Embracing Authentic Children

It has been said that childhood is a series of letting go.  We should be able to trust in the process and see most young people  really becoming able to care for themselves, their surroundings, articulate their goals and launch themselves into that celebration of independence and authenticity to themselves around the end of  the high school years if not before. However, in order for that to actually happen, we need to impart our knowledge and wisdom to our children, embrace them for who they are and what path they are on (freedom of authenticity), let them make mistakes, be there to support and guide – but also get out of their way.  You have lived your life.  Now let them live theirs.

This may seem such a strange notion.  After all, no one loves the idea of personal responsibility and independence than North Americans.  We have built an entire culture around this idea of independence, and often I feel in our society push tiny children to become independent in hopes of reaching this functional adulthood sometime in the high school or  college -aged years.  Why would we need thoughts on letting our children make their own mistakes and handling that?   Why wouldn’t everyone want their children to be their authentic selves and respect this in their child?

This seems so common sense, and yet, I see more and more parents having trouble letting go.  They are tracking their children all over their college campuses with apps.  They are stepping in and helping their child clean up mistakes that are no way the parent’s to hold.  They say they respect their authentic child’s dreams, the different from them individuality of their child – except when it doesn’t coincide with the dreams they held for their child.

I think we often forget several things along the way:

Our life and our ideas of what constitutes a satisfactory life are not their life and ideas.

Sometimes in order to find ourselves, we had to leave our family for a little bit.  Again, maybe this a completely Western idea, but I often think of myself. I would have been a totally different person if I hadn’t left my home state and had the life experiences I have had. For some people, maybe it’s about not pursuing the family business or marrying who our family thought we should marry or whatever the situation is.  Often it takes a little time being away from the family in order to find oneself as an individual without the family impression of who we are being our only self-picture.

And we often forget sort of the opposite thing in a rush to actualize the real and authentic self as a young person:  that we need others and that what we do has a ripple effect through us, our family and friends, our community.  We are all connected, and family is often (not always) a connection.

I think part of learning how to do this begins right in education and in parenting – showing our children over and over how important the details are but how we also need to be able to see the big picture and the connections that span across people, communities, fields of study.  In the end, we need to impart wisdom, let go, let our children find their very authentic selves, and feel safe in their identity.

Children, teens, and young adults need acceptance and  a safe harbor to paddle back to.  But the reality is, if we are paving a gentle path for them, if we are not letting them go, if we persist in putting them in the same category they were when they were 12 and now they are 24, we are doing them a disservice.  Embrace the beauty of your authentic, growing, changing, beautiful child growing up and living their own functional life.  It’s their turn.

Blessings and love,
carrie

What I Have Learned In 18 Years of Parenting

Our daughter turned 18 today!  It is an amazing time to watch so much unfold in her life!  I was thinking yesterday about being a parent for 18 years.  It has been quite a journey of self-discovery for me as a parent and person and a joy to discover who this other person is and to help guide that.

Parenting, in some ways, is a crazy job.  I mean, if I worked at a corporate job for 18 years, I would be at some fantastic senior level and would have it all down pat with  my  vast wisdom and knowledge from the things I have seen over the years.

Parenting isn’t really like that.  That is because every stage that your first child goes through, it’s the first time for you as a parent (whether that child  is 6 or 16 or 26) or if you are going through  the years with subsequent children it is bound to be completely different as all children are amazing individuals with incredible paths and journeys of their own.

However, I do think there are a few things I have taken away in 18 years of doing this that can encourage anyone –

  1.  You have got this!  It is easy to think when you are in the trenches that you are doing everything wrong, perhaps a cute monkey could do a better job raising your child at this moment, you aren’t sure you are doing the right thing…. and yet, for the most part for most children, stages pass and things even out, the things you worried so much about faded away.
  2. Plan for play and  fun!  I think if we can agree that most of the time things work out, and we provide balance, play and fun is something that children often need.  The world is much more highly stressful and structured with adult-led activities for children than it was even when we started out 18 years ago, and I think all children, teens, and adults need play. Play  as a family also helps build up a good memory bank so when things are hard or stressful, you have good connections to fall back on which opens up communication.
  3. There is no gift to children like time and attentive presence. The days are long, but the years are short, as the saying goes.  We all do the best we can do with this within the confines of our personalities, our own financial situations, etc., but providing time and a listening ear can go a long way!
  4. Balance is a key thing to help along.  Most children cannot provide balance to themselves as a developmental task, so it is our job as parents to guide things through our own modeling, through the use of rhythm in our home, through providing work as a balance to play, and to nurture responsibilty that comes with freedom.
  5. Every child is an individual, but every child is also a generalist.  By that I mean that I truly believe every child can learn to express themselves through the arts, to learn how to move their body best within their capacities, and to become someone who is kind, compassionate, and who can emotionally relate to others.  Yes, children and teens may find interests and passions in life, but being a generalist is a great foundation for life.
  6. Stability helps, but sometimes life just throws things at you.   We can teach our children to be resilient, and I don’t think we should be protecting our children from failure or from making mistakes or from learning mistakes.  Mistakes are life, and so are curveballs.  Instead, teaching a positive attitude and how to adapt becomes really important, along with boundaries and how those can help us build the life we want, even when things don’t go the way we wanted.

My top suggestions for those of you just starting out on your parenting journey:

Books and the Internet are helpful, but probably what is most helpful is to build up your own in person, in real life community (even if you meet them over the Internet first LOL).  My close friends have saved me so many times with their laughter, support, encouragement, love, gift of their time.  Every parent deserves that!

Start saving for college or trade school right away. This is so much more valuable than any baby shower gift.  Even if it is a small amount, it really helps in launching young adults out into the world.  Every little bit helps!  (Sorry, college applications on the brain!)

Enjoy parenting !  Sometimes you won’t enjoy every part of it, and some parents enjoy some stages more than other stages.  That doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you human.

And most of all, try to spend some time nurturing yourself and your close relationships in the midst of the busy in whatever way that means for you!  It’s hard to let things go for 18 years and then  try to get it all back!

Lots of love to you all, celebrating this happy day!

Carrie

If You Have A Teen, Read This!

Is your relationship with your teenager changing?

Are you grieving a little, and celebrating a little?

Is your teenager ready to leap forward?

Are you struggling to find your balance in parenting your teenager?

I hope your relationship with your teenager is changing – it should be, and this typically involves more of a need for privacy, a need for separation from you for the emerging self.  However, many parents have  a hard time navigating this emotionally and also how to deal with a teenager’s behavior.  My answer to a lot of this dilemma is expectations and boundaries.

Boundaries with teenagers actually aren’t that difficult in some ways.  Teens want increased freedoms, but with that comes increased responsibility and accountability.  Increased freedom is also based upon how well the teen has navigated increased freedom in the past.  It shouldn’t be based upon what Sally down the street does, because you as the parent are responsible for your child, not Sally, and your child may be a different maturity level than Sally.  Always, always remember the ultimate goal:  to raise a functional adult!  So, start where you are and move forward.

I think it’s important to ask yourself several questions:

1 – Did you come from a enmeshed, codependent family structure growing up OR conversely,  a family structure where you received no boundaries, no guidance, no support?  This can influence how we approach our own teenagers.  Examine yourself and how you function in relationships.

One of the solutions for this is to look and to consider not only what we want our children to be able to do by the end of THIS YEAR (not six years ahead to get ready for college; that is meaningless to early teens or even mid-teenagers!) What would help your child increase in not only FREEDOM but RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY this year?  Part of the plan of parenting teenagers is to make our teenagers functional young adults who are able to leave home and live on their own.   What boundaries would help this?  Where do they need a little nudge toward balance?  Where are they emotionally and maturity wise?  It isn’t always about the “number age” a teenager is, but what their stage of developmental is.

2.  Are you killing yourself for your teenager?  Sometimes we reinforce bad behavior.  We don’t need to be available every minute for our teenagers.  If you are being treated poorly, but yet also are running yourself ragged taking care of your teen, you may be enmeshed or you may be enabling your teenager to be self-centered and even downright narcisstic.     You can say no,  you don’t have to do something if it isn’t in your own best interest or even yes, if it is super inconvenient.  Yes, we take care of our teenagers, but a teenager’s wants are not the same thing as actual needs.

3. Boundaries come with conflict.  You can explain the “why” of the boundary – the teenager may not like it!  Conflict is fairly inevitable.  You can explain at what age you think x want/x activity is appropriate for your teenager – they may not like it!  Somehow, you have to keep your emotional response out of it.  There are no shortcuts for this; it is just having a consistent, calm response.   Freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility and accountability.  So the only thing you can do is keep building a bank of positive, loving memories to hold you over when the conflict is there and keep showing them that a good track record goes a long way toward increased freedoms.

4. Set boundaries on technology.  The number one problem I see parents having with early to mid teens (ie, 13-15 or 16) is the lack of boundaries around technology which influences the teenager not being interested in completing things that needs to happen – chores, schoolwork, etc.  and seems to encourage holing up in a room and not doing much else.  Use a Disney Circle or another device to limit things.  Set limits that involve no phones at the table to eat and no phones at night.  Don’t just accept how it is.  Approval for social media and apps and games should be coming through YOU.

5. Connect!  Turn off the technology,  and do things as a family.  Take an interest in your child’s healthy passion even if you don’t totally understand it.  Love your child and what they want to do. Do things together.  Have a special breakfast just the two of you once a week.  Take a special overnight trip together.  Keep building up the memories and love.

6.  Are you helping your teenager avoid making mistakes?  Mistakes are vital, and if we are resilient parenting, parents with a growth-mindset,  we are helping our teenagers learn how to be resilient in the face of disappointment instead of changing the path in front of the child so they don’t fail.  This is important work, and boundaries involving not bailing your teenager out are important.  The quality of a teenagers life and their life as a young adult in a healthy and supportive family,  is based on their own choices, not what we do as parents.

7.  Are you setting the expectations up front ahead of time?  I find sometimes when we are in a rough spot with our teens, we have to think clearly ahead about how to speak to one another, to lay out the expectations of what we expect and why, and to ask if the teen needs support in following things through.  We also need to be clear as to consquences. This goes back to boundaries – things don’t go on as usual when a teen isn’t holding up their end of things.

Blessings,
Carrie

Raising Functional Adults

This is the main function of parenting: to raise functional adults.  This is done through understanding stages of developmental maturity, through appropriate connection between parent and child and child and the world, and through slowly letting go toward the child becoming an adult making their own decisions but having a family to support and encourage them.

It sounds brief in that way, and requires much more thought in real life than what I just wrote in that sentence. There are situations that come up a million times a day that can help your child move toward being an empowered adult.  So how do you do it in real life?

First, know your DEVELOPMENTAL norms.  Every child eventually weans.  Every child eventually sleeps in their own bed ( usually by age 10, if not before, is when they stop cosleeping or wandering into your room in the night with a bad dream).  If you know the developmental norms, then that helps you know what is NOT normal and when you might need help.  It might also help you identify anxiety or depression and when to intervene.

Second, respect your child’s IDENTITY.  This is not only extroversion or introversion, but temperament, and likes and dislikes.  This doesn’t mean you don’t get to nudge  a little at the appropriate points toward things that would be healthy, but it means you have a fundamental knowledge of who your child is. Nudging is different than dramatic pushing. Sometimes all of us, including adults, need a nudge from those who love us in order to better ourselves.  It is okay to nudge towards health and balance and normal developmental maturity.   And we respect their changes.   Because they are children who are growing, they have every right to grow and change into something different.  Do not peg your 15 year old into a spot because they acted a certain way when they were seven years old.

Third, provide ENCOURAGEMENT and CONNECTION.  Supportive phrases include encouragement, which is different than praise. Encouragement allows room for growth and room for the child to decide when and where to be proud of him or herself.  Connect with them in their love language.

Fourth, teach your child how to be EMPOWERED.  Teach them how to listen to others, teach them how to manage their own intensity, teach them how to  problem solve, teach them how to set boundaries.  Do not rescue them from real-life consequences.  These are skills you must have YOURSELF before you can teach them!

I would love to hear some of your real life situations – let’s help each other.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

be in it for yourself

Any sort of real, lasting, meaningful, and effective change has to come from within yourself.  If you want something badly enough, you will own it and you will feel empowered to take the next steps and to find a way.

This applies to anything from health to better parenting to homeschooling.  Instead of seeing all the obstacles and challenges, you can start to see solutions and steps.  This is the most powerful part of the whole process of being in it for real.

My favorite tools for doing this include:

Affirmations – I keep affirmations on my desk and say them daily. Affirmations, to me, are a verbal picture of what I envision happening in my life.

Vision Board – I keep a vision board up that targets different sections of my life, but I am about to make a vision board specific to my ideas for business and starting my own little mother-sized practice when I am through with physical therapy.

Prayer – Prayer is an essential part of me listening to the small, still voice of God and Spirit, and discerning the best path for myself.

The Mastermind – Every one needs a mastermind of people who empathize with where you are and spur you on to do better and to improve.  The connection and love is invaluable.  This goes along with having wonderful mentors.  I know so many wonderful people who have never hesitated if I said would you love to get a cup of coffee with me – I would love your input on something?  I would love to hear your story and how you got where you are, and see if you have any input on my ideas.  It’s amazing!

The steps – having steps broken down daily and weekly helps things to actually get down.  It isn’t enough to just have a general goal, you have to have a plan and take action.

Gratitude – Gratitude is such a big player in life.  How we look at things, how we frame things, how we get out of our own way all stems from getting rid of negative self-talk and focusing on gratitude.  I like to write down gratitude before bed, and also say words of gratitude to myself in the morning.  So grateful for each and every day that I am here to make an impact.

Getting your self-esteem under control – sometimes people have big egos, but most people I meet actually struggle with feeling like they don’t know enough, they don’t have it together, they don’t have all the answers.  This keeps us in the shadows and keeps us from contributing to the world.  Everyone has something to give.  You do know enough, you do have it together, you do have the answers you need for you and for the people that come into your life.

Other techniques I have used in the past include visualization and journaling.  I would love to hear what you use to encourage yourself, break through barriers, and commit to walking the steps you know you really need to!

Many blessings and love,
Carrie

 

my teen is lonely!

It’s itneresting that I hear this not only from homeschooled families, but also from families who have teens in a school setting, and probably more from the families with teens in school.  The teen years can be hard in that teens are often figuring out who they are.  Cliques and bullying can be an huge issue, especially in the middle school grades of 6-8, despite everything said at school about inclusion and being kind to everyone. IN high school, this seems to dissipate, but friendships often fade away and shift, particularly around tenth grade typically.

It can be hard for parents to navigate this time.  Sometimes it can be hard to tell what is loneliness versus moodiness versus being withdrawn versus being anxious and depressed.  Teens may be moody (and when does that line cross from moody to depressed?), and  they can withdraw from groups of friends they previously enjoyed to be with a new group of friends (which many times is around 10th grade).  Maybe the teens feel as if they tried many of the clubs or things geared to their interests, but for whatever reasons, they didn’t make good friends out of it.

I have read some sources that say lonely teens go on to be lonely adults because they don’t learn how to function in groups and practice social skills.  Well, if that isn’t panicking to the parents of a  lonely teen, I am not sure what is!  And I don’t think that is necessarily true.  I have a different take. I think as human beings we are always changing, always growing, and that it doesn’t have to be that way.  Change is possible.  Some people are more introverted,  and if your teen is, they may be happy with a smaller circle of friends both as a teen and as an adult.  But if your teen is lonely, I think change can come  in the upper years of high school and in college, and often these teens garner friends for life in a different setting.

In dealing with this situation, I think it is very important that first and foremost your teen spend time with you and the family.  This connection is loving and grounding.  It may not replace the  friendships and peers that they are lonely for, but they will  know they will always be loved and that the family is the first place of friendship.  

And,  in this connection and grounding with us, we can help facilitate. No, you can’t set up  really set up playdates for mid to older teens, but you can talk to your teen about how sometimes we have a circle of acquaintances and that it is great to reach out to someone you don’t know as well to see if they would like to do something.  Providing that bit of emotional coaching can be really helpful.  I have seen that many teens are lonely, but none of them seem especially willing to reach out!  That is so hard.  We can also encourage jobs, volunteer work, and activities where teens spend a good amount of time with other teens for a common goal – sports, music, theater, robotics, speech and debate – whateve

For those of you with younger teens, you  can encourage groups of friends going to do something instead of having just only one friend that everything is done with.  This helps for the high school years where things dissipate a bit more. Tenth grade is particular seems to be an age where many friendships fall apart and the social circle shifts.  You can help your younger teen explore interests and connect with peers over that interest.

I would also make sure you as the parent are not projecting your wishes for your teen’s social life on to them.  Make sure that they are actually seeking friends before you offer any words or actions to them.  They may be happy with the way things are, and it is up to us to respect that.  So make sure it is true loneliness, and not just you projecting that you think they are lonely!

Lastly, teens connecting over the Internet has replaced much of the going and hanging out somewhere, so I think always being aware of your teen’s digital connections is important, whether they are lonely and seeking friends on-line or that they feel their social needs are met through on-line venues. It really is open to us to keep the lines of communication open on that and to set and use the  boundaries we set as a family regarding media usage.

I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for parents dealing with their lonely teens.

Blessings and love,

Carrie

 

going off the rails

I talk to many parents whose teenagers have developed serious problems with drugs, alcohol, addiction to media, toxic relationships and more.  Mostly this began in the middle school years, and just like a train coming down the track, the parents could see it wasn’t going anywhere wonderful.  Sometimes the situation was ignored, thinking it would go away, and sometimes the parents jumped in with both feet to try to derail what was coming.

Sometimes the situation could be handled and the teen overcame their challenges to envision a healthier future . Sometimes the child went right on to have increased difficulties with these same issues, now with difficulty having a functional young adult life.

I wish I could say I knew what helped one teen and why another teen .  Obviously, individual teens respond in different ways to intervention and we don’t always know what will help a particular teen.  I am not a mental health professional, and do not offer the suggestions below as such, but know these were some of the commonalities I have heard in talking to parents whose teens were successful in getting their lives together.

Open communication and respect for what the child or teenager was going through, even if the parent didn’t understand it all.

Unconditional love, BUT especially for older teens the understanding that you cannot control their choices and  you cannot enable them and protect them through their choices.

Understanding that you, as parents, and the other members of the family, have the complete right to be safe.

Investigation into psychological help, counseling, or residential programs early on instead of waiting.  Yes, you cannot run away from your problems but for some teens a change of scenery with qualified help really is wonderful and a game-changer.  And the earlier this happens, sometimes it can really make a difference.

Sometimes more structure.  This may include things such as changing school settings to a smaller, more structured program.

Increased physical exercise as possible.  Sometimes if a teen is suffering from anxiety or depression, this seems nearly impossible, but it does seem to help if the teen is open to it.

Increased time in nature with family.  Some parents have reported great success with camping, long-term hiking, or other excursions into nature.  Again, the earlier, the better.

The biggest piece of advice I have heard is that if things are going off the rails at ages 12-14 get help right then and there.  Do not wait! Investigate options thoroughly, and see how your child responds.

I would love to hear what you all think.  Let’s all help each other.

Blessings,
Carrie