Friday, April 22, 2016

Advice from other moms

No one talks shop more than mothers. And by “shop” I don’t mean talking about the paid position a mother might have in addition to her job as mom. We talk about that too — projects at work; our bosses or those who report to us — but not nearly with the intensity or the passion that we talk about our unpaid and more important job of motherhood.
            I have absorbed so much wisdom from my friends who are moms. Some of it has come to me directly, when I’ve explained a problem or a question and they’ve given me advice. Some of it has come from observing my friends as they’ve skillfully parented a tantruming toddler or a sullen teen. I’ve received advice over cups of coffee and glasses of wine; via email and text; on walks, bike rides and runs, and even on a chairlift, riding to the top of a ski hill. My friend Andrea, a much better skier than I, had to wait for me at the bottom of the hill to continue her advice because I couldn’t keep up with her slaloming.
            So with twenty-one years of advice coming to me from all directions, it is only right that I share some of it. 
Baby your baby: My friend Patty, mother of five and champion breastfeeder (she breastfed her twins without using bottles), taught me this. The time parents put into holding, rocking, gazing at, and yes, breastfeeding a baby will come back a hundredfold. The cuddling, skin-to-skin contact, and sheer time together those first two years builds a secure attachment that is the foundation for everything else. Because of my years as a foster parent, receiving children who missed all or some of this some of this foundation, I understand that there are other opportunities a parent has beyond the first two years to make sure a child feels secure and well-loved. But if you are privileged enough to give birth or receive a baby through adoption, give that baby as much of yourself and your time as you are able, even if it means rearranging other aspects of your life to make that happen.
Don’t be afraid be in charge: My friend Carol and I taught grade school together before we both became parents. As teachers in our early 20s, Carol and I had to learn that what is in a child’s best interest and what makes that child happy are often two different things, and it is the adult’s job to choose the best interest of the child. Carol is my most direct friend, and calls it as she sees it. I can almost hear the eye-roll over the phone as she tells me about a friend of hers that I don’t know, who let their eight-year-old run the show at home and then wonder why he’s getting in trouble at school.
Eat dinner together: My advice from friends regarding family dinner have come to me primarily through the sharing of cooking tips and good recipes, because I grew up with family dinners and benefitted from many nights of Shake n’ Bake chicken, potatoes and good conversation. Research underlined what I saw in my own family and among my friends who valued the evening meal. According to a study cited in a recent Washington Post article, children who have about five meals a week with their families have substantially higher academic achievement than their peers who eat in shifts or as a family, but with the TV on. Teens who eat regular family meals are less likely to engage in smoking, drinking, drugs and early sexual behavior. Regular meals together are linked to keeping teen depression and anxiety at bay as well as to healthier eating and fewer eating disorders. Children who eat regular meals with their parents are more likely to have a positive outlook on their life and their future. A regular prayer before dinner weaves faith into everyday life.
Delay the Devices: My friend Amy, a mom of three teens who chose to not allow smart phones until late into high school, shared with me stories of social media-obsessed and anxiety-ridden kids she knew and helped me approach this arena with healthy caution. Other friends have talked me through their experience using parental control software and apps such as Net Nanny, Norton or Qustodio to limit and monitor their kids’ online behavior. And a few friends’ honest accounts of their fails in protecting kids adequately from porn, social media bullying or late-night texting propelled me to understanding what was at stake. Our freshman daughter was thrilled to finally receive her first phone a couple weeks ago. Even though it only has calling and texting abilities, not Internet, she is sufficiently plugged into her fun and active social life. We’ve tied the use of her phone to her grade point average—the higher each Friday’s GPA, the later the phone can stay up the nights of the following week, ranging from 7 to 9 p.m.

Possibly the most important piece of parenting advice is this, however: Each mother should have another mom or two that you can go to with anything. Because sometimes a friend may offer no answer at all, no advice. Just a good hug on a bad day. Thank you, friends.

Growing up, gaining strength

It used to be that if some piece of furniture needed to be moved, Bill and I would do it together. Our fondness for deals on used furniture early in our marriage meant that we rarely had anything delivered. Many memories of my twenties include walking backwards under the impossible weight of one side of a couch or table. Bill tried to be patient with my distance runner arms and limited strength, but my memories also include Bill sighing with impatience every time I had to put my side down to take a break, which was frequently.
            “You could have married someone burlier, if that was important to you,” I’d remind him.
            I’m not sure when it was that I moved my last piece of heavy furniture, and I certainly didn’t note it as a milestone, but one by one, as Jacob, Liam and Teenasia have grown, each one of them has surpassed me in strength—and not just by a little. Early in her eighth grade year, I commented to Teenasia, who is shorter than I, that I thought she was now probably stronger. She nodded with a bit of an eye roll that suggested this was very obvious, and then picked me up and moved me to a different part of the kitchen. I think Bill might still choose me over sixth-grade Jamie, as a moving partner, if we were the only two choices available, but more likely, he’d just wait for Teenasia or Liam to get home.
            There’s much about parenting older kids that makes me wistful for the younger years—toothless smiles; matching Easter dresses; plastic dinosaurs. But as my children grow up, I have to say that if given the opportunity to go back in time, I’d be glad to visit our younger selves, but I wouldn’t want to stay there. I like having kids who are physically stronger than me. It’s interesting to have sons who have gone further than I ever did in math and foreign language studies. I appreciate being able to text Liam at track practice and ask him to bring home a loaf of bread for dinner. So many parts of parenting involve helping children master bits and pieces of their own lives. What I’m discovering is as mastery comes, the parent and child relationship shifts. Less of my time is spent telling Jacob and Liam what to do, and more time is spent asking them questions about their activities; their thoughts; their plans. I am carrying less weight—not just in terms of furniture, but in terms of mental energy—because of the emerging adults I see.  And what I carry for the boys, for the most part, is what they ask me to carry. Unlike younger kids, who insist on doing things themselves, even in the face of disaster, my young adult sons are smart enough to know the areas where Bill and I are still ahead. They won’t ask me about Ultimate Frisbee plays, but they will question me about running or writing; they will never come to me for tech support, but they’ll approach with questions about faith or relationships. Jacob wouldn’t sign a lease for next year’s apartment without Bill and me seeing it; Liam needed to know we thought he was choosing correctly, when he decided on Santa Clara University.
            And while my daughters still hover in the preteen and early adolescent phase, I see occasional flashes of the young women they will become. Mixed in with their growing physical strength, I see emotional strength developing.
            A couple weeks ago, we had the hardwood floor of our bedroom refinished. We had to remove both dressers and the bed so that the work could be done. Bill and Liam did all the moving and I wasn’t needed.
            I didn’t mind stepping aside. My strength will be needed for other things.