Why Teens Terrorize Us

Lisa writes: I have a teen in my house who is leaving in a few short weeks. Despite the fact that I know that it is only a matter of days until I will bemoan his departure, I am still surprisingly adept at flying into a rage at him. His need to assert his newly adult self and my need to control what happens in my home are too often on a collision course. Despite our deep and abiding love for them, teens continue to terrorize us, creating the type of stress that scientists have now begun to measure.

teenager, teen boy

One day your young person borrows your car, drives to a summer job and spends the day as an income-earning citizen fully capable of responsible employment. That very afternoon, your kitchen is trashed, there are dirty clothes carpeting the floor, and a well-established curfew has been dispensed with like it wasn’t even there. Your authority has been trampled. Your gas tank and refrigerator are empty, every inch of your car teems with discarded Gatorade bottles, beef jerky wrappers and trash that is simply beyond identification.

You remind yourself that this is what teens are like, alternately capable young adults and selfish self-involved children. You recall that it is the age, that they do not stay like this. If there are older children you throw your mind back to their transformation and then you turn around, willing yourself to be calm, and shriek, “WTF, that is the last time you borrow my car.”

I am alternately trying to figure out how to say goodbye to a child I love beyond reason and so apoplectic I cannot even speak to him. The seesaw that is raising a teen is a source of much stress. Some of it is undoubtedly my fault (or any parent’s fault) as we lurch around and grapple for steady ground as our children travel the rocky road to adulthood.

It is not me, it is the facts.

For any parent who thought the teen years were stressful, research has recently arrived to say just how right you were. A poll released this week by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio found that fully one-third of those adults living with one or more teens had experienced a great deal of stress in the previous month.

In the NPR broadcast highlighting this study and the trouble of living with teens, one mother explained, “I love this child more than I love myself, and I know what’s around the corner and I’m trying to tell him and he’s just ignoring me, and I really can’t say or do anything about it. I just have to let him experience it and hope and pray that it’s not a life-changing mistake.”

She continued,”Everything I demanded, he fought back. Advice? He didn’t need it. Conversation? He didn’t want it. It was hands down the toughest journey of my life so far….”

Dealing with Terrible Teens

In order to deal with their stress, Clinical psychologist David Palmiter suggests parents seek support from other parents, that they share concerns and decisions. Parents, dealing with their own teens can provide us with camaraderie, encouragement and constructive solutions. Sites like Grown and Flown can be a forum for just that kind of conversation about the Trouble with Teens!

It’s tough to retain your equanimity when teens lash out but University of Virginia Professor of Education and psychologist Peter Sheras urges parents to do otherwise. “What all this research really says to parents is, ‘Don’t freak out,’” Sheras says. “What you are experiencing, lots of other parents experience, too, so don’t take it personally when your child says, ‘I really hate you, Mom.’”

Teens terrorize us because:

They are neither one thing nor another. They are capable of being sane mature adults and petulant children, in the very same conversation. They have the bodies of grown ups and the emotional range of toddlers.

They are risk seeking missiles whose favorite phrase is “I got this” when it is patently clear that they’ve got nothing. Our protective urge is undiminished but our ability to assure their safety is vastly reduced. This alone can result in sky-high stress.

They routinely overestimate their competence in dealing with adult matters. Even in the face of bad outcomes teens can struggle to see either their fault or how they could have done things differently. As parents with a lifetime of experience, this is painful to watch.

They inhabit a world of very real consequences. Their missteps can have profound effects on their future (and on others) yet they struggle to understand the gravity of their attitudes and actions.

They live on an emotional rollercoaster and as Lisa Belkin pointed out, they want us to ride it with them. She so aptly explains that we do not need to climb aboard with them (although it takes parents a while to learn this) but this still means that there is a fairground ride operating in our homes.

It all happens so quickly and we can barely catch our breath. At age 14 only 13% of teens had used alcohol in the previous month by age 18 that number is 41%. Similarly before age 15, 16% of teens have had sex and four years later that number is 71%. By the time the leave for college 54% of kids have been sexting.  Much is changing in their lives, experiences and perspectives and as parents we can struggle to keep up.

It is just hard dealing with anyone, at any age, who already knows everything. This impenetrable fortress of knowledge is just one more battle ground in the fight between experience and the hubris of youth.

Adolescents confuse understanding with agreement.They think saying so, makes it so, according to Sheras, “They think if they explain something to you adequately, you will agree with them. So when parents say, ‘I’m not going to let you do that,’ adolescents almost universally say, ‘You don’t understand.’”

The influence of their peers outweighs ours. It is excruciating when you child values the insight of a peer (a mere child) whom he may have known for weeks or days, over the person who loves him the most and has his interest at heart (and BTW is an adult). It is hard not to wonder where their critical thinking has gone.

The balance has shifted. When our kids were small and we were unhappy with them or disciplined them, they got angry or contrite but they were not indifferent. If, in doing our jobs as parents of teens we make them unhappy, they may now withdraw. Punishing our kids always felt bad, but the silent treatment or their physical retreat makes it even worse.

I have long subscribed the U shape theory of parenting which suggests that the most challenging days are at the beginning and the end and that the sweet spot of parenting lies in the middle. I once told my brother that I would do a deal with the devil if my then 6, 9 and 10 year olds could stay little forever. The devil wasn’t buying and my kids became teens.



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11 Ways to Reclaim a Relaxing Summer

Lisa and Jennifer Breheny Wallace, together, write: Summers start with the best intentions. We fantasize about long, peaceful days at the beach building sand castles with our toddlers or playing tennis with our teens. Casting off a busy school year, we’re excited to finally relax the rules. Yes to the ice cream cones with insanely sugary toppings just before bedtime (heck, what bedtime?). Yes to the car keys (so what if it’s three late nights in a row?). Breakfast brownies? Why not? Another TV show? Sure, go ahead. It’s summer vacation, right?

beach vacation, little girl playing at the beach

Then, in Week Three, reality sets in: the bedtime routine now takes twice as long, everything has become a negotiation, and those idyllic days at the beach — well, they’ve become the setting of the sunscreen wars. How did these relaxing summer days get so… stressful?

Whether your kids are having a throwback 1970s summer, a Free-Range or a Hovering Helicopter summer, beware of the ever-tempting “summer slide.” The summer slide is the parenting equivalent of the “summer brain drain,” where what we know as parents slides, well, down the drain. In an effort to keep our summer fantasy alive, we sometimes bend our rules just a little too much and then suddenly… SNAP.

Before things get totally out of control, let’s get back to the basics, kindergarten-style — and start digging our way out of this sand pit to avoid getting buried alive. It’s worth reminding ourselves that summer is a break from routine, after all, not a break from parenting. Here are 11 things you can do now to reclaim your relaxing summer:

1. Stop with all the choices.

Teachers offer “choice” in small doses. They don’t offer a range of snacks and they don’t ask kids if they’d rather go to art class or gym class. Giving too many choices gives up too much control, and teachers know to do that sparingly.

2. Go ahead, disappoint.

You-Get-What-You-Get-And-You-Don’t-Get-Upset. Don’t be afraid to disappoint. Resilience, learning how to bounce back, is a skill that can be taught, but not if we’re smoothing over every conflict just to avoid a momentary tantrum or mommy guilt. We need to learn to live with the short-term discomfort and concentrate on the long-term gain.

3. Sloooow down.

Seeds grow slowly; chicks hatch when they are ready; important things take time. Children and teens don’t understand time — they want what they want when they want it. We too often react by jumping on their timeline. When we contort ourselves to suit their whims, we not only upend our lives, we give away the opportunity to teach them about patience.

4. Stop asking permission, OK?

“Mommy just has to run this quick errand, OK?” Teachers don’t ask permission. Ending declarative sentences with question marks is giving power to a little person who doesn’t actually want it. What children want is the security of limits and parents who know when to say no, even in the summer.

5. Let them clean up.

Overscheduled children don’t have time to clean their rooms or do their chores. Teens with summer jobs and SAT prep are just too busy to pick up their clothes off the floor. In school, if you haven’t cleaned up your mess, then you cannot move on to your next activity. By failing to insist upon this at home, we let our kids control the disorder in our houses and in our lives.

6. Revisit Oz.

The single most exciting thing that happens in kindergarten is that children take their first steps on the way to reading — starting on a yellow brick road that leads to a vast magical world they can now visit on their own. And then we and our kids get busy and forget about the Emerald City because life is too rushed and there is already too much reading assigned at school. Take back Oz; remember how lucky our kids felt when they first decoded the printed page.

7. Circle time.

It’s important to ask our kids about their day, every day. Create your own version of “circle time” at home. Tell the kids about your day, your challenges and triumphs, and ask them about theirs. This becomes even more important with teens, who will know that sharing what they are up to with their parents is just part of the deal.

8. Teachers, not friends or fairy godmothers.

When we try to be our child’s friend, we not only cede authority, we actually cheat them out of a more important relationship. We are there to teach and love and guide, not to grant their every wish.

9. Rest time.

Teachers know the importance of rest. Regular and adequate sleep is essential for kids at every age. Even tweens and teens should have a regular bedtime right up through high school. The end of summer should not be like a bad bout of jet lag, with no one able to get to sleep at night or up in the morning.

dunes, beach, ocean

10. Mind their manners.

Manners never stop mattering. As parents, we all too often rush, cut corners, forget to be as polite as we could and let our kids get away with the glib manners of the 21st century. Nothing has changed; manners are still magical and it is within our power to teach them.

11. Summer doesn’t equal spoiling.

At every age, kids think getting everything they want will make them happy, and it will be a very long time before they learn this isn’t true. We know the truth, and if we don’t teach this lesson early and often, the unbridled greed inspired by media can soon overwhelm our family’s true values. Days at the beach are a treat. A family vacation is something special. Summer doesn’t have to equal spoiling. Summer is just a different season, not a different childhood. It can be so easy to confuse the two.

Jennifer Breheny Wallace is a freelance writer with three small children living in New York City. We are grateful for her collaboration.

Photo Credit: TB Kilman

 



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Why Good Parenting Calls For Cheap Scare Tactics

Becky Blades, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: “Dirty clothes shouldn’t be scary,” said a person who has not opened the door to a 17-year-old’s bedroom room or shared a car with an open gym bag. Or a person who has not sent a laundry-challenged 18-year-old out into the world.

Becky Blades, Laundry or Die

Releasing my daughter into society without being sure she would actually do her laundry was a terrifying moment in my empty nesting transition, and I met it the way I meet most scary parenting encounters – with frantic, jerking shrieks of foreboding and emotional threats: “Your life will be out of control! No one will live with you! No one will love you!…Did I not make myself clear? No wire hangars!”

Being afraid my daughter did not know how to take care of herself and her things turned me into Mommy Dearest; I displaced aggression and spent way too much time passing judgment on her closet. But in the end, though it wasn’t pretty, sending her to college was therapeutic for me. It was the crescendo of a decade and a half of using fear as a parenting tool, and it was the leg of my mom journey that sent me into serious self-analysis.

One morning sitting at my journal, I wondered to myself if my two daughters, then 17 and 15, knew the difference between a mother’s warnings and real risk. Like generations of mothers before me, I had used predictions and exaggerations to make points, I had inflated and fabricated scenarios and lorded threats just to make sure I was heard. I always felt these tactics were cop-outs, that a better mom than I would not need to resort to such things.

As I journaled for days, through years of memories, I realized that stirring up a little fear was a big part of my job description. I remembered, for example, that my children had grown up in a much safer neighborhood than I had. They didn’t need to be afraid to walk to school, or to hang out at the neighborhood shopping center. But living in that safe, shiny “bubble” we had worked so hard to create for them had created its own risks. They were dangerously trusting, and truth be told, they didn’t know what door locks were actually for.

“Don’t talk to strangers” were not serious words in suburban la la land.  In fact, the phrase “stranger danger” would set our humor-seeking household doubling over in laughter when properly placed in a conversation.

That’s the funny thing about fear. It’s funny. Until it’s not.

And it’s a parent’s job to clarify the difference. It was my job to make sure my eight-year-old got to enjoy life with enough security to laugh at paranoid clichés like “stranger danger” and also to assure those same words will send a chill down her spine at age 18 when a middle-aged man gets a little too friendly on a deserted subway platform.

That’s why my daughter’s last year at home was so frightful for me. I scrutinized my work and wondered if I’d covered the right material. She was terrified of making a low SAT score but undaunted by the prospect of running out of clean underwear. She did not know that having a laundry routine would save her from the free-floating overwhelm that would endanger her very peace of mind and turn already busy days into frantic clothing searches.

After a year of self-inflicted note making, I bid adieu to my daughter with an e-mail. Subject line: Do your laundry or you’ll die alone. Attached were 200+ tidbits of laundry advice, financial lectures and life lessons that I was afraid she might not know.

It got her attention. She read it all. Not because she was afraid of dying alone, but because she was afraid of the parental financial repercussions if she ignored me. (Those threats have not been veiled in the least.)

Come to find out, the things I’m afraid of for my daughter are things she is afraid of, too. As she got to know other young women at college, she reported that I am by no means the most dramatic or fear-wielding mom alive. Other moms fret and stalk and agonize and warn their daughters with much more flair than I.

I should have remembered this comforting fact from my own coming of age: as we step out on our own, women parent one another with the lessons they learned at home. The ones that make it through the noise are the lessons that are most repeated in mom’s most intense voice.

So . . . sorry, not sorry.

If my two daughters aren’t a little bit afraid of the sound of my ring tone between the ages of 15 and 18, shame on me. If my 18-year-old isn’t wary walking through campus after dark, I didn’t do my job. If my 21-year-old isn’t a little freaked out when a guy on a second date won’t take her home when she asks, I’ve missed a conversation.

Parents of sons likely have an entirely different list of fears and parenting imperatives. I hope that in addition to worrying about their sons’ safety, they are terrified of their sons being cavalier with girls’ hearts and bodies. I can think of no stronger deterrent for a well-raised young man than the look on his mother’s face when she learns of her son’s shoddy behavior.

The only thing we have to fear is NOT fear itself – it is losing fear as a parenting tool. But I’m not afraid. I’m betting that just like the laundry, creatively applied scare tactics will always be part of the job that never ends.

Do Your Laundry, Becky Blades

About Becky Blades

Becky Blades is author and illustrator of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, a wise, witty collection of counsel for women of all ages.

She lives in Kansas City with her husband of 30 years and her Maytag front load washing machine.

Check out Becky’s web site, LaundryorDie, and her blog, startistry. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest at: LaundryorDie.com

 



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How Millennials are Killing It in the Workplace

Lisa writes (originally in Forbes): Last Spring my college son asked me to proofread his resume and critique his cover letter. I scanned his resume but told him I had no idea how to help him with a cover letter. He pointed to my years of experience in writing cover letters, and still I balked.

Here is the problem. My son was applying for jobs that not only did not exist when I was in high school, but they did not exist when he was in high school. These are companies that measure their tenure in months, rather than years. Their dress codes are not established, their cultures are fluid and there is no clear career path. For parents who have mortgages, tuition payments and IRAs in mind, this can be a scary, or at least unsettling thing. But it shouldn’t be.

Bellhops When I finished school, the holy grail of employment was a solid job at a good company. Nothing looked more enticing than to be interviewed by people who had been with “the firm” their entire career. When I met the very elderly male partners who ran the consulting firm that I first worked for, it seemed like a dream come true: lifelong employment security coupled with financial success.

I put on my little blue skirt suit, banished all original thought and prepared to work grueling hours for…well, the sake of working grueling hours.

But college-educated millennials see the world differently. In fact they see a different world all together. Instead of looking for rigid corporate structures, millennials are seeking opportunity. Almost two-thirds of them would like to start their own company. They don’t want to go to work at a great company — they want to create one. While much has been written about the perceived laziness of the youngest generations of adults, it is clear they are willing to think and act differently in their approach to employment. In that respect they have much to teach their parents. Here are some of the lessons boomers could learn.

Solve an old problem.

Start-up success stories, be they Open Table or Wikipedia, give us a better, faster, far more comprehensive way to do something we have always done. They found a market that was untouched by technology (think about the Encyclopedia Britannia sitting on your shelf) and through the magic of the internet made us forget the way we once did things.

In an attempt to understand those just out of college a bit better, I spoke to Cameron Doody of Bellhops. He and his partner Stephen Vlahos have started a new moving service. College graduates in 2008, both men went to work for banks assuming that security would lead to fulfillment. Soon the pair, still in their early 20s, felt they were punching the clock, going through the motions but not engaged with their work. Away for a weekend together they vowed to stay up all night, or until they had a good business idea, whichever came first.

Bellhops

Doody says that one-third of all people in their 20s move in any given year. They move in and out of dorms and apartments within short distances and have only a moderate number of belongings. Fifty million Americans are expected to move this year — 30 million of them locally. The most compelling statistic? Three-quarters of these are ‘do-it-yourselfers’, meaning 22 million local moves are manageable enough for non-professional ‘movers‘.

They want a cheap, reliable moving service that they can arrange, without talking on the phone. Old problem, new solution. Thus Bellhops, a short-haul moving service, was born. College kids do the work; prices are prearranged. The business started in one city as a dorm-moving service. It now has 8,000 movers and takes on small moves in 130 cities and 42 states.

Do something different.

If you are working with someone who wants to be the next [fill in the blank] you might as well go to work at [fill in the blank]. Bellhops isn’t trying to be one of the big national moving services with their giant fleet of trucks, large salaried staff and “call for a quote” business model. They are not looking to empty the family home and carry the contents across the country. Rather they have jumped into a disorganized, splintered market of small local movers that make up the short-haul, small move market between apartments, dorms and storage facilities.

With just an app and a smart phone, customers can arrange their move, get a price based on an established hourly rate and know that college kids with a U-Haul will show up at the specified location. Bellhops is trying to be the next Bellhops — establishing their own business model and standards for customer service and success.

Bellhops

Empower employees.

Boomers learned that people work best when they are surrounded by those who inspire and motivate them. Yet traditional organizations still give employees very little control over their schedule and environment. Bellhops is staffed by students, so flexibility in scheduling is essential. Like Uber (taxi dispatchers) or Lyft (for ride sharing), when a job comes available, Bellhops adjacent to the job are pinged on their smartphones to claim the gig on a first-come basis. This means that the client always gets someone who is eager for the job.

Hang up the phone.

There is nothing millennials like less than having to talk on their phones with a customer service representative. They would rather be able to order what they want, with a quick response, great service and recourse using only a keypad. Customer focus is a great watchword, but so many established companies have a hard time switching to this new paradigm. Anyone who has ever tried to get a cable company on the telephone knows this frustration.

New companies bake customer service into every transaction. Customers do not need to pick up the phone and complain (something companies count on as a deterrent) or fill out a lengthy and off-putting survey after the fact.

When clients book their move with Bellhops they are emailed the photo, email address, and a short bio of their movers. They now have name and a face — not just an 800 number — to deal with when plans or circumstances change. The internal system reminds the Bellhops to call their clients to confirm moving details, the day before and the day of the move. If a Bellhop fails to show up for a job (something that happens less than 1% of the time), every Bellhop in the area gets an immediate text asking them to pick up the slack. Doody says that within an hour a Bellhop is on site.

Bellhops

Eliminate bosses.

I entered the workforce believing that hard work, long hours and paying my dues was the formula for becoming the boss, for claiming control of my employment destiny. Millennials, partly because many are still free of the burdens of home and family, crave flexibility and the option to determine their own work schedule. Almost half of them would choose setting their own schedule over additional income.

At Bellhops, Doody has found that by letting movers select their jobs themselves, rather than being assigned to them, the company has an almost zero no-show rate. His workers choose jobs as they arise and indicate whether they want to play a leading or secondary role in the assignment. If they want to be the boss or “Captain,” they sign up for that role. If they want to be the “wingman,” they tick that box. By self-assigning their own workload and hours, everyone is a boss. The motto of Bellhops COO, Matt Patterson: “Bellhops are entrepreneurs in their own rights. By empowering our Bellhops to be their own boss, there’s a natural tendency to really impress and provide the same excellent customer service that a company owner would provide.”

This built-in flexibility, although not a model that would work in every environment, addresses many of the work-life balance problems that boomers have struggled with for a generation.

Create new culture carriers.

While boomers might have dreamed of a long career with a thriving company, millennials are looking for a thriving career at any number of companies. The average millennial will stay in a job a little over two years. Company cultures were once codified with handbooks, propagated through the homogeneity of their workforces and reinforced on company retreats. The rapid movement of employees makes this much more difficult. Social media, internal communications, virtual events and regular personal contact from those in charge will be the new culture carriers.

Little things make a big difference.

My son was lucky enough to get a job at a start-up and on Fridays he goes into work a bit later. He doesn’t mind that the delayed start means staying at the office later that evening. Everyone loves sleeping just a bit later one summer morning a week, he reminded me.

When boomers talked about job perks, they were generally thinking of health insurance and extra days off. Millennial employers are far more creative, offering job rotations, on-site chefs, yoga classes, foosball tables (pictured on almost every job site) and of course the chance to watch the World Cup in the office on a big-screen TV.



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Top Twelve Dorm Shopping Mistakes

Mary Dell writes (with readers comments added below): With high school graduation behind us, Lisa and I are turning our focus to the day we will drop our youngest kids off at their freshmen dorms. Though we prefer to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the inevitable, it is time to get them ready for the tiny new living spaces that will be their homes away from home. Five years ago, we were rookie moms and made our share of rookie mistakes. Frankly, we bought a lot of crap. This time, with experience on our side, we hope to give you some thoughts on how to approach what might be your last back-to-school shopping trip….in life. trash cans

1. NOT a School Supply List

My daughter’s college mailed a “What to Bring” list with seven categories and 82 separate items. Do not treat this like the school supply lists from your child’s elementary school where, scavenger hunt-style, we dutifully checked off each item while wheeling a cart through Staples. Instead, concentrate on basic needs. Anything and everything else can be ordered later online.

2. Dorms are Miniscule

Keep this mantra in mind…..Less is More, Less is More. Dorm rooms are tiny and spaces, shared. There is minimal room for the necessities and no room for extras. Forget oversize.

3. Kids are Pigs

Ever seen a photo of a lived-in college room? Appalled? We are, too. The dorm room you help your kid set up will begin to deteriorate the moment you wave your tearful goodbye. In the next nine months, your son or daughter will welcome friends into that room where every surface will be treated as a chair. Some of the “dorm room essentials” you eagerly purchased in July will be stuffed in corners, unopened and collecting dust until they are rediscovered in May. College Dorm

4. The Container Store Savings

Everything about college is expensive, and that includes dorm shopping so look for some great shopping deals. If you live near one of 50 Container Stores staging a College Savings Event, July 13-27, your son or daughter can attend with a 20% off coupon in hand. Click on The Container Store Facebook events page for more info about each location and a downloadable coupon. Some stores will be having special evenings exclusively for collegiate shoppers with tote bags for early arrivers, prizes, music and water and snacks from Whole Foods. There will be a set up for “selfies” and in-store specialists waiting to help.

5. Underbed Space? You Have No Clue

This is the single biggest question mark that your kid may not know the answer to until move in day. So those bed risers you were convinced would be perfect? They don’t work with bunk beds and are unnecessary with many elevated beds. Resist the urge to plan for this space until you know the dimensions.

6. Be Careful with Meds

This is one area where over buying is dangerous. Whenever our teenagers were sick, we knew which analgesic, decongestant, or antihistamine to dole out. We have decades of experience in understanding how over the-counter medicines should be taken. Our kids do not and, if we send them off to college with all the meds and none of the wisdom, it is very easy for them to over medicate as they battle their first cold while trying to finish a paper and study for a test. So prescription meds, band aids, a thermometer, and Neosporin – yes. But leave out multiple meds that have the same active ingredients. This is on the advice of none other than Dr. Travis Stork of the The Doctors so take it from him if not from us! (BTW, Target will give send you a free first aid kit bag if you purchase three items like band aids or headache remedies.) Dr. Travis Stork, The Doctors

7. Don’t Buy Crap

Even the most careful kid will be hard pressed to keep their college possessions in good shape as they move in and out of dorm rooms and college apartments for the next four years. Fragile and dainty will become ripped up and broken. Whatever goes in your shopping cart must be judged for durability. Put it back on the shelf if it doesn’t pass muster.

8. Flying or Driving?

There is a fork in the road here and you already know which path you will take with your freshman kid. If you are flying, it will be impossible to bring much more than your child’s clothes, electronics, x-long sheets/comforter and prescription meds. Seek out the “click and pick up” services from The Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target. If you are driving your kid, you may still want to use this service and have a far more comfortable ride.

9. No Room for Luggage

As adults, we are accustomed to traveling with luggage but we also have closets wherever we land. College kids have minimal storage space, so consider the collapsible duffel bag that is hanging around in your basement as the perfect piece of luggage. When our son began to drive himself back and forth to school, he used garbage bags for luggage which meant he had a starter pack for the trash can when he arrived. college move-in day

10. One Pillow is Not Enough

Your kid’s dorm bed will function as bedroom/living room/study and the pillow he sleeps on will not be enough to lean back onto as he studies. Bring a second bed pillow, a large square pillow in a sham, or a backrest pillow to cushion the hard wood or wall.

11. Power Struggle

Your kid will travel to college with a phone, maybe an iPod, a computer, possibly a printer or a lamp, and, if the dorm is not air-conditioned, a fan. Girls will also throw into their bags a blow dryer and hair straightener. All of this translates into a serious need for extra plugs. Do not forget a power strip with surge protection on a long cord. Some of these come with built-in USB port chargers, which can be very handy.

12. Eating not Cooking

A mini-fridge is a real necessity and the single piece of equipment that roommates need to discuss before move-in day. There is space for only one so rent or buy, decide to share the cost or someone can own outright. Plan on helping your son or daughter get this in-house before you turn off on the highway back home. The summer before my eldest went to college, I had a powerful nesting urge, much like I did 18 years before when I prepared for his nursery. I poured over every dorm room essential, checklist and must haves at every store with a dorm display. This time my approach is completely different. I will buy two sets of x-long sheets, my daughter will pick out a comforter in a color that she loves. We have an egg crate mattress topper to add to the slim pad that is supplied by the school. She will pack her clothes, shoes and electronics. Fortunately, she knows the dimensions of the under bed space in her dorm room so we will buy heavy plastic storage drawers to fit. They will double as luggage for our drive. She will bring a poster for the wall with photos of friends, family and her dog. We know where the closest CVS is for stocking up on the generic supplies. The stores all have college lists, but view them with a discriminating eye. Step stools? Paper towel holders? Lots of extra plastic boxes? Think twice.

Here is what will NOT make the cut:

  • Alarm clock – there is an app for that.
  • Furniture – there is no space for a futon or side table or anything decorative.
  • Kitchen – no toasters or blenders, no dishes, cups or silverware that must be washed after use.
  • Media storage – no need for CDs or DVDs, all media comes through her laptop.
  • Pictures in frames – ditto, just flip open the laptop.
  • Plants – guaranteed to die.
  • Cleaning supplies – in our dreams, sadly, college kids don’t clean, so no vacuum, no mop
  • Desk Lamp – worth checking first if it is needed. Many rooms have adequate overhead light and computers are backlit.
  • Composition books, binders, dividers – some of these have gone the way of the dinosaur. Let your kid start class and figure out his own study methods. Many kids prefer to take notes online and have far fewer paper needs than they did in high school. Don’t rush to waste money on a bunch of dead trees.
  • Desk chair – be very careful here, most college provide a chair and you will just end up driving it back home.
  • Printer – might also be an enormous waste of money. Many schools have networked printers available to students and assignment are often turned in online. Desks do not have much room and the floor is a filthy place for an expensive piece of electronic equipment.

Well worth considering:

  • Shoe racks for the closet floor or hanging over the closet door. Shoe space is very limited and this creates a bit more.
  • Closet storage maximizers that hang from the closet bar provide a great place to put sweaters, sweatshirts or any bulky items.
  • Fan if the weather/air conditioning suggest the need for it. Compact fans can do a big job in steamy dorm rooms, no need to buy a big one.
  • Hooks that tape to the wall are handy for jackets, towels or jewelry to keep thing (wishful) off the floor.
  • Small rugs are worth considering but be wary this may not get vacuumed all year. Small throw rugs that can go into the washing machine might work best.
  • Shower caddy – first check what the bathroom situation is. If your child is using a large communal bathroom at the end of the hall, this might be a necessity. If the bathroom is close at hand and shared by few, a waste of money.
  • Mattress pad and bed bug protector, money well spent!
  • Trash can? Some rooms come equipped, others do not, worth checking first.
  • Is your child a coffee/tea drinker? A small electric kettle or the mini Keurig might be a big money saver if they are used to a couple of daily cups of caffeine.
  • Towels – consider monograming or a distinctive color.  Basic white are too easy to mistake for anther’s towels.

One final thought about move in day. It will be crowded, it will be hot, and there will be lousy parking. You child will come face to face with her new roommate for the first time and you will also shake hands with your counterparts. Help her make up her bed and pull the sheets snug. Drive her to the nearest store for shampoo and her favorite body wash. Help her stock the mini fridge.

Finally, slip her a letter  telling her how proud you are of her and how this day is one you  know she worked hard to achieve. Tell her you love her. Hug her tight and know that it is time for her to take it from here.

And from our readers:

From our own Carpool Goddess: Swap out warm weather for cool weather clothes when they come home during the holiday breaks, as space is limited. Linda has some great Get Ready for College Suggestions HERE.

Jill Rutherford Hall:  Dorm rooms have their own special smell.  A few of those odor absorbing jars would not go amiss! Disposable cleaning wipes may the the only thing they use.

Wendy Roever Nelson from My Kids College Choice: A dry erase board is a great to do list mounted on the wall

Theresa DePaepe: A small tool kit is very handy, will be in demand among dorm mates and they now come in nice colors for graduation gifts

Cindy Redd: Look for those pop-up air fresheners to sit on the desk

Sally Neely Nix: 3M strips for mounting pictures on the walls where nails are forbidden.

 

Dorm shopping



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That Perfect Letter

Lisa writes: You know those wonderful, heartfelt letters that moms slip into their kid’s camp bags or college duffels, the ones with wisdom and love that make lifetime momentos? Yeah, well, I have never written one of those. Everytime I hear of a wonderful parent who takes the time and care to compose such a missive to their college kid,  I beat myself up for a few moments as a derelict parent. And then promise myself, next time.

Love stamp And as I am fairly certain in the rush to get my third son off to college I will once again fail to write that perfect letter, here is what I might have said, if I could get my act together.

College is a Privilege

Sure, I expected you to go and, in turn, you expected nothing less from yourself. But this in no way takes away from the fact that spending four years learning, growing and focused almost exclusively on yourself is a gift like none other. Before you set foot on campus think through the sweep of human history and try to guess how many people were given this opportunity. Only after you have acknowledged just how rare and special this gift is, will I help move you into your dorm.

Best Four Years of Your Life

You have heard adults say it a hundred times and it may be true, but it is not automatically so. Imbibe deeply of all that a University has to offer. Heap your plate with its academic, athletic, cultural and social offerings. Never again will life mix youth, freedom, opportunity and resources together in quite this heady combination. If these are to be the very best years, you must make them so.

First Weeks of College are a Time like None Other

Everyone will want to meet you and there will be none of the social awkwardness that usually accompanies rushing up and speaking to total strangers. Do not squander this short window of opportunity, it will never come around again.

Drinking Dilemma

You are now in a place where alcohol is both tacitly allowed and legally forbidden. The only thing that stands between you and a very bad experience is your own good judgement. But here is the tricky part. You need to exercise that good judgement at the very moment when it is already impaired by alcohol.

Being Friends in High School was Easy

You sat in the same classes or did the same activities as your high school friends. In college, maintaining friendships is a bit more work. After college it is a lot more work. Investing in friendships now pays dividends forever, truly forever.

Living With Those Who Love You

It is your good fortune to never have lived in a place where no one loved you or frankly cared a whit about you. At the outset, college is that place. Despite everyone’s outward cheer in the first weeks of college you will have no real friends. Sure you will know some kids, but these are not true friends, yet. They are still just acquaintances you really like. It is better to live amongst those you love, but it takes time and only you can make this happen. College gets better after that first Thanksgiving.

Do Not Fool Yourself, I Was 18

When you look at me you probably see “Mom” and “Old.” Do not fool yourself. Not one fiber of my being has forgotten how it feels to be 18. If you have a problem, talk to me. Few things you will say will shock me and there is every chance, though admittedly just a chance, that I might have a good suggestion. And while the law may recognize you as an adult, I promise you that you still have much to learn.

I have loved you every moment of your life. Even as you prepare to move out, I shock myself by loving you even more. This love comes without strings, but life does not. If there are things you want to achieve, knowledge you want to gain, friends you want to make it is now entirely up to you.



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Twelve Hours and Counting: Diary of a Dreaded Graduation

A Guest Post by Barbara Solomon Josselsohn: 10pm. I’m certain that the hardest part is going to be the graduation ceremony itself, so I’m unprepared the night before when I walk into Rachel’s bedroom to say goodnight, and she’s curled in a ball on her bed, her nose red and her eyes swollen, sobbing, “I don’t want to graduate. I don’t want to leave home. I don’t want to leave my friends. I don’t want to go to college!”

graduation

I know I should tell her that it’s normal to be scared, and everything will turn out fine. But then I see the blue fabric bulletin board hanging above her bed. Pinned to the bulletin board is a photo of her on her third birthday, the tickets from the rock concert she saw two summers ago and her boarding pass from a trip to Ireland with the school chorus. Right next to that is her bookshelf with the entire Rick Riordin fantasy series that she read three times over. And suddenly I realize that she’s been growing away from me ever since she was born, which makes me start to sob right alongside her.

And I tell her I don’t want her to go away to college either — it was hard enough when her brother graduated two years ago — and I tell her I would start all over again with her as a newborn if I could, and suddenly I’m the child and she’s comforting me, which makes me feel even worse, because it’s all about me when it should be all about her.

So I tell myself I have to do better, and suddenly my husband walks into the room and sees the two of us sobbing and says, “What the hell…” and I want to laugh but I can’t laugh because what but I truly, truly want is for her to be three years old again…
…and it isn’t even graduation day yet.

4am. I can’t sleep, which never happens, I’m the best sleeper I know, so when it’s the middle of the night and I’ve been awake for hours and I finally give in and sit up in bed, I know I’m in for a bad time.

I hope my husband will hear me and get up too, and discover some unrelated problem like the roof just caved in, which will at least be a welcome distraction. But of course he just keeps sleeping and even my loud sighs don’t wake him, so I realize that I’m in this alone, and I leave the bedroom.

I walk downstairs and even in the dark I think can see the faded areas of the wood floors in the front hallway, which reminds me that I really should get around to re-staining the floors, which reminds me that I’ve been putting it off because it’s expensive and it’s not like we’ll be in the house for another 20 years or anything.

That’s when I realize that lately when my husband and I talk about things that need to be done around the house, we justify the cost more for how it will help the resale value rather than how much we’ll use it. Like the upstairs bathroom with the chipped vanity and stained grout that really should be redone except that in the fall, only our tenth grader, Alyssa, will be using it, and the way time is flying these days, she’ll be heading for college in about two minutes anyway. And as I walk around in the dark, I can’t help feeling sorry for the house because it’s emptying out and maybe would prefer a young family to make it feel useful again.

Yes, it’s four-fifteen in the morning and I’m feeling sorry for my house. I roll my eyes at how pathetic I am and decide that since I’m up, I will force myself to do something constructive. So I go to my computer and start to write a letter to Rachel explaining how much I love her and how much I’ll miss her when she leaves for college, and I plan to give it to her in, like, ten years or so when today will all be a pleasant memory. But I know I can never give her such a letter — why burden her like that? — so I walk back to the bedroom, and when I crawl into bed, my husband finally gets up. But it’s not my moving that woke him, it’s my loud, miserable sobs that I really tried to stifle, because I know what he’ll say, and sure enough he says it.

“What the hell’s going on?”

“I just don’t know if I can deal with this,” I say as I put my hands over my face, and he says, “Can’t deal with what?” I know he thinks I’m crazy, but now it’s time to get up for real, I can hear Rachel’s alarm going off, and the only thing that makes me think I’m not crazy is that I know my friends are feeling the same way I do, and were probably up all night too, thinking about their depressed houses.

9am. The girls are fighting for the millionth time this week, this morning because Rachel plans to wear her orange Forever 21 dress under her graduation gown and Alyssa plans to wear the black version of the same Forever 21 dress, and Rachel screams, “Ma! Tell her she CAN’T WEAR IT! It’s MY graduation!”

And Alyssa says, “But she’s wearing a gown over it!”
And Rachel shouts, “But I’m going to take my gown off for pictures with my friends!”
“But nobody will see us together!”
“I don’t want you wearing it!”
“You can’t tell me what to wear!”
“Mom!”
“Mom!”
“MOM!”

And I can’t believe they still call me when they’re fighting, and it makes me sort of happy to be needed, but the problem resolves not when I step in, but when Alyssa finds out that most kids her age are wearing T-shirts and jean shorts anyway, so I feel useless all over again, and that’s what I’m feeling as we drive to the school and park the car.

We walk to the school field, and to the moms I know just in passing, I say, “Congratulations!” and “Isn’t this exciting!” and “What a great day!” and to the moms who are my friends, I say, “Doesn’t this suck?” and” I cried all night,” and they nod because they also think it sucks and they also cried, and truth be told, the moms I know in passing probably cried all night too.

And I make my way with Alyssa to the bleachers, where my husband and our older son planted themselves three hours ago so we’d all have a good view, and I thank them for coming early, although no doubt they’re extraordinarily grateful they were able to sit in the cool morning shade and peacefully read the newspaper on their iPads instead of dealing with me and listening to the girls fight about a couple of cheap dresses.

And the band starts “Pomp and Circumstance,” as the pre-teen in the row behind us whispers to her mother, “You’re crying already? You are such a LOSER!” and I’m determined not to be a loser too, so I put on my sunglasses and restrain myself from wiping a tear that is dripping past my lower lashes, so I am, after all, a loser too, but at least nobody is publicly scolding me.

And the sun is bright overhead and the breeze is cool and gentle, and the graduates are in their maroon caps and gowns, marching out of the school building in alphabetical order…

…and there she is. There’s Rachel, marching as determinedly as the first day she started preschool. Her smile is enormous, her pride contagious, and she is absolutely the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And suddenly I’m not crying at all, I’m just so excited for her and all that lies ahead for her, and so very proud.

So I squeeze Alyssa’s shoulder, take my husband’s arm, puff out my chest and lift my chin, ready to accept the universe’s thanks for giving it this amazing person who is now accepting her diploma and shaking hands with the principal.

It is a great day, after all.

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn is a freelance writer whose essays and articles appear in a range of publications, including Consumers Digest, The New York Times, Parents, American Baby, and Westchester Magazine. Her essay on the trials and tribulations of shopping for dorm furnishings, “College Makeover: The Dorm Edition,” is in the current (Summer 2014) issue of Westchester Home. She is the proud mother of three almost-grown children, and is happy that her children’s increasing independence is helping her find the time to finish her first novel.



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Want to Help Your Kid in High School? One Teacher Shows How

A Guest Post from Emily Genser: It’s September. You are sitting, legs crossed, foot shaking, in one of the neatly aligned rows of high school desks. You look around the room at the other parents, some deflecting nerves into their phones, others lining up pens and notebooks to take notes and in walks the teacher. You wonder, how could she be in charge? She’s tiny and looks 12. And then she begins:

Hello! My name is Emily Genser and I have been teaching English for 14 years. I have taught every grade, 6-12 for at least one year, so I like to say I know where your child is coming from and I know where he’s going. I have taught every level from remedial to Advanced Placement. I promise this: I will make your child laugh. I will make your child work. I will introduce him to ideas that make him stretch and that challenge him. I will teach him.

Classroom

Middle School is No Man’s Land

As high school teachers, we understand that your kids are coming from the no man’s land of middle school. In middle school, emotions rule, grades mean nothing, and the only thing that truly matters is persistence. Kids learn to balance their wants with their needs. They are beginning to see the world for what it can be (sometimes cruel, sometimes wonderful) and to figure out where they will stand. They will go through personality changes like clothing trends, and may find that each new attitude is more constricting than the last. As parents, we just try to survive this time, looking for glimpses of the child we knew and hoping that the personality they choose allows space for us.  Sometimes parents look at school as a place where they can still be in control, and they will try to foist that control on the teacher. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

Freshman Year and The Brave New World

9th Grade: At the beginning of this year, you will get a chance to meet the teachers. TRUST THEM. You will be nervous, you will be worried about how big the classes are and you will worry that you child will get lost in the fray. You will think about your daughter’s anxiety, or your son’s reticence. You will worry about your 14-year-old being unfocused or lost and not asking for help. All of these worries are normal, and the teacher in front of you has seen everything and more before your son or daughter walks into her room. Remember that the teacher is a professional. Most states require that teachers have a Master’s Degree in teaching their subject. Every teacher wants your child to succeed and most will do whatever it takes to help them do just that. If you keep that in mind, you and the teacher will start off just fine.

MY SUGGESTION: Email the teacher. They might ask you to fill out a parent information form at the open house. Email them anyway. Most of those forms sit in a desk until they notice a problem. Don’t send a long email, but introduce yourself and your child. Include major concerns to look out for and provide any and all phone numbers. If your information is easy to access, the teacher will be more likely to get in touch. Stay up to date with your kid’s grades. Most schools use automated-web based grading programs now. Because of this, a lot of schools are not sending home progress reports and teachers will not update you until things are dire. If you see a trend in dropping grades across subjects, it is up to you to get in touch. We don’t know how your son/daughter is doing in other subjects, so what you see as an issue, we might not catch. Send an email. Check in at the midpoint of the year and again toward the end. These emails don’t go unnoticed. They keep your child on the radar. However, don’t over-email. Squeaky wheels get annoying, but don’t necessarily get results. No one wants to be hovered over.

DO NOT DO THEIR HOMEWORK. Check out Judith Newman’s column in the New York Times about helping with homework. It may come from a place of goodness in you, but it doesn’t ensure any sort of success for your child. If anything, when your child’s teacher notices it, and she will, it will upset her. It will make things harder for your child, not easier. When in doubt, email the teacher. Ask questions about how long an assignment is taking. Sometimes, one question could clear up the whole thing, and your child will be able to do the work. If he sees you asking questions and getting answers, perhaps he will model this behavior at school as well. Especially if he sees it working.

Sophomore Year and a Chance to Screw Up

10th Grade: Okay, year one is through and with each new year, we raise the bar for your child and lower it for you. Take a step back and breathe through it. It’s now time for your child to learn to advocate for himself. Go to open house. Meet the teachers. Feel free to email the teachers your information and some notes about your son or daughter. But only once, at the beginning of the year. Stay up to date with his grades, and ask him what projects are upcoming, but stand back and let him learn to plan his work, and to balance the load. He will hit potholes and sometimes fall in. Let him climb out. Let him fix what breaks. This is the year to screw up and work it out. This is the year to let him grow into himself. Only step in when there is no other choice.

Junior Year and Nine Tortuous Months

11th Grade: AAAAAH Junior year!!!!  This is the year. There is so much stress on your child in his junior year that you will go gray, go without sleep and you will not understand how he seems able to sleep comfortably at night. Teenagers have an amazing ability to hide their anxiety. Whether or not he shows it, he will be feeling frantic this year. He may be taking A.P. courses, is probably involved with extracurriculars of some sort, and he’s getting lots of homework. His classes are all harder now, and he’s hearing almost daily from counselors about how his future depends on what he is doing right now. Let home be a refuge from this. Keep things much the same as they have always been and try not to apply more pressure. He needs a place to breathe and this year, it is not at school. If he can wait another year to get a job, that might be a good idea. If he can’t, then make sure he doesn’t work too many hours. School comes first and always this year. It is that important.

ONE BIG SUGGESTION: Talk to your child about his teachers. Help him to figure out to whom he can go for a strong, personal recommendation. I have the most difficulties writing rec’s for the quiet students. If I don’t know your child well, my recommendation will be bland and generic. Also, make sure your child asks the teacher IN PERSON for a recommendation. He is asking us to do something extra, that is not required and for which we can barely find the time. It is a favor. Act accordingly.

Senior Year and the Victory Lap

12th grade: Home stretch. Once applications are in, the whole family can breathe more easily. There will be less pressure in school this year, overall, so just make sure that you are on top of the application process. Go to guidance meeting, if your school has them and make sure your child is meeting deadlines. Other than that, give him a bit of room to enjoy his last year of high school. He will have less homework and more long-term projects. Check on grades periodically, but start treating him like an adult. He’ll need to feel responsible for himself if he is leaving the house in a year. You’ll both be better for it, if you start the process of letting go now. Most of all, through everything, remember that we all want the same things.

Teachers and parents want to create leaders. We want to feel that we are helping individuals to find themselves and to become good, strong-minded adults who can take on the world in an informed way. If we work together, and give them a supportive foundation, then they will be ready for anything.
Emily GenserEmily Genser is the mother of Abigail (4 1/2) and Josh (2) and a high school English teacher in West Hartford, Connecticut. She is passionate about both jobs and spends most of her time laughing. You can find her blogging away her few free moments of the day at Exhausted but Smiling.



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“The Biggest Mistake”

Lisa writes: We remember the big moments. Cameras out, we record, first steps, nursery school graduation, a big game and college drop off. But there are so many other moments, seemingly small points in time that somehow slip away. A wise friend said to me that she could barely remember the sensation of leaning over a crib and scooping a sleepy baby into her arms, though she has four grown sons and must have lifted them up hundreds of times.

children at beach, beach vacation Looking back, I wonder if those weren’t the big moments, after all. I wish I had recorded in my mind or my camera those unnoticed minutes and hours that slipped by, the ones that I only now realize are what truly mattered. Like so many things about parenting, Anna Quindlen said it best:

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Moments I wish I could remember:

The first time you have a coffee with your kid and enjoy this very adult ritual together. The quiet morning, the milky coffee, the two of you beginning another day together.

The first time your child is lost in a book. They cannot see or hear because a wonderful author (to whom you will always be grateful) has swept them away.

Leaving our kids at their new dorm room door is an emotional moment, but the real milestone is sometime in that first semester when they realize that, despite how ready they were to leave, how they hated us all summer and counted the days until move-in, some part of them misses home and their very own bed.

The day they show you something technological that you didn’t know. This happens at a disarmingly early age and at the same time you are overwhelmed by both pride and mild embarrassment. It is a tough to look like an idiot in front of an eight year old.

The whole process of learning and communicating is a revelation in children, but the first time your child understands an abstract concept is nothing short of miraculous. Ditto the first time she reads a word.

The first time we bathe our child and the last time.

The first time they are sick in the night and do not call for us. I learned that my parent medical license had been revoked one morning with one of my high school sons said he had been sick all night, “but didn’t want to bother me by waking me up.” This was a child who woke me up every single night for the first four years of his life. I should have marked this turn of events with applause but instead I felt a little wistful.

It is a disheartening day when your tween decides that you no longer know or understand anything. It is an equally welcome day when your twenty-something realizes that you do. I wish I had remember the day the contempt began and had the wherewithal to remind myself that it would end.

Mark Twain’s dictum may be the best thing ever written about the evolution of teens:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

It is a big moment in every parent’s life the first time their child sleeps through the night. But even when this blessed day comes, they still seem to rise well before dawn. And then one day they don’t. One morning I are stood in my strangely quiet kitchen and realized that my children were still asleep in bed. It is a morning worth recalling.

The first time they go to the movies with you and sit through a full length film. It is that moment when the curtains peel back and the big screen appears, when you see your child’s eye widen in amazement. A little afraid of the dark, my kids crawled into my lap to snuggle, during a showing of Babe. It was a bigger moment for me than any show I have seen on Broadway.

The first time your child is in real trouble. It may be at school, or a ticket for speeding, or a car crash they never saw coming. In an instant their swagger is gone as the full enormity of their action bears down upon them.

The first time they keep a secret. Their first secret often entails a surprise gift for mom or dad crafted in the classroom. Prior to this they have been unable to contain themselves, spilling their every thought, and then one day they keep a secret from you. It is a seminal moment.

Each family has their own moments and for each parent they are so different. It is so easy to have them slip by, so easy to think that the big moments will be obvious when, in fact, they are not. The milestones of childhood are deceptively quiet and sometimes get lost in the noise of far more traditional celebrations or simply everyday life. Anna Quindlen says the problem is not living in the moment, failing to treasure the now over the later, and, of course, she is right. But an equally big challenge is even recognizing childhood’s important moments as they are happening.

With great thanks to our friend and photographer, TBKilman, whose beautiful images provide the illustrations for so many of our posts.  The photo above, a family “moment” is one of our favorites. 

 



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The 30-Second Guide to The World Cup

Lisa writes: In English they call it “The Beautiful Game,” in Portuguese “La Joga Bonito” and, for the rest of the world, it is simply known as “Football.” This week in Brazil, the quadrennial global madness known as The World Cup, begins again. It is a sporting event so large that it is estimated that half the world’s populations will watch it. Here is what you and your 21st century kid need to know about this truly worldwide event.

US Men's Soccer Team

10 Seconds of History and Facts

The World Cup lasts for four weeks, is held every four years with 32 nations playing in 64 games.

The competition has been held 19 times but only Brazil, Italy, West Germany, Uruguay, Argentina, England, France and Spain have been victors. The United States has qualified 10 times, including this year, but has not progressed beyond the quarterfinals since 1930. In 1994, the US hosted the tournament.

More than 3.2 billion people watched some part of the 2010 World Cup on television (with over a billion viewing the final), and ESPN plans on airing 290 hours of programming around this year’s tournament. If it seems like The World Cup is always on, it is.

The tournament is organized into a group stage where four countries play each other and two teams from each group progress to the next (knockout) round. The US has three games in its group stage, vs. Ghana (6/16), vs. Portugal (6/22) and vs. Germany (6/26).

FIFA, the football governing body, has more member nations than the UN.

20 Seconds of Q&A

Who is favored to win?

Not us. Experts favor the home team Brazil and other highly rated countries include Argentina, Germany and Spain. Looking for a long-shot? Try Belgium.

Messi, Neymar

Who are the stars of this tournament?

Soon you will hear names bandied about like Ronaldo (Portugal), Messi (Argentina) and Neymar (Brazil). These players have been hoisted onto the national stage because of their fabulous wealth (Ronaldo was said to earn $42 million last year), their prodigious talent on the field, and their fashion sense.

Neymar

US players who will be in the limelight include striker Jozy Altidore, goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder Michael Bradley and striker/Captain Clint Dempsey.

Why does the press say that the US is in the “Group of Death”?

The US was placed in one of the most difficult of all the groupings. If we play well enough to progress beyond the group, to the next stage, expect utter pandemonium to ensue.

Why are soccer players always injured and lying on the ground?

Soccer has no replays and it all happens terribly fast. Players seem to believe that clutching an “injury” and rolling around on the floor will influence the referees. Minutes later they are up running around. You would punish your kid for this, but in professional soccer it is widely accepted.

How does fashion figure into The World Cup?

For years it didn’t. Then along came the photogenic David Beckham and his pop star/fashion designer wife Victoria, and soccer was never the same again. World famous soccer players now take part in advertising the world over. Ronaldo recently appeared sans clothing, discreetly covered by his girlfriend on the cover of Vogue. The relationship between the world of glamour and sport has become so cosy that The New York Times explained, “The fashion world treats the soccer field like a runway. “

Ronaldo

Soccer fashion extends right down to the players’ feet. The once lowly black cleat has had a total makeover by Nike, Adidas and the like. Look for bright and bold footwear, enhanced by technology, to be the fashion side-show of the month-long tournament.

Why should I watch the World Cup with my kid?

The World Cup is a global moment. Like the Olympics, it grabs the world’s attention, unites us around a positive force and generally provides a great example to our kids, the global citizens of tomorrow.



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Katie Couric Joins Us in the Empty Nest

Lisa writes: Katie Couric is taking her youngest daughter to college this fall and I joined her show yesterday to talk about the empty nest along with our friend, Sharon Greenthal who blogs at Empty House, Full Mind. Here are two clips from the show (begin the first one at 1:50):


The episode was short and I was so glad that my family had a chance to jump in and share their ideas.  Here are a few thoughts, just personal opinions, that there just was not enough time to include:

The two biggest milestones in parenting are when our kids arrive and then, decades later, as they leave.  Each transition creates an earthquake in our lives, and hopefully, with each we adapt and thrive.

The “empty nest” is not a syndrome, but a sometimes painful, sometimes joyous stage in life.  Kids are supposed to leave, parents are supposed to care, this is life as it should be.  As the leave we will know them a little less, so is it any wonder that the change is bittersweet?

The journey to the empty nest is a very long process that starts when our eldest get their driver’s license and ends when our youngest have another place to call home.  For families with more than one child, this can be a decade or more.  The day we drop our kids off at college is but one step along the way.

During this long period we forge new relationships with our kids.  It is a bit scary and a bit exciting as we transition to being the parents of adults.  Technology and its gift of communication is transformative to parenting but negotiating the new terrain with our kids is truly journeying in uncharted territory.  I feel insanely grateful for the ways that we can stay, but not intrude, in each others lives.

Siblings will be experiencing the change too.  There were lots of kids book that helped us prepare our older children for their younger sibling’s birth.  Younger siblings may feel the departure of older brothers and sisters acutely as well.

As our kids leave, our youngest may for some time become an only, a moment to be cherished.

Sometimes it is hard to not think that our job is unfinished, that there was more we needed to teach our kids, more that we needed to share.  The good news is that our kids will look to us for many things for many years and that parenting never ends…



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Knowing My Sons a Little Less

Lisa writes: So this is it. The third and final time. Next week I will sit through my youngest son’s high school graduation. Like every parent in that audience, and in every high school auditorium and football field, I will burst with pride and more than a touch of sadness. We will have weeks and months before he leaves but experience has taught me that once he crosses that stage, once he takes his diploma in hand, he will begin to drift away. The first time this happened I wondered how I would survive. The second time I braced myself, knowing just how bad it would hurt. And it did. So now, I am girding myself knowing fully how it feels to have a child move on. Yet still I ponder why the pain is so sharp.

boys, sons

Parents who regret their children’s departure are chided for their hovering ways, reminded that they should be proud of their offsprings accomplishments and that clinging to their teens is both unhelpful and unseemly. In a wonderful excerpt from his biography, Rob Lowe brings this into focus,

Through the grief I feel a rising embarrassment. “Jesus Christ, pull yourself together, man!” I tell myself. There are parents sending their kids off to battle zones, or putting them into rehabs and many other more legitimately emotional situations, all over our country. How dare I feel so shattered? What the hell is going on?

I have berated myself for being a wimpy mom, the parent who cannot walk away without tears, the mother who misses her kids every day. I have given myself the stern talk about being overly attached to my sons and told myself a hundred times that it is not about me but about them. I decided that there must be something wrong with/missing from me or my life if saying good-bye was this hard. I have wondered, endlessly, why it hurts so much when they go.

Like so many aspects of parenting, this was a case of overthinking. It just wasn’t all that complicated.

The simple reason that it is so hard to let go of my kids is that the moment they walked out the door for nursery school, middle school, college or their “real life,” I will know them a little less.

They are beings I have loved even before they beheld their first breath. They have made my world bigger and brighter in every way. Being a parent has allowed me to see all of humanity through very different eyes. Speaking only for myself, it has made me a better person.

I will never love anyone more than I love my sons, so why would I want to know them any less? How is it possible that my life will not be diminished by their absence.

sons, boys

 

Experiencing the world without me began the first morning I left them with the nanny and went to work. As their school days grew longer and their experiences further afield, their separateness from me increased. It was all as it should be. The change was gradual and while it was easy to get wistful from time to time, each transition was seamless. Their lives took them on sleepovers and to the movies with friends, on trips further and further away, yet at each step they were ready. And I happily made do with the post-mortem.

If you asked me who in the world I know the best, my sons would be right at the top of that list. From the time they were babies I have understood the rhythm of their lives. I have known what would nourish their bodies, minds and souls. At times I have felt that I knew them even better than they knew themselves.

When they were tiny they seemed to speak in stream of consciousness, to filter almost nothing from my ears. By middle school they were more circumspect, sharing their world and their thoughts, but starting to holding back. And high school? I am not sure that any high schooler could or should tell their parents everything. So the walling off began, the natural and to be expected process of knowing them just a bit less.

And then they left home. They woke up one morning like they have thousands of other mornings and by nightfall they were gone. At first I told myself that it was like camp (my capacity for self-delusion appears to know no bounds) but after a few months I had to let go of this little lie and contend with the fact that college is leaving home.

The pain that comes with empty nest is partly just missing their joyous presence, the way our lives are filled with our love for them. But the real pain of the empty nest comes with the knowledge that no matter how close we are to them, no matter how much we stay in touch, as their lives diverge from ours we will know them that tiny bit less.

Every year they will have more and more experiences that we only know from photos and their retelling, and more experiences we never hear about at all.

The love for my children remains untouched as my knowledge of them is diminished, not in the big meaningful ways, but around the edges. Have they ever tried Paella? Who did they study with last night? Is that a cold coming on or just allergies? Did they work out this afternoon or blow it off and go out for a cheeseburger? They have professors I will never meet and friends I will never know. Now, I get a photo of something that strikes them as funny or strange, texts of random thoughts, and phone calls to catch up. But the day-to-day rhythms of their lives are their own.

boys, sons

But here is the thing. Nothing about them ever stopped being fascinating to me. I never found their recounting of their day any less interesting, nor felt less concerned about their well-being. They may have outgrown telling, but I never grew tired of hearing.

So why is it so hard to let them go? It isn’t that I wanted to hold them back or to play the role in their lives that I once did. It wasn’t that I needed them to need me. These are the three people I have loved beyond reason, have loved more than I ever knew was possible to love, and I just don’t want to know them even a little bit less.

graduation, cap and gown, college graduates



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Joining Rob Lowe in the Empty Nest

Mary Dell writes: The moment our son grabbed the car keys for his first solo drive, I had the proud/heartsick feeling of watching him begin to separate from me. This August, when we drop our daughter at her freshman dorm, I will return to the very quiet house I first imagined as I saw him drive away eight years ago. While my kids have been growing up and increasingly growing away, I have been moving along the empty nest on-ramp. Soon I will arrive at my destination.

This post is sponsored by Life Reimagined

With nearly 22 million students attending American colleges and universities, I am part of a massive cohort. Turns out that one of my empty nest “buddies” is Rob Lowe, who described this moment in a parent’s life as well as anyone possibly could in Love Life:

I’m trying to remember when I felt like this before. Like an el­ephant is sitting on my chest, like my throat is so tight and constricted that I can feel its tendons, like my eyes are 100 percent water, spilling out at will, down pathways on my face that have been dry for as long as I can think of. I’m trying to remember: When was the last time my heart was breaking?

It will be Lisa, not Rob, joining me at Starbucks to weep in our lattes. Friends since our soon-to-be-freshmen were in third grade together, we launched Grown and Flown to write about the stage of family life when kids begin to slip through parental fingers. Taking another lesson from Rob:

Through the grief I feel a rising embarrassment. “Jesus Christ, pull yourself together, man!” I tell myself. There are parents sending their kids off to battle zones, or putting them into rehabs and many other more legitimately emotional situations, all over our country. How dare I feel so shattered? What the hell is going on?

I realize that writing about an empty nest and living in one are not the same thing, just like sitting, big-bellied and cross-legged on the floor while a Lamaze teacher talks about labor pain is not at all like enduring contractions. The only way to understand childbirth is to have a baby. Ditto the empty nest.

So the question I ponder is how prepared I am for living a life that is no longer kid-centric. For both SAHMs and working moms, once their youngest leaves for college, life is never again as it was. This month I will say goodbye to much that has created structure in my life and taken up precious real estate on my September-June calendar. No longer will I volunteer for the PTA, watch my kids play sports, or sprint to the grocery store to pull together a family dinner.

What I may miss the most is sitting down with cheese and crackers and my kids at the kitchen table after school. I have adored hearing the precious bits they reveal about their days and know that much of the info I  get come August will be delivered in a text message, no longer face-to-face.

It has been our good fortune at Grown and Flown to have met, both on-line and in person, countless other parents who are nearing or already in their empty nest phase. Many are working hard to make this pivot point in their lives less about mourning the loss of little children in the house and more about personal re-creation. We have learned from and been inspired by them and many ask the same question: What next?

Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of Teach Your Children Well  has written about this time in life:

The chaotic diversions inherent in raising children cease, and we suddenly find ourselves with time to reflect. What did we do right? Where did we fail? How do we spend our remaining time? And who will show up to help with the transition?

It wouldn’t be that hard to make this transition more pleasant — and more productive. First of all, it would be useful if we began to think about post-parenting years long before they arrive.

As my kids began to grow more independent, I began to change how I spent my time. I started volunteering with my dog at a hospital  and traveled more with my husband. I reconnected with my college, exploring the varied resources offered to alumni. But even with Grown and Flown to keep me busy writing and connected online, I wonder what else I should and can be doing now that my active, in-the-house-mothering days are drawing to a close.

Last weekend, ironically, while Mother’s Day was winding down, I finished a book that creates a framework for seeking the answers to the what next question. Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Possibilities had me at page 2: “It is a map and guidance system to help people navigate a new phase of life.” Written by bestselling author Richard J. Leider and Fast Company co-founding editor, Alan M. Webber, Life Reimagined is both a book and an interactive website  created under the auspices of the AARP.

There are personal stories of both ordinary individuals and celebrities like former Today Show anchor Jane Pauley  and musician/producer Emilio Estefan all of whom experienced trigger moments that lead them, successfully, down a new path.

It is this new path I will search for in the aftermath of saying goodbye to my youngest child. As Rob describes how he felt watching his son turn to walk back into the dorm:

I close in to hug him, but he puts just one arm around me, a half hug. “Peace,” he says, a phrase I’d never heard him use until he said the same thing to his little brother in the driveway. Then he turns on his heel and strides away. From his body lan­guage I know he won’t turn to look back; I know why and I’m glad. I watch him until I can’t see him anymore, until he’s swallowed up by his new friends and his new life.

This post is sponsored by Life Reimagined, a guide to answering your own What’s next? questions. All opinions are my own.



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Wishing Away Mother’s Day

Mary Dell writes: Nine years ago my father died shortly before Father’s Day. That first year I wanted to close my eyes and pretend there was no special day honoring dads as my grief was fresh and overwhelming. As Mother’s Day nears, I am grateful to have had my 87-year old mom in my life for so long. But in thinking about my good fortune, I am saddened for those who are not so lucky. In particular, my thoughts are with a 17-year old boy who may be wishing away Mother’s Day as he remembers the mom he lost in February.

Mother's Day, roses

At her funeral, I heard him speak about her with exceptional tenderness and composure. As he talked about what she meant to him, he described her generous love. Here are some of the ways he remembered her:

My Mom opened the world to me and gave me a kid’s perfect life. We read books over and over together. Mom was my playmate and my biggest fan.

We traveled to see God’s beauty in nature.

My mother taught me kindness, honesty, reliability and thrift.

By her example, she showed me to value my family and friends, to eat good food, to exercise, to be energetic and to work hard. She wanted to have fun and laugh, every single day, and to love people and accept love from them. She was always grateful for God’s blessings.

Mom led a peaceful life. She treated everyone she met as her friend, so she had lots of friends. She walked with [our dog] happily greeting neighbors, the 2-legged and the 4-legged ones. Each day, she spent time in spiritual practice to make herself a better person and be closer to God. She was authentic, always herself, every minute.

She taught me that I am her rare treasure, like no other person. I am her treasure. She will always be with me in my heart and mind.

On this Mother’s Day, I grieve for this wonderful person who was so dedicated to her son. I see that her legacy comes from the reading, the travel, the laughter, the lessons. She leaves behind memories of kindness and love and happiness and caring.

His words are a reminder to me that every day we have a chance to be a loving parent is a good day.



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Why You Should Help Your Kid Get a Job

Lisa writes: Any parent who believes that the college process is unendurably stressful, simply has not been through the job search process yet. Worrying about which college our kids would get into, pales by comparison to wondering if they will get a job, given the high rate of unemployment for under 25’s.

help wanted ad, job search

This week in Time, Randye Hoder discusses parents, young adults and the job search in Want to Help Your Kids Get a Job? Back Off.  I stumbled upon her article as I was conducting an extensive online search of summer internships for one of my sons. Anyone who regularly reads Grown and Flown knows that I have shown little ability over the last two decades to discern the overparenting line. I usually find it when it is somewhere behind me.

So in reading Hoder’s article, I was getting my hands slapped from afar. Here she was telling me in her well researched/written way, that the best help I could give my son was to stop giving him help.

Nearly 40% of parents are involved in their child’s job search and experts are quick to point out the many ways we overstep our boundaries in helping college kids find internships and full-time employment. Parents, albeit a small number, are accompanying their kids to interviews, writing their kids’ resumes and cover letters and following up with thank-you notes after an interview, according to a survey done by Adecco.

Why is this happening? Hoder points to the fact that millennials face a challenging job market and are exceptionally close to their parents. Aaron Cooper, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern University, suggests that working parents may feel guilty that they did not have enough time with their kids earlier. He also notes that technology enables overinvolvement and that, as parents, we may also be overidentifying, “Their resume is a kind of extension of our resume.”

While parenting experts beat the “let your kids fail” drum, it is hard to stand by and watch them flounder as they take this first big step into adulthood. Is there is any help that parents can give without crossing over that difficult-to-locate line?

Most of the experts suggest that parents “be supportive.” But, this is just the kind of answer I hate. So, zooming in on some of the specifics, here are things parents might do to help their college student.

1. Give the kind of help you would offer a young colleague.

Parenting expert Hoder offers wise advice when parents are wondering how much is too much: think of your kid as a colleague. If what your kid is asking (or you are offering) is something you would do for any young person you mentor, you are probably okay.

2. Be there for advice.

Millennials are used to turning to their parents for assistance and advice and, in the Adecco survey, 18-24 year olds said they wished their parents had taught them the importance of networking and making connections (31 percent) how to make a good impression (25 percent), how to negotiate (23 percent) and have a strong work ethic (23 percent). Young adults, new to the working world, often need to be told things that are obvious to those who have years of work experience.

3. Proofread letters, emails and resumes.

This does NOT mean that parents write these important documents for their young adults, but rather that they weigh in on a near final draft. Any of us can make a typo, and while it won’t get you fired, it may cause a stumble at the starting gate. Inexperienced resume writers may not include enough, or the right, details and a few words from an experienced parent can result in a big improvement.

4. Brainstorm.

You have worked for years, your kid hasn’t. So when they are flailing around trying to focus on a career path, or ways to venture down their chosen path, bring real world examples to the discussion. By suggesting an array of possibilities, you might help them expand their job search and find success.

5. Interview prep.

Suggesting possible interview questions, conducting mock interviews and talking about appropriate attire are some of the things you would do with any mentee and your kid deserves no less.

6. Research.

Online research, does that cross the line? It is tempting (and I will say right now that I gave into this temptation) to search the internet for openings or to read about companies that might be of interest to your student. While this had the potential to go too far, forwarding job postings you happen to see or the name of a promising company that looks like it might be a good match for your student, can be helpful, as long as they do all the work from there.

7. Connections.

Here is blurriest line between helping and hindering. Some parents are in a position to make introductions for their kids or set them up with interviews. Suggesting a name and passing along an email address is helpful if your kid does the rest. There is much grey area surrounding parental connection and it is best for parents to tread cautiously.

8. Reality Check.

Searching for a first job can be tricky in so many ways. Should a graduate seek the highest paying job, or one in her chosen field? How much of this first job is an investment in a longer career? How willing are parents to provide financial support or welcome a move back home? Hoder points out that talking through these questions, and others, with your student will help guide them in their career search. Hoder suggests families have this conversation early so that college kids enter the job process with clear expectations surrounding money and parental support.

A big part of the experience that parents can bring to bear is the reminder that it is a long career, that the average person stays in their job for 4.4 years and, for millennials, the estimate is half that. Early jobs are a learning process and a time to gain skills that can be leveraged in future years.

The good news is that with time, effort and a bit of parental advice, your kid will probably find a job.  The bad news is the apartment search comes next.



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