The first parent-teacher conferences of the year happened this week and man did I get schooled.
As a mother of a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, I’ve been to more parent-teacher conferences than I can easily count. But, as each one approaches, the part of myself that I consider a recovering perfectionist starts to creep to the surface.
Fears of being judged as a parent and as a person float to the forefront of my brain. MY ANXIETY decides that it’s a great time to show up, sending negative self thoughts into hyperdrive.
Per usual, I respond to these desires to present myself perfectly by attempting to control as much as I possibly can.
My anxious self prepared for this year’s video parent-teacher conferences by checking and double checking our appointment times, testing the software, making sure my background was tidy and presentable, and gathering a pen and some paper for notes.
I was as ready as I could be.
Then I sat, nervously tapping my pen against my notepad as I waited for THE FIRST TEACHER to pop on my screen. I waited for judgement. Are they going to think I’m a bad mom? Are they going to judge my son?
Teacher after teacher said the same thing.
“He’s a great student.”
“He does all his work.”
“He’s super smart.”
“He’s respectful, polite, and participates.”
These are all the things a parent wants to hear — especially this year when more than half of my son’s school hours are being done remotely from his bedroom.
Then each teacher ended with a similar message about him.
“But I can’t read him.”
“He’s a mystery to me.”
“I can’t figure him out.”
Each conference ended with an almost exasperated sigh from the teacher “I hope I get to know the real him.”
I couldn’t help but laugh each time, thinking to myself “You probably won’t.”
These teachers can’t read him because my youngest doesn’t give a flying f*ck about what anyone thinks of him.
He will show up, do his work, and be polite but he will never be phony. He will never try to impress you or make you like him. He will never strike up casual conversation. He simply doesn’t care what you think of him. He doesn’t need anyone’s approval.
And boy, do I wish I could be like him.
As I logged off my computer, I shook my head at myself.
Once again, I had fallen into the trap I set all too often for myself — the trap where I think I need to care what others think of me.
If my 12-year-old were sitting beside me he would have rolled his eyes and said, “Mom, why do you care what they think of you? That’s a waste of time.”
At the end of the day, my 12-year-old’s view on the world is right and mine is wrong.
PEOPLE’S OPINIONS OF ME DON’T REALLY MATTER.
They don’t dictate who I actually am as a human, a parent, a community member, or a professional. I know who I am. I know how to let the right people see the real me. If people don’t like me, that’s on them.
It turns out my biggest takeaway from this week’s parent-teacher conference has nothing to do with my son’s performance in school but everything to do with what I can learn from him.
(Originally published 12/1/2020 by Filter Free Parents HERE)
As summer comes to an end each year, I find myself happily diving into back to school tasks for my two teenage boys. Those days leading up to the return to school are usually filled with me creating color coded calendars with their class schedules, setting up organization systems for studying, figuring out ways to manage homework assignments, and reviewing school maps and processes with them so they can be sure they won’t get lost on their first day.
The fall is when I feel most needed as a mom
This is often a time of year when I feel so completely alive as a mother – clear in how I am valued and where I am needed. It also is a time of when I feel stressed, overwhelmed, and alone — the weight of a successful start to the new school year resting solely on my shoulders.
Today that weight was lifted and I am equal parts relieved, heartbroken, and proud.
Knocking on my freshman’s bedroom door this morning to remind him to take his mandatory concussion test for athletes, I found him already deep into the test. How had he remembered to get it done without multiple texts and reminders and nagging from me? All I did was forward him an email last week with a due date and it got done.
My high school freshman can manage his responsibilities without me
Without my help.
Later on, as he passed by me in the hallway to get a snack from the kitchen, he causally rattled off some of the other tasks he had done this morning, including figuring out when and where his socially distanced lunch breaks would be held, and completing some forms that were due by next week. How could that be?
Just an hour earlier I was knee deep in a social media thread where other high school parents (myself included) were panicking about everything from lunch to school drop off to homework.
Yet, he figured it all out on his own.
Without my help.
Surely, I thought to myself, he would need the annual lecture about how it would be important to go to bed early tonight and wake up earlier tomorrow, enjoy a healthy breakfast, and start his first day off right. But, he beat me to the punch, telling me his detailed plan for school night bedtimes, school morning wake ups, workouts, and meals. He figured it all out.
Without my help.
With only a few hours to go until he starts his first day of high school, I’m finally beginning to realize that my high schooler doesn’t need me in the way he used to.
I am no longer needed to calm any nerves about lockers not working or getting lost on the way to his class or what will happen if he doesn’t get to see his friends on his first day at a new school. I no longer need to follow him around like a trusty old herding dog, reminding him where he needs to be and what he needs to get done before and after school.
He can do that all on his own. I no longer need to review every single assignment and communication from teachers to make sure he understands the requirements. He can figure it all out on his own.
Without my help.
Gone is the shy, timid, nervous little boy who held back tears while he boarded the school bus for his first day of kindergarten 9 years ago. Gone is the young teenager with poor self-esteem who worried if he would be made fun of on his first day of middle school 3 years ago.
In place of the shy boy is a confident young man
Instead, standing before me is a bright, confident, and capable young man, poised to begin his high school experience, arguably the most important 4 years of his life so far. And, this young man no longer needs me to do it all for him.
It’s time for me to pivot into a different approach of parenting so that I may better respond to his shifting needs and abilities. He will always need the love and support of his mother, of course, just not in the same ways he used to.
Neither of us are quite sure yet what that will look like but I’m sure he will figure it out. It seems like these days he always does.
Without my help.
(originally published by Grown and Flown at: https://grownandflown.com/high-school-freshman-is-capable-independent/
Before I became a parent, I assumed parenting was hard.
Then I had my first baby and quickly realized that parenting is way harder than I ever could have imagined.
When my baby became a toddler with his own big personality, an inhuman-like ability to slither like a snake out of my arms when he didn’t want to be carried, and a deep commitment to throwing massive tantrums, I realized that parenting had somehow become even more challenging.
Parenting a high schooler is the hardest phase yet
Fast forward to today and I find myself facing the hardest phase yet of parenting: parenting a high schooler. With just a short bit of time so far under his belt as a high school freshman, I find myself more confused than ever when it comes to how to parent my son.
When do I step in and communicate with his teachers?
How much do I remind him and check up on him about his school work and home work, especially during these times of partial remote learning?
When do I loop in the administration if there are bigger concerns?
What ARE bigger concerns at this age?
When do I get involved?
When do I keep quiet and shrink into the background?
Today the finish line of his childhood looms larger than ever in the distance. Next year he can drive a car. In two years we start looking at colleges. In three years he’ll be in his final year of high school.
Just like that — these days will be gone.
The pressure of finishing high school looms large
Sometimes the pressure of that looming finish line is overwhelming, knocking the breath right out of my lungs. We have just a short time to hold on to him tightly and enjoy these final years while at the same time stepping back from him and letting him make his own decisions and fail on his own.
Parenting a high schooler seems to be a never-ending cycle of missteps and course corrections, a constant stream of muttering lessons to ourselves:
“Oops I stepped in too far. I should have let him handle this.”
“Oops, I should have jumped in sooner. This was too much for him to handle on his own.”
For over 14 years I have known that every stage of parenting was getting harder. Yet the challenges I face today as a the mother of a high schooler have somehow caught me completely off guard.
Sometimes I miss those newborn sleepless nights, the toddler tantrums, and the nervous early school days. Sometimes I miss my little boy. Sometimes I want that finish line of childhood to stay in the distance just a little bit longer.
My son is still a child but also an emerging adult
But, when this almost adult son of mine who towers over me, wraps me in his arms and tells me he loves me all while asking for $20 to go out with his friends, I’m reminded that balance still exists between the child and adult sides of him.
Somehow, despite all the uncertainties and challenges that this stage of parenting brings, it also seems to be the best so far. There is space to just enjoy each other’s company and there is beauty in watching the rapid transformation that takes place in high school.
Just as we did with every other stage of parenting, we will figure it out.
We will be ok, even when we cross that finish line.
(originally published 09/30/2020 on Grown and Flown at: https://grownandflown.com/parenting-high-school-freshman-is-hard/)
Somewhere a long time ago, I began creating color coded school schedules for my children each year.
The truth is, they probably don't need them. They probably don't even look at them after the first day.
I like to say that creating these schedules helps to set my children up for success. But, in reality, I need these schedules more than they do. I love the summer months and extra time with my children but summer’s lack of a schedule leaves me feeling unhinged, off-balance, and scattered.
Comfort is what we crave when we are stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed and for me, comfort has always been found in the beginning of a brand new school year. The structure makes me feel relaxed and in control. The consistency makes me feel calm. The order makes me feel balanced. Memories of 9 solid months every year of being seen, heard, and valued makes me feel safe.
So, as a new school year begins to loom on the horizon, I feel a growing sense of calm. I lean into the task of spreading out backpacks and school supplies on my dining room table. I beam as I type all the important school dates into our shared calendar. I let out a deep sigh of relief as I begin to settle back into a new school year.
I inhale comfort and exhale chaos.
School is back.
And these pretty color coded schedules with matching color notebooks and folders are a reminder that everything will be ok.
I’ve been in some scary places in my lifetime.
But, hands down one of the scariest places I’ve ever been is in the parking lot of my son’s high school.
At first the parking lot is peaceful and quiet, just a bunch of parked cars and a line of parents idling in their own cars waiting for their students at the end of the school day.
Then the wooded path from the high school to the parking lot slowly begins to fill with groups of young adults.
Some are off to college in a few months.
Some are already old enough to vote and serve in the military.
Some are heading straight from their school day to their afternoon jobs.
Some are climbing into their own cars and driving away.
Some are grabbing rides home with older friends who can drive.
As they all make their way past my car, I can’t help but picture the versions of them I first met so many years ago.
Gone are the young adult versions of them.
Instead I see the 7 year old that used to ride the bus with my son when he was in 1st grade.
I see the 8 year old that played ball in the street outside my front window.
I see the 9 year old that introduced my son to the magic of summer travel baseball.
I see the 10 year old that helped lead their flag football team to an undefeated season.
I see the 11 year old who introduced me to his mother, a woman who would become one of my closest friends.
I see the 12 year old who wrote my husband a beautiful thank you note for being his coach during his youth football years.
I see the 13 year old who giggled with their friends in the backseat of my car as I drove them all to the movies.
I know they have morphed into amazing young adults but in that parking lot I still see them as the carefree, innocent, wide-eyed younger versions of themselves.
Even as they back out of their parking space in their own little SUV’s and peel away into the line of cars exiting the parking lot, I see who they used to be.
Even as they kiss their high school sweetheart goodbye in the parking lot and drive away to their jobs, I see who they used to be.
Even as they chat with each other about their plans for life after graduation, I see who they used to be.
And as my own son, always one of the last to enter the parking lot, finally makes his way to my car, I see who he used to be.
I see the 5 year old version of him, lunchbox in hand bounding off the school-bus and into my arms.
Yes, this parking lot is terrifying.
For this is the place where you can feel the distance between childhood and adulthood growing more and more each day.
But if you look and listen hard enough, the high school parking lot is also one of the most hopeful places to be.
It is where you can see the friendships and connections that will still be there for decades to come.
It is where you can see the hopefulness for the future they have yet to write for themselves.
It is where you can see the fear of the unknown and the insecurities being replaced by bravery and confidence.
It is where you can see the ability to enjoy the present.
As my son climbs into the passenger seat and flashes his 16 year old grin at me, I am aware that I only have a few more months to spend in this parking lot. Soon he will have his license and all that money he has been saving from his job will be put towards a car.
Soon I won’t be needed in this parking lot - this beautiful parking lot where fear gives way to hope - and I am really going to miss this place.
"You never know how much you'll miss them until those cleats get hung up for the last time."
To this day I still don’t know what compelled me to open my front door when an Amazon delivery man rang my doorbell on that random Saturday night.
99% of my doorbell rings go unanswered or ignored yet there I was, standing in my open doorway stuck in a conversation with the Amazon delivery man.
At first I was irritated.
Couldn’t he see that we had just come home from a long day of football?
I had things I needed to be doing. I didn’t have time to stand in my doorway talking about which local pizza place has the best greek salads or what the best route to the highway is on a Saturday night.
But the longer he stood there talking to me, the more it became apparent that he NEEDED to be there talking to me and I NEEDED to hear what he was about to say.
He peered over my shoulder and into my dining room.
Scattered all over the room behind me were the markers of my current stage in life.
Football pads and helmets were stacked on top of my dining room table.
Athletic cups and mouth guards were tossed next to empty water bottles on my china cabinet.
Sweaty smelly jerseys were strewn over the backs of my dining room chairs.
Football cleats had been left wherever they were kicked off on the floor and string bags had been thrown wherever open space could be found.
It was a scene of total and complete chaos but was a scene familiar, nostalgic, and comforting to the Amazon delivery man for it was a scene from his own past.
As he stood there taking in the state of the room behind me, tears began to fill his eyes.
The hum of the Amazon delivery truck in the driveway began to fade away.
The brand markings on his uniform and on the package of dog allergy meds he held in his hand slipped from my view.
Eventually all I could see and hear was a parent who loved his children deeply - a parent who could be a future version of me.
And it broke my heart.
"My two boys played football too...Well, I had two boys. I lost one in the military. He died."
Pausing to take a deep shaky breath and rocking back on his heels, he shook his head and said "You never really get over it. They say you do. But you don't. You think about them when you're driving around. You think about them all the time."
With the back of his hand, he wiped away a tear and held my gaze for just a beat longer.
"You never know how much you'll miss them until those cleats get hung up for the last time."
His words hit me right in my heart.
In an instant, nothing else mattered.
The mess on the table. The stench of the uniforms. The desperately overdue showers for my teens. The hurried pace of this stage of our life.
None of it mattered.
I had just received one of the most important deliveries of my life from this Amazon delivery man - perspective.
Someday soon, he had reminded me, those cleats that litter my floor will be hung up for good.
The scene behind me will no longer be one of complete chaos.
And I'll miss it all.
I’ll miss the messy house.
I’ll miss the long days.
I’ll miss the grumpiness after losing games.
I’ll miss the sheer fatigue after full weeks of practice.
I’ll miss seeing them play every weekend.
I’ll miss being a part of their lives in this way.
I’ll miss it all and so will they.
Life will change and we can’t predict where it will take us.
One day our Saturday nights might be filled with delivering packages instead of rehashing football games and connecting around my kitchen island.
So, for now, maybe it’s best to keep answering the unexpected doorbells.
We never know when a little perspective may be waiting for us on the other side.
Yesterday I watched my teenager play high school football for the first time.
Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was holding the newborn version of him in my arms and introducing him to the world? Back then he was just a delicate little creature and I was an insecure new mom, terrified of failing at parenting.
Originally published on Grown and Flown. Click HERE to read the full article.
“Mom, I need to thank you for pushing me to go to that interview.”
My 15 year old’s words caught me so off guard that I almost choked on my sip of water. I glanced at my husband across the restaurant table and we shared an invisible high five. We did it - we made the right choice to push!
If you’ve ever parented a teenager, you know that there is an almost constant struggle between pushing them too hard and not pushing them hard enough.
So, when it turns out you made the right choice as a parent AND your teen appreciates it, these are the moments that you remember as a parent of a teenager.
The day of the surprise thank you had started like a normal weekend day with teenagers as everyone coordinated rides, work schedules, and sports commitments. My husband and I had realized that we had a small window of opportunity that day where both teens would be busy at the same time as one would be at work and the other would be at sports practice. So, we made a reservation for a fancy new restaurant we’d been wanting to try - just the two of us.
As we headed to the restaurant, my husband and I reached for each other’s hands, commenting on how nice it was to finally have some time alone for a bit of a date. Covid had really made days like today few and far between. Just as we pulled into the parking lot though, our 15 year old son texted us to let us know he was getting off of work early and needed a ride home. Right then.
Yet another grown up plan thwarted. This is the life of parenting teens sometimes.
Quickly reframing the moment, we changed our reservation from a party of 2 to a party of 3, pushed it back by 20 minutes, and decided to take our son out for dinner with us.
As the three of us walked into the restaurant just a short time later, I couldn’t help but be transported back to so many years earlier when the three of us walked into a restaurant together for the first time. Back then, we carried our now teenager inside the restaurant via a baby carrier and he slept in my arms during our whole meal. On this day, though, he held the door for us, both of us short enough to duck under his outstretched arm to get through the door.
By the time he uttered that thank you phrase about pushing him to go to his interview, I was already feeling emotional and a bit in awe. We had just spent time during our meal talking about him signing up for driver’s education classes, his course schedule for his Sophomore year of high school, his work plans for spring break, and how he could go about requesting some time off for a family vacation this summer.
That’s when he put his drink down, turned to me, looked me in the eyes, and thanked me for pushing him.
My heart stopped for a beat as I reflected internally on the morning of his interview, as it is one of those parenting moments I will always remember. As much as he had been wanting to find a job so he could start earning and saving his own money, he had been extremely nervous about the interview process. On the morning of his first real in-person interview, he told me he wanted to cancel.
As with most moments in parenting teens, I had a decision to make: do I push or do I back off?
I decided to push. I encouraged him to go to the interview, reminding him that it was completely normal to feel nervous. I told him if he didn’t get the job, it wouldn’t be a big deal as he had lots of other job applications in process. When he rolled his eyes and told me he wasn’t even interested in the job, I doubled down on my decision and told him that it would make the interview an even more important experience for him - he could practice interviewing, managing his anxious feelings, and would not be crushed if he did not get the job.
It wasn’t enough. He wanted to cancel the interview and threw every potential reason at me.
Although the discussion eventually escalated to an argument, ultimately, he went to the interview, grumbling at me as he huffed angrily out the door and into the car, leaving me to wonder “Did I just push him too hard? Did I just scar him for life? Should I have backed off?”
Just 45 minutes later, while on his way home with my husband, he called me and I could instantly hear the smile in his voice. He had been offered the job on the spot and was excited about the schedule, the pay, his supervisor, and the job duties.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I had made the right decision to push. It all worked out. Even though he didn’t thank me in that moment, the happiness in his voice was enough for me. It all had worked out.
But, that’s not always how it goes with parenting teenagers.
These parenting years are filled with countless moments of having to decide whether to push your teen or back off. Sometimes you push them to make a certain decision and run the risk of pushing them too hard. Other times you back off to let them make their own decisions and wonder what would have happened if only you had stepped in. Either choice leaves you feeling confused, scared, and guilty as a parent. The process of asking yourself “what if?” is endless during this stage of parenting and the guilt is an almost constant companion.
The truth is that the process of parenting teens is one in which you get to witness a whole lot of mistakes - both from them and from you. Over and over again.
But, if you look closely at each moment, even those moments that wind up being mistakes, you will find they are learning opportunities for parents and teens alike.
The mistake moments are where growth happens.
The victory moments, like when your teen finally tells you “thank you for pushing me,” are where humility and humbleness happen.
Both kinds of moments are important.
Today my high schooler needed a ride to football practice.
There used to be a time not so long ago when I would have to arrange a ride for him with a mom of one of his friends, annoyingly verifying it at least three times with the mom, and then reminding my son what time he was getting picked up, what to bring, and to make sure he said thank you.
Today he arranged the ride himself with a friend, got himself ready, and went to practice.
I wasn’t needed anymore.
There used to be a time not so long ago when I would go to those practices, my camping chair and bag full of snacks regular staples in my trunk. The other parents and I would sit for 2 hours every day watching our boys’ struggles and admiring their growth.
Today he went to practice without parents and with coaches I’ve never personally met.
I wasn’t needed anymore.
There used to be a time not so long ago when I would roll my eyes and sigh loudly as I made my way through our house after a practice, helping stray socks find their way to the hamper and stinky shoulder pads to the drying rack.
Today those stinky pads got put where they belong, without me having to help.
I wasn’t needed anymore.
There used to be a time not so long ago when that same high schooler was a shy little boy, stepping onto the field for the first time - timid, lacking confidence, scared, and so very excited.
Today that little boy stepped onto the field for probably the 1,000th time - a young man, confident, brave, and so very excited to tackle the world on his own.
I wasn’t needed anymore.
There used to be a time not so long ago when this mama couldn’t imagine a time when she wasn’t needed.
Today that mama knows that she will always be needed in someway - maybe not for rides or picking up socks or support at practice - but surely for other ways.
A mother’s love will always be needed.
On Christmas Eve a 15 year tradition came to an end. It was the first Christmas Eve without an official believer in our house.
But, we still did all the typical Christmas things.
We still hid away all the presents.
We still talked about Santa coming to bring gifts.
We still made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, referred to as “Santa’s cookies” even if we make them in July.
We still waited until Christmas Eve to take the gifts from their hiding spaces and place them beneath the tree.
Much of this year was the same - but it was also very different. My youngest asked if he could watch us to see how we do it all.
He sat, wide eyed on the couch, as my husband and I worked like the amazing team we are - having done this for 15 years now.
Soon the questions started:
“How much did this all cost?”
“How long did it take you to wrap everything?”
“You really wrap everything in the stockings???”
“Is it hard to do all this?”
“How are you able to do this so fast?”
Then he helped me as I put out cookies and milk for Santa and, for the first time ever, our youngest got to enjoy the treats.
My heart ached through it all though. I miss those tiny versions of my boys as they would run outside to sprinkle reindeer food in the lawn, their voices squealing with delight.
I miss those days and there is a profound sadness in realizing that chapter of our family’s journey has ended.
But, this new chapter is truly special too.
This new Christmas is different. But, this new Christmas is still filled with joy, wonder, and love.
It’s still magical.
It’s still Christmas.
Parenting is one of life's greatest challenges and greatest rewards. Here we explore all aspects of parenting from pregnancy onward, highlighting both the struggles and the triumphs.