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The Age of Anxiety

A little thought experiment:
You're not in charge. The people who are in charge are nice enough, I mean they seem to like you. But they don't seem to trust you all that much. They're always second-guessing you, telling you how you could be better, do things better. You have very little free time or down time because they're always finding things for you to do. They don't ask you what you think but assume that you're on board with plans. You don't have much room to roam or make decisions, and usually you're happy to go along. But...but.
Does this scenario make you anxious?
I've been reading and hearing so much lately about the state of children today, and that state seems to be: anxious. 
On the other hand, parenting in the past couple of decades has changed dramatically, from relatively free-range, kids-should-be-seen-and-not heard style to overbearing helicoptering.
Do you suppose there's a connection?
One thing we didn't have, those of us raised in the 60s and 70s, was a generation's worth of overstressed, overscheduled, overachieving kids who arrive at the cusp of adulthood unable to bear disagreement and hurt feelings. Or manage straightforward adult tasks and decision-making. Maybe letting kids roam, take risks, and screw up for their own account is a good thing. 
There's a reasonable-sounding theory in the medical community that posits that the dramatic increase in allergies in children may be the result of too much cleanliness-- all our years of Purell and sanitizing may have resulted in immune systems that are never tested, and never get a chance to mature.
Sound familiar?
When kids are overscheduled, overhandled, and overruled, I think the same thing happens to them on an emotional level.  
I'm hoping that the pendulum will swing back. That parents will stop making a career out of being in charge and let go some of the control and decisions, stop wondering and second-guessing themselves at every turn and get comfortable with mistakes. Theirs and their kids. That's the only way to nurture a growth mind-set, one that's willing to take  measured risks, and recover from mistakes.
Maybe that's the way to address the anxiety epidemic.


Who is Grown and Flown??

I've really been enjoying reading a blog called "Grown and Flown" which is aimed at parents of kids 15-25.

It brings home to me the fact that, like everything else in life, parenting has phases.

My own two beauties are a sophomore in college and a senior in high school, respectively. One is settling in to his life as a young adult, managing everything from daily schedules to college social life to the supporting role of a part-time job. The other is in the throes of the application process, while juggling four AP classes, part-time work, and trying to enjoy the fleeting moments of her high school career.

As for me, I'm grappling with the phase I'm in, which I liken to "end of contract" in business. When I gave up my full-time career in finance the year my son was born twenty *cough* years ago next year, I knew that trying to manage my work life with babies wouldn't work for me. I have cherished (to the best of my ability!) every moment with my young family. I miss those days tremendously, even though at the time they didn't always seem so rapturous. Looking back, even from this fairly close vantage point, I can see the treasure that each moment was.

So now I'm trying to define what my life will be once my children are fully Grown and Flown.

All my volunteering, part-time work, vocations and even my beloved STEP Workshops won't be able to help me define my life after being a Stay at Home Mom. My job rearing my children is nearly done, my contract nearly up. Leaves kind of a big hole in your social schedule.

But I'm so proud that they are becoming the self-sufficient young adults that they are meant to be. This is what parenting is all about. Putting yourself out of a job. It wouldn't make it any easier to part with their childhoods if they were having trouble mastering adulthood; in fact it would just be a distraction. At least I can take comfort in their confident ability to navigate their challenges. Realizing that I'm not losing them, just moving into another phase.

This parenting thing has been full of surprises from the get-go. No reason this time should be any different.

It Takes a Lotta Sittin' Gettin' Chicks to Hatch...

Remember that funny little Louis Jordan song, "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens"?

I was thinking about it the other day when the line about "... it takes a lot of sitting, getting chicks to hatch" popped into my head and stayed there. Coming off a discussion with some moms about the challenges of raising pre-teen and teen-aged daughters, it seemed particularly appropriate.

A lot of times the best thing to do as a parent is...


Wow is that ever hard. We're trained to act, to do, to pre-empt, to save our kids from their own mistakes.

But sometimes, sitting on our hands, and biting our lips, is exactly what's needed.

Why do I say this?

First off, with pre-teens and teens who are seeking their own independent identities, and more control over their lives, our actions are seen  by them as a power threat, as us trying to  control them-- and regardless of how sensible it seems to us, it generally brings about rebellion. So you get friction which adds fuel to the fire and is usually totally unnecessary.

Worse, when we show and tell them exactly what they need to do-- or try to-- we are robbing them of the opportunity to learn for themselves. To learn that they have the resources to solve their own problems, that they can fix their own mistakes. And that we have inherent faith in their ability to do so. Giving them the exact prescription and demanding they follow it undermines their feeling of control and is hugely discouraging.

Usually our impulse to control comes from our feeling powerless in a given situation. But we need to remind ourselves who has ultimate authority. We do.  We can let out the leash a bit without harming that authority. And don't we have the car keys? The back account? The final say? Don't be fooled into thinking you are browbeaten just because your teen is pouting or throwing a nasty tantrum. While it's not fun, you'll survive it. And so will the relationship if you refuse to get reeled into it.

So, the next time you find yourself in a tussle over who gets the last word, and who makes the final decision about something, think about sitting on your hands. Do nothing except outline your kid's choices and the consequences of each choice, good and bad. Yes, you can help by exploring alternatives with them, but give them the power to implement the decisions. Do it calmly and with reasonable choices. And then---let them live with it.

Those chicks are hatching regardless of what we do.

Teen Depression and the Risk of Suicide: T.J.'s Story

Attended a program last night sponsored by the Mahwah Municipal Alliance-- the subject being teen depression and risk of suicide.

T.J. Sefcik died by suicide December 1st, 2010, at the age of 16.

He came from a loving, supportive home; he had two brothers, one older and one younger; he was a talented athlete and student and by all indications had so much to live for.

The tragedy and horror of suicide is that it doesn't follow a script. More often than not, those kids who die by suicide are the ones that strike the rest of us as privileged, to be envied.

I listened closely to T.J.'s parents, Wendy and Steve, as they described the turmoil that defined their lives as their son began to succumb to the mood swings and depression that caused him to go from loving and sweet to argumentative trouble-maker. And how they have coped in the aftermath, looking out for their other sons and making presentations of this kind to help other parents understand their children's behavior and learn from their story.

Some of the ideas/insights I gleaned:

Learn to be satisfied with the child you have, not the child you think you want. In other words, unconditional love. 

Trust that your love and influence is necessary and wanted, even when your kids make you feel the very opposite. Wendy recounts how her habit of coming into son Matt's room every night to tell him she loves him, ask him about his day, confirm her support-- despite what she thought were negative reactions-- are actually treasured by him, and very needed.

Be aware of genetics-- often mood disorders and depression run in families, and instances in family history may indicate higher risk.

Anti-depressants, while they may be life-savers for some, should not be a first-line remedy when a problem is diagnosed. T.J. was medicated, but not until the last six weeks of his life, when his family feels he was likely beyond help from the medications. Every case is different and there is no blanket response or quick fix.

Many of the red flags of depression/suicide-- weight loss, not sleeping, extreme irritability-- can also look a lot like typical teenaged, hormone-influenced behavior. The Big Question-- how do you tell the difference??-- doesn't, unfortunately, have a straight answer. However, Wendy made a point of saying that you should trust your intuition-- no one knows your child as well as you do. If you believe it's more serious than a case of the teen-aged blues, seek professional help.

Finally-- and most importantly- the need for a kid to have a trusted adult to listen to them. Empathetic listening-- without drama, without overreaction should they confide thoughts of depression or hurting themselves-- is absolutely critical to a child's mental and emotional health.

None of this is easy to contemplate, and turning away from tragedy is a very human response. But our kids are just too much at risk too ignore the possibility.

A few years ago I heard a presentation by suicide survivor Jordan Burnham, and wrote about it here:

The kinds of things STEP has us doing-- reframing our view, to appreciate the child we have; learning empathetic listening skills-- are the same things I am hearing over and over from people intimately involved in these tragedies.

Let's learn from them.

Fall Refresher-- aka Keep Your Eyes Open

After taking some time away from STEP this summer for personal matters, I got to thinking about the need to refresh your parenting approach from time to time.

If you're a creature of habit like me, what starts out as a positive "methodical and consistent" can easily become a not-so-positive "in a rut".

The idea came home to me personally this fall when my son left for college and I took a fresh look at my relationship with my daughter. While we are close and have a strong and happy relationship, she and I are quite different in our personalities, ways of thinking, approach to problems, and outlook on change and adventure, among other things.

I was pretty convinced I had been seeing the relationship in full. But somehow the absence of my son and the influence of my relationship with him shed a new light on my relationship with my daughter-- in addition to seeing their sibling relationship in a new light. And definitely seeing where my behavior may have been undermining both.

There is little in life more humbling that parenting.

Despite learning STEP thirteen years ago, studying it over all these years, practicing it with absolute honesty, and teaching it several times a year for the past six years--

I am learning something new.

The good news is that with the attitude that STEP has given me, I'm never more than a few degrees away from righting the ship. Being experienced in the empathetic listening technique, and in the art of telling another that something is unacceptable with the gentle "I-message", I feel pretty positive about how to go about improving things. That's the philosophy of STEP -- progress, not perfection-- and the techniques to bring it about, in action.

It's also the reason I'm offering a special new STEP series-- a one-on-one Fall REFRESHER-- three private hour+ sessions to help bring families back to the proper focus. Motivation, Communication, Discipline.

So the take-away is: as a parent, KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN.


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Recent Posts

The Age of Anxiety
Who is Grown and Flown??
It Takes a Lotta Sittin' Gettin' Chicks to Hatch...
Teen Depression and the Risk of Suicide: T.J.'s Story
Fall Refresher-- aka Keep Your Eyes Open

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