Monday, November 30, 2009

Negotiating the Relationship Between Parents and Teens - An Ongoing Discussion

Many parents ask me how they can best communicate with and relate to their teenage children. It is a hard age, and a difficult time for both you and them. For the teens, they are working on their identities, trying to maintain a good sense of self-esteem, and negotiating the pressures of peers, schoolwork, and activities. They are exploring their independence, and with the added connectivity through the Internet and cell phones, teens also feel they need to be accessible 24-7 to their peers. Parents want to have some idea of what their children are ‘in to’, who their kids are hanging out with, if they are working to their best abilities at school, while also wanting some sense of organization and cleanliness around the house. When you look at the two lists of what each is striving for, they don’t always line up or make life easy for parents!

So how can a parent maintain a solid relationship and good communication with his or her teen while the teen is working on pulling away? This will be the first in a series of blogs targeting teens and their parents. Today’s blog will focus on parental expectations for teens at home. As kids get older, engage them in conversation about your expectations and what the logical or natural consequences will be if they don’t follow the guidelines. Don’t take the cell phone away for a messy room or ground them from friends because they didn’t put dishes away. Let the consequences be related to the situation. And make sure to provide plenty of positive attention and feedback when your teen is caught making great choices. If they only hear from us when they make mistakes or challenge authority, they will learn to seek our attention through those negative channels.

The teen bedroom:
Let teens’ rooms be their safe haven. As long as things aren’t growing and it’s not smelling badly, leave it be. Ask that the door be closed if it seems like, as Dorothy said, “it’s a twister.” If you have a cleaning service, explain to your teen that his room will be entered and cleaned only if the floor is accessible and the bed is reachable. If your teen chooses not to have it cleaned, it is your child’s responsibility to change and wash the sheets. Don’t panic if the sheets don’t get changed for a few weeks. Don’t rush in to get dirty laundry either. If it’s not in the laundry basket, it’s not your job. This is a great time for your teen to learn the responsibility of doing laundry!

The bathroom:
If you have a son, a major request is aim. Keep antibacterial wipes nearby, and if your son refuses to take aim, request that he wipe the seat or floor if he is wide of the target. Towels are another sore subject with teens and parents. The request is that the towels get hung back up to prevent mold and mildew. Explain that your child can choose to leave a towel on the floor, but you will not wash towels repeatedly if they aren’t hung up to dry. Your teen can easily do the towels if she chooses not to take proper care of them, and wants a clean smelling towel after a shower. As for counters and garbage, especially when teens share a bathroom with each other, common courtesy applies. Put things away after use, take the antibacterial wipe and clean off the counter when finished, especially if toothpaste is spit on the faucet! Keep kitchen garbage bags in the cabinet in the bathroom. When the garbage is overflowing, teens can grab a bag without leaving the room, fill it up, and bring it down to the garbage on the way out the door!

The living space:
This includes stairways, foyers, living rooms, family rooms, and kitchens. Most kids take off their shoes and pile them up near the front door. Make space nearby or in the hall closet to accommodate this. Coats seem to find their way onto railing posts. Make sure you have adequate hangers in your coat closet, and you can request that by the time kids make their way to their bedrooms for the night, coats are hung back into the closet. Backpacks can be kept either by the door or in a child’s room. If your house is like mine, there are always five pens laying around in the kitchen or family room. Find a drawer that is convenient in the kitchen area and designate it the ‘kids’ supply drawer.’ That’s where pens, pencils, paper clips, etc. go when finished.

You say, "You make it sound so easy...but it's NOT!"
If you noticed, many of my tips involve convenience for the teen. Having garbage bags, wipes, and other supplies where they’re needed will help to see the job gets done. It’s understandable with everything the teens are juggling, that they haven’t prioritized keeping your home organized and clean. Have a family meeting where you discuss your guidelines. Hear what the kids have to say about managing their living space. Most of the time, if you allow for their bedrooms to be teen-friendly, they will be more likely to respect the family living space in your house.

So then you ask, "But how can a parent follow through if THE KID doesn't follow through?"
If they choose to spread their supplies all over the house, the easiest remedy is the bag/box. Let the teens know that anything left laying around in the living space of the house will be bagged for five days. Explain the purpose of the rule (for example, “You haven’t been keeping your end of the bargain up by keeping the living space free from your clutter at the end of the day.”) Let them know that anything collected will be off limits for the five days – regardless of what the item is. The bag will be returned at the end of the five days, provided the teen puts the contents away. Don’t be afraid to put a cell phone, soccer equipment, coats and shoes, books or homework into the bag. Once you follow through, your teens will know you mean business and keep your living space uncluttered in the future. Emphasize that if your teen really values his property, he will put his things in their places. Just to let you know how this works, once I bagged items left lying around. My daughter decided she didn’t “need” any of the items, so I tucked it into the back of her closet for safekeeping. Years later, when she was cleaning out her closet to get ready to go to college (yes, YEARS LATER) she came across this bag. She found treasures that were “misplaced” long ago!

Remember to visit this blog as there’s lots more to be shared on the subject of teens and parents. This is a turbulent yet wonderful time in both of your lives. Please realize that some of these guidelines may not work for your teen, as all teens are not created equally, and all parent-child relationships are unique. Try to remember back when you were the teen when trying to negotiate this time in your life. All generations find their own ways to rebel and to create their own sense of independence. Let them make decisions, positive and negative, as they test out their roles. Be there to support them when a decision goes wrong, and I hope and pray that any misjudgment by your teen will be a safe learning experience on his or her road towards adulthood. Of course, if you know your child is making unhealthy choices, you need to step in and provide strong guidance and consequences. But keep in mind also that the best way to learn many of life’s lessons is to experience mistakes, manage them, and correct them for the future.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

With Gratitude...

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for so many reasons. First, it was the weekend that I was married, almost twenty-three years ago. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who has always encouraged me to live my dreams. For that, I am forever grateful. It also is a holiday filled with some very enjoyable traditions. I will share mine here, and ask that each of you share one or two special traditions that make this holiday important to you as well. If you haven’t found a way to enliven the day with your own sense of spirit and fun, please think about what you can do to take it up a notch – really put the pizzazz into your Thanksgiving with interpersonal touches that embrace the warm sense of the holiday’s intention, to be thankful for all that surrounds you.

Our typical Thanksgiving begins early. My husband makes a killer apple pancake, and we invite one family to enjoy the breakfast, friends from my husband’s childhood who have joined us for more than ten years now. They bring the milk and orange juice (pulp free of course) and we supply the rest. The kids eat, then run off and enjoy the special time together, playing games, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade, and creating treasure hunts. After the table is cleared, my friend and I first scavenge through the coupons that fill the newspaper, and then compare size of turkeys, cooking methods, and preparation times. The men sit on the couch, reading the paper and watching the football pre-game show.

Guests arrive at 5 p.m. From the moment they come in, take-home containers in hand, there is chatter and laughter filling the house. The food is of course an important presence, but it’s the fun and connections that truly make the holiday special.

The Thanksgiving meal begins with each person at the table sharing what he or she is grateful for. My sister once gave us a small stone with the word “gratitude” engraved on it. It is passed around as everyone shares his or her blessings, praises life’s successes, cries happy tears for the joyous moments, and sad tears for those missing at the table. As a family and friends, we are growing up together, and sharing gratitude with each other holds very special meaning for us all.

After dinner, containers come out, and everyone fills them with leftovers. Each person who brings a dish makes sure to make extra so that the Thanksgiving meal can be enjoyed again, even if you aren’t the host of the party! And then the games begin. Anyone who comes to our house for Thanksgiving knows to bring a white elephant. This is a somewhat used, somewhat undesired left over item, carefully and beautifully wrapped. A game is played using dice, and the wrapped treasures are awarded if a six is rolled. Once all packages are accounted for, the gifts are opened and each person describes what is inside. There are typically some special gifts, like a vase or BBQ tools. And there are the really special gifts, the most sought after fish pen that comes back year after year or the George Foreman autograph, on a Foreman Grill postcard. Then the excitement starts as dice are once again tossed, and every six rolled allows the roller to steal a gift. When the timer goes off, what is in front of you is what you take home.

Following that craziness, the trivia contest starts. We pair up our guests somewhat randomly; one of the young guests is paired with an older guest. It’s a great way for two generations to bond and share fun and knowledge together. This year, we’re taking away all cell phones so Internet googling to find answers won’t give one team an advantage. Prizes are awarded, and laughter fills the air.

While every year brings stress and struggle in some form or another to everyone, it is most important to take time to reflect on the big or small gratitudes, successes, or triumphs in life. As you enjoy your Thanksgiving, whether on your own or in a group, please make sure to identify the positive influences in your life. If you don’t already have some traditions that make this holiday stand out, think about what you can do to bring special meaning to the day.

Don’t forget to add your comments here with your own gratitudes and traditions. Also, let me know if you would like to get more detailed instructions for the white elephant game or need some quick, easy recipes for stuffing, pies: pecan, pumpkin, French silk, and key lime; each pie has less than six ingredients and tastes fantastic. Most of all, know that each one of you reading this has, in some way or another, touched my life, and for that I am grateful.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On Notes Left Behind...

I just finished reading a very special book, Notes Left Behind, by Brooke and Keith Desserich. It was an inspiring and difficult read, as parents Brooke and Keith journal from the day of diagnosis through the death of their beautiful six-year-old daughter from pediatric brain cancer. The title refers to the wonderful collection of notes that Elena left for them, scattered throughout their home, hidden in bookcases, briefcases, and pillow cases, professing her love for her parents and sister. The painful process for these parents to continue on each day as their precious child fought gallantly for her life is heartwarming and heartbreaking.

The book is filled with reminders to parents to embrace each sacred moment you have with your children. Since I work to help children and parents notice the positives amidst the chaos of their everyday lives, the journal spoke to me on so many levels. We never know what tomorrow will bring, therefore it is so important to live each day as if it is the most precious one of your life.

Yesterday, I happened to call a friend at a critical point in her day. She was feeling the stress of life, and my lunch request was her ticket to break from the seriousness and enjoy a part of her afternoon. How it made me smile when, later that evening, I received a voice mail from her stating how valuable our friendship was and that, somehow, I had that sixth sense to call at just the right moment. She shared how important it was for her to make sure I knew all of this. How often do we think these thoughts, and then get on with our busy days? How often are the last words to our children, as they rush out the door in the morning, “You forgot to make your bed!” instead of “I love you and hope you have a great day!” When was the last time you told your spouse how valuable he is in your life, and why? Or called your sister, brother, or parents to let them know you were thinking of them?

Our lives are filled with financial worries, health concerns, parenting woes, relationship struggles, world chaos and day-to-day stress that can overwhelm any one of us at any minute. It would be easy to want to push the alarm button, pull the covers over our heads, and hide out from the new day of potential disasters. But instead, when you wake up tomorrow morning, walk into the bathroom, look into the mirror, and identify your strength. Whether it’s your caring eyes, your engaging smile, your kind, warm heart, or your wonderful pancakes – begin your day excited to share yourself with the world.

When you see your spouse or children for the first time tomorrow morning, don’t focus on the rush to get moving. Instead, cuddle, embrace, and share a warm thought. Most of you reading this will think to yourself, “Who has that kind of time?” Remind yourself that the two minutes of caring and connecting will actually speed up the tired child or create intimate warmth between you and your spouse. These little kindnesses really make a difference!

See what happens when you spend your day letting the people around you know that they have made a positive impact on your day. Thank the grocery clerk for her hard work, standing on her feet all day. Don’t talk on your cell phone while the bank teller waits on you; give him eye contact, and thank him for the good service. Let the car that is anxious to get in front of you do so, and smile as he passes by. Let go of the hostility, anger, rush, and worry, and replace it with patience, gratitude, warmth, and kindness. Feel the tension relax from the lines in your face as you continue this throughout your day. You will find a renewed sense of energy and bounce in your step!

Shifting our focus and attitude does not come easy. It takes practice and patience for us. But if the Desserich’s story has taught me anything, it is that everything we fret about is what we desire when we are facing tragedy in our lives. The bickering between siblings, the mundane chores, the long grocery line – how different do you look at those things when you realize it represents that your family is happy, healthy, or even just with you?