Practice does NOT make Perfect: It Makes Practicers

Please Pass the Snake

This was taken a few years ago when my husband and son were “practicing” catching garder snakes in our yard.

Yesterday while at coffee with a couple friends, the subject of malpractice came up. One of my friends wisely pointed out that doctors are not perfect…they only “practice” medicine. It got me thinking:

Doctors practice medicine.

Lawyers practice law.

My husband and I are practicing parenting.

Yesterday afternoon, when I was working through some difficult emotions with our almost-thirteen-year-old, I borrowed this idea of practice.

He is in the midst of confusion about life and his place in the world. (did I mention he’s in seventh grade? or that his dad is getting ready to leave for out-of-state work for 6 weeks? or that we are preparing to move to a new town?) His confusion is explicable, even if his behavior is not excusable.

After hacking away at what seemed to me to be surface excuses for his recent behavior, he worked to identify the feelings he couldn’t quite express. I gently pushed him a bit further. Much of his behavior has revolved around what seemed like anger toward me and my husband. (shocking for a teenager, I know!) So, I prodded him to talk through his feelings toward us. As hard as it was for me to hear his perspective, I did my best to listen without reaction.

I sat for a few minutes, taking in his viewpoint about what we are not doing quite right as parents. Honoring his feelings, I told him I was grateful he shared with me.

Then I asked him, “How long have you been here?”

“Thirteen years,” he said.

“How long have I been here?” I asked.

“Almost thirty-eight years,” he smirked, frustrated because he thought he knew where I was going.

I said, “You know what? You are practicing being in seventh grade. You’ve never done any of this before. Your dad and I have done seventh grade, and high school, and college, so we have a perspective that you do not yet have.”

He subtly rolled his eyes, because I did go where he thought. Then, I changed gears.

“The thing is, we are practicing too.”

He looked up from his hands to make eye contact with me for the first time.

“We have NEVER been parents of a thirteen-year-old before and we only get one shot to get it right.”

“No,” he sunk back into his annoyed posture. “You get to do it two more times with the girls.”

“Ok, let me rephrase. We are practicing being parents of a thirteen-year-old boy named Nate, and sometimes we try harder than we should because we so desperately want to get it right.”

He softened and made eye contact again.

“Everyone is practicing something,” I said. “We get better with more practice, but we’re never perfect. You are practicing life as an almost-teenager and your dad and I are practicing mid-life and parenting. All that matters is that all of us keep trying to get better at what we’re practicing.”

How about you? What are you practicing? Are you choosing to grow through the experience, or are you going through the motions?

www.meaganfrank.com                                                                     

Copyright 2013 Meagan Frank Choosing to Grow

My Kids Won’t Listen…Unless I Teach Them How

“Look at me when I’m talking to you! Oh yeah…and take your fingers out of your ears too.”

As a parent with profound wisdom and insight to share (NOT), I really hope my kids listen to me when I am talking about something important (like putting their laundry away).

How do I teach them to be good listeners?

I know when they slink off into a slouch or physically turn their bodies away from me, they are doing everything they can NOT to listen. My instinct tells me to point out the behavior…which I do.

“Please sit up…I’m talking to you.”

This hasn’t worked as well as you would think. They have traditionally sat for a moment, and then before a full sentence has left my mouth, something jello-like takes over their organs and I have a puddle of a kid on my kitchen floor.

This intrigues me. They don’t do this for their teachers…or in the presence of other adults.  I’ve NEVER seen them do this at a practice or a dance class. What is it about my voice that provokes this internal melting?

For those of you who have been reading my stuff for a while, you’ll acknowledge that I am forever conducting experiments on our children.  Nothing dangerous (okay…so maybe a little dangerous because they are psychological in nature) but I am learning this parenting thing too, so how can you call what I do as a mother anything but an experiment?

Any-who…

I have spent some time the last few years investigating this listening thing. It’s harder than I thought…for me!

What I’ve discovered is that it is fine to point out the behaviors of good listening, but it is more important how good I am at listening.

Frankly…lately I’ve sucked.

I listen when they are saying what I want to hear.

I listen with bias and opinion already forming on my lips.

I listen in spurts between what I’m trying to capture in my writing or between glances at the emails on my phone.

I talk a good game, but these days I haven’t been playing the part of the listener very well.

I know I can be better…I used to be much, much more intentional about how I listened to our kids.

When our children were babies, I taught each of them sign language. I was fascinated by their ability to communicate before they could speak, and I would listen to them for hours.

Maybe I listened better when they were little because it felt like they were listening too. I would teach them something and hear. “red…square… bus… spider” in adorable little-kid repetition.

What I wanted them to hear would come back to me in validation.

Pre-teens are not great at validating.

So, as I’ve written through this blogpost, my challenge has become abundantly clear.

I need to parent my children with intentional listening. PERIOD!

These strategies are hard when the growing children in our house physically guard themselves against touch or Active Listening, but good parenting isn’t about what I need…it’s about what they need.

Don’t get me wrong, I deserve, (we all deserve) someone to listen to and validate our feelings, our experiences, and our ideas.  I just have to stop expecting that from my kids…they need me to teach it to them first.

I need to seek and accept validation from somewhere other than our kids.  It’s not their job right now.

That’s why blogging communities of mothers are so necessary. We are each other’s listeners…we are the ones who can validate, assure, and comfort. I’m better having gone through Momalom’s Five for Five challenge this week…not because I blogged everyday (although that provided much-needed distraction) but instead because so many of you listened…and for that I am truly grateful.

                                           

Copyright 2012    Meagan Frank                         www.meaganfrank.com              Choosing to Grow

 

Leap in Tween Things…

Where’d You Grow Wednesday? February 29, 2012

This past week I have grown to accept the fact… I am the parent of tweens.

Technically, I have been the parent of a tween for over two years, but this week it really hit me about what phase of life I am attempting to parent. It actually took two separate trips to the junior high to convince me of this.

My first visit was as an attendee for the informational meeting for parents of incoming seventh graders. Our oldest is a sixth grader at the elementary school, and he is slotted to start his junior high experience next year. Nothing makes enrolling a kid in junior high more tangible than the start of the spring registration process.

I suppose I should have been more prepared for the feelings of nostalgia and anxiety that walked with me into that school. As I got out of my car, I was somewhere between acceptance and denial that I am actually old enough to have birthed a junior-high-aged kid. I can only imagine how much more heightened those emotions would be if our kids were attending the same junior high I did as a kid.  I think it is a blessing that this junior high is new…for all of us.

So it’s happening, and tween stuff can no longer be ignored.

Our older two kids are 9.5 and nearly 12. They both fall firmly into the category, and I thus am reluctantly committed to accepting my role as the mother of these precious tweens.

That means I need to know how long it’s going to take for me to get to the junior high.  That means that questions about puberty are developmentally appropriate and necessary. That means that there are a whole host of things I will struggle to discover about my own kids because they too are caught…in between.

That’s why I went back to the junior high again last night. I pushed through the freezing rain and predicted hazardous roads to attend a community event called: Not My Kid: A Community Conversation on Youth Suicide.

I was just as reluctant to go as I am about admitting we have tweens in our house, but I’ve made a decision to take charge of the things I can, and pray for graceful acceptance of all those things that are out of my hands.

I am so glad I went.

Like most people, I avoid thinking about mortality as much as I can. I shudder at the idea that anything bad could ever happen to our kids, and it is too overwhelming to consider that they would ever feel bad enough to do anything harmful to themselves.

I needed to hear what was shared last night, and I urge all parents to work through their own discomfort to understand our role in protecting all kids from themselves.

There were a lot of interesting stats given during the presentation:

Nationally:

  • Every 15 minutes, someone commits suicide
  • Over the past 5 years, there has been a 320% increase in the suicide rate of girls ages 10-14

In Minnesota:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-34 year olds
  • 1 in 8 teens is depressed

In Washington County:

  • 12% of sixth graders have had suicidal thoughts
  • 15% of ninth graders have had suicidal thoughts (100 9th graders have tried)

These are alarming statistics, but simply pretending they are not there will not make them go away.

We have a responsibility as parents, and community members, to care for the safe growth of children. Every child deserves a chance to move through the tween and teen years with loving support and care.

Factors that are known to decrease the risks of suicide for youth:

  • If they have contact with at least one caring adult
  • When they feel a sense of connection (activities, teams, etc.)
  • When they have positive self-esteem accompanied by good coping skills
  •  If they have access to care for emotional/ physical problems

So, what does that do to my approach as a parent?

I came home from the event and started a dialogue with our oldest.  He knew where I had gone, and he wanted to know what I had learned. I was comforted knowing that open communication with tweens is encouraged. After the presentation, I was armed with the information to talk with him about the signs he can look for in either himself, or his friends.

I asked him, “If you are with a friend and he breaks his arm, would you try to fix it?”

He laughed at how ridiculous that decision would be.

“It’s the same with a depressed person,” I told him. “There is a very real thing going on in that person’s brain that requires professional, and sometimes medical attention.”

This is what it is to be the parent of a tween.

I have to come to terms with my own feelings and emotions before I can work through things with our kids. The suggestions of the presenter for talking about youth suicide apply to how I can navigate all parts of this tween phase.

  • Deal with my own reactions and emotions first
  • Stay away from gossip and overdramatizing… stick to the facts
  • Remain nonjudgmental about any information my kids share with me (including their darkest emotions)
  • Ask them to Tell Me More and listen intently

Everyone always told me that parenting got harder. I can see that now.  My tweens are already much more independent, but it is precisely because of that independence that parenting them can become difficult.

I am up for the challenge, and I will leap in…ready or not.

*******There is much more information about preventing youth suicide, including a short video created by last night’s presenter, that can be found on the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide website.***********

To learn more about what it takes to choose to grow, or to see what CTG project Meagan is working on, you can visit her website at www.meaganfrank.com.

Happy Growing!!

copyright 2012  Choosing to Grow                                       Meagan Frank