Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Nuts & Bolts, Takes a Village, Teens, Tweens, Violence in the home

Parenting without Power (or a gun)

Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.

~Author Unknown

So yes, I’m still talking about the Father who used Facebook (and a gun) to teach his daughter a lesson. This is my 5th post, in what has become a series–given all there is to reap from this incident and its reverberations around the world.

Although the use of a gun is central to my expressed concerns, I see this more as an issue of power, and more importantly–an issue of how we react when we feel: powerless.

I must confess that I’m biased. I pack a lot of personal power into my 5 foot 2, mama frame. As the oldest of 8, leadership came early. That combined with a love learning and children led me to teaching, where to no surprise, classroom management came easily. When I asked my sixth-grade students why they behaved so poorly for a colleague while behaving so well for me, one replied on behalf of the class, “We know you mean business, Ms. Salasin.”

Unfortunately, parenting a toddler was nothing like managing a classroom. I quickly found some wonderful mentors to guide me as a new parent. When my first-born approached double-digits however, things got”stickier”– climaxing on the day that he refused to practice his violin and dashed out of the house defiantly after I told him to stay.

I was beside myself with thoughts of crushing his will.

When we finally did pick up the “conversation” again, things quickly grew heated, and I actually threatened… to break his toys… before breaking into a smile, shocked at myself.  (We both shared a belly laugh then at how ludicrous and desperate I had become.)

This was a turning point for me. I knew that my “rule” in the home had to be adapted in order to remained connected to this emerging man. I didn’t want to give up my personal power, but neither did I want him to grow up without his.

Another mentor appeared. This time with a practice: Non-Violent Communication (NVC). A parent group was formed, and I began studying and applying this subtle, but paradigm-shifting orientation toward power and needs. Most parents came because their kids wouldn’t listen; I came because I wanted to be sure that I listened.

Within months, my oldest was able to use NVC as a powerful tool for communicating what he needed. More often than not, he got what he wanted because he was able to connect to the depth of his needs and share them; and I wanted to respond.  Equally instrumental, was his growing ability to understand my needs; and respond, accordingly.

Now this son is 16, and his younger brother is following in his footsteps–using communication that connects and relates. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments of frustration or that we don’t lash out from time to time;  but we know how to rebound and reconnect; and we practice this every day; and it has truly been amazing–particularly in relationship with a young man who is getting ready to head off to college.

I feel proud. I feel proud that my boys have grown up witnessing and respecting the power of a woman; and I feel equally proud that they know how to understand and express their own needs from a place of strength–and connection.

In our home, each voice is respected. This doesn’t mean that I shirk my role as a parent to guide and teach my sons. I am a strong guide, and they don’t always like it; but they are accustomed to it.

At the same time, I work to help them develop the skills they need to leave me… and hopefully return someday–as a friend.

Powerlessness is a scary thing. It makes a powerful woman like me resort to the threat of breaking toys. It led a man in my community to take the life of another.  Being present to powerlessness, without acting out, is the truest test of courage and love.

In desperation, we may think that we have no choice, but that’s not true. The exciting thing about needs is that they are not mutually exclusive. A teenager can have a need for autonomy; and a parent can have a need for respect; and both of these needs can met.

It’s only our strategies that are be in conflict, and with creativity and presence, strategies emerge that meet both needs.

I don’t mean to imply that there will be no conflict or pain, but that there is a way–in our homes and in our communities and our wider world–to respect the needs of ourselves and others–with strategies that support both.

The place to start is self-compassion. Had Mr. Jordan deeply connected to his feelings, he would have realized that he was sad and angry and frustrated. These feelings would have pointed to his needs for respect and consideration and even power; and in his connection to these needs, he would have felt compassion for himself in this challenging role of parenting a seemingly ungrateful child.

In the space between connecting with himself and later his daughter, he would have tended to his hurt in whatever way brought him peace. For me, it is yoga and a visit to my therapist and walk with a good friend on a country road. For someone else, it’s sailing or hunting or Tai Chi.

Fully connected with himself, Mr. Jordan would then be ready to explore his daughter’s needs–even in the face of her hurtful Facebook postings.

He might guess that his daughter was needing greater autonomy or that she might need a greater understanding of how the household roles were shared. He could respond to his daughter in a way that not only set limits but also engendered respect–not for his power–but for his feelings as a man and a parent.

I’m not saying that this is easy. As a parent of a teenager, I know how often my son needs a reality check about how the rest of us feel. I also know that this characteristic self-absorption is a necessary edge of adolescent development. Thus I endeavor to provide those reality checks without shame; whenever needed. That doesn’t mean I never get angry or use my anger to more strongly communicate my needs.

It is important to note here that there is an inherent imbalance in the parent-teen relationship. Teens make it their full time job to claim independence; while our role is only part-time. In this imbalance, we often resort quick to fixes: Shooting a laptop for instance. Videotaping it and putting it on Facebook. Or maybe something less dramatic, but equally disconnecting.

On the other side, parents hold a greater measure of basic power: the money, the home, the food, the clothes, the keys, and often size and strength (at least for fathers and daughters.)

Despite how many applaud Mr. Jordan’s definitive line in the sand, most have come to realize, through deeper reflection, that his display of power was one of helplessness and hurt, not one of instruction and love.

He made a mistake, one with great ramifications, but in doing so, he provided the rest of us with an opportunity to look at where we feel powerless, and what we do about it.

Kelly Salasin, February 16, 2012

Other posts on this topic:

Part I: Rebuttal to Dad Who Used Facebook to “Teach His Daughter a Lesson”

Part II: Would Father Have Used Facebook and a Gun to Teach his SON a Lesson?

Part III: Dear Mr. Jordan & Other Parents Frustrated with Teens & Chores

Part IV. Father Who Used FB to Teach His Daughter A Lesson: A Human Rights Issue

For more about using Non-Violent Communication as a parent: click here. For the NVC website, click here.

Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Sexuality, Takes a Village, Teens, Underage Drinking & more

On Privacy

Vincent van Gogh,

“Will my kids be safe?” a friend asks about beginning to blog.

I consider the age of her children. “I think the greater threat to children is not speaking up,” I say.

Yesterday, I read a piece on the Huffington Post by a highschool classmate of my son’s.  Margaret addressed our culture’s current obsession with “sharing.” Her point was well made, but I’m happy to see the pendulum shift away from secrecy. No doubt discretion is needed as this clear-headed writer suggests, but I think this rocking into the openness is a necessary step.

I grew up in an alcoholic family where the drinking wasn’t kept secret. My father told me that my mother had a disease. We talked about–what it looked like; what we could or couldn’t do to help. My father was the only one who would talk about it.

When someone got seriously sick, we talked about that too; and when the neighbor’s teenage daughter attempted suicide, my dad told me how; because I asked. As a physician, he had been the first on the scene.

My father also sat me down to talk to me about cigarettes–told me that he and my mother hadn’t known of their risks when they started smoking. He said that I could smoke. At home. In front of him. I would pester my mother for puffs, but I never started, though she died from never stopping.

I talk to my own sons in this same candid way–as things come up, or when they ask, or when I can tell the time is right. I include that which my father left out–sexuality.

Once I became a teenager myself, my father stopped talking, at least about the gritty things that I was facing in my day to day:

My mother’s  depression.

My emerging sexuality.

My exposure to alcohol and drugs.

Maybe he didn’t know how.

It’s not surprising. Most parents don’t.  How would we know?

Which is why I blog about the conversations I have with my boys. As a lifelong educator and writer and a life lover, I want others to have an example of what an uncomfortable or solution-less real-life conversation with a teenager looks like.

And I want to hear back from my friends and readers; because parenting a teen is life-defining work, and working on it in the dark isn’t nearly as rich as stretching it out in the light together.

So my opinion is that privacy is over-rated. I prefer transparency. For not only does that allow others to learn or differentiate or improve upon what is offered, it also releases the drama of “story.”

For what is essential can’t be taken away from us by sharing. Our being-ness doesn’t get robbed on a blog.  Our life’s details and woes are simply garments.

Does that mean that I think everyone should strip themselves of story for others? No. Not unless that’s your calling.

There is a conundrum however in that calling–in that the fibers of my own drama are intimately woven into the stories of those who are closest to me–like my sons; and those who grew old with me–like my friends and siblings; and those who loved me first–like my parents and aunts and uncles and boyfriends.

They may not want to disrobe with me, no matter how far apart our threads have become.

Which brings me to a line my late grandfather used to say, “When it’s your time, it’s your time; but what if it’s the pilot’s time?”

Kelly Salasin, last day of November, 2011

Posted in Insight, Teens, Underage Drinking & more

Bribery & Punishment & Bears, oh my!

It occurs to me that there is one road I have not pursued in relationship to my teenage son’s proclamation that he wants to drink and do drugs: PUNISHMENT.

That probably seems lame. Not lame to punish, but lame that I never thought of punishment as a viable option. I decide to do some research to develop my arsenal, and I am surprised to find that when I search  “best punishments for teens,” there is plenty to mine!

This was not true when I googled ways of talking with a teen who wants to be honest about drinking and drug use.


Very interesting.

It’s said that you can tell a lot about a society by their prison system, but I think this search is just as revealing, as are the names of the sites with punishment tips:

  • Parenting Squad
  • Super Nanny
  • Troubled Teens
  • Teen Boot Camp

People are actually searching for this stuff, like this person who asked:

What is the best punishment for a teenage dad?

On my own blog, a parent suggests that I do drug testing on my son to make certain he’s clean. While another shares that they use motion sensors in their home to keep their teens in at night.

Something’s wrong.

There’s an elephant in the livingroom.

The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

Before my search on punishment, I tried bribery; but to my son’s credit, he’s dismissed it. Even a car. (Shocking.)

“I wouldn’t feel right doing that,” he says.

Of course, we’ve simultaneously released every bear we can think of--all the tragic stories of loved ones lost to death or addiction or deadening of dreams.

As a last option, I would use punishment if I thought it would be effective; But then I’d have to spend my days in suspicion in order to catch my son in crime so that I can punish him. That seems like a lousy end to what has been a integrity-full relationship.

So I’m going to keep my eyes there–on integrity; on right relationship–and let that inform the way (though I’m not above mentioning the arsenal of punishments out there or trying a few more times with the car.)

Kelly Salasin, November 2011

for more on teens and underage drinking etc, click here

Posted in Sexuality, Teens, Wisdom of Youth

Feminist or Whore?

After telling my son that he wasn’t allowed to date until he was 18 (I was only half-kidding), I shocked him at 15 with this (private) Facebook message:

I’d rather you have real sex–with a real girl–than use porn.

His response was priceless–and was actually in person–because as a mother I opted not to send my teenager a message with the words  “porn” and “sex“–but instead invited him to read it on my laptop before deleting it.

It took him a moment before he “got it”–and then he drew a quick breath and attempted to suppress a shy smile, saying:

Woah…that’s intense.

I smiled too–satisfied that I had driven my point home (despite how it unnerved me.)

It’s important to me that my teen not confuse my parental attention to his choices as a lack of passion for life itself.  I want him to know that I celebrate all that is good in life–including sex–but I want him to be intentional with his choices.

That’s how we ended up in a half-hour conversation around the word “whore” last week after he relayed a comedian’s skit that included the label.

“What does that mean to you?” I asked him.

Right away, he turned to leave the room, wishing he’d never stopped in to say goodnight to his parents or made the mistake of sharing something funny with his mother.

“Have a seat,” I said, with my–this is not an optional conversation voice–which I reserve for “these” kind of talks.

He sat himself down at the edge of my bed, prepared for a quick escape.

“So, what does ‘whore’ mean to you?” I asked again, keeping my tone lightwhile making sure he knew that this question was NOT going away.

He fumbled a bit and then said something like:

…That a girl is easy.

“What does ‘easy’ mean?” I probed, wondering where he was gaining this socio-cultural literacy and how much he had already been informed by it.

“Well how about guy?” I asked.  “What are they called when they’re ‘easy’?”

Our conversation continued in this manner with me asking lots of questions with the aim of greasing his thinking away from convention so that his mind might open beyond these gender stereotypes.

Some of his responses were surprising (given that I was certain that I had the final word on the subject.) My son thoughtfully spoke to the “economics” and power dynamics of the male-female exchange and how that determined why women would be called “easy” and men wouldn’t.

I pressed him further on this distinction, reminding him that women wanted sex too.  He was taken off guard by this response and then took me off guard with his own followup:

Mom, are you a feminist or something?

My husband and I looked at each other with suppressed smiles.  We both wondered how it was that our son could live with this particular mother for 15 years without knowing this about her–and we also wondered where he had learned the concept of feminism–and what it actually meant to him.

“Ask your grandfather about that,” I said, knowing that my dad would love to give his grandson an earful about this particular first-born daughter of his.

“What would Poppop have to say?” he asked, still bewilderingly unclear on my stance.

“A lot!” I said, and then to his dismay, I began the next chapter of our bedtime lesson on culture and sexuality–with this new leading question:

What is a feminist?

(to be continued)

Kelly Salasin

Posted in Fragile Life, Takes a Village, Teens

The Balls It Takes to Parent Teens

I sit in the parking lot of the 7’Eleven and bang my head on the steering wheel, wishing, for once, that I had a cell phone so that I could call for back up.

“Help, help, help,” I say to no one– hoping that someone will magically pull up beside me in this parking lot and tell me what to do. Maybe my doctor.

“Help, help, help,”  I repeat, until a truck pulls up beside me and the driver stares at me strangely.  I worry that he saw me banging my head and then I stare right back at him, wondering if there’s any chance that he could be helpful.  (If only I had a flat tire.)

I want to restart the car because I’m shivering from the stress, but I don’t want to pollute the environment for 5 minutes of comfort.

“Breathe, breathe, breathe,” I tell myself, and I try.

The boys are in line at the check out so I don’t have much time to figure out what to say next.   “Remain present, remain present, ” I say–trying to be present–while simultaneously  freaking out.

I think about pulling my teen aside and consulting him before they both get back into the car.  But that would be bad parenting form, right?   I have to be the grown up, right?  (I don’t want to be. This is a stupid job.)

Instead I tell my son that Pepsi and cheap chocolate aren’t  great choices right before bed, let alone any other time.  (This customary commentary on food choices seems out of place–even for me– given the topic at hand.)

“TMI!” I wanted to shout on the ride home from the game when his buddy unraveled his life before me.

I hadn’t expected a detailed confession, let alone extraneous ones.

“What do I say, what do I say?” I asked myself over and over again. But I had used up all my courage with the original prompt that had launched me into this deep end of parenting.

It was my own fault.  Actually, it was my nose’s fault.  I have incredibly strong olfactory senses–and that’s what I told this friend of my son’s when he got into my car.

“Did I ever tell you that I can smell just about anything– on anybody?”  I say.

The car gets quiet.  And then it just spills out of him–so softly– that I have to tilt my head toward the back seat to catch what he’s saying.

After the stop at 7’Eleven, we turn toward small talk but it just feels flat and forced.  Mostly we sit without talking–which is a surreal experience with two teens in the car. What are they thinking? I wonder.

“You know I care about you, right?”  I finally say aloud to this boy I have known– since he was a boy.  Now he looks more like a man.  “You know this puts you at risk. You’re too young,” I tell him.

He isn’t apologetic or dismissive or anything that would give me something to push back on.   He is simply transparent, just like me–and we fall silent again.

It seems like everyone in the car has aged in the twenty minutes since I picked them up at the school.

“Talk to your parents,” I say as we pull up to his house. “I’ll  follow up with them this weekend.”

I can tell that I’ve just dropped a bomb on him with this request.  Actually, it feels like the weight of a hundred years is on his spirit as he gets out of the car and drags himself toward his front door.  I wonder if I should have gone in with him.  He seems so tender.

As we back out of the driveway, my son launches into weekend plans and I put up my hand.  “I can’t talk about anything, right now,” I say, and he uncharacteristically silences himself without another word.

At the bottom of the road, I pull over and flop my head onto the steering wheel, finally taking a deep breath.  “I want to quit,” I say. “This is too hard.”

I’m not sure if this confession of mine evokes compassion or concern or something worse so I start driving again.  You can do this, I tell myself.

You just did.

Kelly Salasin

Posted in Quotes 2 Inspire, Sexuality, Teens, Wisdom of Youth

The Fear of Love

Should I fear my son falling in love just because it once ended badly for me?

For even the great philosopher Plato said,

Love… is universally acknowledged to be among the oldest of things… (It) is the author of our greatest advantages; for I cannot imagine a greater happiness… to one who is in the flower of youth than an amiable lover , or to a lover, than an amiable object of his love.  For neither birth, nor wealth, nor honours, can awaken in the minds of men the principles which should guide those who from their youth aspire to an… excellent life, as Love awakens them.

(quoted from Plato in the compilation, The Spirit of Loving, editor, Emily Hillburn Sell.)

Posted in Holidays, Teens

The Thanksgiving Miracle (a.k.a. the teen who stole Thanksgiving)

A few years ago, our Thanksgiving was completely swiped–the likes of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Only our villian–or should I say, “our hero,” was an unlikely teenage boy.

Here’s the story:

After we got the turkey in the oven that morning, we went for a family walk.  Our reluctant teenager even joined us.  We circled the pond and tested the ice and watched tiny flakes fall from the sky; then crunched our way home through the as the boys threw snow at each other.

Before leaving for my sister’s for pre-Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvres, we prepared our dinner table, only to discover that we didn’t have eight of anything! Worse of all was the realization that there were only 4 forks left from our silverware collection.

In response to this crisis, the reluctant teenager created a new tradition: setting the table in half blues and half greens (placemats and dishes) with matching silver on one side and a pot-luck assortment on the other.

My husband, a strong Virgo, had to leave the room, but our eight-year old was inspired to contribute an interesting tradition of his own:  filling a piñata that he had scored at the second-hand store the day before.

The day was filled with many, many happy moments and a few “mommy dearest” ones–like when I arrived home from sister’s to find that the turkey was done an hour early… while my teenager moved in slow motion to each desperate request for help.

Our youngest shined in this hour of need, asking eagerly, “Is there anything else I can do?”  At 8, he was naturally helpful, relishing in any moment where he could outshine his big brother.  Plus he had a vested interest in the dinner meal as he had peer arriving to join us, while his brother, dejectedly, did not.

In true adolescent fashion, he was sullen during dinner and dramatically opted out of the post-turkey walk with our guests, plugging himself into his ipod and plopping down on the couch instead.  “At least start putting some dishes in the dishwasher,” I called before leaving.  I dreaded coming back to that mess, but the sun was getting low in the sky, and it was now or never to enjoy what was left of this day.

Our guests laughed at my suggestion that our teen begin the clean up, promising that we would all tackle it together when we returned. We enjoyed a nice long walk up MacArthur Road and arrived back home as the sun dropped behind the mountain.

When we walked in the door, I gasped, as if our house had been robbed. I looked around, confused, bewildered, concerned even.  My teenager was no longer on the couch. He was at the sink. I suspected he jumped up just in time to start loading the dishes when he heard us come up the drive.  And yet something was different…

The wood stove was still there in the middle of the room, but everything else… There was absolutely no evidence of our Thanksgiving Party left behind–not in the living room or the dining room or in the sink. In fact, the kitchen was eerily spotless.  Not a dish or a crumb, not a pot or a pan. Nothing but the smell of turkey and a single glass of chardonnay.

Beguiled and giddy, we put our coats back on and headed down to our neighbors for the pumpkin pie and the piñata… while continuing to marveling over what was sure to be forever called, The Thanksgiving Miracle.

Kelly Salasin

(To read more about the suprises of parenting a teen, click here.)