Moms of Teen Boys Be Encouraged!

I got longer than most Moms.  More hugs, more “I love you’s”, more devotion from my son than any other Mom I know.  That was, until he turned 14 years and two months old.  In one overnight sleep from Tuesday to Wednesday, an uneventful week by anyone’s standards, my son woke up one day…a teenager.

On paper he’d been a teen for over a year, but he was still in my arms, or hanging by my side, and filled the house daily-often hourly-with professions of love.  He would literally yell from another room, “Mom!”  “What?”  “I love you!”  Apparently, if you’ve experienced this type of sensitive, loving boy at all in your home, it usually only lasts until about age twelve.

So, as I said, I got longer than most.  Instead of being grateful, I was appalled.  At his scoffs at dinner food, at his rolling of eyes, and barely-there embraces before going to sleep at night.  The grunts which replaced the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ were maddening!  Usually one to laugh easily and often, he began purposely moving his mouth around in contorted ways to avoid any expression of having fun with his family.  He would leave the room rather than let us see him smile.  If you asked me then, the friends who said that his behavior was “normal” should have be put into therapy.  “This is not normal!” I would wail.

Approximately 14 years and three months into my new son’s existence, we traveled to Florida for spring break.  I only had one rule: no texting.  This vacation was for us as a family.  Guess who broke the rule the first day and every day until the phone died?  Guess who forgot that I have access to verizonwireless.com and can see all texts?  After revoking the beloved phone privileges, I fully expected instant remorse on my son’s face.  After all, this was a child whose heart-on-the-sleeve sweetness was the envy of my girlfriends.  This time, all I saw was pure anger.  He was angry?  Who broke the rule here?  Again, my friend reminded me, “This is perfectly normal.”

For weeks following the consequence, my son schlepped around without picking up his feet.  He barely spoke to any of us in the house.  He complained about everything.  At nausea.  He needed a new folder and asked if I would go out and pick it up – that night.  I said we could both jump in the car and go get one.  “Ugh.  Can’t you just go get it?!”  I laughed.  Loud.  He opted to search out a munched, crunched, written-all-over, used folder from the mountain of “teaching supplies” my younger daughter keeps in her playroom.

Alien-like behavior ensued for a really –l–o–n–g–  18 months.  Our entire family was tortured by his nasal grunting, shuffling feet, excessively loud exhales accompanied by eye rolls, and a daily “who-gives-a-poop” attitude (this was the most irritating).  He made his sisters cry.  There were cyclical periods of disobedience followed by the exhausting task of disciplining.  I experienced floods of anger right back at him.  Other days, I would remain eerily calm in spite of his nastiness.  Many mornings, I wept on my knees upon his departure for school.  Throughout the 18 months I still said, “I love you” when he left for school, but he said nothing in response.  I murmured, cried, and sometimes yelled countless prayers to God, filled with unease that he was “on the wrong path”.  Anxiety plagued me:  Had I babied him?  Should I have made him do his own laundry?  Make his own sandwiches?  Should I have prayed more since his birth?  Was I to blame?

Then, as suddenly as the foreigner entered our home, he just as swiftly exited.  Inexplicably, without warning, another regular day by anyone’s standards, my son said, “I love you” in response to my “I love you” when he was leaving for school.  He climbed into my husband’s car and I shut the door.

Only a Mom can understand the overwhelming flood of emotion that instantly rose up from my stomach to my throat, forcing me to turn around, choking out a cheerful “goodbye!”, as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary had occurred.  Walking into the house, my face contorted.  I covered my mouth with my hand, and water poured down my cheeks.  Emotion ensued for a good, long time that morning, thankfulness to God overwhelming me.

My son wouldn’t become an empty, hardened criminal after all.  The casual “I love you” expanded nearly overnight, into doing chores without complaint, picking up his feet, laughing again with his sisters….

As I finish typing this, my now 16-year old son yelled from the basement, “Mom!”

“What?”

“I love you!”

Ugh, the joy and the pain.

This post was originally published on 5/16/13: Throwback Thursday! 

Desensitize My Kids?!

Throwback Thursday from 5/8/2013

I was participating in a women’s prayer meeting at a church where I was relatively new. Until that day, I regularly offered prayer for others, but rarely requested any for myself. As my children began Middle School, I realized that it would take the proverbial village to protect my kids from the stunning corruption widespread among American youth.

That morning I mustered up the courage to ask for prayer that my kids would not grow desensitized, but remain kindhearted despite the shocking revelations that they are eventually exposed to at that age. I had recently confirmed for them that, “Yes, one German man and his team of assassins murdered multiple millions of people. Yes, Edgar Allen Poe’s writings are disgusting and disturbing. Yes, several men flew airplanes into buildings wanting to kill Americans.” The Holocaust, 9/11, and murder-filled literature, were upsetting to my 11-year old twins. They had also experienced their first pains of meanness from other kids.

Relieved that I had asked the women to lift up my kids in prayer, I experienced a temporary feeling of peace about the changes that Middle School had brought.

Pushing in my chair to leave, a 50-something, confident woman approached me. I expected her to confirm her intent to pray on my behalf. Instead, she blurted, “Your kids need to get desensitized.” Huh? I was confused, slight angry, and embarrassment rose up in my cheeks. Noticing my facial contortions, she offered, “I retired early last year, having been a Middle School Principal for many years.”

I stared at her without response.

“It’s just that the world is a terrible place and kids are awful. Your kids need to be desensitized or everything is going to bother them.”

Finding my tongue, I retorted, “not everything is going to bother them, but injustice, prejudice, and blatant violence against others should trouble them. I don’t want them to ignore or walk away from such things. I want them to be responsive toward others.”

She smiled at me in a condescending way, patted my hand and said, “Well, I’m just telling you from experience that it’s better if they get desensitized.”

My mind was outraged and my feelings hurt. I had expended terrific effort to train three kids to care. I was not about to conform to the ways of this world in a lazy, irresponsible effort to create more zombies. All that came to mind at that moment was the group of teens who watched, cheered, videotaped and photographed the brutal beating of one of their “friends”. Then, they uploaded the unconscionable horror to YouTube. While I know that level of degeneracy is rare, the day to day lack of sensitivity is rampant in Middle Schools and High Schools across the nation.

One of the great battles for Christians (unless they are the sort who cut themselves off from contemporary life) is to remain kind when they’ve had a string of wrongs hurt them over the years. In addition to the unforeseen events like earthquakes, hurricanes, and illness, we unfortunately also endure heart trauma by the entirely avoidable meanness of others. It is natural to grow hardened.

All humans make big mistakes and bad decisions. We err and say hurtful things. The difference between desensitized and remaining sensitive, is remorse. The desensitized person doesn’t experience regret, sorrow or repentance. There is no reflecting or pondering or consideration of the consequences.

Despite the bad advice of the retired principal, I choose to continue the hard work of raising three human beings who care. My intent isn’t to shield them. I encourage “speaking up”, even to those in authority, when appropriate. All of my kids play competitive travel sports and are not ones to shrink back from conflict when necessary.

They are acutely aware of the world’s evil, feel sad when they are treated unjustly, but always move forward strong and confident. I’ll never believe that desensitizing children so they feel little, if any, compassion, is wise or responsible parenting.

 

 

Moms Influence Other Kids Too – Not Just Their Own

Shuffling into my kitchen with a pile of groceries, I was surprised to find my daughter’s friend standing by the counter after school.

I smiled at her, breathless from dragging in the bags. “Hi! It’s nice to see you! But, I thought you were grounded…?”

“Oh, I am. Just not from your house.”

Hmmm. I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.

“I thought you were grounded from everything.”

“My parents like it when I’m here. I’m never grounded from your house.”

My daughter and this dear friend had been buddies for three solid years. She called herself my fourth child, and insisted on placing her artwork in my dining room china cabinet next to my own kids’ artwork. During those years, we occasionally took her to church, arranged for her to go to church camp twice and she stayed overnight numerous times watching movies and just hanging out. I loved her spirit.

This friend grew from an adorable middle schooler in the 8th grade, to an increasingly restless sophomore in high school. Omitting the details, her choices made my daughter uncomfortable enough that eventually, they parted ways as friends, remaining occasional acquaintances. The friend leaving our school to attend another helped solidify that decision.

Recently, this lost friend sent two Twitter messages to my daughter after not speaking to her in nearly a year. One message read, ‘I saw a show about bunnies and was thinking about how we used to play with your pet bunny.’ The second message read, ‘Tell your Mom I sometimes pick up the bible she gave me and I do read it.’

What a moment. It was the truth that I tend to ignore, or find myself too busy to pay attention to: We affect the youth around us, whether the kids are in our life for three years or a single day.

I had forgotten about the brief conversations I had with this girl about faith, the importance of self-respect when dating guys, and so on. I definitely forgot that I handed her a bible one night.

My daughter reading the tweet made me think of the countless afternoons my kitchen is piled in with half the lacrosse team or field hockey team, coming over for quick one-hour snack and drink visits in between school ending and the 5pm games starting. While I expend effort to make sure the food is good and the music is on (these are high schoolers after all!), I am reminded that even the briefest words, the quick compliments, and gosh, sometimes just a smile is a gift to a teenager.

During the birthday parties, sleepovers, study groups and any other time kids are around the house, I will remember that God put these lives in my path. Even for those who might be in our family for a very short season, I must intentionally look at them, hear them and lift them up.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…1 Thess 5:11

The TV Show The Middle is Funny. Everything Else “Middle”… Not So Much.

Middle

Sure we all like the show The Middle.    But I like little else involving “The Middle”. How about you?

Middle Age is surprisingly everything everyone older than me said it was. There really are aches and pains when you wake up in the morning. You really do notice that your skin is not what it used to be. I haven’t read, I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman, but the title makes me say, Amen Sister!

Middle of The Road or Middle Ground is not something I like to take. Although my job as a college teacher (and being a parent) forces me to accept and examine the “gray” areas of life, I like black and white. Right and wrong. I’m a rule-follower and life just seems easier when I choose one or the other. However, Middle of The Road is occasionally necessary.

The Middle of My Long-Gone Waist Line is flab and this makes me mad! I already don’t eat all the M&M’s and potato chips that I really want to, and I exercise a few times a week, and I STILL have a ridiculously soggy, mom-of-3-kids middle!

The Middle School Years… ahhhhh!!  Well, if we’re being Mommy-mushy, there are certainly priceless, beautiful moments between 6th and 8th grade. Lots of really nice days and fun events are now part of our family memories, but often, those years were challenging as I painstakingly sorted through daily questions, tears, and frustrations. Can we just camp on the Middle School years for a minute?

The Middle School Gym Class is where many girls decide that messing up their hair is so not worth actually trying to compete and win a game.

The Middle School Hallway is where walking to your locker feels like you’re being bounced through the center of a pin ball arcade game.

Middle School Staff sometimes forgets that the emotional maturity gap between a first-born 6th grader and a last-born 8th grader is the width of the Grand Canyon. Yet, we crunch them altogether and expect the 6th graders to feel welcome and safe. Some 11 year olds haven’t been raised on Black Ops and Mortal Kombat. If you’ve read my blog awhile, you’ll remember Desensitize My Kids?! This leads me to…

Middle School Assemblies. Sometimes, good intentions are ill-timed or go too far. Kids are ready for outside world information at very different ages. If they didn’t know prior to the assemblies, these events have taught kids where the best drug dealers can be found, how to roll, inject, snort and hide drugs. They introduced alcohol frozen pops and how to hide alcohol in your flip flops. Perhaps this information would be better suited for the parent assemblies in the younger grades. The Rachel’s Challenge assembly was much too early for my kids. My daughter’s eyes blazed at me that afternoon, “How can you EVER send me back to school?  Did YOU know that kids get shot at school?!” At 11 years old, the precious lesson from Rachel’s life which was well intended by Middle School administration, was buried by guns and mental images of terrified children. After that, I requested my children not attend any assemblies without a note or call home first regarding its content.

The Middle School Cafeteria is where lunchboxes stop being cool. Thankfully, my 9th grader still carries hers at the high school!  

The Middle School Church. Disclaimer: I delicately, respectfully and generally speak only of my small-world experiences!  We are in the Northeast and we can’t boast truly Christ-centered churches “on every corner”, as my southern friends have. Getting youth to come on a regular basis to church is challenging. That said, the desire for my kids to experience a thriving youth group led me a few years ago to visit several church kids programs, and similar organized events.  What I discovered was between nursery and 5th grade, the spiritual growth opportunities were plentiful. At 13, the kids are sometimes dropped off the edge of a spiritual cliff.

When kids are 0-12, they have little say about whether or not they’re going to church with Mom and Dad. When kids are 13-18, they can make dental surgery preferable to Sunday mornings.  Yet, at 0-12, my kids had more VBS, Sunday morning theatre shows, holiday events, and spiritually-driven girls and boys programming in one year than they’ve ever had as middle teens.

When they are little, we smile into those cherub faces saying, “God loves you!”  At 15, we shy away from telling them they are accepted and loved, often because their serious faces scare us off!  Leaving them alone just makes it easier for them to leave. The book, Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it, claims that approximately 90% of kids leave church in the middle teen years.

Not to mention that the best-intended parents who say church will come before sports when their kids are 5, find it terribly difficult not to break that family rule when the kids are 15 (myself included). When they do get to church, there needs to be connection. Important to note: we can be in the best spiritual environment possible and kids will still make their own choices-I know that. I’m also deeply grateful for the godly people who devote their time to the often thankless job of serving our youth at churches across this nation.

The Middle Teens: Aren’t Always “Cute”. Remember when your little ones did something mischievous or blurted out “no!!” to you? Their cuteness saved them.  During the middle teens, their moodiness and complaining is just ugly.

The Middle Teens: Puberty.  My son turned into a completely different species. Did you read, Moms of Teen Boys Be Encouraged?

Kids in the Middle of a divorce turn into adults who still identify themselves as such. Thankfully, there are programs, such as Kids in the Middle, Children in the Middle, and Divorce Care, which help children navigate the “two homes” “four parents”, etc., but living it out as a child is tough, no matter how well parents think their kids are taking it. Some interesting information is located in the book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.

The Middle of the Night. Or should I say 2am?  Anyone have the occasional insomnia? Just because I know it’s always “live”, QVC keeps me company!

The Middle Finger. ‘Nuff said.

The Middle Class and being Middle Child are up for debate! Have I bummed you out or can you relate? The Middle is not always great, so I keep striving for better. Because I hate ending anything on a downer, some good things about The Middle? Middle America! Malcom in the Middle! (I never saw it, but I hear it’s good). The Middle of an Oreo…:) Oreos

3 Teenagers with 97 Practices and 68 Games – In 60 days.

MMy girls each play one fall sport and my son plays two. Since he has a lighter ice hockey schedule this year, he joined Varsity soccer as a second sport. The above title does not include Saturday morning recreational soccer games for my oldest two. And, lest you judge us as “that family”…you know, “the ones who have their kids in too much”…read on.

When my youngest was in the 5th grade, I met a fellow Mom in the school hallway who was completely frazzled. Like me, she had 3 children, but 2 of hers were well into the high school years. She told me she had driven back and forth to the school 17 times in two days. I thought she was exaggerating. Breathlessly, she listed her kids’ varying sports schedules, after school clubs, homecoming meetings, etc. etc. etc.  When she finished, I laughed and said, “Wow, you need a break with a cup of tea!”  She looked at me like I was crazy to think she’d have the time. Me? I sat around the kitchen island with my kids that afternoon, enjoying after-school cookies and milk, while leisurely hearing all the details of their day.

Knowing me back then (before my kids were teenagers and I smugly believed that my family was the most harmonious of all), I probably judged her for not having enough family dinners and for putting her kids into too many activities.

Fast forward 4 years.

As of Wednesday, all 3 of my children are in high school. Even though school just began for us, sports started in August and I have a well-worn path between my house and the school campus!

There was a time when I foolishly believed that kids belong at home the majority of the time and anything other than one outside interest was too much. Honestly, I fought for that life until I watched my twins become teenagers, and they grew into a new breed of humans right before my eyes. Yes, they needed more than home.

The school, travel, and recreational sports provide my teens with a sense of belonging. The physical exertion is excellent for their bodies and minds. The research I did to disprove their need for more than Mom 😉 showed that teen sports involvement elevated overall confidence, and monumentally reduced the amount of drug and alcohol use, and sexual promiscuity among teens.

Do sports cure all ills? Of course not. But music, athletics, and any other outside interest a child willingly pursues grows them personally and sometimes, professionally.

In summary, my daughter signed me up to host the first Varsity soccer team pasta dinner the night before school started. Just when I was feeling rather proud of myself for organizing our 60-day insane schedule and a dinner for 18 girls, one of the Dad’s picking up his daughter mentioned how busy they were. I nodded, thinking about our 97 practices. He added, “I don’t know if my daughter told you, but she’s the oldest of six kids. We’re working hard to stay on schedule.”

Hmmmm. Six kids? Well, now I just feel less amazing! God bless us all as we drive to countless fields and rinks, supporting our children. Someday when they are all in college, these will be our autumn memories!