Parental Controls

Parental Controls

When we think about “Parental Controls” our minds jump to the kind of controls we might set for our kids regarding inappropriate content and exposure on the internet, gaming, phones, TV, etc.  I’m thinking more about another set of “Parental Controls” that may have a larger impact on our children long term that is harder to establish.  I’m talking about the influencers that creep into our decision making on just “how” to parent.  Things that we choose to exhibit while raising our children; what pieces of ourselves and our experiences we decide to share and use to guide our style and demeanor.

This other set of parental controls is a sticky wicket in my marriage in terms of what parenting styles we both choose to employ at times.  You see, my husband and I come from very different backgrounds in terms of our childhoods and parenting, or lack thereof.  We all grow up with different circumstances attached to us; financial, environmental, social, educational and so on.  How does one choose what to filter out or is it really even a choice?  I don’t write this out of any place of judgement because quite frankly, there are many ways of parenting, none of which I am here to say are right or wrong, just different and necessary depending on what tools you have in your toolbox.  So much of our decision making and how we conduct ourselves, albeit not surprising, comes from our own life experience and continuously evolves.  Let’s face it, you can seek enlightenment until the sun goes down, but our “instinct” is engrained and influenced greatly by our own experiences growing up.   This childhood vault spotlights what “tools” you have in your toolbox to assist with parenting.  This is turn, challenges us on the way in which we agree or disagree in raising our children.

In reality some, or maybe most of our tools are passed down to us throughout our own childhood, much like that coveted set of silver and family jewel or perhaps the not so coveted potpourri of end tables and ugly lamps.  Ultimately we come to parenting with this toolbox filled with a myriad of items; some tried and true, some crude, some that have seen better days, or perhaps, your toolbox is on the emptier side.  Sometimes you might wish you had a different tool but there was no one to help you find it.  Either way, when we decide to start a family, we often add some shiny new tools that we’ve read about or that our friends recommend.  So when co-parenting, one might think joining forces is awesome because now we have a plethora of tools, right?  Yes, but agreeing on which to use and how to use is where the angst comes to life. My favorite frequent flyer saying in our house is “I agree with your message but your delivery sucks”.  Message lost, end of story.

Let me shed some light on my life.  I live the glorious and messy family life of a blended, generational household which is awesome and hard and messy and beautiful and challenging as hell to ever know if you are doing any of it “right”.  I grew up in middle class suburbia in a typical, as they used to say, “nuclear family”.  Our family unit was made up of me along with my two brothers and my folks.  They were educated, hands on, hardworking and tried their best to model what they wanted us to learn and on occasion, things they probably DIDN’T want us to learn.  We weren’t wealthy but we didn’t want for much. We were loved, clean, full-bellied and generously clothed with both new and hand me down favorites.  We were afforded social and cultural opportunities.  Music lessons and recreational sports. We traveled places to visit family, participate in educational experiences and fall in love with nature in one of the most heavenly places on earth, the Adirondacks.  We were pushed to dream of our futures where college was the assumptive next step.  And then we were given a supportive boot when it was time to spread our wings.  We were taught to work hard, learn the value of a dollar.  We had love, validation and a strong sense of right and wrong.  We had arguments, blowouts and family meetings.  We were sent to our rooms and tough conversations weren’t hidden.  It was all there to sort through and use as a way to learn. All of it was bolstered with unconditional love.  It was hard but safe, supportive, shielded and privileged.  Family was and is everything.

My husband’s background was very different.  Couldn’t be farther from the picture I just painted.  He grew up rough and tumble in a city where the street corners were for dealing and exchanging favors.  His family was in the system. His mother uneducated and his father chose to walk away after his birth. He grew up in shitty, smoke filled apartments only to wonder about dinner and always looking over his shoulder trying to avoid beatings from the current father of the hour. He ended up in the system. Black trash bags dragged from place to place.  Some bad, some sort of ok but never ones with parents who opened their arms and treated him with love or respect.  He lived in perpetual survival mode.  He never had parental role models until he was almost out of high school and taken in by a family who gave him a glimpse of that and pushed him to want more for himself.  He started college and then chose the military- another form of living in survival mode.  All. The. Time.  So in short, because there is more than I cannot bear to write about, he was not raised with any kind of privilege. He was raised in clothes that didn’t fit, shoes with holes in them, sparse meals, showers snuck in at the school gym, no love, no trust nor safety.  No role models of what parents should look like, no unconditional love.  The military saved him.  It provided for him, gave him boundaries and rules, 3 squares and a semi consistent and safe place to lay his head at night.  Not without a price of course, but it was better than any other price he’d already paid.

So as we think about all of that, you can imagine both of our toolboxes look dramatically different from one another. Our parenting style discord comes in agreeing on what that looks like when you have such disparate upbringings.  Listening to each other and understanding each other is key, but this is where our own “parental controls” come into play.  Often we discuss what parts we agreed with in our own upbringings.  What helped us to become successful, whole-ish humans?  What parts were painful?  What did we want to carry forward and what do we want to cast away.  How much of the hard messy parts do we want to share when trying to make a point and when do we make peace with the past.  Perhaps we present something new or different so the message of the lesson is not lost in a lack-luster choice in delivery.

These choices and decisions ultimately impact and influence our children and what they choose to bring forth as they evolve into adults.  Most of the time we agree on the message and lesson, but the delivery… the delivery is an epic reflection of that toolbox and your own “parental controls” coming to life.  There is a balance to be found between the loud school of hard knocks and survival mode vs modeling desired behavior and conversational validation.  Parenting is personal and afflicted and influenced by our childhood environment and experience, our own parental exposure, or lack thereof, and mixed with our adult life experience.  We have to employ our own set of “parental controls” and hope with all our might that we get some of it right.

From Uber Driver to the Passenger Seat

My family is hitting a new milestone next month. My firstborn will be getting his driver’s license. He can’t wait for the day to get here, but I’m not feeling quite as happy about it. I remember what it felt like to be his age. It wasn’t that long ago (okay maybe it was), but I was so excited about being able to drive by myself for the first time. It was my first taste of real independence, and I couldn’t wait to hit the road in my 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit.

These days I spend my time in my Honda Pilot (translation: mom car) between the hours of 3 pm and 8:30 pm on weekdays, shuffling my three kids to and from one practice to another. In the fall, I had a drop-off or pick-up every half hour to forty-five minutes, all night, every night.

And, did I mention my husband was coaching football three nights a week, so the Uber-ing was all on me?

To say we are a busy family is an understatement, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now that my kids are getting older, though, the end of my Uber career is in sight, and I realized I’m not as happy about it as one might think. I’m struggling to let go as my son becomes more independent. I know he’s not going to need me as much anymore.

For 16 years, he’s been dependent on me to drive him everywhere he needs to go. I’m going to wake up one day next month, and that’s all going to be over. I’m going to be in the passenger seat (or back home) because my driving shifts for him are over.

The other night he came into my room to talk, and I started crying. Obviously confused, he sat down with me to find out what was wrong. It hit me all at once that lately, our most important conversations—the ones where I really hear and learn about his world—happen when we are alone in the car driving to and from practice. What happens when that ends next month? I panicked that we might lose that connection.

Let’s be honest, he’s not going to tell me everything that’s going on in his life forever. In fact, I’m sure he leaves out quite a few details now, and that’s probably for the best! These daily conversations, when it’s just the two of us, allow me to check in and see how he’s really doing. I am afraid of how things will change when he doesn’t need me to drive him around anymore.

After mocking me a little for worrying too much, my son assured me that he’d still make time to talk to me, but I know that it will be different. I will need to plan more one-on-one time with him. Luckily for me, he inherited my inability to fall asleep at a reasonable hour, so I know he’s always available to chat when the rest of our house is asleep.

My son getting his license is my first significant milestone of “letting go,” and I’m dreadfully unprepared. I know the first time he pulls out of the driveway by himself, he will be filled with excitement, and I will be holding back tears. (Okay, anyone who knows me, knows I won’t be able to hold back the tears.) But, ready or not, that moment is coming. This is what we work so hard to prepare our kids for—to be independent. So I should be celebrating…

But, for now, I’m going to enjoy being that Uber driver just a little while longer.

Finding a Voice

I have never exactly been the quiet type.

College, first job, grad school, teaching. Even if I wasn’t the loudest or most talkative, I always did my work passionately, never afraid to live out my deepest convictions even if it went against the grain of my environment.

Then I became a mother.

And my voice……disappeared…..

Why? I’m not sure. I think it had something to do with the realization of the overwhelming responsibility with which I was suddenly faced. While I was aware of my thoughts and ideas, the only thing that really mattered was keeping this little creature alive.

But as the time began to pass, I began to feel something else. I felt silenced even within the community of motherhood. When I was pregnant, another mother welcomed me to the “sisterhood of motherhood” and said, “it’s toxic but necessary.”

Um, excuse me, what???

I ran from that conversation and in a way, I’ve run ever since. And discovered something. We as mothers share a huge common denominator. Not only are we keeping our little ones alive, we strive to help them grow into happy and moral human beings. Not an easy task and not one for the faint of heart. But after that….the differences begin to emerge far too quickly: “Working” vs. “stay at home”, “cry it out” vs “rocking to sleep”, “breast-feeding” vs “formula”, “pre-k” vs “homeschooling”, “typical” vs “special”, and even “mother” vs “not mother”, the list goes on and on.

These differences are often satirized on the internet as we all realize that the “Mommy Wars” need to end. But in real life, library, playgroups, playgrounds, I found myself growing quiet as I stopped talking about my mothering experiences. There really wasn’t a place to have a voice without offending someone who did things differently or being judged negatively by others. Raised eyebrows, derisive laughs, rolled eyes, I got tired of them, quickly. Ultimately, it seemed that if mothers admitted they were struggling or unhappy, they were judged, but…if mothers admitted they were actually happy, they were not only judged but considered thoughtless to those who were struggling (even as they were judged). This confusing and vicious cycle was something I wanted to opt out of, and fast.

But one cannot mother in a vacuum. And yes, I have very strong opinions of this thing called Motherhood and don’t even get me started on Modern Parenting in our Modern Society. Most of all, I feel that the mother-child bond is the most sacred thing on this earth, yet it is the one most overlooked, dismissed, and destroyed in how society constructs its’ values. So it’s time. To start finding a voice that is inclusive and healing while still raising questions about how and why we have allowed motherhood and childhood to look and feel the way it does in our culture.

Being invited to this blog and accepting this invitation is a huge step in my own journey as a mother. To begin speaking aloud thoughts that I have harbored for over 4 years. To find moments of humor, realness and compassion with other mothers and with women who are not mothers, for whatever reasons. I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to finally begin to put words the deepest visceral experience I have ever encountered. They may come slowly, awkwardly and somewhat incompletely, but just like the little person I am raising, every day brings a new chance to learn something new. To say something new. And to begin to interrupt the quiet.

20/20 Vision

Remember the Y2K scare? How could that have been twenty years ago? While I didn’t think it at the time, I look back and realize how naive I was back then. I trusted too easily and believed people meant the words they said. I suppose I didn’t want to see people as the complex beings that they were. I preferred people (and life) to be in more black and white terms..good or bad…right or wrong. Perhaps I didn’t want them to disappoint me. Maybe I was just trying to figure out life as a grown up and it was easier to understand that way. I don’t know. I wanted, no I yearned for, a simple life with all my ducks were in a row. Somehow, I thought that meant happiness. 

Seriously, I didn’t have a clue. Life just doesn’t work that way. There are days when I can’t get half of my ducks in a row, let alone all of them. What was I thinking? How could I believe that superficial order meant happiness? Life is gray and mucky and complicated and exquisite and wonderful all at the same time. I had only been married for a few years back then. I felt like I was on a predetermined path. I’ve divorced and remarried since. So much for a predetermined path. I’ve experienced unbelievably heart-wrenching and indescribably beautiful moments…sometimes within short time spans of each other. Unexpected, untimely deaths of loved ones, divorce, newfound love, motherhood twice over, unconditional friendships, professional challenges, and professional fulfillment overlapped and sometimes collided with each other. In some ways, the past twenty years have felt like a roller coaster ride. A beautiful, heart-stopping roller coaster ride. 

So what has the two decade roller coaster ride taught me? Here are my biggest takeaways:  

1. Life should be lived slowly, because time slips away too damn fast. The idea that time flies is so trite, but is undeniably true. Nothing has proven that to me more than watching how quickly my children have grown. The babies and toddlers they once were have disappeared forever. As life progressed at breakneck speed, the years somehow vanished. I’m learning to slow down and find more joy in the ordinary because I am downright terrified of the pace time can dissipate. 

2. I don’t ever want to stop learning and growing. Maya Angelou once said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I’m proud that I’ve endured challenges, made mistakes, learned from them, and done better. The toughest times taught me how strong I really am. I don’t feel the pressure to be perfect anymore. I’ve given myself permission to make mistakes because I trust I will learn and grow from them.

3. You are given the children that need you the most. My oldest son had a bazillion food, medication, and environmental allergies–so much so, that his pediatrician said he was the most allergic patient she ever had. My youngest son has an uncommon medical condition that involves motor and sensory dysregulation. Both of my boys needed a mom who was willing to learn everything she could about their conditions, adapt environments to meet their needs, locate the best specialists to provide expert care, and advocate fiercely for them. They got a mama bear who doesn’t have quitting in her DNA.     

4. Children are only ours on loan. That one hit me like a ton of bricks when I dropped my oldest son off at college this past fall. As I sobbed uncontrollably when I said goodbye to him (and for the entire three hour car ride rode home), I couldn’t help but wonder where the hell the time went. I’ve learned to cherish the moments I have with my children–even the challenging ones–because I now fully understand that those moments aren’t limitless.

5.  In the end, it all comes down to love….love of a partner, children, family, friends, and yes, love of self. Love gives life meaning and makes the excruciating times bearable. At the end of my days, I know it is the legacy of love I leave behind and take with me that will matter the most.

I’m not sure what the next decade will bring, but the year 2020 feels like a play on the idea of clearer vision. It seems almost prophetic. I hope to move through the next decade with greater clarity as I carry these hard-earned lessons with me. I can’t wait to see what else comes into more distinct focus. Bring on 2020! 

A Good Look in the Mirror

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, the heydays of Jane Fonda workout videos and fat free snacks. My mother taught aerobics in shiny leotards and had a strict no treat policy in our house. We were (and still are) products of a diet culture that pervades society and is hell-bent on convincing women that we are not good enough just the way we are, and that powerful thinking kept me locked in a cycle of disordered eating and self loathing for most of my life. 

It wasn’t until I had a baby, specifically a daughter, that I really took a good look at that thinking and realized how damaging it was. I remember looking at Ella when she couldn’t have been more than two or three, dancing around and looking at herself in the mirror, smiling. She was in love with her body, her moves, convinced that every inch of her was awesome.  And I realized that I must have felt that way too, once. There must have been a time when I looked in the mirror and just thought, “Damn, I look good,” but I couldn’t remember it- not as an adult, a teenager, or even a little girl. I thought about how sad it was that one day society would convince her to stop smiling when she saw her own image reflected back at her just as it had convinced me. 

I didn’t want that for her. So I made it my mission to never speak negatively about my body or my looks in front of her. We talked about eating healthy to fuel our bodies well, not to restrict calories. We talked about exercising as a way to be strong and to destress, not as punishment or to reach some physical ideal. My daughter is nine now, and I feel confident that my efforts have paid off. She is strong and healthy, and I have never heard her speak about her body in any way other than to show me that she has finally mastered a split or to show off her arm muscles. I have convinced her that her body is absolutely wonderful just the way it is. 

Too bad I still haven’t done that for myself. 

Because for all my efforts to present myself as someone who sees my body as strong, and valuable, and beautiful, I never actually took the time to believe it. 

When I stand in front of the mirror, I don’t grimace or ridicule myself…outloud. But I still think it, and the mind is a powerful thing. 

I’ve been talking about this with some girlfriends recently, about the idea of positive self talk to transform our thinking. I’ve always been a little skeptical of it. If I stand in front of the mirror and tell myself something I don’t actually believe, can saying it enough times convince me that it is true? Countless studies show that there are real benefits to positive self talk and to eliminating negative self talk in the workplace, in sports, and in regular life. As I said, the mind is a powerful thing. The research says that I am wrong, and I hope that it’s true because I’m going to give it my best shot. 

So, while I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, I am making one this year. I’m making a plan to push out the negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones: about my body, my intelligence, my capabilities, my worth. I realize now that it is not enough to teach my girls that they are enough. I want them to be the happiest versions of themselves possible, and I want that for myself, too.

My Favorite Holiday

Not Christmas. Not Thanksgiving. Pajama Friday. That is my favorite holiday. Hands down. Pajama Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and my family started celebrating it a handful of years ago. I don’t remember the exact year and I suppose it really doesn’t matter. My sons and I stay home in our pajamas all day, eat a big pancake and bacon breakfast, bake gingerbread cookies, make ornaments, decorate our Christmas tree, and crank up the Christmas tunes. “Dominic the Donkey” and “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas” are likely our Pajama Friday anthems. I even sneak in some of my college glee club Christmas recordings, which is a lovely trip down memory lane. Add in the comfort of a fire dancing in the fireplace, and it’s pretty much a perfect day. Simple and perfect. No fuss. No pressure. Treasured time together. 

I suppose in some ways Pajama Friday is a sort of Black Friday protest. I’ve never enjoyed shopping. Not one bit. So when you add in large crowds of people pushing and shoving each other to grab sale items in hot, stuffy stores…yeah, you can count me out. It always struck me as odd that we feel the need to pile into stores to buy loads of crap the day after a national holiday reflecting on all we are thankful for. Now, if you love shopping, don’t mind the crowds, and look forward to Black Fridays, more power to you. It’s just not my jam.

The real reason I started Pajama Friday has little to do with Black Friday or our national consumer rituals. The truth is that the holidays are hard for many of us, especially the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. They can be painful reminders of the loved ones we lost. I used to look forward to Thanksgiving…good food, family, and no pressure to buy presents. It was perfect, perfect until my thirty-nine year old brother passed away unexpectedly one week before Thanksgiving nine years ago. My family gathered and tried our best to get through Thanksgiving that year, the day after we buried my brother. Honestly, most of us could barely swallow more than a bite or two that day. After that, the smells, the sounds, and the foods of Thanksgiving became reminders of my brother’s death. I dreaded the damn holiday, but I didn’t want my pain to color my children’s Thanksgiving experiences for years to come. I needed a distraction; I needed something else to look forward to. Thus, Pajama Friday was born and it was perfect. Different smells, different sounds, different foods, and different rituals. More importantly, it became a day to spend quality time with my precious children. Now, Pajama Friday is my favorite holiday and, somehow, it managed to take some of the sting out of a difficult time of year. And for that, I am most thankful.        

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