I’m going to be a parent until I die.
I realized this not too long ago, when my continuous attempts to stop worrying about my children brought no results. It’s not like I have nothing going on in my life. I do.
But there are days or nights when I suddenly wake up, knowing instinctively I need to make that call to either one of my grown up kids.
A sniffling voice on the other end confirms that I did the right thing by calling.
“Aw mom, how did you know I was sick today?” my adult daughter asks me in a small kiddy voice. (Yes, really, a small kiddy voice.)
My heart melting, I simply say “I’m your mom. I just knew.”
I’m rewarded with a heartfelt “love you mom.”
Then, try as I might, I can’t resist pitching across a quick home remedy. But she brushes off my concern with “I’m ok mom. Don’t worry so much. It’s just a cold.”
This time it’s the adult voice speaking. But she has allowed me a momentary flashback into her childhood and I’m happy. For the moment.
When my daughters grew up and left the house, the city and then the country Oman (in the Middle East) where we still live as expatriates, I thought my duties as a parent had ended. How wrong I was. I now realize I could never stop being a parent even if I tried.
My children and I are now in three different continents, but no matter how far they are, there is always this deep rooted need within me to know they are safe. Then this niggling voice in my head keeps repeating ‘let go, let go, let go’ like an old record stuck on a scratchy groove.
Over the years, I have listened to this voice and conditioned myself to let go, bit by little bit, but I just cannot let go completely.
This need to hold on to them, to worry about their safety and most importantly to always be there for them will always make me a parent – not a perfect parent (I can never be that) but a constantly learning one.
So yes, for me ‘letting go’ has never meant ‘stop caring.’ My nest may be empty but my heart is not.
When I look at my daughters today, I feel happy and relieved that they have turned out to be compassionate, accomplished and wonderful human beings.
But it was not all smooth sailing over the years. Did I do everything right? For the most part, NO.
I made mistakes galore. Many a time in my enthusiasm to be a good parent, I put restrictions on my teenage children that on hindsight were pretty unreasonable. I insisted the environment called for it (the challenges were harder living and working in a foreign country) but all parental guidance from my side was misconstrued at times as cloying interference.
And those restrictions never worked. Not until I changed the way I put them across.
The realization that my husband’s calming influence was working a lot better on my teenager’s upbringing, brought me up short. When they created waves that rocked the boat, I was usually the ‘shamaal’ (strong wind that blows across the Arabian desert) that shook everything, until my husband became the rudder that brought it all under control.
Somehow his calm voice got them to see reason, much more effectively than my raging. In time, I learnt that in order to discipline my teenagers, I needed to discipline myself a bit first.
Around this time, I had taken to reading the ‘Chicken soup for the soul’ series and was a big fan. I read every single one I could get my hands on, most especially all the editions of Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. I also read Sean Covey’s The 7 habits of Highly Effective Teens not once but twice, then later presented it to my teenage kids with a soppy message on the inside cover expressing how much they meant to me.
After all these years, I can still remember the joy I felt when I saw them reading it.
So my learning was slow but steady, painstakingly nerve racking at times but rewarding too and in the end it all turned out pretty well.
Here are the 10 most important things I learnt –
1. I learnt to back off and tried my hardest to believe them when they said ‘trust me mom.’
An argument should not turn into a contest of wills.
This was particularly true when my kids were teenagers. Thanks to the hormonal changes in their bodies, teenagers display very intense emotions. They may show this either by being rude or completely shutting you out. If you scream and shout at them, either of two things happen. It turns into a shouting match or they walk out and slam the door…HARD…which drives most moms really mad.
Backing off is better for both of you. It means you will come back to the topic later, much more calmly and see the whole situation in a different perspective.
2. I stopped holding a past failure constantly in their face.
I found this VERY difficult as my favorite line had always been “Remember how late you came home from the last party? Well, you’re not going out this time.”
But I learnt and practiced and practice did make perfect. Well, almost perfect. In between, there were a lot of missed parties.
3. I started talking to them and not at them.
Choose a good time for communicating when both of you are in a relaxed frame of mind. Talk about random stuff – the news, the neighbors, a new restaurant in town, anything.
If you can discuss freely about random stuff, it becomes easier to discuss serious stuff like moral issues, social pressures and peer problems.
4. I learned to listen to them. I mean actually ‘listen.’
Multitasking moms beware! This means you have to stop whatever you’re doing and give them your undivided attention.
When you’re stirring something over the stove, or working on your computer and listening to them, that’s not really listening, its hearing. Well, I stopped doing that and it helped – a lot.
5. I looked for opportunities to bond with my kids, even when they were teenagers (and we discovered new music together!)
Watch a movie, play a board game, go for a morning jog or shop for new clothes together. But the most important of all – discuss their music with them.
Hip Hop and Rap may not be your style but show interest and ask them to recommend some good music to listen to. You might just turn into a Hip Hop mom 🙂
If you’ve been a teenager in the 70’s share that music with them. I got my daughter hooked on to Scorpions, Pink Floyd, Bryan Adams, Eagles and Foreigner.
Now I’m gratified to see some of my favorite numbers on her playlist. Music truly helps to connect.
I always knew I was cool but now she thinks I’m cool too 🙂
6. We ate at least one meal together, mostly dinner.
Just sharing a meal everyday can bring you closer together as a family. When you pass that salt or spaghetti or chicken curry across the table, you’re also passing along some love, especially if you do it with a smile.
7. As old fashioned as it sounds, the family that prays together does stay together.
I had taught them to pray when quite young, but as teens, I worked doubly hard to make sure we prayed together. That being said, I made a conscious effort to stop forcing certain religious practices on them. From experience I realized it only pushed them away.
Discuss God and spirituality with your teenagers with an open mind. They are not the only ones who need to learn. You do too.
8. Know your children’s friends but don’t be judgmental about them.
Invite their friends over. This gets a bit tricky when your kids are teenagers. Some of their friends may wear an earring or have pierced some part of their body or may be covered in tattoos — don’t EVER refer to it later in a derogatory way.
Ask about their parents and in a non-interfering way look for ways to know them too. This way whenever your children are out together you have someone to call in times of emergencies. Keep all their phone numbers on speed dial.
9. And the one that worked best for me: Ask your kids for their advice.
Yes, ask their advice on your own life decisions. It can start with simple things like “Should I wear this tonight?” or “Do you think I need to change my hairstyle?” and as they grow up, go on to “Should I take this assignment?”
Kids of all ages love to hear questions like this from you. It makes them realize that you trust them enough to ask for their opinion and advice. Do not disregard their advice, take it and see their self-confidence grow. If you can’t agree with them, open things up for discussion. You will both learn a lot from the process.
Besides, this makes them so much more likely to ask you for advice in return.
10. Shower them with love regardless of whether they have been good or bad.
They should view your love as a safety net, one they can fall back on any time in their life. It should be the one secure part of their life they can always count on. A realization of this truth will shape them into responsible, committed adults. In a way, your love will show them that you trust them to make the right decisions – decisions that will affect not only them but everyone around them.
Despite all this, my children do throw the occasional zinger at me that leaves me completely stupefied. Like this message I got from my older daughter the other day –
“OMG mom I’m turning into you….(followed by shocked and distressed looking emoticons.)”
Seconds later, a second message appeared – “I don’t mean that in a bad way, so chill….(followed by another emoticon- this time a great big pumping red heart.)”
Oh well…the learning continues 🙂
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Here are a few questions and thoughts for today’s contemplation exercise –
- Ask yourself, “How has my relationship with my child been this past week? Have we had a battle of wills? Are we on speaking terms with each other? What went wrong?” If something did, regardless of whose fault it is, figure out how to open the channels of communication and start talking in a non-confrontational way.
- Let your teenager know that you enforced the rules for a reason and that you have his/her safety at the top of your list.
- Explain ‘gently’ that if you did not love him/her, then you would not enforce the rule in the first place.
- Never withdraw the rule (whatever it was) but work around it, if need be, even if it means inconvenience to you. For eg: “you may go to that party but I cannot let you drive. Let us know when it gets over and your dad or I will pick you up.” (Note: if you withdraw the rule you will undermine your own authority as a parent, so watch out.)
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Practice some of these over the next week.
- Always be consistent while disciplining your kids. For instance, if your child knows you will never allow him/her to drive after a party, they will make arrangements to get a ride and respect you for your decision, especially now that they know your rules are backed by your love for them.
- Have a serious conversation with your kids about important topics such as bullying, cyber safety, date rape, drunken driving and the negative effects of drugs. You can start the conversations as early as you feel comfortable. Something that you hear on the news could be a great way to get the conversation started. Don’t be preachy. Don’t be flippant either. Listen to their input as well.
- Buy or borrow some positive literature and keep it around the house. Self-help books are a great idea.
- How about having an exchange of new music playlists? For instance, try “Hey have you got some new music I can listen to? I loved the last one you gave me.” Works like a charm every time.
- Dispense some genuine hugs. Especially when they leave the house to go somewhere. A hug at the door with “Stay safe luv” will make them feel good. Or ask for a hug. “Hey how about a hug? Haven’t got one for a long time.” You’ll get it. May be a hurried one but you’ll get it.
These hugs are what I remember the most after all these years. Not the fights, not the tears, not the angry spates of silence – JUST THE HUGS!
Happy parenting everyone. Being a parent is SO worth it 🙂