Building Our Children Up, Not Tearing Them Down. A Candid Chat
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April 08, 2016

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Several days ago, I was watching TV and caught a tiny piece of an interview with mega-church pastor and best-selling author, Joel Osteen. I am not a follower of his, know almost nothing about him, and have never read any of his books. But something he said struck me, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. This is not a direct quote, but it went something like this: People are figuratively beat up all day in life, they don’t need to come to church to hear more of it. In his ministry, he tries to build people up. A quick Google search and I found one of his quotes:

“I don’t like to beat people down. They need to be lifted up.”

This snippet came at a really crucial time for me as I raise my two daughters. My oldest, who is almost 16-years old, does not handles stress that well, and she has a lot of it. With massive amounts of homework, a very tough academic schedule, cheerleading practice three times per week, soccer practice and games two to three times per week, and a Sunday where we all head off to church for an hour, she is kept hopping busy. Add to that, in the winter she goes snowboarding at least once, if not twice, per weekend. She applied for an internship/summer job with the U.S. Forest Service (we don’t know if she’ll be selected yet), we have several family trips planned, and she is thinking about taking a couple of classes on-line to get ahead, she is really stressed out. Sometimes she breaks down and cries. Insomnia sets in. My younger daughter, too, has a busy schedule, though she spends more time trying to (creatively) get out of things instead of taking them head-on, like her sister.

Though I have mellowed since my cancer diagnosis in 2012, I still have traces of my Type A personality. I can be like a drill-sergeant at times, barking out orders to my daughters.

“Is your room clean?”

“Did you take care of the cat?”

“How is your homework? Let me see it.”

“Pull up your grades on-line and let’s take a look.”

“Did you put your dishes away?”

“What are your plans this weekend and with whom? What time are you going to be home and what are you wearing?”

…And most of these questions or requests come one after the other, quick, with an expectations for an answer RIGHT NOW. Sort of like my old and very intimidating boss used to do.

After hearing the Joel Osteen quote, however, I wondered what I could be doing better that would leave my children feeling more up-lifted? I cannot control the world, and I can’t take away all of their stress, and sometimes out there, they are "beaten down." And part of becoming an adult is learning, as a child, how to handle age-appropriate problems and living with their consequences. I only want to intentionally step in to ease the burden of life just “so much.” But I do want to provide a home environment where my daughters feel loved and supported once they step through the front door. I want home to be a refuge, a place of peace (or as much peace as a family can ever offer) and acceptance.

Instead of instituting some changes on my own, I decided to ask them their thoughts. It went like this:

“Girls, do you feel that home is a loving, peaceful and welcoming place to live?” I asked them as we were driving home last night.

Silence. I waited for an answer. Finally…

“Sometimes. You and Bill don’t fight and you don’t really yell at us, but you can sometimes get really amped up,” my teen said.

Me? Amped up? Who is she talking about? Yep, that’s me, guilty as charged.

“Describe more. I need examples,” I said. I really wanted to hear them talk, not jump to assumptions.

My ten-year old gave me an earful. “Sometimes you ask us too many questions before we can even answer. If we don’t answer fast enough, you get mad,” she said.

My teen added: “Sometimes I’m still sleeping and you come in to wake me up. Instead of giving me a few minutes, you start putting things away in my room, cleaning up, and making my bed when I’m still in it!”

I do?

I asked them more questions about rules and expectations. Did I have too many for them? Did they think I was mean when doling out punishments?

The answers were… Compared to many of their friends, they have far fewer rules (we live in a heavily Mormon community and the kids in our neighborhood have loads of rules that my children don’t, like they must attend a ton of church throughout the week, never show their shoulders or kneecaps in public, not drink coffee, or date before they are 16-years old and only at that age if they are with a group of other kids). But they do have expectations that their friends don’t have—like maintaining spotless bedrooms, getting good grades, not missing out on tutoring or activities that I pay for, and not sleeping all day.

Well cry me a river. Those aren’t too many expectations, I wanted to say. But… this was their conversation, not mine. Instead, I asked how create a home environment that is more calm, loving and supportive for them? A place where they feel “built up”, not torn down?

Their requests were simple and very specific:

-When you ask us to do something, give us some time to get it done. Don’t demand we do it NOW.

-When you wake us up in the morning, be gentle. (My teen asked that I actually crawl in bed with them and snuggle up for a few minutes before they have to get up. Oh, melt my heart, that is a lovely idea!)

-Smile when you ask us to show you our grades on-line. You look so serious that you are scary.

-Sometimes let us skip an activity “just because.”

-If we want to have a day of doing nothing, let us have one occasionally.

But they did say that they feel loved and accepted. Thank goodness for that. Because I do love and accept them, unconditionally. Forever, no matter what.

But the point here is, talking to my daughters and listening to them rocks. They have a lot of wisdom and insight and they are willing to share (if they are asked). I wish I had these conversations more often and I am going to try. I am also going to try being more gentle and less “corporate.” I will snuggle with them at night and, more important, while they’re (trying) to wake up in the mornings. I told them that I will fail all the time and when I do, I asked them to call me out on it. I’m not perfect, I reminded them, but I love them more than words can express.

I’m still learning this “mommy” thing. But I think we are doing ok.

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