Monday, November 17, 2014

When Kids Pass You By

There comes a time in every parent’s life when you realize that your kid is better than you.
I can clearly remember the first time one of my kids started beating me at board games.  And I’m not talking Candyland either. I’m talking about games with actual strategy. It’s gotten to where I expect to lose. It works out for everybody because I seldom cry or quit when I’m losing. I’m pretty sure my kid is smarter than me. (Than I, as that kid would probably say).

Or how about faster and stronger?  That’s another one that’s certainly long gone.  Off I go, lifting weights and running three days a week, and yet all the kids are pretty much better than me. I can still beat the former preemies at arm wrestling, but that’s about it. The kids I used to have to agonizingly wait for on our walks now run straight out of my sight and forever to the horizon.  Even our couch potato kid managed, in just ten weeks of gym class, to run at a pace I’ve been trying to achieve for three years.  I know for a fact that the kids are stronger and faster than me.

Do we even need to talk about technological superiority? Not even a question there. We all know who is going to set up the wireless network, fix the computer, and hook up the TV, right?  Not only are the kids better than us, we can barely even understand them. That’s not because we’re proud Luddites either. We’re trying, and we actually can’t understand them. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’re a trial to them when we repeatedly mix up “microprocessor” and “microcontroller.”

The kids’ superiority isn’t limited to the universal talents of the young, either.  We’ve known for more than a decade that one of the kids is far, far better at remembering what’s on the calendar than I am. There’s another who I’m pretty certain has more spiritual depth than I do.  Probably four of them write better, which is pretty much my wheelhouse, so what do you do with that?  Others are clearly kinder and even wiser.  One of the kids is practically Yoda and regulates the emotions of the entire household.   Then, just last week, I overheard a conversation where the kids were “sib-parenting,” correcting some behavior, and thought, “Dang, they’re better parents as well.” 

Having your kids pass you by has to be one of the greatest feelings in the world.  It makes me grateful that our kids don’t have to get all their qualities and talents from us. They draw from so many different people and experiences to become who they are. They also come into the world with unique qualities that I can only understand as gifts. When you look at your child and think, “They sure didn’t get that from me,” it’s humbling and amazing and gratitude-inducing all at once.  Take time to appreciate and savor the ways in which your kids are better than you.  Humanity depends on their surpassing us, after all.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Teaming with Teachers

What would you say if I asked you to fill in this blank: “My child’s teacher  . . . “ ?

I asked Google about this, and do you know what the top three searches were?  “Is mean,” “Is incompetent,” and “Doesn’t like me.”  It’s natural to feel defensive when your kid is having behavioral problems or issues with a teacher at school. 

I’ve felt that dread in the pit of my stomach when I see “Eden Prairie Schools” come up on the Caller ID. It’s normal to feel protective of your kid or want to blame the teacher, the school, the district, the world. 

What’s not okay is to stay in that emotional space. When the school calls, it’s not about you or about the teacher. It’s about your kid. You need to get your head in the game before you open your mouth or hit “compose” on an email. Overall, I’ve had overwhelmingly positive experiences with my kids’ teachers and the district in general, even when we’ve had significant issues to work on. Here’s how I settle myself down and team with educators in a productive and helpful way:

Pick up the phone. You can really get into trouble over email. If you're having any trouble being positive, or if you have written a 100-page response, delete all that and just write a short email asking when the teacher can talk. Remember that their availability for this is limited because they have a roomful of kids most of the day.

Position yourself as the rational and engaged parent.  Remind yourself and directly state at the outset that you share any concerns the teacher may have and that you do want your child to behave in school, improve academically, or whatever the problem may be. Your child, functional and successful at school, is the shared dream for both you and the teacher.  You both want the same thing and you are going to solve the problem together. You appreciate their support in helping your child learn and develop in a healthy way. Just the assurance that you are not crazy and that you do expect your child to behave goes a long way.

Bring solutions to the table.  Anytime you criticize, bring an alternative solution to the table. If the consequences the teacher is using aren’t working, tell what works at home and help adjust it to school. If an assignment isn’t appropriate for whatever reason, suggest an alternative that you think meets the underlying educational goals. Keep in mind restrictions on the teacher’s time and what’s practical in a large classroom setting. Do the grunt work of writing things out including a timeline to try out new solutions and circle back to see if they’re effective. Be the idea person who brings both hope and actionable steps to the table.

Share what you’re doing outside school to help your child. Let teachers know all the concrete steps you are taking: anything and everything from restricting video games until after homework is done to taking him to therapy, a reading tutor, or whatever else. The more effort you are showing toward working on the problem, the more special effort teachers will be willing to make for your child. Again, this is part of your “parent cred.”

Teach your child to do the same. Help your children focus on problems, not personalities, when they have issues with a teacher. As they age, help them go through the same steps of finding shared goals with teachers, bringing solutions, and sharing what they’ve done to solve the problem anytime they’re asking teachers to change something on their behalf.

Not every teacher is great, any more than we parents are always great. It's good for both sides to remember - "that person across the conference table, or at the other end of the email or phone is my partner in helping this child improve.”  That is our best odds for teaming with teachers to help our kids have a successful year. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Parents: Just Wait

What is the most neglected, dusty, underutilized tool in your parental toolbox? The weirdly-sized hex wrench of parenting, as it were? It is this, parents: Wait.

How can I get my baby to sleep through the night / stop spitting up / stop crying all the time? Wait.

How can I get my toddler to use the potty / stop screaming / put on her shoes / stay in bed / stop hitting me / stop hitting his siblings / stop hitting everyone? Wait.

How can I get my preschooler to dress himself / clean up her toys / use a freaking tissue / share anything,  for the love of God / use the potty, I can’t believe we are still working on this, you cannot be serious. . . ? Wait.

How can I get my school-age kid or teenager to do his homework / clean his room / bathe once in a while / notice what needs to be done around here / get rid of all this junk, this place is a pigsty / stop freaking out!!! / take some responsibility / show some motivation, why are you like a floppy mattress I have to tie to the back of my truck and bodily drag through the streets / I dunno, possibly maybe think about a calendar . . . or write something down, how about that. . . ?

Just . . . wait.

I’m not saying to fall asleep at the wheel.  It’s our job to nurture and teach our kids, to give them opportunities to grow and develop.  But there can be a lot of nervous energy that goes into trying to make them “grow faster” . . .  sleepless parental nights spent projecting today’s missing homework into a lifetime of ne’er-do-well unemployment . . .  today’s wet bed into a lifetime of lonely incontinence.  I’ve often felt as a parent that I couldn’t wait one minute longer for XYZ milestone to occur.  When that happens, I’ve tried to pedal faster and faster-- try harder and harder to get my child to grow up, dangit. 

What my smarter self is saying, though, is that developmental emergencies rarely exist. When you’ve given it the old college try and you child’s just not budging, chances are good that your child is just not ready.  Trying to speed things up is like pushing a river.  In fact, our frantic efforts can be worse than futile if they make our kids see growth as something to fight with us about instead of what it really is: the triumphant development of their human spirits.  Growing up is your child’s job to do, with your guidance, on his or her own fiercely defended timetable.  And when they feel like they “leveled up” all by themselves, that’s the sweetest feeling of all.

So, don’t be afraid to wait. After you’ve tried the hammer and the saw, after you’ve borrowed the drill press from the neighbors, when you’re sitting in pile of sawdust with a whole lot of mess still in front of you, pull out that weirdly-sized hex wrench from your parenting toolbox, clasp it hopefully in your hand, and just wait.

Chances are excellent that your kids will develop in their own,  good, maddening, but ultimately inspiring time.