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.
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.
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.
Last week's tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School have left us desolate-- in mourning, not only for the precious lives taken in violence, but for the innocence we can no longer take for granted.
Whatever twisted reason the perpetrator had for these killings, and whatever may be the way to prevent more of the same, all I'm sure of is that hell opened up that morning and snatched the lives of those beautiful children. In doing so it tore a hole in their families that may never be repaired. I hope that in our grief we are reminded of the beauty of our own families.
They are a blessing, despite the daily frictions, despite the difficult times and the seemingly non-stop challenges.
I am so devoted to spreading the philosophy of STEP, not simply for what it has done for my own family, but because through it, mothers and fathers can see a source of strength in their own families. We must be able to fully realize the beauty of our own families, especially in light of this tragic loss.
With that in mind, I wish you and your families a blessed, happy, and healthy holiday season.