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Thursday, June 23, 2022

How to Have a Terrible Vacation with Your Teen

I have just returned from a beach trip with our kids, who are all teens (plus one friend).  It was ripe for moody withdrawals, complaining, begging for souvenirs and eye-rolling boredom.  It's not my first time vacationing with teens, so I knew how to make it a terrible time.

Plan every minute. Oh yes, they love it when every minute is scheduled by someone else.  Insist on family togetherness, all the time.  Right?  It's family vacation, after all, and demanding that your teen spends every moment in your company is essential.  

Take photos constantly. Whatever.  They take selfies and post snaps or "Be Reels," so why can't you get a grin?  Because that would mean pausing their own online activities...recipe for disaster indeed. 

Schedule everything, including meals.  Okay, meals are a highlight for most teens, but when you tell them what to eat and when, it loses all the appeal.  Teens are seeking independence, so keeping a tight leash and monitoring every action will result in revolt.

Enforce bedtime. Seriously? Am I five? No. "Bedtime" happens until noon each day and the nightlife is what happens after midnight. 

What teens want is more freedom, but they also want to know what to expect.  It's a tricky balance between giving them independence and still providing a loose structure for your family trip.  Instead of imposing all your rules and expectations, switch the script and prepare to have a great get-away.  There may be sulking or a tantrum, so try to move past the missteps, and ask them to do the same.  Adopt these ideas to enjoy the best vacation:

Lighten Up!  Try to remember why family vacation is even a thing - the goal is to bond and make memories together.  This isn't the time to teach lessons or discipline.  It's likely that life lessons will happen naturally as you spend time together, but this isn't the why of your get-away.  Relax and let messes go.  Let house-rules slide and focus on relationships.

Provide Space. When you expect your teen to spend every moment with you, it's an expectation that will result in disappointment.  When planning, opt for a multi-room rental or hotel suite.  Do all you can to provide multiple bathroom spaces.  Let your teen escape on his or her own to explore boardwalks, parks or whatever.  We rented bikes and we let the ones with a license borrow a vehicle every now and then.  Keep expectations clear about when to return and where the boundaries are.

Thrill them with adventure. Create a focal point during the trip that stimulates adrenalin.  It might be a shark fishing trip, roller coaster rides or white water rafting.  Teens are wired for that rush of risk and adventure feeds their need for fun.  It gives them a goal and something to talk about with their friends.  This is the time to take a photo!  ASK first, then catch the action.  Snap candids other times and respect when your teen says, "enough."

Remember food matters
...but it doesn't have to be expensive, just accessible.  Teens love to snack, love to eat.  It's nice to have a few great meals out on vacation and if you're able, do it!  Teen daughters, especially, seem to love the excuse to get dressed up to go out.  But keep lots of their favorite snacks on hand, too.  One of the thrills is having unfettered access to candies, sodas and other foods not always kept around the house.  We brought a mix and made brownies, and I included sour gummy worms and dark Hershey chocolates in our grocery order.  Going out to eat is special, but we also cooked for ourselves multiple times.  The teens were even in charge of dinner for "Tuesday Tacos at the Condo."  

We got away for date night.

Loosen the tech boundaries. I still have my teen plug in his phone each evening, outside his room when we are home.  But on vacation, I relax this rule.  I don't want to police behavior and it gives me a chance to gauge his maturity as he takes on more independence and responsibility in the tech department.  Sometimes letting them know we trust them motivates our teens to behave more wisely that if they feel they have to be sneaky.  We let the guys bring their video games, too.  Again, to redirect from screens, I try to provide lots of other options.  Swimming, biking, boating, hiking and especially going into service free areas keep our young people engaged in reality.

Consider bringing a friend.  At first I was opposed to this, as it may interfere with family bonding.  But I've seen it be a positive peer pressure for having a good attitude (no one wants to be embarrassed in front of a friend) and it builds good will with your teen.  Just make sure you know and trust the friend and that you have enough space.

Be flexible.  One thing is certain, teens are unpredictable.  There might be some attitudes or moods that require a change of plan.  You may need to get away from them for your own sanity and mood - that's okay!  Embrace the emerging independence and start expanding your own identity.  I love to have a vacation date night with my husband and I also enjoy sneaking away to meet up with a friend for lunch while on vacation.  

There are so many ways to vacation as a family.  Do what works for yours!  In my own season of teenage parenting, we are loving the less hands-on and more interesting season of vacationing.  We share the driving responsibilities and encourage their input in the planning.  It's more fun that ever, even though we aren't together 24/7 like in the little-kid-years.  

Both seasons have their charms and so I'm choosing to love where we are now.

Pro Tip: Pack extra chargers and remember that teens still get hangry, like toddlers.  An epic snack-stash still works wonders!

Thursday, June 2, 2022

A Prayer of Release For My High School Graduate

Once upon a time...A mama heart wished for a child to mother from start to finish. 

You arrived, so fresh and new, and I poured all had had into you.  Now, I think this is the finish line: High School graduation.  

Technically, you don't need me anymore and yet I'm still here.  Here for when you want to talk about girls and friendships.  Here for when you arrive home from your summer job and we sit quietly out on the patio.  Here for when you don't have the bandwidth to talk anymore and just want to sit, and lean.  You're so good at just being present.

I think of all the prayers I've prayed since I discovered you were growing in me.  Thousands of hopes and desires lifted through the infant stage during the late night feedings and changes.  I wanted to give you a fairy tale family, and even that fell apart and we rebuilt a new one together.  I think of the truly challenging school days where we worked so hard to find the ways you learned best.  Now I can even appreciate those mean kids who were so harsh to you, because it helped you know you can come to us with anything - and we always have your back.  You face nothing alone.  I cannot promise your life will be free from heartbreak or pain. When it come, I will still be here.

Dear Lord, 

Just as you gave me this son so many years ago, I release him back to you.  There isn't a day I haven't known you were with us and guiding us along together - growing me and and him in ways both seen and only felt.  Now I choose to trust you will grow each of us while we are apart.

I pray that when difficulties come, my son will draw closer to you and not push farther away.  Surround him him with positive influences who will spur him to think deeply and refine his character.  May he be willing to stand alone and still invest in friendships.  Thank you for his curiosity and humor.  Thank you for his health and even the challenges that draw him to you.  Make his path forward clear to him, so that he can go in confidence.  Remind him of your kindness and teach him to value people always over possessions.  Let him find friendship, adventure, romance and his calling. 

Thank you for letting me be his mama, for then and now, and evermore. Amen.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Making Grownup Friends

I wish friendship was as simple as putting out a sign, and waiting for loyal, kind people with shared values to arrive.  The friendships of life ebb and flow, but most people that I talk with feel it is more challenging to create friendships in adulthood.  I don't want to pretend it's easy or that I have the secret way to connect.

I do know, the more I try to engage, the more I am able to make connections.  Over time, the repeated connections build history, trust and dependability.  The best way I know to make a friend is to reach out to someone.  After all, if you're in search of friendship, chances are another person is, too.

Are you connected to any group?  A school? church? volunteer organization? Even a gym or neighborhood association?  These are great places to gather with people who share a similar goal.  Mom-life connects us, as we share the daily interactions at schools, stores or activities.  Start with the loose connections that exist naturally.

Make the first move.  Invite someone to the farmer's market or to run (walk) a race.  I became closer to an acquaintance who asked me to pick up a marketplace purchase so she didn't have to go alone.  Join a social media group that actually meets in real life.  I have made sweet connections in the Knoxville Gardeners Facebook Group or Hiking in the Smoky Mountains group.

Nourish the connections as you make them.  Turn one positive experience into another by following up when you meet someone or first get together.   Take notice of birthdays or important events in the life of your acquaintances.  When you can circle back and connect over such a detail. Communicate through your actions that you are interested and caring.  This is one of the ways that friendships build.

Like all relationships, friendship requires trust, caring and repeated connections for it to grow.  Be natural as you let the budding introduction expand into friendship. If you make the effort and see that it isn't returned or reciprocated, then move on.  Don't keep spending time and energy where someone simply isn't available.  It may be that they are too busy or processing circumstances about which you know nothing.  It's most likely not about you.

Keep up with some of your old friends.  Invest in the ones that have lasted through seasons of life.  The happy memories and encouragement will keep you bolstered if and when you move or find yourself isolated by other concerns.  Friends scatter all over the world in our transient culture, but hang onto those who really bring joy to your soul.  It will remind you of why it's worth it to keep reaching out to connect.

Occasionally, leave your partner at home. Sometimes the security of our spouse keeps us from engaging with others in the room. Take the risk to show up alone, or try something that interests just you.  Be brave and be willing to try something new.

You're not alone if friendships seem hard to come by.  The very business of adulthood, of mom-life, keeps us from having time to create the connections that we need to flourish.  Instead of making excuses, set your intentions and make the effort.  There are others who will welcome your efforts and cherish the friendships that form.  We are all craving connection.


Monday, April 25, 2022

Facing Forward When Encountering All the "Lasts"

Senior Night for 2021 Football
I can focus on the lasts, and the loss, or I can face forward and focus on the future.

I once read that, "You never know when it's the last...time rocking a little one sleep or washing a child's hair.  But by the time you arrive at grade twelve and senior year, the lasts really start to stack together.  From the last first day of high school to the last football game and the last senior photos, it is a grueling march of one last event to the next.  

We face the last prom, the last lunch packed and the last day of class followed by that climax of graduation.  I've become a bit obsessed with looking back at photos from the time before my son was in school every day and got to stay home with me.  I remember that season with such sweetness.  Our world was small and contained and known.  

Preschool Graduation, 2009
Now the world is wide open to my senior-son.  It's a success story when he no longer needs me to navigate his way or even to make a meal.  His independence is my job- review and statement of "well done."  Although I'll always be a part of his life, he is now forever independent, which is a bittersweet victory.  I'm so grateful for the gift it has been to raise him for 18 years.  No privilege has been as rewarding as having a front row seat to his growth. 

Lasts are hard.  But firsts are exciting and fresh - it's the perspective that my guy is experiencing as his life moves forward.  My senior-son cannot wait to take his first trip without a parent or chaperone.  He's excited about the college dorm five hours from home and the world that will expand just for him.  He's dreaming about a future with all the optimism of unburdened youth.  It's a perspective that I want to share.   
Senior Photos

Yes, I'm sad about the things that are changing and I miss seasons we've shared together.  And yet I have to remember that graduation isn't the end of our relationship.  It's fun to be able to talk about anything and everything together.  It's rewarding to meet the friends and significant other that he brings to our home.  How gratifying to see him embrace many of the values we sought to instill!

In our blended family, I have stepdaughters who have given me a front-row seat to the way things shift and move into new seasons.  I've watched my husband struggle with missing his girls, then find new footing as their relationship deepens into maturity.  The love and respect for him is even greater than it was when they lived under our roof.  The adult relationship is unique and special.

My son's firsts are marked by my lasts.  I can focus on the lasts, and the loss, or I can face forward and focus on the future.  There are still so many things to experience with my firstborn.  The possibilities ahead are endless and you can be sure I'll be by his side setting up that dorm room. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Don't Quit! Spring Ahead to Finish the School Year Well

Like us, you might be wrapping up spring break and it's been so nice to get out of the rut and routine of a rigid school schedule.  The thought of returning to alarms and deadlines isn't fun or welcome, but here we go.

With spring weather and spring sports, there are lots of distractions from the the assignments and standardized tests facing our students.  How can we help them stay on track to finish the school year strong?

Work Consistently. This one commitment will save yourself so much stress and turmoil.  Often there are long-term projects that will be due toward the end of the school year.  It's so easy to put of the work but don't let that happen to your student.  The weight of stress that will be carried isn't worth the price of procrastination!

Prioritize. It won't take long to find out what is going to come easily and what will require more attention. It won't take long to realize that there is so much happening between now and the end of the school year that not everything can get our attention.  Determine what is most important and what projects/grades need the most focus.  A quiz tomorrow might not carry as much weight as an ongoing project that could be initiated now.  

Enlist Support Early. When you begin early, you will identify areas that demand extra support.  It may look like formal tutoring, or it may simply finding an online game. Where you need help, go ahead and get the support in line so that you can access the best resources.

Take Breaks. Once you have established that you are working regularly, found support where needed and have gained momentum, then you are free to take a breaks.  Plan a daytrip for the time off at Easter.  Get outdoors on a bike or skates.  Plant something that will bloom this summer.  Cook a fresh recipe together.  Taking a break refocuses the brain so that you aren't burning out on material that is draining.  

Set Boundaries. At the same time that I support a break, we also have to be clear about getting back to business.  Having a set time for homework, like before dinner and after snacks, helped to create rhythm and routine. For younger kids establishing reciprocal rules helps to be clear with expectations. An example might be: No video games until the homework is done.  Or 30 minutes of reading before turning on a screen. 

Plan to Celebrate! No matter the outcome, you will get to the end of a this school year.  How can you mark the moment and reward the hard work?  Plan an outing (the zoo, an activity in Pigeon Forge?) or a gift for hard work.  Use this as motivation when it gets tough to keep going by sticking a picture on the fridge or bathroom mirror.  

Spring is full of promise and expectation - it's a season of renewal and reminder of the cycles of life that make all things new.  Just when we want to turn from the requirements of school schedules, it becomes a critical time for our kids in school.  

Spring fever is real but you can set the tone for success as we finish the school year and accomplish the next level.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Five Ways Show My Teens I Love Them Everyday

In our culture -- where love is so conditional and measured by clicks and likes or the fickle connections of social media -- our teenagers are desperate for the steady, dependable love of a parent who will walk them through the hills and valleys of adolescence.

I know you love your teen, but how can we be sure that he or she feels that love? These are some ways learned how to get the message into their hearts:

Hear the words, the tone and the length of what your teen is saying. The competition for attention is real and so often our kids aren’t being validated in their thoughts and words. Before you interrupt to fix or correct, listen. If your teen is talking to you, you are doing something right. If he or she is not, it’s time to draw out their thoughts and concerns.

Relieve. The pressures of teen life are real and intense. There is no break from the academic standards or social pressures. Yes, you’re going to need to have some basic rules and requirements, but it must be cushioned with grace and acceptance. Work together to tackle a disastrous room. Create a strategy to complete the heavy school load. Build margin into the schedule so that there is space for downtime.

Observe. When my teens can be confident they are cared for, they feel loved and safe. This means that we stock the food they like. We align with them in overcoming obstacles like acne or ACT goals. When you make what is important to them just as important to you, you are demonstrating your love. Sometimes this looks like getting help for a tricky subject (I can recommend a fabulous math tutor!); other times, it means noticing when one needs jeans or new socks.

Release. Do not be a dictator to your teen because that will backfire by watching your teen withdraw from you. More than ever it’s time to work with your teens to establish boundaries and consequences, so be ready to explain your thoughts and what you see as working and not. You still get to set the rules and teens still try to be more independent. Instead of demands, offer suggestions and give lots of chances for your teen to succeed. When consequences are necessary, be clear in communicating how trust (and privileges) can be reestablished.

Encourage. Teens want to be respected. Teach them what traits are admirable and freely give privileges that allow those characteristics to shine. Catch him or her doing the right thing and really share how much you appreciate it. Apologize when you lose your temper and be quick to let go when emotions overpower logic -- it happens to all of us. Teach them by showing grace so they can be gentle to themselves, too. 

Love well. One of my teens wants me to buy Takis every week and another one wants protein powder. Sometimes they want me to come into their room with lots of hugs and chatting. Most of the time they want their space and privacy. I try to be available for both. Often, getting their favorite treat or just an extra hour at curfew is the best way to remind them I am on their side. Notice what your particular teenager enjoys and indulge every now and then.

My love is not conditional on their behavior or mood. I remind each of them that I am here for them and am their biggest fan. I’ve had to work at not reacting to the dramatic swing of teenage emotions and finding ways to connect as their activities have changed. It’s exhausting and empowering as it reveals my own shortcomings and helps me grow. But the great work of loving is rewarded with connected relationships that let my teens know love is lasting. It’s not fickle or unpredictable. It’s steady, dependable and solid in their changing world. It goes deep and anchors each one to the family and to what will remain when the tumultuous teen years are in the rear view.

Pro tip: Make a mental date with your teen, but don’t tell him/her. Just once a week (or once a month, or whatever works for you) go get a coffee or drive through Sonic just the two of you. Keep showing up every day, just like you have all their life. The awkward bodies, changing voices and bizarre outfits switch on the regular, but your dependable love will see them through.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Romance in the Blender

For all couples, it takes intention to capture the romance during the real-life grind of parenting, home keeping, managing jobs and schedules.  When you begin dating and marriage with children already at a priority in life, it takes extra planning and intention to keep romance in the relationship.  

I remember an early "date" when Mr. Wonderful took the all of our kids I together for dinner dinner. It was about three months after we met and we went to a local bbq place.  Our children ranged in age from 3 to 14 years.  Mine were loud and squirmy, picky eaters, truly snotty (having a cold) and it went past their bedtime.  His were teen and tween girls with their own set of needs and attitudes.

Romance isn't always easy in marriage and truly doesn't come naturally with all five kiddos also demanding attention.  There are lots of articles and encouragement about "How to Romance Your Partner..." but I don't think the How matters as much as the actual doing of it.  Life is complicated and sometimes difficult so romance often gets pushed to the side.  But it's so worth it to engage your partner and do what you can to remind him that you love him - him and and only him without all the distractions.  

Mr. Wonderful is kind and affectionate.  He takes time daily to remind me with words that I am his number one person.  He woos me with his words.  He is affectionate and generous with cuddles and kisses. Our days are often spent moving in opposite directions, so the we end our evening intentionally together.  I manage the dinner prep and he cleans the kitchen.  The we settle together for some downtime on the sofa.  This carefree time is crucial to our connection.  

Romance takes many forms in our marriage.  Sometimes it is time alone with the focus on one another.  Many times it is a meaningful smile across a room filled with teenagers and clutter.  Most of all, I think romance is taking the time to notice, to see how your spouse may be trying even if it isn't dramatic.  Love is continually turning to one another.  It precious and rare and worth celebrating.  Do something this Valentine's Day to celebrate the love in your life! Make romance a verb and don't just wait for it to happen.

Don't allow dread or drama to steal your joy.  Instead, you can choose to be the one to savor the love and create a bit of romance in your marriage.  If you're feeling unloved or in a season without a person to romance, I've been there, too.  Never forget that your are fully loved and chosen by the greatest lover of all time.