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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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.

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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



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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 Ready for High School Begins in Sixth Grade

Lisa writes: Ahhhh…the beauty, the certainty of 20/20 hindsight.  As my youngest nears the end of high school, I have been thinking about what allows kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest.  What do I wish I had known as my kids turned 12 that would have helped them in getting ready for high school? If I had it to do again…

Misc.School Bus.IMG_0094_2_2

Do one thing well

I would make sure, if possible, that my child was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity.  Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the orchestra or given a role in the school play.  I know educators advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

 Sleep is an elixir

I would teach my kids that sleep is the elixir of the gods. It repairs sick bodies. It allows teens to perform better intellectually and athletically. It improves mood and helps maintain healthy weight. Teach your child to worship at the altar of an eight-hour night’s sleep and you have set them up for life.

Look away from the screen

I would work long and hard helping my child develop the ability to concentrate on books or art or anything but an electronic screen. Success in high school results from a level of concentration on the written word that can be challenging for a 14-year-old. I would make them read books, even if it meant tying them to a chair in order to do so.

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A Last Lesson on the Importance of Friendship

Gabby, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: One of the good things about being a parent three times over is that I am more focused on life’s ordinary moments as my last child inches her way toward leaving the nest.  Recently, I was packing to go away for a rare “girls weekend” when my daughter sat down on the edge of my bed and asked me about the friends with whom I was traveling.  Ultimately, our conversation shifted into a philosophical one about her own friends and the importance of friendship.

I will readily admit my many failures as a mother but one of the things I am most proud of is the way I have communicated through action (and words) how much my friends mean to me.

importance of friendship, friendship, high school friends, high school girls

I am inordinately grateful and comforted when I look at my two older children who have already “flown the nest” and see the kinds of friendships they have established.  They demonstrate to me that they understand how to be loyal, inclusive, trustworthy, forgiving, and supportive in times of trouble.  They accept and celebrate differences. I am wowed by the way that they have chosen their inner circle (with an extended selection of friends beyond this)  based on “matters of the heart”  and common values.

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Mothers and Daughters, the Teenage Years

Mary Dell writes: Teenage girls travel in packs, migrating between friends’ houses. Over time, mothers and daughters from each family get to know one another well. When it is our turn to host a Friday night sleepover I am delighted. On Saturday morning, while serving pancakes, I pull up a chair with my daughter and her friends and join them for a chat.  Learning how to be welcomed (momentarily) into my daughter’s group, yet heeding the cue to disappear, are lessons I learned from my mother when she was the one wielding the spatula.

I recently asked my oldest girlfriends about their memories of those long ago school days. Here are some of the things they remember:

mother and daughter, teenage girl and mom in the 1970's

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Blindsided by Childhood Milestones

Lisa writes: Parenthood is littered with Milestone Moments. Some we see coming, like registering for the draft, buying a bra, beginning high school or shaving. They are all expected, and all powerful. Yet other childhood milestones blindside us like a two by four with the rusty nails still sticking out.

childhood milestones, milestone, old milestone

SIbling Playdates. It was a huge childhood milestone the first time my kids actually played together, real interactive sibling-as-a-playdate played together. I looked on bursting with pride and thought they would become a perfect self-contained unit, full of rich imaginary play and support and understanding. And just when I was leaning back to admire my handiwork, feeling pretty good about myself, one son bit the other and was treated with a smack in the face for his efforts. My 30-seconds of fantasy was gone and life as I was really going to know it began.

Drivers License. This one is obvious, but what I didn’t realize was how much getting a driver’s license is akin to learning to walk. The first time my teens drove out of our driveway felt like the moment they stood up and walked away as toddlers. The only difference was that, behind the wheel, I worried far more and when they drove away, they didn’t turn around and come right back. These events may have been separated by 15 years but for me, they held the same power. They were when I realized that I wouldn’t need to carry them or drive them forever.

Cooking. It is a big milestone the first time a child makes himself a meal, when they put together a sandwich, boil some pasta and pour sauce on top or fry an egg. Up until that moment, my children’s very existence depended on my culinary skills, yet once I saw that fried egg, I knew they would not starve.

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Talking to Myself: The Words We Use to Parent

Lisa writes: I have survived two decades of parenting by talking to myself.  My incantations are my alter ego reminding me to put things in perspective, step back and take a breath and that things will probably be okay.  So while the mom voice in my head is shrieking, at myself or my kids, there is a calmer quieter voice, talking to myself, reminding me to count to ten before I speak.  I suspect that the calm, ever-so-sensible voice I hear in my head is my husband’s.

Well, at least no one was hurt.  My kids have smashed walls (who knew drywall was so easy go through), cars (ah yes, well)  and every toy of value they were ever given.   Boys seem to have a seek and destroy mechanism that is programmed from birth so this was one of the first parenting phrases I learned to say to myself.  I still say it to myself when they call and begin the conversation with, “Mom, there is something I need to tell you….”

He doesn’t mean that, he really doesn’t.  The first time one of my kids railed at me with the words, “you don’t understand anything, anything!” I had to repeat these words.  My crime? I had scheduled a play date for a fifth grader without asking first. This refrain works in response to a wide variety of invectives from,  “You are ruining my life”,  to everyone’s favorite, “I hate you” to my polite child’s  “I don’t really like you right now.”

I am the parent, he is a child.  This one usually requires much repetition because it is rolled out at the moments when we feel most unsure about our parenting. Some parenting decisions can find us sitting on the fence.  Curfew stretched to 1 am for a special occasion? Sleepover at a house you are not 100% about?   When we remember the first rule of parenting is to trust our instincts and say “no,” this is the reminder that if our kids’ judgements were sound, they would no longer need to live with us.

talking to myself-parenting boys-brothers-boys at the beach-children playng at the beach

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Why I Never Let My Kids Quit…Anything

Lisa writes: Quitting. We quit jobs, we quit marriages, we walk out on friendships and sometimes we let people down when the going gets tough. Sometimes it is necessary, even the right thing to do. Our kids quit teams and music lessons, art classes and after school programs. Sometimes it’s necessary, but sometimes they are bored or don’t like the coach or would just rather play video games at home. Deciding when to let your kids quit something, be it Gymboree, Little League or SAT prep, is a question that never goes away.

sports, varsity girls sports, girls sports, lacrosse, girls lacrosse, team sports for girls

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Surviving High School, It Begins in Sixth Grade

 

middle school challenges, junior highLisa writes: Ahhhh…the beauty, the certainty of 20/20 hindsight.  As my youngest nears the end of high school, I have reflected upon what qualities allow kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest. What were the most important things I could have done for my kids, starting in perhaps sixth grade, that would have impacted their chance of surviving high school and beyond?  Not surprisingly, they were not the things uppermost on my mind as my kids turned 12. If I had it to do again…

what to do in middle school

 

I would make sure that my child, if possible, was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity.  Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the field hockey team or given a role in the school play.  I know educators often advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

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Cheating at School – Start the Discussion Early

Lisa writes: The first few weeks of school are special ones.  Kids are still finding their way among classmates while trying to gauge their teachers’ approach and expectations. Slates are clean and possibilities hang in the air.  Parents often take the time to express to their children their own hopes and concerns for the school year. In looking back, I wonder why I never discussed cheating at school.

Cheating in school, academic dishonesty, cheating, EDS, educational testing service

I start every September giving one son the you-must-do-your-best talk.  Another son has just outgrown the annual you-need-to-be-more-organized talk and the third I prodded to move out of his comfort zone socially and extra curricularly.  But I can say with some certainty that I never kicked off a school year with a conversation about academic dishonesty. And in the wake of cheating scandals this year at Harvard University, Stuyvesant High School, and a Long Island SAT testing center, I am pretty sure I missed an important opportunity here. Did I fail to discuss cheating at school because I didn’t think it was a problem in their classes or was it because I didn’t think it would be a problem for my child? [Read more...]



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Note to Self: on Parenting Teens

Lisa writes: Parenting teens can be an emotional whirlwind and in the heat of the battle it is easy to forget lessons learned the hard way.  So, note to self…

Teenage surfer, surfer

It is not your life, it’s his.

Your mother thought she knew what you were up to.

Sometimes it really is better if they don’t tell you.

Only spy if you really want to know. And answer that question first.  You can’t unknow something.

Everything is a phase, even the good stuff.

When he takes your breath away, leaves you proud beyond words, find those words and tell him again and again.  He really does want your approval.

Life does not owe them car keys or internet or cash.  The deal was food, clothing and shelter. If needed, take everything else away.

Every so often go in and look at him sleeping, it will all coming rushing back.

Sometimes your kid’s behavior is your fault, sometimes it isn’t, really hard to tell, so don’t take all of the blame.

Memories are worth the mess. Always.

Other mothers should never make you feel bad about your kid, not matter how much bragging they do.  If you do feel bad, shame on you.

He doesn’t mean it.

You will miss this.  Really.

I am the parent, he’s the child, repeat as many times as necessary.



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Man of the House: Thoughts on a Son’s High School Graduation

From Suzy, a Grown and Flown friend: My first child celebrated his high school graduation last weekend. It’s all good – he’s ready. He’s heading off to the college of his choice and is excited to broaden his world beyond the school community where he has spent thirteen years. As I look ahead to September, so many thoughts and emotions bubble to the surface.

high school graduation, son, oldest son, son going to college

I imagine what he will take with him and what he will leave behind.  I imagine his dorm room and (still faceless) roommates, the way they will live together.  I wonder if he will keep his room neater than he does at home.  I imagine how he will come home and be thrilled to sleep in his bed again in his newly cleaned room. I pray that he will be happy. I have thought about all of these things except the space it will leave in my life.

My sons’ father and I split up when the boys were young, and my older son, then in second grade, without any urging from me, assumed the role of “man of the house.”  This was not necessarily a good thing – sometimes he threw his weight around too much.  It took some effort to make him understand that the seat at the head of the table was not, by all rights, his.

Yet as I look back, I am struck by the many ways in which he, in assuming that role, took care of me. The note he wrote me on the anniversary of my father’s death. The meaning-filled gifts he has given me. The times he told me to sit down and relax.  The ways in which he has helped protect family time. As he grew into a man, he has carried the heavy stuff, reached to get the boxes stored up high, taken responsibility for so much.  The kid in him whines sometimes and pushes his younger brother to share the load, but at the core, he takes pride in being there for me.

My younger son and I have a quieter partnership, fewer ripples. The house is still when it’s just the two of us, and more peaceful.  My older son walks loudly and consumes more emotional space. But I know that in that large and dominating personality is a deep loyalty and commitment to me.

Now that we have now finished with all of the high school graduation festivities, I think of his next move to college. He will need to let go of me as much as I will be letting go of him.  I promise him, I’ll be just fine.



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