Why I “Pressure” My Children to Achieve

Newsflash! Parenting is hard.

I’m the mother of teens and in many ways, parenting has gotten much, MUCH easier. So I’m not talking about hard in the way that sleepless nights are hard or not being able to have two minutes to yourself is hard or being smeared in baby vomit and diaper dootie is hard. Those parts of parenting are crazy hard–physically and mentally exhausting.

I’m well past that kind of hard. In fact, life with teens has been mostly “easy”. Our boys can bathe and dress themselves, cook for themselves, walk, bike or drive where they need to go, and on most days, they’re pretty darn fun to have around.

shocked-mom-faceBut our oldest is getting to that almost a grown-up stage and I have little idea what’s going on in his brain. Sometimes, when he does confess what he’s thinking, my eyes widen with fear and I’m sure I’ve done everything all wrong.

For example, while on a ski trip to Colorado in February, more than one restaurant server admitted to spending their lives skiing by day and waiting tables by night. Our son said, “That actually sounds like a pretty great life.”

Another time when I must have been talking about the importance of doing well in school so he could get a good job, our son said, “Not everything is about the money.”

It’s these types of statements that make me think… um, yes, not “everything” is about money. But if you’ve ever been broke, if you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep at night wondering how you’re going to pay the rent, suddenly, it’s ALL about the money.

Granted, I’m not talking about luxury or excess. I am talking about shit’s expensive! Rent, utilities, food, clothes, entertainment, vacations, skiing for goodness sake! It’s all expensive. And yes, your dad doesn’t go to work each day vibrating with positive energy because he’s living his dream. He likes his job and his work benefits the world. But it’s difficult work and he certainly wouldn’t do it for free. It’s about the money.

Where I grew up, people worked in factories. Hot, loud, monotonous factories. These were considered dream jobs by the way. Why? Because of the money. Because these jobs offered folks a way to obtain hearth and home and maybe a lake cabin and a snowmobile. But today, those jobs are gone, gone, gone. Wanna live anywhere close to a middle class life? Guess what kiddo? You’re gonna have to eventually think for more than a hot second about the money.

Some say this is too stressful on young people. All that pressure to perform in high school to get into college. Welp, part of life is learning how to manage stress, how to solve problems and how to work for what’s important. I’m no Tiger Mother in the true sense. I let the kids quit piano lessons. There was no math camp or traveling sports teams. They’ve mostly been able to pave their own way. Ultimately, we’ll let them decide their own futures too. But that doesn’t mean they won’t hear from us about what their decisions now mean for the future. It’s time. It’s time to get serious about the groundwork for what is to come. I know that’s a lot to ask of a seventeen year old. Fine. Don’t know what you wanna do? No problem. Just work hard and get a degree in something “useful” and then let fate take it from there.

broke-trans-300x225For now, my kid doesn’t seem to appreciate my style of parenting. But I’m pretty sure he’ll see the light one day when he’s sick of being broke.

In the meantime, I don’t need anybody fueling my kid’s thoughts of me as some kind of pressure monster. Like when a pastor recently told a group of teens something along the lines of, “if your parents are causing you stress with pressure to perform in school, you should know that you’re good enough just the way you are.” Okay. Yes. Of course all humans are created in the image of God and are good enough. Of course I’m not asking my kids to earn my love or God’s love. I’ll always love them no matter how they perform or what they achieve. As human beings and my beloved offspring, they are most definitely good enough.

But as productive members of society, they’ll need to dig a little deeper. Video games and afternoon naps are not even close to good enough. In fact, I’m curious if that pastor ever asked a teenage boy what he’d do with his time if not pressured by their parent to do his homework or study for a test. Because I know the answer. Most parents know this answer. That’s kinda why we pressure them. Cause we know the answer and it’s not good enough.

lazinesshomerWe are created to serve and glorify God. Sloth does not serve or glorify anyone–the self included–even though it can feel good. Trust me. I know. I fight the urge to laze about almost daily. But I want to live a useful life and I believe our kids should too.

God created my wonderful children with certain gifts. And I do try my best to discern what those gifts are and help them move in those directions. But no direction is unacceptable. No choice is a choice. So I’ll continue to “pressure” (their word, not mine) our children to be the best they can be–not because they’re not good enough. I love them for who and what they are and have worked alongside their father to provide them a loving and nurturing home. But one day, they’ll likely want a home of their own. That means at some point they’re going to have to come to terms with what things cost and the “pressure” associated with achievement because… as vulgar as it sounds, it’s very much about the money.

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Talking to Teens When Tragedies Happen. Oh, and Cell Phones…

It’s been a week of heavy lifting in the realm of parenting teens. Most days, the biggest concerns in our lives seem to be getting everybody out of bed and off to school on time, making sure their sports uniforms are clean or at least baptized in Febreze and stopping those perpetually hungry teen boys from gobbling up fistfuls of granola bars right before dinner.

But this week. This has been one of those weeks when sh*t gets real. When I have to find a way to have hard conversations and break my kids’ hearts with reminders about evil that lurks. They act unaffected by news stories, like they’ve got everything under control. Teenagers. Growing and grown­­–on the outside. Still vulnerable and unsteady on the inside like fawns on wobbly legs. It’s my job to help strengthen them. I must do the heavy lifting and point them toward the source of true strength. Encourage them to guard their hearts. And insist on the importance of thinking clearly about our values–that they might live in such a way, loving one another, that others will know to whom they belong.

Stanford~

With teen boys who will one day go off to college and live with a freedom they’ve never known, this story cannot be ignored. My sons must hear me say out loud and with conviction that women should be highly valued even when the culture says they’re not. Even when the culture says women must be thin and pretty and sexy, and that they’re less than… we will reject this premise and we will value women. This is part of our ongoing conversation about relationships, sex and what being a “real” man looks like. They may not want to hear me rant about misogyny or inequality because hearing parents talk about sex can cause a gag reflex in most teens. Too bad. It’s got to be.

A friend told me how he asks his son’s friends, who think because they’re physically strong that they are truly strong, “Are you strong enough to go against the crowd? Are you strong enough to stand up for the weak?” *click here for a more poignant conversation by Ann Voskamp on the topic.

Writer Anne Greenwood Brown spoke about the courage and conviction of the Swedish cyclists who stopped the Stanford rapist and held him until the police arrived.

Not only were those cyclists brave, they were shocked and horrified. A news account mentions how one of the Swedes cried multiple times while giving testimony to police. I want my sons to be horrified if ever they witness evil being done to another human. I hope and pray they too would defend the weak and vulnerable like those cyclists did.

Brown took it a step further by making t-shirts that say “Be a Swedish Bicyclist.” I think that’s pretty terrific!

courtesy Anne Greenwood Brown

courtesy of Ann Greenwood Brown

When I told my boys about the t-shirts and the tagline, I asked them, “Would you be a Swedish bicyclist?” They nod in affirmation. I hope that’s true.

Orlando~

I remember Columbine. The horror of that day, watching the television news in disbelief and with profound sadness. And yet, somehow I knew. I knew it would happen again and keep happening. Because once an event like that gets the desired result–to terrorize and in a twisted way, be memorialized–more lunatics would begin to plot their own personal day of infamy.

In fact, I wish the news would stop proclaiming that the Orlando shooting is the “worst mass shooting in American history” because surely someone out there is evil enough or crazy enough or both to accept that as a challenge.

My heart breaks. Safety is an illusion. I’m sad to have to tell my children this awful truth.

But I’m reminded of a chapter in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Accidental Saints. The chapter is called, the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents of Sandy Hook Elementary and in it, Weber attempts to reassure her Lutheran congregation after a horrific school shooting of Christ’s redemption and His solidarity with suffering. She talks about how King Herod ordered the murder of children in an attempt to kill the Christ child.

Evil is not new. It didn’t begin with Columbine. And sadly, it will not end in Orlando. Evil has been with us since shortly after the beginning of our human story.

BUT! In this story, Christ enters into this broken and broken-hearted world, knowing full well how much the place needs fixing. He’s fixing us, if we’ll let him, one by one, heart by heart. Teaching us to trust, to pray, to be kind to each other, to forgive and to live at peace. I tell my sons that it’s part of our job as Christians to bring peace, joy and comfort to the world while we wait for restoration. To bless the suffering and broken-hearted until evil is forever vanquished. We must shine a light in the darkness. Be good. Do good. Point to the source of goodness with how you live your life.

Cell Phones~

Speaking of lights in the darkness. Let me finish with comments about those glowing blue screens. I should have done this before, when we first bestowed those tiny Pandora’s boxes into the palms of our children’s hands. I should have insisted they be phone free overnight.

So now, after those smartphones have become like permanent appendages that seem to cause our boys to take the longest dumps in recorded bathroom history, I’m prepared to pry those devices from their clenched fists like priceless pearls from an oyster. Let ‘em scream, “It hurts. I’ll surely die.”

They will not die. And they need not respond to text messages, Snapchats, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other damned digital demon in the wee hours of the night.

No plotting. No drama. No endless conversations about the latest Jordans. It stops. Maybe it never started. But with our youngest about to begin high school and informing us that he now has a girlfriend, late night access to a cell phone is bound to become a source of temptation if not serious frustration.

So, for the summer, I’ve asked our boys to turn in their phones at 10 p.m. They are not pleased. But I feel strongly that I’ve erred by letting this go on up to now, believing they were sleeping whenever I was sleeping. #afoolnomore

That’s it. It’s all I’ve got. This is the best parenting I can do this week. I’m tapped out. Tired. So turn off the news. Turn off the cell phone. Say your prayers and get some sleep. Those kids will likely need us again tomorrow.

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Trying Not to Freak Out Over My Baby Growing Up

Once, when our firstborn was an infant–just weeks old and snuggled into a forest green velour sleeper embellished with red and white Christmas decals–he was asleep in my brother-in-law’s arms. My brother-in-law, whose eldest children were teenagers at the time, stared into my tiny child’s face and said, “I can’t remember my son being this small.” I was horrified.

After 32 weeks of a tumultuous pregnancy involving two extended hospital stays, weeks of bed rest and near constant fetal monitoring until the forces of maternal nature could no longer be blunted, there was a disquieting birth. And my tiny child was whisked away to the neo-natal intensive care unit where he stayed until his little baby body got into the habit of regular breathing.

IMG_2511I cherished every second spent holding my newborn child, my gift and blessing, so fragile yet resilient, my joy. I could not fathom how any parent could forget. So whenever our baby would wake in the night, I’d rock him in the dark and sing to him–old hymns or Stevie Nicks songs–anything I knew by heart. And I would close my eyes and resolve to commit each moment to memory. I never wanted to forget.

Yet, like the lyrics to After the Glitter Fades, only bits and pieces of my son’s infancy seem to remain a part of my brain’s permanent record. Like my brother-in-law, I gaze upon our now 15-year-old son and can hardly recall him once being so tiny.

I have made every effort to be the best mother I can be. I am not perfect. None of us are.

Older women would tell me how it all goes so fast. But when our kids were in diapers and didn’t always sleep through the night or allow me five seconds alone in the bathroom, I would wonder, “WHEN is it going to go faster?!”

DSC00428_0070And then, after years of wooden trains and Legos, superhero costumes and storybooks, I stepped through a time warp. Now I have to reach up to hug my son, who was once a 5 lb. completely dependent baby boy. I’ve tried so hard to hold on and not forget, that now I have no idea how to begin letting go.

DSCN1565Other mothers tell of how they cried on their child’s first day of kindergarten. I didn’t shed a single tear that day. I was relieved whenever our son showed signs of being able to navigate the world on his own. Milestone after milestone always brought a sigh of relief; we were doing something right. The kid was going to be okay. But wait…

He is now a freshman in high school and we (probably) only have four years left before he launches into the world for more than just a day. So I promised myself I’d speak affirmation to him every single day until he leaves for college. But then, he aggravated me, like all teenagers often do to their mothers. I don’t remember what he did, probably left wet laundry in the washing machine, something trivial but maddening, and I went all loose canon bitchy mom in need of wine or hormone injections. I’d blown my affirmation pledge after a single day. And unlike when he was tiny, I don’t have much time left to make everything right. It’s all going so damned fast!

And now, those tears I didn’t shed when he was a kindergartner come regularly. I cry whenever I consider the mistakes I may have made as a parent. And I well up as I struggle over how to best parent a man-boy who wants to travel across the country on a summer mission trip but can’t find his socks. Is he going to be okay? Am I going to be okay?

I remember being pregnant and frustrated that my pregnancy wasn’t going smoothly. I asked my doctor, “WHEN will I stop worrying and enjoy this?”

She told me the awful truth, that I would never stop worrying but that there also would be joy. Admittedly, I worry less. I’ve gone from checking on an infant every five minutes to make sure he’s breathing to trying to envision a future with grown children. I remind myself to breathe. There is definitely joy. So much joy. And yet, I haven’t been this emotional since giving birth. Just like no one can describe the crazy mix of emotions involved in becoming a new parent, no one could have prepared me for what I’m feeling at this stage of life. It once seemed so far off, and now here I am with growing boys ever closer to being grown up. I hope to remember most of it.

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