In the grand scheme of things, being a good sport and finishing out a board game with your family really doesn't matter much. But learning to keep trying when things are hard DOES matter. So many things come easy to this particular child and when something turns out to be difficult, he's taken aback, he feels really uncomfortable, and he really prefers to walk away. He wants to be an instant winner all the time. But life doesn't work like that. We're always telling him that "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" and that "hard is good."
As our kids get older, it's so tricky to know what to control while we still can control it (in hopes that strongly encouraging some things with talks or bribes or whatever it takes may lead to more understanding and self-motivation some day) and what to let go of as we strive to respect our kids' opinions and their need to make their own decisions. Jared and I struggle to be loving, understanding parents while also pushing our children strongly towards the things they are capable of and that will likely bring them joy and success.
I'm realizing more and more that while life is much easier when it comes to taking care of my children's basic physical needs now that they're older, it's much harder when it comes to the tricky nuanced work of taking care of my big kids' mental, social, emotional and spiritual development. The phrase, "Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems" seems to hold true. The plethora of little problems just about did me in some days when I had 5 preschoolers. But I'm finding that all it takes is one "big kid problem" to really throw me for a loop.
I have been blessed with some excellent raw material with these kids of mine. They are generally kind, helpful and smart smart. We've set up rules and consequences with their input and help and we've had a lot of buy-in from the kids as we kindly but firmly enforce what we can all see makes sense. We've experienced very little defiance and only a few tantrums. The kids respect that we are the ones in charge and seem to appreciate that we ask for their help and their input in roughly equal doses. We work hard to ensure that they know they are loved and appreciated and cherished.
But as they get older, they want and need to take on more control of their own lives. And that's hard stuff. As much as I know they need to make more of their own decisions and become their own person, it's so hard to know when to insist and when to give in, when to hold on and when to let go, when to say something and when to be quiet.
I've figured out a lot of things about parenting - partly thanks to being raised by wonderful parents whose example gave me a big leg-up when I started out as a mom, partly thanks to the wonderful ideas I get from our community of deliberate mothers at The Power of Moms, and party due to trial and error.
The last few couple years, I've felt like a pretty darn good mom as I've really hit my stride as a mom. I quite naturally "get" elementary school-age kids (babies and toddlers, as adorable and fun as they are, were a bit more of a stretch for me). But just lately, my 12-year-old and sometimes his 11-year-old brother are humbling me big time. I'm in some uncharted waters for sure. And it's hard stuff!
Here are four things I've learned so far (mostly the hard way):
- "If it's important to you, it's important to me." My mom suggested I remember this phrase when I headed into marriage and I'm finding it's just as important for kids. I'm working to show real interest in the things they care about and to really discuss possibilities they bring up, even if they originally sound pretty "off." I'm learning about bands the kids have mentioned. I'm getting to know their friends. I'm helping my son earn up money for the electric guitar he really wants.
- Relationships take time. I can't expect my kids to open up to me if I'm so busy I don't have time to talk when they want to talk. When I'm so tired at the end of the day and just want to clock-out as a mom after tucking kids in bed, if I'll tuck my son in last, go sit on his bed, and just let him say whatever, we often have good conversations about important things.
- People respect those who give them respect. When I ask my older kids what might be an appropriate consequence when one of the younger children has broken an important rule, they feel flattered and respected - and are more likely to pay attention to the rules themselves. When I ask for their help in researching something I'm thinking about doing or buying that fits with their interests and knowledge, they feel useful and helpful.
- Raise the Praise, Minimize the Criticize. As I tuck my son in bed each night, if I take 30 seconds to tell him something I really appreciate that he did that day or something I've noticed he's good at, I'm making vital investments in my relationship with him. When I ignore what I can ignore and minimize criticism and/or keep critiques short and sweet, our relationship is much better.
- Sleep and Food Matter - a lot. Remember when we were so careful to make sure our babies got good naps and ate enough healthy food and no junk? Remember when lack of sleep or food resulted in serious melt-downs with our toddlers? As pre-teens bodies and brains go through puberty, they need quality sleep and quality food desperately - but often don't feel the need for either. I'm getting my son to bed early. He can read or use his ipod in bed for a while (that helps keep him from being defiant about going to bed). Then I tell him it's lights-out and we chat a bit and he's usually tired enough not to fight it much. I'm pretty sure it'll just make him want it more if I try to ban my kids from all junk food. But I've found that if I only have healthy foods (lots of fruits and veggies on hand for snacking, healthy breakfasts and dinners) in the house, that's what he'll end up eating for the most part. We talk about what fuels our bodies efficiently and he worries about the amount of acne and excess weight he sees on some kids and generally accepts that healthy food is best.
As I move forward, I know I'll mess up and I know there will be power-struggles and tricky questions. But as I'm trying to teach my son, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" and "hard is good."
I'm so glad we've got some great moms of teens and older kids writing stuff for us on The Power of Moms Here are a few posts that have helped me on this new roller coaster ride of mothering pre-teens:
Short Shorts and Mothering Teens
Managing Social Media and Technology with our Kids
The Personality Test that Helped me Really See my Daughter
Podcast: Patience with Teenagers
How to Tell a Teenager "I Love You"
Straight Talk: Beauty, Brains or Both?
P.S. One thing I HAVE figured out pretty well is road trips. If you've got a family road trip coming up, check out my latest post on The Power of Moms - Tried-and-True Road Trip Tips.