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

sexting-teens

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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This Is What’s On The Other Side Of Puberty

When I first started seeing a glimpse of puberty in my oldest son, it looked like more body hair and smelled like body odor after basketball practice. He was proud he was seeing sprouts spring from under his pits and didn’t mind the smell of rotting onions on his body. It meant he was getting older and bigger which, in his mind, meant many adventures were ahead like driving trucks, drinking soda, and staying up later to watch scary shows.

But then, about a year or so after his body started changing and his voice got deeper, the little boy who used to love to snuggle on the sofa with me became unrecognizable.

His teenage brain caught up with his teenage body and, let’s just say, it did not go well.

One day he came home from school and was so angry but he didn’t know why. I asked him to help with dinner and he ran out of the house, slamming the door so hard some of the glass cracked. He was mouthy and rude and only wanted to spend time with his bike, skateboard, or friends.

If I looked at him, I got an eye roll. If I asked a question about his day, he interrupted me with a sarcastic answer. And on it went. This was our new normal and I fought it every step of the way.

I was pissed. I was hurt. And I literally had no idea how to mother this way.

His sister followed suit and joined the teenage-moody channel quickly after, then her younger brother was right behind her — goody for me. I couldn’t change the station and believe me, I tried.

Honestly, I think my “young sweet one” has taken notes from his brother and sister because he is blowing his short-tempered, despondent siblings out of the freaking water.

For about 6 months, it smelled like Teen Spirit in my house and it fucking reeked.

But then, something happened just as I was about to pack my bags and let them continue on with their vile and miserable selves without me — my oldest son started to shed the gruff exterior and left his morose expressions in the rear view.

The moods stopped swinging all over the damn place. At first, I figured it was a fluke. Or a good week. Or maybe the new protein bars I bought him had an effect on his brain.

One morning he came downstairs, wrapped his arms around me and hugged me. It lasted maybe two seconds, but I will never forget the feelings of comfort, joy, and happiness wrapped around my body. I wept.

I know I am being dramatic and I don’t care.

When you have a child who won’t look at you, talk to you, thinks everything you say is nonsense, and mutters instead of talks for almost three years, you get really freaking excited when you see a glimpse of them returning.

My son was returning.

Puberty has a way of making our kids’ ugly show, but it doesn’t last.

I recognized him again. He acted like he wanted to be part of the family and would answer in full sentences. He no longer retreated to his room and for the most part, he did things when he was asked.

I’m not going to slap syrup all over this story and tell you I was patient with him because I knew he’d come around and — wow! — it was worth the wait because he’s just like he used to be.

That would be the biggest lie I’ve ever told and really, he is still a teenager.

I was not patient. I pushed him. I got up in his business on the daily and definitely poked at his moods with my mothering stick — which probably made him want even less to do with me (if that was possible).

But I was doing the best I could at the time with the knowledge and tools I had, which was obviously close to nothing.

But it settled after my son went through the bulk of puberty. I could start to see my child again. The one I’d raised to answer questions, look people in the eye, and be aware of others.

My daughter will be 14 very soon and it’s been a hell of a ride. Since she started going through puberty a bit earlier than her brother, I can see a small sliver of light shining at the end of the tunnel and it helps me restrain myself this time around and realize she is going through her thing, and it has nothing to do with me.

The only thing I can do is be a good mother to her and try not to let her pull any shit and realize this isn’t personal.

If you are slogging your way through puberty, wondering what in the world is going on with your child and what you possibly could have done to raise a child who acts in this manner, I’m telling you to hang on.

No, it isn’t easy — I just had a parent tell me their daughter was “hell on wheels,” they wanted to get off this ride, and they weren’t sure they were going to make it.

But I’m telling you, you will make it.

It won’t be pretty, there will be a lot of tears, and you will feel like throwing your arms up and letting them act however the hell they want to.

But you won’t and one morning they will seem lighter and less moody and start talking to you. And you will probably weep just like I did because you will know you have survived the toughest part of parenthood to date.

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How I Responded When I Saw My Teen’s Friend Acting Like A Jerk

My oldest son had a friend over to spend the night before the day of their high school orientation and I had them both in tow as we sat through a seminar and they toured their new (very large) high school.

I didn’t know his friend very well; he seemed quiet and shy and I didn’t push him too much by asking a million questions.

As we were making our way back to the car and the students were standing in groups talking, we passed a bunch of kids. One of them stopped mid-conversation to make a point to say “hi” to my son’s friend and address him by name. I was shocked that my son’s friend responded by giving him a dirty look, making a funny noise, then proceeding to laugh in his face.

The boy who said hello to him was clearly stunned, embarrassed, and wasn’t sure how to handle his behavior.

Neither did I.

I didn’t know this boy well, and though he wasn’t my child, he appeared to be since he was with me and his mother was not. To me, that made him my responsibility for the time being.

What I wanted to do was set him straight in front of all the kids that were present and had just witnessed what had happened, but my goal wasn’t to make another person feel like shit that day and publicly shame them.

Instead, in an attempt to take the awkwardness out of the situation, I said hello to the nice boy and asked how he was.

Then, once we were sitting in the car, my son said, “Mom, just don’t say anything” — because before I even opened my mouth, he knew what was coming.

I won’t lie, it was hard not to lose my shit in the face of such blatant unkindness. And I worried that if my son’s friend acted like this in front of an adult, how did he present himself when there were no adults around?

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

“What was that about?” I asked him. “That guy clearly went out of his way to say hello to you and you acknowledged him by making a strange sound and laughing at him. It was rude and hurt his feelings.”

He stared at me, blinked once, and said nothing.

“How would you feel if someone did that to you in front of your friends?”

Silence.

“Listen, being a teenager is hard enough. You gotta be nice to each other, dude. You don’t have to be best friends with the guy, but answering with a ‘hello’ back and moving on takes a lot less effort than what you did.”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “I just don’t even know him. We just met in the group and now he’s going to think we are friends.”

“Oh, how horrible to make a new friend,” I said sarcastically and laughed to lift the mood.

I’d called him “Dude.” I was trying to be light and airy about this because I thought if I let my true feelings around the situation flow, he wouldn’t hear what I was saying.

“Okay, Mom,” my son said. “Please, can we just go now?” Clearly he was struggling too and annoyed with me.

He wasn’t the only one — we were all a little annoyed and uncomfortable that day. But I’d like to think because I took the time to address this kid’s behavior instead of just ignoring it, or going off on him like I originally wanted to, he was able to reflect on what he’d done and not do it again. At least, I hope so.

Being a parent to your own kids is difficult enough, but it doesn’t stop us from wanting to get up in someone else’s shit when we think we know better. Then we remind ourselves to stay in our own lane and worry about ourselves.

Except….

Witnessing a child who’s being unkind, acting like an asshole for no reason or is engaging in unsafe behavior is definitely cause for stepping in and speaking to them in a constructive and kind way in private. I don’t care what anyone says. If I see your kid being unkind, I’m going to say something to them about it in a way they can (hopefully) hear.

If it was my child being a dick, you better believe I’d want someone to speak up, make them aware of their behavior, and remind them people have feelings and they should be treated with kindness.

Too often, bad behavior gets ignored. We are too busy, don’t want to take them time, don’t know what to say, or think it’s hopeless.

Then, the heavy lifting is left solely up to the teachers and parents of the world who work their asses off to pick up the slack. And you know what? Parents and teachers aren’t always around to shed some insight on wrong behavior.

If we all chipped in just a smidge, fewer people would try and get away with acting like bungholes whenever they wanted to. Kids would learn. The world would be a better place. Seriously.

Parents and teachers can use all the help we can get. Even the ones who think they have it all under control will find themselves in a tough spot and not know where to turn.

So, if you see a someone being unkind, speak up. There is zero reason to let someone be degraded without talking to the person who is being an jerk. Shitty behavior needs to be called out and it can be done in a productive way. Unkind behavior doesn’t warrant an unkind response (especially when kids are involved), but there is a way to respond to the situation with kindness and compassion.

Maybe I didn’t make an impression on my son’s friend that day. Or perhaps I did but it won’t sink in until he’s 28 and watches a kid do something similar to his child. Who knows.

But what I do know is this: he’s never pulled anything like that around me since then. And as soon as we sat in the car, my son knew exactly what was going to happen, which reaffirms that I’m setting a good example for my own kids and doing a small portion of this parenting thing right.

Does that mean my three kids are angels? Hell to the no. All kids, even the “good ones,” know how to pull out their inner asshole and show it to the world even if they know better. They are kids, and they’ll make mistakes. Hell, even adults aren’t their best selves from time to time. We’re human, after all.

But if we don’t bring it to their attention — even if we only whisper in their ear, “Hey, you are a good kid, you can do better than that” — they will do it a hell of a lot more.

The post How I Responded When I Saw My Teen’s Friend Acting Like A Jerk appeared first on Scary Mommy.

We Need To End Trade School Stigma

During one of the classes I taught at the University of South Carolina, I had a great student we’ll call Tim. Tim aced my first year English class. He was fun and funny, a good writer and a smart kid. 

Several years later, I learned that Tim had decided to ditch his university education — which he had finished, by the way — and go to trade school. Today, Tim’s the best plumber I’ve ever had. I love that my former student comes over to unclog my drain, and I’m always proud to point out to my sons, “You know, I taught Tim,” I tell them. “Isn’t that awesome?”

I recommend him to all my friends.

I’m not being facetious. I’m as proud of Tim as I am of one of my other students, who recently got her MD.

When I was a kid, vocational school or trade school had a certain stigma. Because if you wanted to be “successful,” you had to go to college. That’s what our parents told us. That’s what our teachers told us. That’s what everyone told us, had told us since we were small.

According to The National Center for Education Statistics, “Between 2000 and 2016, total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by 28 percent (from 13.2 million to 16.9 million students). By 2027, total undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase to 17.4 million students.”

That’s a hell of a lot of kids being told they need they need a college education to succeed in life.

Especially when the path to a surer job, better money, and a more stable job, according to The Atlantic, may come through trade school, or so-called vocational schools. As they say, “The manufacturing, infrastructure, and transportation fields are all expected to grow in the coming years—and many of those jobs likely won’t require a four-year degree.”

In other words, your kids don’t need to drop tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars to party at a four-year institution. They can attend a two-year trade school just after high school — or, in some cases, concurrently — and walk out into a stable job.

But there’s a problem, and it’s not with trade school. The way we view trade school — as something less ambitious than a four-year college — hasn’t changed much. Many parents still see these schools, which can offer great opportunities, as a Plan B. As one mother told The Atlantic, “Vocational schools where we grew up seemed to be reserved for people who weren’t making it in ‘real’ school, so we weren’t completely sure how we felt about our son attending one.”

Another parent, when she told an acquaintance that her 3.95 GPA-rocking son was attending vocational-technical school, the friend immediately asked, “Why? Is he having trouble with school?” She went on to say that, “I am finding as I talk about this that there is an attitude out there that the only reason you would go to a vo-tech is if there’s some kind of problem at a traditional school.”

In Europe, the Atlantic says, half of all high school students are steered into trade school. As a former professor at a state university, I’d say that percentage is about right. It isn’t because my students weren’t capable of succeeding at a university; they were. It isn’t because they weren’t engaged; they were. It’s because they didn’t know what the hell they wanted out of a university education.

They were there with no concrete idea of why they were seeking their degree, what they wanted to do with it. They were colleging just to college. Many of them would end up struggling to get hired at a living wage. They’d end up without stable jobs, drifting, besieged by student loans. Instead, if they had pursued a trade, they could be like Tim: working at a stable job that offered decent money.

These kids shouldn’t have been psych majors. They needed to be truck drivers, cabinet makers, video production designers, brick masons, electricians.

And then there’s the cost of student loans to factor in. The Atlantic says that only two-thirds of people think the education they got was worth the loans they now owe. Earning potential? It doesn’t always offset the cost of the degree. And, as The Atlantic notes, “Vocational and technical education tends to cost significantly less than a traditional four-year degree.” So you’re getting off significantly cheaper when your kid attends a vocational or technical school than when they party at a four-year institution. If students attend part-time in high school, the costs may even be minimal or perhaps nonexistent.

We need to end the stigma attached to trade schools — and to trades themselves. College isn’t the be-all and end-all measurement a successful life. Plenty of my friends are living in hovels, crippled by student loan debt, coddling their master’s or doctoral degrees. No kids, no house: no money.

Tim, and so many like him, aren’t living with mommy and daddy. They aren’t drowning in loan debt. They have stable jobs, jobs that pay well. Jobs that are recession-proof. They can provide for a family.

Isn’t that, in the end, the real American dream?

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How To Say Goodbye To Your College Freshman (Without Losing It)

Any parent of a graduating high school senior knows that Spring is looming. The longer days and warmer weather remind you that the long goodbye is getting closer. Your baby, who is now around 18 years old, is getting ready to move on and can’t wait to “get out of here” (referring to the home you’ve painstakingly built for the last 18 years).

I have some advice for you; feel free not to take it. Feel free to disregard it, but read it, because you are super close to a day when your little one, the little one that is driving you crazy testing your limits and pushing your boundaries, is a few months away from actually leaving. Say it again: actually leaving, like gone, moving out, you won’t be seeing their face every day anymore.

The pride you have in their accomplishments, the love you have for their fearless spirit is about to be tested in the realest way — and guess what mom, it’s time to show up. It’s time to mom-up and help them leave. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I’ve given the hug and the pat on the back and said “I’m so proud of you. Now go make friends and do great things” and then ugly cried the whole way home in the car with my husband asking “are you okay?” over and over again.

The answer is no, you won’t be okay, and you know what, you’ll never be the same again. From the moment you drive away, your life will change. Your normal will be different. It’s time to calm down and realize that life changes. Families don’t live together forever and that’s super sad, but also super normal. So let’s prepare for it and really “Straight A” this my-kid-is-moving-out thing.

Here are five quick tips to survive your child moving out:

1. Help them pack, but don’t do it for them.

Seems simple right? But you will be amazed at what they forget and what they don’t think they’ll need. So, carve out some time to go over the list from the dorm that spells out what you need for toiletries and then take them to Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target for a shower caddy and shower shoes. New towels, yes please, because the dorms are gross and new towels can make a mom feel better. New towels can make you feel like your little one might be able to survive there. So buy them, fold them, and pack them. Feel free to cry a little here too, because honestly, no more wet towels for you to find on the floor of their room. It’s a win mom, take it. You need wins right now.

2. Love the lists. Embrace the lists. Be the lists.

If you can check all of the boxes on the lists, you’ve done your job. Universities love lists. You will get “packing lists,” “bathroom lists,” “dorm room lists,” and “approved appliances lists” (not kidding, my daughter goes to UC Berkeley and there was an approved environmentally-friendly appliances list). Follow the lists. Check the boxes. It will make you feel better. Trust me, it’s good. Do it.

3. Talk about money.

I wish I could say, “Have one thorough conversation about monthly budgets and you’re done” but, honestly, my 20-year-old gets the “where are you at with your spending” talk four times a year. Budgeting money is hard but super important. Remember, you are building a human being here. This is hard work — help them and talk about money. The more you talk about it, the better. Make it normal. I’m 50 years old and I’m still pretty bad at budgeting funds.

Life is expensive and even the most responsible, frugal kid wants those horrible striped overalls for game day. Those aren’t in the budget, but they should buy those anyway because game days pass quickly and should be enjoyed. Teach them to share clothes with their friends. Teach them to say “no” when the budget has been blown too many months in a row. But also teach them to invest in today and have fun in the moment. Being present is so important and if the $40 school color striped overalls mean you’re strutting into the local fraternity on game day feeling like a million bucks, then they’re worth it. Skip the Chinese food for dinner this week and make your own coffee for the next couple of weeks to get back on track financially. Own these moments. Time moves quickly.

4. I’m your mom, not your friend.

I hate this one because it’s way easier to be a friend than a mom. You love them with a hearty, bone-deep kind of love they won’t know until they have their own kid (or step kid or adopted kid, or a neighbor kid that is just too great). Be the mom. Say “no” and call them out when they’re being a jerk or a bully or a wimp. We all screw up. We all fall down. We all have moments when we are on top and using our power a little too publicly. Calm them down. Shut off their credit cards and call them out for bad grades.

College is their job for the next four years. You are their supervisor. Host a one-on-one and go over their performance every couple of months. They will roll their eyes and sigh heavily. Let them. It’s not about your popularity. It’s about raising a decent human being, the kind that will leave this world a better place. Breathe mama, you have to do this for them. They need it. The planet needs it. Bust out your Google Calendar and schedule a one-on-one, a “lessons learned” or whatever you want to call it. But do it; they need you.

5. Look them in the eyes and say “goodbye,” tell them they can do this and walk away like you are okay.

A friend told me that walking away felt like they left an arm or a leg behind. A major body part was missing from their being. It’s true. Prepare for it. The pain is real and deep and a total killer. Ready yourself, perfect your stance, and do it, say goodbye. They need you to stop hugging them first, so practice letting go. They need to see you’re ok. Fake it. Smile. Tell them you know they will be ok too. Tell them how proud you are, then get to your car.

I didn’t breathe once on the walk from the dorms at UC Berkeley to my car. I achieved an Olympic record for holding my breath, but I knew she was watching me. So you can accept your Academy Award for stoic behavior later; for now, enter into survival mode and smile all the way to the car. Your new normal is calling, lean-in to it. You’ve spent 18 years training them and mentoring them. The time is now. Let’s see how they do. The holidays are right around the corner. They’ll be home soon.

The post How To Say Goodbye To Your College Freshman (Without Losing It) appeared first on Scary Mommy.

How I Learned To Let My Tween Feel Their Emotions

My daughter gets a particular look on her face sometimes. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve learned to recognize it; a blank, carefully controlled facade, it speaks of trouble right below the surface. It’s the symptom of containing her emotions, a pushing down of what she has deemed “bad” while simultaneously trying to pretend like everything is alright… “normal,” whatever that might mean. It’s an attempt to be somewhere she is not, because the place she’s at, internally, seems like a place to avoid, a place that is too dark, too scary, too sad.

There was a point in time when I might have not even noticed this look on her face, as busy as I was trying to pretend like everything was alright and normal myself. Much worse, and much harder to admit, there was a point in time where I might have seen it, and looked away. I would have been grateful that she was pretending. I could barely admit my own emotions, breathe through my own fears, get through the minutes of my own life.

How could I possibly be with her emotions, too? I didn’t have the capacity.

I grew up in a family that expressed emotions but never talked about them. We bottled our feelings up until they exploded, shattering the illusion that things were okay with the shards of anger, tears, screams filled with accusations and judgments that went flying everywhere. These incidents happened much too often, wounding all who were in the path of the explosion. In the aftermath, there would be no discussions of what happened, no ownership of how our feelings had been inappropriately expressed and hurt others, no self-responsibility, and certainly, no apologies. We were left to our devices to control the bleeding and bandage our wounds, expected to patch ourselves up and then return to pretending that all was okay.

With no discussion of what happened, there was never any healing or learning, and therefore no chance that the instances would not happen again. We’d all walk on eggshells for a while, tender and sore, our smiles a little too forced, careful with each interaction, scurrying back to the safety of our private rooms. Then, slowly, we’d go back to “normal,” until another emotional bomb exploded.

The concept of expressing feelings without aiming them like daggers at those you love was not one I encountered until graduate school. Asking how someone was and then listening without attempting to fix; holding space for sadness and anger and grief, knowing it was better to get it out than hold it in; understanding that my emotional reactions were something for me to hold and process through, not throw onto other people. These were all concepts I learned, believed in, and started to practice, for the first time in my life… with my clients.

At home, it never occurred to me to use these same skills when parenting. If my daughter was upset, I tried to fix it, soothe it, or if neither worked, got frustrated and walked away. If she was mad, I responded with anger of my own. When she tried to express how she felt, I assumed I knew where it was coming from before truly listening, and rushed ahead with judgments and assumptions. Sure, I apologized after, taking at least one solid learning from my childhood, something I could do better, something that was never done for me. Less emotional bombs exploded. But I never considered that I should, or even could, just let my daughter be sad, or angry, or scared, and not attempt to do anything to change it.

We are so programmed to soothe our children. We bandage up their wounds, we assuage their fears, we wipe away their tears, and we try our hardest to limit the times when they might get hurt, when they might be scared, when they might suffer. We try to distract them from their hurts with fun activities and sweet treats, tell them that it’s all going to be okay, and gently urge them not to cry, and we think we are doing the most upstanding parenting thing we can do as we do it. And of course, to some extent, this is healthy and true.

Our children do need us to bandage their wounds, and wipe their tears, and assuage their fears. They need to know how to soothe themselves, pick themselves up, and move on from physical and emotional hurts — and in order to learn that, they need us to help them when they are little. They need love and support and reassurance of security and safety. They need to know that we are there and we aren’t going to leave.

But they also need to cry, and yell, and whimper. They need to be sad, and angry, and afraid. And they need the space to actually feel these feelings when they come up before rushing forward onto something that seems better because doing so makes these feelings seem bad.

They need it like they need to eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, and get a good night’s sleep. It’s that essential.

I didn’t know this when I started parenting. I couldn’t have known it, because it was something that was never taught me to, and never taught to my parents. And from what I’ve seen, I’m not in the minority on this one.

A life where it’s okay to be sad, and angry, and afraid, where people are encouraged to feel those feelings without apology, or shame, without rushing through them or suppressing them? I didn’t see that in my home growing up, but I also didn’t see it amongst my friends. I didn’t run into it during my undergrad years in college, and I rarely if ever saw it modeled in television shows and movies.

It’s not just a thing we didn’t do in my home, growing up. It’s a thing we don’t do as a society.

We aren’t comfortable with sadness. We are afraid of anger. We cover up fear with false bravado. And then we wonder why we are so depressed, irritated, and anxious.

Then we teach this to our children.

When I see my daughter get that look on her face now, I stop, immediately. It doesn’t matter if we’ll be late to where we are going, if I have a million things to do, if I had a plan that didn’t make room for whatever it is she is feeling. I stop, and I ask what is going on.

She eleven years old now. She doesn’t always tell me, at least not right at that moment. Sometimes she wants more time to process; sometimes she just stubbornly wants to stew in it longer. Sometimes she simply doesn’t trust at that moment that it’s okay to tell me what she’s actually feeling, that I can hold it and just allow it to be without making it wrong, trying to change it, getting angry about it, or rushing through it.

I get that. For the first six or seven years of her life, I taught her that I would likely do all of those things. I taught her that it wasn’t safe to be honest and express fully how she was feeling. I taught her that it could be bad to have those feelings.

Those are things that can be hard to un-learn. I know. I still struggle with it as an adult.

I remind myself to stay patient with her. I remind her that it’s not only safe to express anything and everything she is thinking and feeling, but that feeling those feelings and talking about it with someone you love is the direct path to healing, moving through them into something new. I remind her of times when she held her feelings in that eventually led to angry blow ups, acting out on both our parts, and hurting each other.

I let it go, for the moment, but then I ask again later. I keep asking until she tells me.

Eventually, she does. Then, I listen. I ask questions. I hold her while she cries, or beat a pillow with her if she’s angry. I gently ask questions that I’m often afraid to ask, questions I sincerely do not know the answer to, and yet know that if there’s something there, she is going to need extra permission to express herself. I ask her if she’s mad at me and if I hurt her, if I sense that there’s a chance that she’s holding that part back. I ask her if there’s embarrassment or shame, if she’s reticent to share what’s happening and open a conversation about that. I ask her if she needs anything.

Sometimes the answers are hard to hear. She opens up about times I did hurt her. She tells me that she’s lonely and scared. She expresses hurt and anger about the way other people are treating her in her life, people I can’t control or change.

I let her cry. I let her be sad. I let her be angry, and scared. I let her feel all the things, and say all the things, and I let there be space for that first.

I hold her through it all, and try to help her navigate ways to feel her own emotions, and communicate her own needs, her own boundaries. I try not to take it personally. Sometimes, I let down my guard, too. I open up myself about how I’m feeling, and I show her my sadness, my anger, my fear… but only if it feels like it gives her extra permission to show her own inner world to me, too.

Eventually, after all of that, we get down to the business of making things better. But that comes later. I don’t tell her that it’s all going to be okay, because sometimes, it’s not. I do make clear commitments as to what I can do to help, and then I keep them. We move on, together.

But first, we feel.

It always seems like a complicated, drawn out process when I think about it, but in actuality, all of this takes maybe 15 minutes, and then we are tickling each other, laughing, in a totally different space, completely connected, open, and real with each other.

That’s one of life’s biggest secrets. Sadness, anger, and fear always feel like they will swallow you whole if you go into them, but once you do, they release. They move through you, usually within a few minutes. And if you can feel them with someone else, the process brings you closer.

It is the real balm to all our wounds. Feeling our feelings fully, in the presence of others, is — as it turns out — all the soothing that we ever really need.

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