tantrums are hard to conceal or because those no-more-napping preschool years are filled with some hilarious shenanigans. Whatever the case, there’s a stretch of time when parents get more comfortable in their roles and accept the fact that kids do some bonkers shit and parenting is madness sometimes. We’re all hanging on by a thread.

And it’s refreshing as hell. We’re all in this shitshow together.

Except then middle school happens. And silence.

When your kid starts middle school, people often ask: “How’s your kid like middle school?” with this weird trepidation. Most of the time, people answer with “It’s fine.” Kind of in that veiled way people talked about how much they loved being a new mom. I’ve said it. You’ve said it. We’ve all said it.

But you know what? IT’S NOT FINE. IT IS SO NOT FINE.

It is exhausting and scary and emotional and confusing and holy hell can someone please help me because I don’t know how I’m going to survive the next handful of years.

But yeah, sure, it’s fine. If you say so.

There are support groups for new moms, breastfeeding moms, attachment parent moms, and free-range moms. But what we really need is a support group for I’m Just Trying To Survive Middle School Moms. Can someone create that? Please and thank you.

Every day is like going to battle, except the rules are constantly changing. Will your middle schooler be in a good mood or sulky? Will they want to hug and snuggle, or will it be an eyeroll and heavy sighing kind of day? Will they come home in tears or practically bouncing off the wall due to all the hormones jumping around in their body?

When I was a kid, middle school was brutal. BRUTAL. But I never realized that it might have been brutal for my parents too. I never realized that my mom might have lost hours of sleep with worry or that she likely went into the bathroom to cry because I was being an overly dramatic, snippy a-hole that day. But let’s face it, middle school sucks for everyone. Kids, parents, teachers, everyone. (Okay, for the contrarians out there, for a LOT of us.)

Except none of us are talking about it. We’re too busy with the “it’s fine”s and arguing with our kids over their cell phones and reading their texts and driving all over town for this activity or that sports practice.

Every once in a while, though, when asked, someone might say, almost in an embarrassed whisper, middle school is fucking rough. Or maybe they’ll say nothing except sigh real deep and long and heavy and you just know. You know. Because it’s the same sigh you make a hundred times a day.

Because yay, middle school is that freaking hard.

Even “normal” middle school stuff is fucking hard. There are raging hormones. Kids change schools. Old friendships change. New friendships are formed. Different teachers have different standards. Romantic relationships and crushes start. And everyone is awkward and scared. EVERYONE.

Add to that the 21stcentury complications like cell phones and social media and, OMG, I’m exhausted just thinking about it. When I was a kid, you might get busted passing notes in class or with a naughty magazine in your backpack. Now we have to worry about cyberbullying and sexting – for kids who have massively underdeveloped prefrontal lobes.

The expectations change, the stakes are higher, and everything feels a bit more serious and uncertain. Which is why the biggest lesson I want my middle schooler to know is to understand that middle school is just plain hard. And it’s really hard for lots of people. Find those kids and make it a little less hard.

And fellow parents, let’s do the same. Let’s be each other’s support group. Let’s stop immediately responding with it’s fine, and tell the truth. Let’s help each other out. (And NO, that doesn’t mean smugly letting so-and-so know you saw their kid acting a fool or humblebragging about your kid’s travel baseball schedule or the honor roll ceremony.)

And if you’re one of the lucky ones who’s been spared the middle school suckiness or you aren’t there yet or you’ve made it through, thank your lucky stars. Or if it’s not hard now, hold tight and bite your tongue. And even if it’s not hard for you and your kid, it’s probably hard for your kid’s friend or your friend or your niece or neighbor. Because middle school takes no prisoners.

Bottom line: BE KIND. You never know who’s dealing with middle school.

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The Impact Just 30 More Minutes Of Sleep Can Have On High School Students

Can we talk about how badly bedtime — regardless of how old your kids are — absolutely sucks? I mean, I know you all know. It’s not a secret that getting kids to bed is like rolling a wiggling bolder into the bath tub, and then into pajamas, and finally into bed. Just the other night I actually screamed upstairs “YOU HAVE HAD ENOUGH HUGS!!” to my four year old.

But the real challenge isn’t my youngest — it’s my two older children. Norah is nine, and Tristan is 12, and getting them to bed on time isn’t just as simple as getting them in the tub, and reading a story. They both have homework. Tristan has soccer practice twice a week, and Norah has gymnastics once a week. They get home around 3:30 p.m., and between then and 8 p.m. (bedtime), it’s a maddening sprint of urging them to complete all their obligations, while they ask and ask and ask for screen time. It’s not unusual for the whole family to be at the table, eating dinner, my wife next to our son helping him with math, while I’m next to our daughter helping her with sentences, our four-year-old watching a tablet so she will be occupied.

I’ll be honest, this isn’t how I saw family life looking when I got into this whole parenting gig, but if we don’t cram it all in, there’s really no way I can get those kids to bed before 8 p.m.

I have witnessed my children dragging their feet in the morning when they don’t get enough sleep, but as it turns out, the consequences of not shutting down at the end of the day are steeper than I realized. According to the CDC’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, “A” students get an average of 30 more minutes of sleep per night (6.71 hours) when compared to “D” and “F” students (6.16 hours). Let’s be real, 30 minutes is a pretty small window of time.

Now does this mean that if you get your kids to bed on time that they will suddenly become A students? Probably not. But it does show that getting enough shut eye can put a child in a position to do better in school. But hey, I’m with you, the last thing I assumed was that a 30-minute sliver of time would make that big of a difference, but here we are.

Take last night for example. My son got his homework done right after school, ate an early dinner, and then went to soccer practice. He came home, took a shower, and BAM! It was already 8 p.m. He’d done everything he was supposed to do, and I was proud of him, so I let him stay up an hour later to play games as a reward. But as it turns out, perhaps that isn’t the best strategy.

If you are like our family, we monitor screen time pretty closely, because if I didn’t, all my kids would do is play games and watch Netflix. Nothing would get done, and they’d most likely never leave the house. However, we do use screen time as a reward, and on days like above, I feel like I’m between a rock and hard place. I want to reward my son for meeting his obligations, but at the same time, I don’t want him falling asleep in class because he stayed up playing games, something that has happened in the past.

But I suppose this is the reality of being a parent these days. 90% of it is trying to regulate and monitor screen time, while also working hard to teach your children how to meet obligations.

Naturally, the question I had is: How much sleep should my children be getting? The good people at Savvysleeper put together a pretty interesting analysis of the CDC’s report on high school sleep habits. According to their analysis, children ages 13 to 18 should be getting 8 to 10 hour of sleep per night. However, 71% of children do not receive the recommended amount of sleep. And like I discussed above, the big killer of sleep is screen time.

Among high school students not getting enough sleep at night, roughly 1 in 3 admitted to spending between two and three hours watching TV on school days. While about 19 percent said they didn’t watch any TV on school days, 14 percent of students juggled their school workload, the possibility of extracurricular activities, and four hours (or more) of TV every night before finally making it to bed. As for video games, among students not getting enough rest during the school week, roughly 28 percent spent over four hours on school nights playing video games.

What this all boils down to is realizing the importance of sleep, and helping our children understand it as well. And I get it: every time I tell my children to shut it all down and go to bed, they act like it’s a hate crime. With my 12-year-old, just saying good morning is enough for him to shoot daggers at me, so that really is just standard operating procedure. But this all should give us a little more motivation to send those kids to bed early because all it takes is 30 minutes to make a lasting impact.

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As A Divorced Mom, I Won’t Leave My Teens Home Alone To Go Out

For the past two years I’ve lost a big thing in my life: the privilege of spending every morning and evening with my kids.

Once upon a time, our family would all sit around the dining room table, filling out five of the six chairs around it, talking about our day and getting frustrated with each other because I expected table manners where my kids wanted to eat pasta with their hands and bust ass at the table.

Then I’d clean up while my children sat at the kitchen island doing their homework and we’d watch mind-numbing television together after arguing if we were going to watch Wheel of Fortune or Seinfeld reruns.

Sometimes we’d go snowshoeing out back or walk the dog.

There were nights when I’d lie on the sofa and read while my ex-husband took the kids outside to play basketball.

I got to physically be with my children every night, hear them brushing their teeth and come to life a bit too much for my liking at bedtime. After several threats, I’d tuck them in and kiss them five times even though they told me once was enough. Then I’d reach for the door behind me, taking one last look at them for the day.

Every morning they were here. I’d get to walk down the hall and annoy them with my love for early mornings as I greeted them in a silly voice — something they used to love when they were younger.

As they’ve gotten older, I still do this, but now I’m met with grunts and groans. They get annoyed with me as I open their curtains and tell them they have 15 minutes to get their butts outta bed and ask what they want for breakfast. I’d give them a little “mom pep talk,” reminding them to make sure they enjoy this morning because the day will be what they make it.

But now, three nights a week, the house is quiet. The chairs are empty. The kitchen island isn’t littered with pencils, paper, or laptops. There isn’t a sink full of dishes to wash and I don’t get irritated and feel claustrophobic when the while family tries to fit in the kitchen.

There’s no fighting over the television. The basketball sits in the garage and there are nights when the silence hurts my ears bad so bad I can’t read.

I wake up in the morning and head straight downstairs without looking down the hall because if I don’t look, maybe I won’t feel the emptiness behind the doors so much.

My social life has gotten busy since my divorce. I believe in living out my second chapter to its fullest. I deserve it, and my kids can’t be everything because damn, that’s a lot of pressure.

But when they are with me, on the nights they are mine, I decline all other invitations.

Yes, they are old enough to be alone — they are all teenagers. And they would probably be relieved to have me out of their face for a night or two.

But nothing is more important than me being with them on the nights they are under my roof.

Some people look at me sideways when I tell them I’m not going to a certain event, I can’t attend girls’ night, or I decline a date. I don’t judge single parents who do get sitters on the nights they have their kids, and I’d like the same respect when I choose to stay in with mine.

“They are old enough to be alone, right? You can’t leave them for a few hours?” they say.

And my answer is no. No, I can’t leave my kids on the nights they are with me because I don’t want to.

In no time, they will be packing up their rooms and heading off on their own.

But not yet. Now, they are with me four nights a week and I intend to take full advantage of that. I can’t get that time back with them. And honestly, I’m sacrificing enough time with them now so I will have a healthier life and they won’t have to watch their parents argue every damn day.

Yeah, everyone needs time to work on themselves, have fun, and build a life outside their children. It sets a wonderful example for them and makes you a better parent.

But, for me, committing four nights a week to my kids is what I need to do to be right with myself. So, no, I can’t just leave them. I don’t care how old they are. I don’t care if your event is only a few hours or it sounds like a blast.

And I know the people who are meant to be in my life will understand that my time with my kids takes priority every time.

Besides, I have so many years ahead of me to be footloose and fancy free and I don’t want to look back and wish I’d spent more time with my children while they were living with me.

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What I Want To Say To My High School Senior

Senior year is almost over for my “practice kid.” My firstborn. The one who helped me figure out how to be a mom. As I wrap my head around the logistics of moving him into college across the country, there are so many things I want to do. So many things I want to say. So many things I want to share. And I’m running out of time.

Most importantly, I want to share how incredibly proud I am. We’ve worked together through the challenges of high school, the college acceptance letters, the college rejection letters, and found the perfect next step. It’s such an exciting time being on top of the “High School Food chain.” Yet as I battle nostalgia, I feel bittersweet wondering what the heck happened to the past few years.

In eighth grade, you spent a few months basking in the pride of being accepted to Loyola High School. One of those “elite Los Angeles” schools that is now in the news. You were not a legacy. We didn’t make a huge donation. You felt it was the perfect school for you and put in the hard work to get there. HSPT test prep, practice tests, letters of recommendation, you did it all. And I will never forget your face when you found out you were accepted.

Your hard work paid off.

Shortly after our whole family was shaken to the core with my cancer diagnosis. I’m so sorry. I wish I could have changed things. I wish I could have been there with you at freshman orientation. I wish I could have taken you for ice cream after your first day of high school. The heartbreak of seeing you scared, worried, fragile… yet pretending to be strong around me, was almost more than I could bear. And I know it was almost more than you could bear. Entering high school at your most fragile and vulnerable must have sucked for you. Yet you soldiered on. That’s what I admire the most about you. Your resilience in the face of adversity. You never give up, you just try harder.

Then the dreaded “junior year” hit. It was endless. Should you take the ACT or SAT? Test prep, practice tests, counselor appointments, sports, projects, essays, college visits, trying to “show rigor” for your college applications. All while trying to get your GPA high enough to actually have a shot at getting into the colleges you were applying to. Not to mention being a brand new driver, driving 40 miles roundtrip each day in bumper to bumper Los Angeles traffic. I tried to be supportive (I promise I really tried…even after the third fender bender) as you struggled with your new workload and expectations. Yet we made it through (barely!).

So here we are. The past four years I’ve watched you slowly grow out of your teenage awkwardness and evolve into a confident, funny, strong and kind man. We are racing through senior year. Prom is in the distance (you looked super handsome by the way). Graduation is approaching. And senioritis is in full effect.

A mother’s love is not easy to put into words. The moment I met you my heart filled with so much happiness it was almost painful. Now when I see your hairy face and broad shoulders, I appreciate how much you’ve grown, and appreciate what an incredible young man I’ve raised. Except you raised me as much as I raised you. You taught me unconditional love, patience (well I’m still working on that one), and sacrifice. Senior year is the time to celebrate, smile and be proud. Let’s enjoy every single second we have left together, and not sweat the small stuff. Now is the time to discover the world on your own. Travel whenever and wherever you can.

There will never be another time in your life when you’re so free from responsibilities. Spread your wings. Try new things. Have fun and enjoy your victory lap, bud. You earned it.

Am I going to miss you terribly when you leave for college? Of course I am. You are the son every mom dreams of. I guarantee I’ll do the ugly cry on more than one occasion in the next few months, causing you deep embarrassment. But know my tears are full of pride, memories, nostalgia, and excitement at what the future has in store for you.

I’m not sad. It’s the circle of life… this is supposed to happen. I’m proud of you. I’m humbled by your resilience. I’m looking forward to your future. And I know deep down that you’ve got this. The 18 years I thought I’d have parenting you, as a new naive mom, is just a myth. Parenting is a beautiful life-long journey. It never ends. It will just look different. I’ll always be your momma — my heart dangling outside of my body with your name on it.

I love you. The best is yet to come.

Your Biggest Fan,

Mom, XXX

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If Your Daughter Acts Like A Mean Girl, I’m Gonna Call Her Out

I’m not generally in favor of involving myself in other people’s parenting, but if your daughter displays mean girl behavior in my presence, I will call her out.

The other evening, I was driving my 8-year-old daughter and her three friends to soccer practice. I love driving my kids around with their friends because I learn so much. I learn what books they’re all reading, who their favorite (and least favorite) teachers are, what they watch on YouTube, what music they like. They’re in the backseat chattering and sort of forget I’m there—they let their guard down.

So, the other night, one of my daughter’s friends started badmouthing a little girl that my daughter has known since pre-K. The little girl had been held back a grade, and my daughter’s friend was railing on about how she “heard” the little girl had been acting up in class and people were saying she “deserved” it.

It wasn’t the first time I’d overheard my daughter’s friend engaging in that kind of catty “mean girl” talk. She is often harsh and judgmental with her words (“What? I hate that song. You like it? UGH”), but the other girls usually stand up to her just fine, so I mostly keep out of it. And the first couple of times I heard her talking about someone who wasn’t present, I let it slide and diverted the conversation to a different topic without explicitly correcting her. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe she was having a rough day and was lashing out uncharacteristically.

But this time I didn’t let it go. I happen to know the little girl who was held back since my daughter attended pre-K with her. I know her mother too. I know she and her husband struggled to help their daughter adjust to school and that the decision to have their daughter repeat a grade was a difficult one.

Not that any of those details ultimately matter. Even if I didn’t know the little girl, by this point, I’d heard my daughter’s friend say enough shitty things about other children that I was sure her behavior was habitual. She needed to be called out.

My daughter was doing her best to stick up for the other girl, saying she was a really nice person, that she’d known her since pre-K and she never got in trouble for being disruptive. But the gossipy friend wasn’t having it—she just kept talking as if having been held back a grade was some kind of punishment for bad behavior.

I turned down the music and addressed my daughter’s friend via the rearview mirror. “You know, saying ugly things about someone, especially someone who isn’t here to defend themselves, really isn’t a very kind thing to do.”

“Oh, I know, I’m not saying anything bad, I’m just saying what other people were saying.”

“Well,” I said, “there’s a name for repeating mean things that people say about others. It’s called gossip. You’re saying things about this person even though you have no idea if they’re true or not, and you’re doing it when the person you’re talking about isn’t here to defend herself. If I were held back a grade and found out someone was saying I’d deserved it, it would really hurt my feelings. What if she were here in the car with us? Would you still say all these unkind things about her?”

“No, I guess not.”

“I didn’t think you would. And that’s all the more reason not to do it when she’s not here. If we’re going to talk about other people, it should only be to say something nice about them.”

The little girl changed the subject—to another little boy she wanted to badmouth. I waited to see if she’d catch her slip-up before I needed to correct her again. Having heard what I’d just said about gossip, the other three other girls in the car remained quiet, and the awkward silence was enough for our little mean girl to realize she needed to put on the brakes. After that, I started an entirely new conversation about the weekend’s upcoming soccer game.

I haven’t discussed this exchange with the girl’s parents, and unless the issue comes up again, I’m not sure I will. I don’t think this is a parenting problem because her two siblings, one older and one younger, are extremely polite, thoughtful, and kind, and I know the parents encourage generosity and kindness in their household. I also know that the parents are proponents of the “it takes a village” mindset and would have no problem with me calling out their kid. They also wouldn’t hesitate to call out one of my kids if they were having a dicky moment.

But, to be honest, even if I didn’t think this little girl’s parents would be okay with me correcting their kid, I would have done it anyway. I was nice about it, and also, there were two other little girls in the car besides my own who were being forced to listen to her venomous talk. Remaining silent would have made me complicit, and it would have sent the message that I tolerate that kind of behavior. Kids die by suicide because of this stuff. No way am I letting it persist in my presence. So, really, if your kid acts like a jerk and I hear it, whether you like it or not, I am going to correct them.

After soccer practice, once we’d dropped the other girls off at home, I told my daughter I was proud of her, not only because she didn’t join in on the gossip, but because she actively spoke up and defended the girl who wasn’t present. I told her I expect her to always do this. I told her there is way too much ugly in the world, and those of us who want to spread kindness need to also be proactive about stomping out hatefulness—we need to be upstanders. And, to me, part of being an upstander is correcting someone else’s kid when they’re acting like an asshole. And I welcome anyone else to return the favor.

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Experts Say Teens Are Developmentally Similar To Toddlers

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Right now, at this moment, in my very home, I have a 12-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter. We have three children, and I will admit, there’s a pretty good spread between the oldest and the youngest. I won’t go into all the details as to why that happened, but what I will say is that on the low end, our daughter isn’t all that far removed from the toddler age, and on the high end, our son is considered a preteen.

I will also say this: I’ve noticed some similarities in their behavior. Sure, one is a better communicator than the other. There’s no doubt about that. But both are easily frustrated. Both are pretty good at getting offended, and both aren’t remotely afraid to state their opinions, or act like they are the expert in the room, when, in fact, they aren’t.

If I’m not arguing with one about putting on her shoes, I’m arguing with the other about taking a shower. And perhaps noticing these similarities between my youngest and my oldest is the reason I was nodding my head as I read a recent statement by Dr. Kathleen Van Antwerp, the leading expert in juvenile justice reform. She was the keynote speaker at University of Utah’s “Breaking the Pipeline” fourth annual symposium where she addressed ways to plug the schools-to-prison pipeline trend.

According to the Deseret News she had this to say about teen and toddler development: “Developmentally, teens and toddlers are about at the same level, with each age group struggling to grow into the next stage of life, but not yet equipped with all the tools.”

And later, during her exchange with the participants, Van Antwerp noted how “toddlers have yet to develop a range of expressive skills, so they resort to physical, shrieking tantrums to convey their discontent. At the teenage stage, the part of the brain that controls emotion is hijacked developmentally, governing the teen’s behavior across the spectrum… Research shows the prefrontal cortex, the chief executive officer portion of the brain that governs rational, cognitive thinking, doesn’t develop until the mid-20s or later.”

Mid-20s? Yowza!

But on the whole, why does this matter? Well… for me as a parent, it surely gives me some insight into what I’m dealing with when it comes to my son. Emotionally, he’s all over the place. He eats all the time. A few months ago, I showed him how to make pancakes, and suddenly he thinks he can live on his own. But he is a bright kid and well-behaved young man. He communicates well, has friends, so on the whole, it feels like he’s just a shorter, softer faced, adult. But realizing that emotionally he is still developing — in ways similar to how a toddler is developing — helps me put things into prospective.

I’ll admit, I am looking at my son a little differently after reading this. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still find him frustrating. But I’m also acknowledging the fact that just like how my youngest is struggling to communicate, he is struggling to manage his emotions, and it will take time for all that to settle. It’s changed my expectations of him, and it’s caused me to be more open about what he’s feeling, rather than just assuming that he’s… well… acting like a jerk, or being difficult for the sake of being difficult.

On the larger, outside of my family, societal level, understanding the emotional development of teenagers matters a lot. The real focus of Van Antwerp’s work is on stopping the pipeline between high schools and incarceration, and she feels a major contributor to that pipeline is that educators and resource officers are interested in stopping students’ behavior, but they aren’t trained in why that behavior is happening on a developmental level.

Van Antwerp has spent just over 30 years developing educational and outreach programs for at-risk youth in schools, juvenile justice programs, emergency care centers and foster homes, and what she’s found is that society makes the mistake of trying to manage behavior rather than understanding it. “[We] should be creating a school climate in which teachers, police and other adults are properly schooled in understanding developmental behavior, instead of simply reacting to something they don’t understand.”

That last line — “simply reacting to something they don’t understand” — is the real kicker for us as parents. I’ll say it, I didn’t understand my toddlers, so I just tried to expect the unexpected. Now I’m bracing myself to do the same with regards to my son and his teen years. In the heat of the moment, it’s pretty easy to respond to any child with raw emotion and focus on the behavior (you’ve been there). Particularly when you are being pulled in a million directions with ALL the things.

But I think if we can take anything away from the developmental observations of Dr. Van Antwerp, it’s this: each stage comes with it’s own roadblocks, and the moment you think you’ve figured your child out, they move into that next stage. Accepting that your teenager is still emotionally developing, similar to a toddler, really should help us locate that emotional calm that can, sometimes, be difficult to find in ourselves — and make their seemingly random emotional swings a little more expected.

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I Told My Teen Daughter To ‘Shut The F*ck Up’

I have a confession to make. I told my teenage daughter to “shut the fuck up.” I think I’ve said it to her twice, actually, under similar circumstances. I’m not proud of myself, but I’m going to be honest and come clean – right here, right now.

I never intended to say it. I don’t like swearing in general, and definitely not in front of, or at my kids. But I’ve done it, even though it’s not really my style.

Why? Because there have been times where my daughter, Megan, who’s my third child, now 18, has pushed enough of my buttons, and things have gotten heated, and I’ve been unable to walk away or otherwise disengage from her.

Both times were at night. The last one, when she was 15, was at 10 o’clock at night to be exact. My husband was out of town and it was a Friday. I’m usually wiped out on Fridays – all day long. But even though I needed sleep and should’ve been in bed at this time, I was enjoying a few stolen moments of having full possession of the TV remote. I was staying up late to watch a movie. Admittedly, not the best self-care.

This is when my daughter came bounding down the basement stairs. Having found me, she asked – although I experienced it as more of a demand – that I allow her to go to her friend’s house to sleep over. That night.

She had everything arranged. The friend’s parent – whom I had never met – could be at our house in 15 minutes to pick her up. She was packed and ready to go. All she needed was my okay.

Which I didn’t give to her. Rather, to her intense surprise, I said, “No.” To her going over to someone’s house at 10:00 at night. To not wanting to get to know the parents at 10:00 at night. To her very forceful way of trying to get her way: by raising her voice, arguing with and trying to bully me.

Which is how it all felt to me in that moment. Which is why I said, “No.”

This is quite possibly the one little word Megan most detests in life. “No” deprives her, and she hates to be deprived. And I get it. Which is usually why I say something along the lines of, “I hear you want to get together with Jenna for a sleepover. That’s fine, but it doesn’t work for tonight. So let’s set something up for tomorrow or another night.

I’ve learned to say “yes, later” when I also say “no, not right now.”

But Megan wouldn’t let it drop. She turned into a ravenous dog going after a piece of meat. She was ready to fight me. So she blasted me with everything she had.

She wouldn’t accept my firm and repeated “no’s.” She demanded explanations and answers and didn’t I know how unreasonable I was being? She had set EVERYTHING up and – why wouldn’t I just let her GO?!

Finally, I just couldn’t take it. I felt like I couldn’t get away from her or make her stop. I felt bombarded by a lot of strong energy from her, heading my way.

It took me back to moments in my youth, dealing with my mother – another person in my life with this same sort of “approach.” My mother can also be loud and demanding and rude and insistent on getting her own way, and she doesn’t hesitate to steamroll another if necessary (although she’s mellowed as she’s gotten older).

Being tired in this situation with Meg was probably the key reason I dropped the f-bomb. If I’d exercised better self-care, and was not so tired, perhaps I would’ve handled it better or at least differently. But the situation was as it was, and as a friend pointed out – an attempt at self-defense. I wanted to get away from her, to stop the bombardment, to get her to leave me alone and to, well, shut the fuck up.

But still.

In the morning, after I cooled down and reflected on this latest dramatic occurrence in our relationship, I apologized sincerely to her for using that kind of language. I told her I didn’t mean to lose my temper, and that I could’ve responded in a better way.

Then I shared with her what was going on for me when we were interacting. I told her that it didn’t help either of us for her to approach me this way. I asked her to please try to find another way – one that doesn’t remind me so much of my mother.

Luckily, she heard me. She didn’t realize how I experience her when she raises her voice and comes at me in her (sometimes) forceful way. So something good came out of it.

I listened, too, and I affirmed that I understand she needs to be with her friends, and how important that is to her. Megan knows I love her, and gets that I slipped and “got mean” (her words).

I think she also understood that we both have to work with ourselves and on our relationship to make it better. I told her that my part is to notice when I’m about at the end of my rope, and to recognize that I need to disengage – rather than lose my temper – in any future situations like this one.

Hopefully she’s forgiven me by now, three years later, and I’ve finally forgiven myself.

Because even “good enough” mothers sometimes do slip and tell their kids to “shut the fuck up.”

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