Why I Love My Empty Nest

Martha Handler, a guest blogger, writes: The kids have all grown and flown, as the last of our four headed off to college this past fall, and I find myself repeatedly being asked, “How is it being an empty nester?” While I’m extremely supportive and understanding of my friends who find this transition period difficult, if I’m being perfectly honest, for me, the empty nest feels great.

Family with adult kids

My career as a full-time mom began over twenty-three years ago and, I think most would agree, that’s a long time for any career to last. So, while I loved every minute of it (lol), I’m actually very excited about what lays ahead. I’m still sorting out exactly what that will entail, but for now I’m enjoying the empty nest.

My day is now considerably longer because it no longer ends when the school-closing bell rings. I can schedule appointments and be assured that I won’t have to cancel at the last minute because I was up all night trying to stop my kid from scratching his chicken pox or because I have to abandon my plans to retrieve a child who’s suddenly come down with stomach flu.

I can now enjoy long, carefree evenings out with my husband and our friends without worrying that I’ll receive a text mid-dinner that says “I’m going to flunk my biology test tomorrow if you don’t come home and help me understand the difference between a molecule and a macromolecule,” or “I have to bring homemade Spanish cookies to class tomorrow because I need the extra credit points. Don’t worry – I have the recipe and I would bake them myself but I can’t even pronounce the ingredients. If I fall asleep before you get home, could you just go ahead and make them for me? Thx. You’re the best.” (Full disclosure – I added that last sentence as I have to many of their texts over the years because although I’m sure they were thinking it, they often forgot to include it!)

And while it’s true that ‘once a mother, always a mother’ and ‘you’re only as happy as your least happy child,’ the difference now is that the immediacy of their situations has been dialed way down. I’ll happily read their college papers (if given the opportunity), but I’ll no longer make edits or provide commentary because I know they have TA’s and resource centers for that (and besides, they should damn well know how to write a decent paper by the time they get to college!) And I’ll lend an ear as they gripe about their unfair professors or horrible bosses, but I’ll no longer give them advice (unless, of course, they ask) because I trust that by now they know best when to stand their ground and when to let it be.

My day-to-day job of nurturing, tutoring, teaching, disciplining (or torturing as my kids would describe it), has officially ended. And let’s face it, if we haven’t succeeded in instilling morals and values in our kids in the eighteen years they lived under our roof, it’s doubtful we’ll make much of a dent going forward. So, while my husband and I will continue to love and support them – we’ll now be doing our cheerleading from the sidelines.

Simply put, I’m embracing my empty nest the same way I’ve tried to embrace every stage of my kids’ development. I found them cuddly and adorable as infants, fun and precocious as toddlers, inquisitive and confused as middle-schoolers and challenging and bewildering as high-schoolers. And while I always enjoyed each new phase better than the last, I’m honestly finding the young adult phase to be the most fulfilling and rewarding of them all.

The “heavy lifting” is coming to a close and now we can sit back (ha ha) and begin to enjoy these four wonderful young adults. Instead of them whispering under their breaths that we don’t know what we’re talking about or we’re just plain wrong, they’re now asking us for advice, sharing their concerns, and even apologizing for their past indiscretions. We’ve somehow miraculously transformed from being really stupid to being really smart – and what’s not to like about that!

Martha Handler

Martha Handler is a freelance writer who splits her time between Westchester and Tribeca, New York. Her free time is spent traveling, protecting wolves (as president of the board of the Wolf Conservation Center) and watching silly animal videos on Youtube.

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

 

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

 

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…

Clean is Sexy and 58 Other Bits of Advice for Young Men

Lisa writes:  If your life is filled with boys staring into the precipice of adulthood, stay right here, read on and then give us your thoughts. Here is what Mary Dell and I might say to our nearly grown sonsif they ever start listening.

clean is sexy, advice for young men

 

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Ready for Takeoff? Facing the Question with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day and organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week. On Monday  we featured Liane Kupferberg Carter’s writing and today, we are honored that Susan Berger, author of the blog, Berger’s Blather offers this heartfelt post:

young adult, teenager, autism

My 19–year–old son is almost ready to launch.  Well, that’s what I tell myself. “Almost,” as in “You can do it,” “You’re nearly there,” has become my lifelong one-word personal prayer. My son is on the cusp of leaving home, the pivotal step toward the rest of his life–ordinarily an expected and desired move most parents and young adults strive for.

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Loosening the Ties that Bind: Growing Up with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day.  Organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week.

We have read Liane Kupferberg Carter for years and hope that her writing, below, will touch you, as it has both of us:

Liane Carter, autism, Autism Awareness Day

I don’t know how to do this.

There’s no book for taking the next step. No Fiske Guide to Colleges. No Barron’s. When our son Jonathan was preparing to leave home for college, we had a whole shelf of books to guide our family.

There’s no book for our autistic son Mickey, who is turning twenty. No U.S. News and World Report ranking best vocational opportunities; no handbook rating residential programs for developmentally disabled young adults. We’re making it up as we go.

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Rules: the Fewer the Better

Lisa writes: My kids did not have curfews. We had no rules about where they were supposed to do their homework or even when. There were no real rules about food, dress, chores, or even tidiness. We bought a dog without extracting a single promise from our sons. This was not an oversight as I had grown up in a home with a litany of rules. On the other hand, my kids had strict rules about computer use, bedtime, manners, academic and athletic endeavors and, above all, lying.

rules, street sign

When and how we make rules for our kids is one of the trickiest aspects of parenting. Enforcing and altering them is the other tricky part. Rule making is not something to take lightly or to try and do on the fly. It is important that we have a philosophical underpinning to the constructs we set for our kids.

Yet for me, the number one rule was: make as few rules as possible. It was, I believe, a risky proposition, one about which I received a great deal of criticism, but I believe it has merits.

Larry Nucci, a research psychologist at the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that we make four kinds of rules. There are moral rules, safety rules, rules of social convention, and then there are the all-encompassing others. And it is in this final catchall category that things quickly become murky, where most of the family battle are fought.

Parenting expert Dr. Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, argues for care in applying rules. He suggests that, when faced with an unwanted behavior, parents ask themselves if they can live with the behavior and, if perhaps, it is something that will, in time, change on its own.

One of my single biggest mistakes as a parent was extrapolating. l would assume that the behavior I abhorred, a lack of personal hygiene or mouth full of teenage cynicism, would last forever. My anxiety at any given moment had to do with the mouthy, unkempt 20-year old I could see in my future. That person, needless to say, never materialized, but his image effected my behavior. Kazdin gives many examples from attention issues to lying and delinquent behavior that often resolve over time. He entreats parents not to legislate away behavior that will disappear on its own.

Ultimately, the role of rules is for our kids to internalize desirable behaviors, to do what we have taught them even when we are no longer there to enforce our will. For me, this argues for taking the risk and trying to raise kids with as few rules as possible. The most recent research suggests that rigid parenting is not without its own risks in terms of both defiant behavior and unhealthy practices.

Early on, I thought my kids were remote control cars and that I could steer with my rules. I was painfully naive. Here are my rules about, well, making rules.

1. Make as few rules as possible.

The dirty little secret about rules is that they require enforcement which rates right up there as one of the least enjoyable aspects of parenting. Keeping credibility with our kids is paramount so with each rule there is more enforcement and more negativity. For me this argues for picking rules very carefully, deciding what is essential in our families and then My rules had high stakes, had to be picky.

2. Go easy with the rule making early on, the hard stuff lies ahead.

While I would have loved to have rules about tidy rooms and clean clothes, looking ahead I knew that rules about driving, drinking, respect for girls were going to be non-negotiable in my house. I tried to pace myself, knowing that these major issue loomed on the horizon.

3. Ignore what anyone else (other than your child’s other parent) does, it truly does not matter.

Every family has their own rules, which is as it should be, and concerning ourselves with another family can only mess with our heads. This includes grandparents and siblings. Our kids are our kids, and the rules we set must be our own.

4. Different kids, different rules.

I get the controversy surrounding this, but like so many families, my kids were so different, their needs so different, that I plugged my ears to the chorus of “it’s not fair, you let him…” and forged ahead. In the end they felt treated as individuals, seen for who they truly are…but in the midst, I got nothing but pushback.

5. Rules have a hierarchy.

There is a reason that there are ten commandments because those were the rules that were metaphorically etched in stone. Our religious texts are replete with rules, but they have a hierarchy and our homes need the same. Not all rules are created the same and our kids need to know explicitly that some loom far larger than others. Stay up past your bedtime and you are looking at a stern word or maybe an earlier bedtime the following night. Hit another kid on the soccer field and you are looking at a trip to the 1970’s, weeks of grounding and a ban from playing sports.

6. Parents do not always need to explain themselves.

My parents made rules and I did not even dream of asking why. I made rules and my kids wanted to explore my reasoning like anthropologists uncovering a new civilization. Then they wanted to negotiate. It is great if we can explain ourselves, it is great if our kids buy in, but one truth that does not change from generation to generation is that we are the adults and we make the rules.

7. Rules should say something about the person we hope our children will become.

They are a way to transmit our families’ values, not just a method of keeping our kids in line. It was all to easy to look at rules as a way of controlling behavior rather than imparting . Dr. Kazdin’s filter of, “do I need to change this behavior,” rather than “do I want to change this behavior” is an excellent one. In reality, I could live with far more that I considered undesirable than I thought I could.

8. Think ahead.

My son’s principal told the 9th grade parents, think of the curfew you want spring of senior year and then work backwards to what it means for your 9th grader. If you start at midnight in the first year of high school, he warned us, you will not like where you end up in four years. This is true of every rule that moves with age and maturity.

9. Parents need to be on the same page regarding family rules and, sometimes, they need to get other parents to, at least, read that page.

I had rules about R-rated movies, but I know that my kids visited houses with more lenient rules. Crossing my fingers was not good enough. I had to call other moms and tell them the rules my sons were expected to live by. As awkward as this can be, I found that this goes remarkably well.

10. Don’t depend too heavily on the rules we had as children; this is a different world.

While some things are immutable, so many of the rules I had – wi-fi off at 10:00 or no multiplayer games with strangers –  were not exactly things my parents had to contend with. It is a new world and it requires new rules.

11. Think about the ways your child might break your rules and build failsafe into the package.

My kids were not allowed to use the computer after 9:30. I programmed the parental controls to disconnect them from the wi-fi at 9:30. I was feeling pretty good about myself until I found one son on his computer at 10. He had simply changed the time on his computer to 8:00 and continued on his merry way. Reliable enforcement needs to be a built-in part of making rules.

12. Finally, many rules have a natural life.

Boyfriends and girlfriends might not be allowed to sleep over in high school, but what about in college? Computer use rules generally relax with the age of the child. It is important to sunset rules, to plan for their waning and retirement even before that day arises.

Maybe my kids had too few rules, the jury is still out. But one thing I feel certain about, parenting isn’t made easier with more rules, it is harder. And enforcing what is important only becomes more difficult in the face of a litany of decrees. For most of what I hoped for my children, I tried, with mixed success, to model the behavior I hoped from them and set for them clear expectations. I plugged the holes with a whole lot of nagging. The truth is, that in most areas, the micromanaging with rules was effort and heartache wasted. Every time I found myself thinking, what happens if he does not do what I am saying and the answer was, really not very much, I got rid of that rule.

Parenting: It Is Not My Job

Lisa writes: It is not my job.

Being a parent is a really tough job. Many argue that it is the toughest job. Yet, speaking only for myself, I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine. My job is to love and care for my kids, to make them feel safe and teach them to navigate the world into which they will venture. My job is to teach my sons the set of values, rightly or wrongly, that their father and I hold dear. My job is to launch educated, good, responsible men.

girl in snow

That is a tall order without adding a whole list of other parenting challenges, that frankly I am not certain can be achieved.

It is not my job to find my child’s “passion.” Passion by its very nature is deeply personal and individualistic. One person simply cannot find it for another. If my kids want one, they will have to find their own Not everyone has a passion and the notion that everyone does is a middle class artifice of the late 20th century. I promise, many people have lived and died having wonderful lives without beholding a “passion.” I do not have a passion, and honestly, I am okay.

It is not my job to build my kid’s self-esteem, but rather to give them the tools to earn it for themselves. Self esteem results from setting challenging goals for ourselves and then accomplishing them. Sure, the recognition of others helps, but only if we know it to be genuine (and kids can see through this at a shockingly early age.) So I can encourage my kids to set themselves goals and to stick with them, but I cannot bestow self-esteem upon them, that they will have to earn it for themselves.

It is not my job to be my kid’s companion. I love being with my kids, and since they entered adolescence, I suspect I love being with them a whole lot more than they love being with me. When they were small they would demand my attention  and I felt that I failed them when I didn’t keep them company or play with them as they wished. In doing that, I took on a job that was not mine. Kids need their parents for love, comfort and guidance…playmate on demand is simply not in the job description. It helps to remember that the happiest people are those content with their own company.

It is not my job to make my kids happy. I am pretty sure if I could have figured out the key to happiness, I would have sold it and funded their tuition. My notion of happiness is not static and it has evolved over my life. I know that getting what you think you want does not always lead to happiness. I know that money can buy peace of mind, a sense of security and freedom from certain hardships, but it cannot touch happiness. I know that true happiness is looking at the world through your own lens, not the one handed to you by others, even your parents. And as the mom of three I know that happiness is so different for each child that even if I had the power to bestow it, which I certainly do not, it would consume my every waking minute repackaging it three times over. Finding happiness has been a lifelong, and not always successful journey; I really don’t have the runway to find it for four people. So my kids are going to have to do what I and every other person did, and find it on their own.

My job was to model and teach impulse control and deferred gratification. None of us can always get what we want. The Stones taught me that, and it is my job to pass this along to my kids.

My job was to give my sons relationships that would last a lifetime, people who they could turn to in need. That is what family and close friends are for. But far more than teaching that people will always be there for them, I hope I have taught them to be there for those they love. 

My job was to teach them right from wrong in a world that may well contradict my message.

My job was to make sure that my kids launched into the world as well-educated and well prepared as they could be.

My job was to make them flexible and unencumbered by the past, prepared for a world I have not seen.

My job was to teach them that quitting is sometimes, but rarely, the answer. We do not learn persistence (and grit) by doing what we love. We learn persistence by doing what we don’t love.

Being a parent calls on every physical, intellectual and emotional resource we have. It is a long complex process and I, for one, made it a whole lot harder than it needed to be. As parents, we pondered how our own parents had it so much easier, how life was simpler and they found raising us far less challenging. We hear this question often and assume it was because we were raised in simpler times that demanded far less of parents. But maybe it is otherwise. Maybe our parents had a better sense of what was possible for parents to achieve. Maybe they knew what was their job and what, as children, was ours.

girl playing in snow

Time to Redecorate the Empty Nest

Mary Dell writes: Our college kids and young adults come in and out of our homes but we tend to leave their childhood bedrooms frozen in time, shrines to their younger selves. But once they depart for their own nests, isn’t it time to take a hard look at the space they vacated and redecorate it for our primary use? These photographs by Dona Schwartz of parents moping in their children’s abandoned bedrooms motivated me to get to work on our son’s room now that he has his first job and first apartment. (Yeah! and Yeah!)

Lyn Peterson

My friend and neighbor, Lyn Peterson, is the founder of Motif Designs, a Scarsdale, New York, design company.  She is also an author, mother of four, and grandmother to three. She has first-hand knowledge of these transitions in her own household and has helped hundreds of clients transform their homes as their children grew up and out. She offers her advice here:

Mary Dell: How can we convert a “child’s” bedroom into one that reflects her collegiate status, rather than that of a little girl?

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The Myth of Protecting My Children

Lisa writes: It is a pivotal and excruciating parenting moment when we realize that we cannot protect our children from the world’s evils. For those of us who parented through the 90’s and 00’s, it feels sometimes like we have been bombarded with events that reminded us of this heart-clenching fact.  Although one of the hardest things in parenting was letting go of the myth that I could protect my children, there was something even harder yet to come.

Myth of Protection, memorial fountain, Dunblane massacre, Dunblane, Scotland

For my family the dissolution of this myth began on March 13, 1996. I had two children in nursery school and another closing in on his due date.  The kindergarten classroom massacre that morning in Dunblane, a small Scottish town, sent me reeling as I could not find a single excuse why my sons, being educated in a small English town, could not have been in harm’s way.  Parents were frightened, a nation grieved and the only hope we could hold onto was that such acts of unspeakable evil would rarely, if ever, happen again.

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New York Times Features Grown and Flown on Cheating at School

One day separates kids from winter break and soon, final papers and exams will be over and done with. Report cards arriving in inboxes or mailboxes will provide not only an assessment of the fall, but also an opportunity to discuss the grades earned and the integrity behind the effort. Today in The New York Times Motherlode blog, educator, author and parent, Jessica Lahey addresses academic honesty and cheating at school. She quotes Lisa’s Grown and Flown post on the same topic and gives parents the tools they need to tackle this uncomfortable but important subject.

Pinocchio, cheating at school

Here are some of Jessica’s observations about why students cheat:

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Ten Reasons Millennials Need Good Manners

Lisa writes: I have been on the receiving end of a serious amount of eye rolling when reminding my sons about good manners, thank you notes and proper etiquette.

thank you note, good manners, etiquette

They have ignored me or given me the time-worn, and I believe inaccurate, argument that things have changed. I am not buying it, and here is why.

A few reminders for my sons:

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Getting Kids to Work Harder in School: A New York Times Motherlode Rebuttal

Lisa writes: This week on the New York Times Motherlode parenting blog, author/teacher/parent Jessica Lahey* wrote her regular Parent-Teacher Conference column on the question “How Can You Make a Student Care Enough to Work Harder?” The post argues that parents of an unmotivated high school student who has failed a midterm exam should “back off” and allow the student to feel the natural consequences of his poor performance.  While it is an intriguing question, I find myself in sharp disagreement with Jessica, and the many experts who appear in the New York Times column alongside her, about getting kids to work harder in school.

 

school, motivating students

 

Most of the commenters seemed to disagree with the educators as well. Many parents deal with this issue at one time or another and struggle to know what is best. We would love to hear from readers about their experiences.

1. Do kids care about school and does that matter?

The first problem lies in the question. It would be great if kids cared about school. It is pure joy to see your child find a subject or teacher who captivates him and then watch his immersion into a new field of learning. Although we cannot force our kids to be interested in something or make them care about a certain subject or class, we can make them care about doing well. And sometimes, that will just need to be enough.

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Neither Bad People Nor Bad Parents

Lisa writes: Would you lie for your kid?  Cheat? Steal? My guess is that for most of us there is a point where we would do each of these things.  There are conditions, like famine and war, where we would leave our morals behind and act on our protective instincts to assure our children’s survival. But in real life, the one where we get up and go to work and the kids go to school, most parents, I believe, hold onto their moral compasses acting neither as bad people nor bad parents.

Lisa Heffernan and Jennifer Breheny Wallace

Saturday morning I was on Fox and Friends with guest Jennifer Breheny Wallace, discussing the recent New York Magazine article, “Is Ethical Parenting Possible?”  In Lisa Miller’s article she asserts that,  “Parenthood, like war, is a state in which it’s impossible to be moral. Worse, the moral weakness of parents is always on display, for children bear witness to their incessant ethical hairsplitting.”

Here I have to disagree.  Parenting is not a war, in fact it is the very opposite.  In parenting there is no enemy.  We may feel pressure, but we are not being attacked. There are no short burst of firepower, but rather a sustained multi decade long process of nurturing a helpless infant into a self-sufficient adult.  There are high points and low points but there is certainly no moment when we can claim certain victory and walk away.

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