Parenting Tweens: Who Knew Toddlers Would Seem Easy?

rp_wedding-004.JPGI remember the first time my heart broke for one of my babies. The Girl was not quite 18 months and we were at a mall play area fighting a cold winter of cabin fever (sound familiar) with a little organized run around time. It was pretty empty except for two other little boys who were probably about 6 and 8. There was a ball, or balloon or something of that nature. My memory for that isn’t so great. The Girl was playing with it then the boys got it and started a little monkey in the middle game with my precious babe as the monkey.

She was laughing and skipping around, oblivious to the fact that these boys had locked eyes over her head and make a nasty little silent agreement to keep the ball away from the baby and then laughed every time she missed grabbing it. rp_OCMD-132.JPG

At first I wanted to scoop her up and run away from these jerks (yes, I thought they were jerks at 6 and 8. Protective mom much?) but I didn’t do anything but watch in agony because I seemed to be the only one of us who realized she was the butt of the joke. She thought she was playing with new friends and was thus unaffected by the entire thing. Pretty quickly the boys got bored of the game and gave back the ball/balloon back to my little lady and all was well. But for those few minutes, I finally understood the saying about parenthood feeling like you wear your heart on the outside because mine broke a million different ways that day.rp_beachsl10-032.JPG

Little did I know this incident of my early motherhood was a precursor to all that I would feel as my children grew into their tweens. Now, the hurt doesn’t just happen with strangers in a play area, but often from people they know the best, including themselves. Also, the hurt seems to be around every corner-real or perceived, there are daily questions and slights and hits against their armor, sometimes, the worst comes from inside themselves. And they are never oblivious, but instead painfully aware. rp_DSC_0385.JPG

The difference now that I’m a parent of tweens, not toddlers, is that I can’t and probably shouldn’t, protect them like I could back then. I can no longer race in to scoop them up and remove them from situations where people are mean. I can’t hug and kiss her enough to heal the hurt. I can’t single-handedly rebuild his self-confidence that inevitably takes a hit when people aren’t nice. I also can’t just presume their innocence either. It’s important that I make sure they aren’t either bullied or the bully, so each story they needs redirection questioning to ensure all angles are seen and then much prayer that they keep sharing, even if I question. rp_OCMD-133.JPG

The hate joke in all this is that if you’re doing your job right as a parent, then you will have less and less ability to protect your young ones just as you feel more and more compelled to do so. The world gets harder and harder just as you have to let them go more and more. They need to learn to protect themselves and rebuild their own esteem or at least guard it from attack. They must navigate the difference between bullied and bully and learn to choose well. I can advise. I can model and discuss. I can listen without judgment when they cry and I can hope it all works out alright in the end. rp_19968_288201851187_607121187_3599489_4975856_n.jpg

Indeed, parenting feels like wearing your heart on the outside all while trying to build a protective cover around a tribe of tiny hearts that you can never cushion as much as you’d like.

Parenting toddlers is hard. Parenting older kids is worse.

 

Youth Sports: Why Parents May Need to Just Shut Up

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As with many things in my life, when it came time for my kids to play sports and I was trying to figure out my role as a parent, I asked myself what my mom would do.  See, my mom was the ultimate sports fan mom. She had a chair in her car trunk at all times for sideline sitting. She planned her work schedule around our games. She was a constant presence in bleachers, on pool decks and outside the foul ball line for at least 30 years.

One thing that was always true, no matter the kid or the sport, was that mom was quiet. She watched every play of every game and she knew a lot about most of them (except field hockey, that stumped her the entire time) but she rarely ever said a word. And yet, we always felt supported and never questioned her role as Super Fan. She didn’t need to yell and scream to show support.

The first soccer game I ever went to with my kid I remember being struck by how loud it was. I chalked it up to all these parents really knowing a lot about soccer. I understood the urge to yell, as I watched things and wanted to comment on them too. But I kept my mouth shut because it wasn’t my sport. I didn’t feel qualified to yell anything as I barely could figure out what was going on.

Then, basketball season came and I’d hear myself shouting directions nearly into the players ears and it was as if I didn’t even know I was doing it. Why was I so compelled to offer my two cents? Loudly? I justified it by telling myself I was helping. After all, I wasn’t starting fights with parents or cursing officials. I was merely offering suggestions on what I saw and guiding my own kid the way I thought I should. No harm in it, right?

Wrong.

My guess is that I felt compelled to yell because I’m used to being a sports fan in the stands, the far away kind. At Maryland basketball games we cheered and booed and questions officials all from the safe distance of our seats, very far from the court. As a Mountaineer in college and then later at Redskins’ games, I often yelled myself hoarse, always in support, but always loud. I am a passionate fan and sometimes that means a running commentary on what I see on the court or field.

But these behaviors aren’t meant for school or travel sports. These behaviors don’t work if you’re the parent.  Coaching should be left up to coaches, not parents, no matter how much they do or don’t know about the sport. We’re not helping. At best, all our screaming is simply being ignored. At worst, it’s confusing the kids and irritating the coach. (I remember, from when I WAS the coach.) Neither of those scenarios works for anyone, most especially our kids.

The Husband and I were talking about it the other night at dinner. We finally agreed (after a little guidance from Mike Matheny) and vowed to spend more time playing the games with our kids at home and then shut up on the sidelines. It won’t be easy. But it will be right.

Something tells me, my Super Fan mom would approve.

 

This post was inspired by The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. The St. Louis Cardinals manager shares his tough-love philosophy for children’s team sports that translate to everyday life. Join From Left to Write on February 12th as we discuss The Matheny Manifesto. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Naptime with Theo and Beau: Just in Time for a Sweet Valentine

Naptime with Theo and BeauI would imagine, if you spent any time online in the last two years, you have seen at least one picture of Theo & Beau. Jessica, of Mommas Gone City, hit the parenting jackpot when she adopted a puppy at the same time she was raising a baby and they both happened to love napping at the same time.

She decided to record her lucky naptimes and the pictures in all their heart-crushing glory quickly spread from instagram to morning news to every online publication imaginable. Now, lucky for all of us, Theo & Beau and their naptime antics are forever captured in a beautiful book. Each and every picture is better than the last and both adults and children alike will fall in love with this adorable puppy & boy combination.

Naptime with Theo and Beau is available now for preorder on Amazon and would make an excellent gift for the puppy lovers in your life. If you place your order before February 3rd, you can send your receipt into the publisher, and you will get a free signed bookplate by Jessica Shyba with  a special message from Theo and Beau.

Of course, you can also follow Jessica on Instagram for even more Theo & Beau (and new baby Evvie too!) Jessica’s pictures are beautiful every day. She has such a gift for capturing the beauty in every day life. Her personal warmth and love for her family show through every single photo. Don’t miss out.

Passing Down the Unmentionables: An Inspired Post

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At dinner the other night, the kids and I were talking about what traits of theirs The Husband and I recognized as our own. In other words, what have we passed down, for better or worse, to our kids?
It turned into a funny conversation about my reactions to noticing certain behaviors in my kids. The Middle One recalled a time when he was so mad at a friend he told his sister about his wishes to do bodily harm to the boy.

My response was that I was glad I didn’t know about said incident because I would have inevitably started google researching how to identify sociopathic tendencies in a seven-year old. Yep, despite knowing how gentle and kind my kid is, that one utterance would have sent me over the edge with worry that his simple, angry turn of phrase meant deeper, darker mental health issues on the horizon.

Irrational? Yes, but worry always is for me.

My youngest, who has spent the better part of the year trying to unearth the mystery of his behavior issues at school, said to me in that moment, “So, mom, I get my crazy from you.”

Oh. Dear.

Let me be clear, my little man is not crazy. We just throw that word around more than we probably should in a politically correct house anytime we’re talking about our quirks. What we do know about the youngest is that he has a tendency to extrapolate pretty far and deep in the name of fear. He has extreme reactions to any and all incidents that cause him concern and many incidents cause him concern. Sound familiar? (Hint, see above google research reference.)

It seems my boy (and I) has some difficulty regulating the size and scope of his worry and that worry and the deeper fears that cause it, can sometimes cause him great strife.

For a long time I, of course, worried about the worst with him. Would he become so difficult at school, he’d require home instruction. Would home instruction then mean never wanting to leave home. In short, I went to the deep, dark place of his future as and agoraphobic paranoid because of my own fears.
Then he pointed out he gets his crazy from me and I sure couldn’t argue.

Strangely, this realization gives me hope. No, I don’t recognize the intense anger that seems to be a symptom of his fear, but I do recognize the fear, frustration and shame that comes with that fear. And of course, I see how the frustration and shame just make the whole vicious cycle worse. I am intimately familiar with the building blocks of anxiety and shame that can often threaten to stack into an insurmountable mountain. Thankfully, so far, there has been no mountain I can’t climb with a lot of work, both mental and physical. Yes, there are nights the swirling thoughts keep me up all hours, and of course my browser history will point to an ongoing tendency to prepare for the worst, but so far I’ve always been able to beat it all back before it gets too much so that I can go forward the next day and live a pretty great life.

I have managed the thoughts that love to spin far into the dark and twisty and trained them to remain just thoughts, not suffocating realities. As my baby fights the same tendencies of worry and shame, here’s hoping I passed on the strong parts of myself too, not just my crazy. Because with my strength (or maybe just his own) he can manage the thoughts and the worry and live a pretty great life with me.

 

This post was inspired by the novel If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie. It is about a boy who’s never been outside, because of his mother’s agoraphobia, but ventures out in order to solve a mystery. Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discuss If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.