Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Parental Adolescence, Retirement, Teens, Tweens, Twenty-something

Mothers~Permission to Retire!

Once upon a time, with a college degree and honors, I embarked on an unexpected and ambiguous career.

21 years later, I’m ready to retire.

“You can’t retire,” my sons tell me, even though they both shave.

Why not? My contemporaries are doing it. They’re leaving the office and the classroom and the police force, and not only are they celebrated, but they’re expected to reward their years of effort with relaxation–to allow their minds soften into something new.

“I’m worried that I’m living like I’m retired,” a friend says, on a Tuesday morning, in the cafe at our local co-op, after we realize that we’re sitting at adjacent tables.

I turn my chair toward her and explain that I’ve been considering just that.

“Why are we expected to jump into the next thing without the opportunity to get to know ourselves again?” I say.

She nods her head, “I’m not the same person I was before.”

We both know that our partners lives have been reshaped by parenting, but they’ve been able to move forward with their careers and identities, while ours have snagged or circled or more often, met dead ends.

Although we’re are a decade apart (her oldest and my youngest are peers), my younger friend and I share a mounting anxiety about what we’re supposed to be doing, and if we’re doing it wrong, and even worse, if what we’re not doing… is unfair, particularly as our children come of age.

“We have to claim this time,” I say, “Not just for ourselves, but for all the other mothers (and fathers) who come after us.”

I tell her about another friend who once asked in a panic, “Is it okay that I keep changing my mind? Taking jobs. Leaving them. I don’t know what I want. I can’t figure out how to manage it all.”

My friend nods knowingly.

“We should write a book about this!” I say.

We both laugh, accustomed to bouncing big ideas like this off of one another, in between conversations about our most pressing realities: homework and driver ed and emerging sexuality.

“Too bad one of us doesn’t have her PhD,” I say.

My friend shakes her head. Our parenting years have robbed us of the illusion of (and the inclination toward) expertise.

“We have to start by recognizing caregiving as a career,” I say. “There is so little understanding and appreciation of its dimensions, particularly after the early years.”

What follows is an extended back and forth about all the ways that parenting a teenager and even a young adult require careful attention and artistry. I tell my friend about an elderly mother that I met with my husband over the weekend. She came to town to help her son through his divorce. My husband was touched at this act of motherly devotion, but I felt something else–An awareness that this career never reaches a finish line.

My friend glances at the time on her computer. “I have to get to some errands before I pick up the kids.” We hug goodbye, and I turn back to my computer to outline the trajectory of the caregiving role.

The hours of the primary caregiver:

  • Newborn: 24-7
  • Infant: See above
  • Toddler: See above
  • Preschool age: Overtime
  • School age: Full time
  • Highschooler: Night shift
  • Young adult: Contractural

When I finish the list, I realize that I’m twenty minutes late to pick up my son from Driver’s Ed.

Later that evening, on a way to an event, I tell my husband: “I’m frustrated when others ask what I do. Everyone raises kids, but it’s what people do for a living that distinguishes them. It’s as if consciously raising two human beings is some small thing.”

Suddenly the enormity of my devotion occurs to me:

Two human beings.
TWO HUMAN BEINGS!

“I’m so proud of me,” I say. “I want a party and new pair of Birkenstocks.”

~
Addendum:
RESOURCES FOR UNDERSTANDING THE ENORMITY OF PRIMARY CAREGIVING ROLE

(all of the above from the audaciously insightful Penelope Trunk)

UPDATE, September 2016:
MY NEW Birks!

Full disclosure.
Splurged on a second pair!

(One for each son!)

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Posted in *Workshops, Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Nuts & Bolts, Teens, Tweens, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

CHORES–Why they’re WORTH the FIGHT

children-parent-tug-of-war
I’ve written about the importance of chores before, including these posts:

The Necessity of Chores

HALF! Day

How Full is Your Plate? an online workshop for moms

But what I’ve failed to fully admit is how much easier it would be to  do everything myself.
(And it would be done a lot better.)

Why do I bother?

I’d like to say that I do it all for them–to make them better citizens, humans, energetic beings (and that is true); but another truth is that I don’t want to do everything so it’s worth it to have some jobs done less than perfectly.

BUT the angst. THE ANGST!
The reminding. The redirecting. The reprimands.

Sometimes I find myself questioning if it’s worth it, and questioning whether I should be encouraging other people to suffer like this by leading workshops on chore sharing in the home.

And then there are those other times, when in the distance, I hear the sweet and soothing sound of a boy swishing a toilet, or vacuuming a room, or emptying waste baskets; and I think: I AM BRILLIANT.

But what if you like doing your own chores and want them done perfectly?

I still recommend sharing the load. Here’s why:

The Necessity of Chores

But what if your teen’s resistance is so strong that it takes way more energy than you can manage to keep them in the game?

It’s still vital. For them.
Try a dose of creativity, like this:

HALF! Day

And now for a new chunk of highly salient information expanding on why it’s worth the EFFORT:

Kids need conflict to grow up. Particularly teenagers. It’s part of the individuation process. It’s how they begin to separate from our cozy nest and shape their own flight.

When I accept that conflict is necessary, I surrender to it, and not just that, I RESPECT it.

This is quite revolutionary.

Conflict isn’t in the way,
it IS The Way.

I’d like to take credit for this awareness, but my therapist gets a lot of that.

See this post for how I put it into action:

Episiotomy (of love)

And here’s something even more radical for your consideration:

Since conflict is a necessary part of the developmental process, particularly with teens, then how cool is it that they get their daily/weekly dose of parental conflict in a way that makes such a foundational difference in family life–working together to honor and contribute to the space we share–rather than investing it in other areas with much higher stakes.  (Think sex, drugs, alcohol.)

Posted in *Workshops, Teens, Tweens

How Full is Your Plate? online workshop for moms

At 5, they’re eager to help. At 8, they’re earnest. At 10, they begin to complain:”This is unfair…”

THE FULL PLATE project was created in response to my first born when he hit the ripe age of 10 and started complaining that his chores were “unfair” and that he “had too much to do.” (Which, of course, was completely absurd, but there was no way to get through to him around this, until…

THE FULL PLATE project: after which he NEVER complained again.

In fact, he was actually HAPPY about his small share of chores; okay, maybe not happy, but at least satisfied because he didn’t want to have to face the reality (and potential consequences) of The Full Plate project again.

Another bonus was that this activity was a wakeup call for my husband, who realized that he wasn’t the only one “doing everything.”

And lastly, as a mom, The Full Plate project provided a sense of validation and recognition for ALL I did (and do) behind the scenes of home and family life.

The best part is that no one knew what hit them. When the night came for The Full Plate family activity (Step II of the three-part project), I made their favorite dinner and even served dessert…

…And then I put out 4 clean plates and a bunch of what look liked fortune cookie strips, and life as they previously perceived it changed…

Now, all I have to do is mention The Full Plate project and everyone gets moving on their share of the household work.

Does this sound like something you’d like to try with your family?

Find out about the next group of moms tackling this challenge as we “gather” in a private FB group (with password access to the three-part project on this site) with flexible online participation according to your schedule.

Contact me with questions or to inquire about joining the next group.

Next group launching with the New Moon of the New Year.
Current rate: $33.33.
Sign up with a friend; combo rate: $55.55
(Private/non-group online facilitation available at: $77.77-111.11)

More writing on chores:

The Necessity of Chores
Half Day

Posted in Nuts & Bolts, Tweens

Inventory of a 12-year old’s Pocket

Aidan, age 12
Aidan, age 12
  • a wallet with $3 in change & $3 in bills
  • a nose whistle
  • a mustache whistle
  • a key chain
  • a hook, a lock, and a lego piece
  • a straw wrapper
  • a flattened penny from the science museum
  • a pedometer
  • a set of directions for UNO
  • an expired b-day coupon for Pizza Hut
  • a pack of tissues his mom brought home from Japan
  • 5 pieces of green origami paper and 1 yellow origami crane
  • 3 pendant necklaces
  • an i pod shuffle
  • 2 sets of earphones
  • 1 rubber band, 1 rock, 1 pebble
  • 1 piece of hardened clay
  • 1 Megabucks coin
  • and one unidentifiable creation that was originally a pen…

as catalogued by his mother, November 2012

(Compare to: Inventory of a 13-Year Old’s Pocket)

Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Teens, Tweens, Violence in the home, Wisdom of Youth

Giving Up Yelling–for Lent (Part II. Violence hides in the home.)

Aztec (visipix.com)
Quetzalcoatl, Aztec (visipix.com)

The first time I ever yelled at my son was at our back door on our way out to preschool. I was pregnant, feeling awful, and my steady supply of patience had suddenly evaporated. It was downhill after that. My bubble as a “perfect parent” popped, again and again, particularly once I became a mother of two boys.

That said, I had a strong skill set for parenting. I had been the oldest of eight and an elementary school teacher by profession. In fact, I had been my son’s preschool teacher for 2 years until he fired me: “Mom, would you leave like the other Mom’s do?”

When I left the preschool the following year, I was given the job of coordinating an ongoing parenting workshop in our district. I was an eager participant as well. I explained that I held so much personal power in the home that I wanted to be sure my boys came into their own. The majority of the others complained that their children never listened to them.

“All I do is yell,” confided one mother.

I’ll never forget that admission because her sadness touched me, and I also wondered about it. Why did she yell? Didn’t she bring her boys up to listen to her? It takes persistence, but it can be done; and it’s much more effective and empowering than yelling.

It would be ten years before I realized that I had become that mother.  It didn’t happen over night. It crept up on me, like a slow, growing fungus. Frustration played a part, fatigue did too, as did the diminishing return of being a perfect parent.

My oldest was 10 when the fungus picked up its pace.  It was time for violin practice, and he not only balked, but refused. When I insisted, with accentuated volume, he had the audacity to leave. He ran out the door and hid behind his rock pile.  My husband encouraged me not to follow him.

But when he returned, there were fireworks. I’ll never forget coming face to face with my own powerlessness as we yelled at each other at the top of the stairs; or the desperate absurdity of my next move: “I’m going break all your toys,”I said.

There was a  long pause while we absorbed my threat, followed the expansion of our mouths into a smile, and then laughter.

It was time for my role as Commander in Chief to change; and to tell the truth, looking back now, seven years later, as my son rounds out the last semester of high school, I did a pretty good job with the transition. We still like each other; and even though the fireworks have increased over time, they are more frequently followed by understanding and acceptance and even… affection.

Lately, this emerging adult confides that my personal power is intimidating. That even though I listen and consider and even change my mind at times, I have such a commanding manner, that even when I’m giving, I can be taking away.

I resent this. I want everyone to find their own power. I don’t want to diminish mine just to make them comfortable. I’ve worked hard to claim this power in my life; it’s what enabled me to transcend a great deal of pain and to create the beautiful fulfilling life I have now –which includes a positive relationship with my teenager.

It seems a shame to be giving up my voice just when I’m coming into it as a middle-aged woman with dramatic hormonal surges of clarity, but I listen and consider and begin to shape a plan; because that’s how much I love these men–not only my husband and my teenager–but his younger brother, who at 12 is still a sensitive soul who can’t bear these heated arguments.

I know that the last handful of years has taken its toll on my youngest; and that by the time his brother is off to college, he’ll begin his own adolescence.  Perhaps this second act will be less intense, simply because it’s no longer a complete unknown. Maybe it will feel as easy as it did when he was born and we had already endured the initiation into parenting so that we spent much of the time coasting. Maybe we’ll be more relax more this time around with a teenager, knowing that we didn’t totally fuck up the first one.

But you never know. Things can be going on swimmingly, and then a tidal wave comes out of nowhere. Like the day before last. When my oldest and I went head to head at breakfast and I banged my fist on the table like I’d seen my father do.  My younger son resigned himself to leaving the room, while my husband rebuked us, again and again.

Growing up in what could be a volatile home, my husband was afraid of anger, and rarely expressed it. He was also the middle child, the peace maker, and so his first-born wife was infuriated each time he stood the middle ground instead of rolling up his sleeves to tackle the intensity of parenting a teenager.  “I’m raising a man!” I’d rant with all my mid-life fury, challenging him to tell me what he was after.

This is how the intensity built on Sunday so that what started out as a typical disagreement between two parents and their son mutated into ongoing fireworks between husband and wife; only I was the only one launching anything of color. By the time my husband truly engaged, at the tail end of a tiring day, he was fully loaded–with pain. The pain from a lifetime of witnessing volatility, the pain of fear and powerlessness, and the frustration of facing my angst and anger without expressing his own or without being able to communicate how toxic the build up was for him.

The result was–chilling and sobering and a wakeup call–for both of us. His–to more fully explore the pain he never felt or flushed; Mine–to realize the impact that my own volatility might have on my family.

I decide to go on a diet. A volume diet. A power diet. I will not relinquish my hard-earned voice, but I will cultivate it on the inside so that my sons and my husband might have more space to cultivate their own.

I check the calendar and discover that “lent” begins tomorrow. What a coincidence! (I’m not even Catholic.)

So there it is, 40 days without raising my voice.

Ready? Set?

GO!

(shhhhh….)

Kelly Salasin, February 12, 2013

For Part I of Violence hides in the home, click here.