Trying to get the perfect photo of your moody teens? Graduation? Christmas?

My twins who are the oldest of my three kids were entering the really annoying “teen stage” at about 13 years old. They were still very good kids, but one thing in particular became very difficult for about a year: taking family photos with happy faces!

It was November and I wanted to have the three of them in a decent photo for the annual Christmas card. Whenever I was behind the camera that year, trying to get them all to laugh together became a guaranteed upset and complete failure. So, I decided to have the photo taken somewhere else.

I made a few phone calls and found a place that fit my budget and time frame around sports. As I finalized the date, I casually asked, “Can you please arrange for us to have one of your most fun and friendly photographers? Preferably a female?”

Her stuttering response: “Why, ma’am? Are… your… kids… little ones?”

I can hear her shuffling papers through the phone line. “I thought you told me they were teenagers…?” Poor thing, she was confused.

I was embarrassed and felt compelled to explain that “little ones” behavior often accompanies teenage bodies. But, I didn’t waste her time or mine. The truth is, teens will usually (although not always) behave better for strangers (a.k.a. photographer) than family.

The point of the story? When raising teens, shamelessly ask for help when you need it. Yep, even if that includes the photographer at your local JCPenney studio.

I Can’t Be All Things To My Kids

Gulp. I said it. Once upon a time, I really believed I was all things to my kids.  That is probably normal for young Moms with small children. Or, maybe I was just an egomaniac, but I’m going with the fact that I was young and inexperienced. I hadn’t yet been confronted with the reality that God-given “free will” would be exercised by my kids and would radically reduce my self-appointed self-importance.

When my three children were 0-12, I taught them everything. Well, they went to school at five, but I taught them to know God, to read, count, write, like themselves and others, use good manners, play… Let’s not forget I clothed, fed and watered them.  As they became teenagers, I conducted all the “talks”, and 100% of the time, I’ve been the disciplinarian. I hate that role most of all. My husband doesn’t engage in those responsibilities, so I’m the meanie.  But, curiously, I’m also the first to receive the good stuff, which might be a post topic all its own someday.

The first blow to my prideful, Mom-is-in-control-of-these-kids attitude happened when my son was in the 8th grade. If you read Moms of Teen Boys: Be Encouraged, you know that it was a tough time for me. Now that he’s 17, I’m quite positive I wouldn’t be nearly as devastated if I were to experience that season in his life all over again. Why? For many reasons, but the bottom line is: when children begin stretching their wings, they test the boundaries.

My son testing the boundaries included lying (the #1 no-no), and doing something that we specifically asked him not to do (nothing earth-shattering or harmful, but nonetheless defiant). In response, I spun myself into a web of insanity setting new rules and giving him extra-long chore lists. When his moodiness prevailed, I changed gears and became so sweet, offering kindness at every turn, hoping it would catch on.

After my determined efforts and the usual consequences of revoked privileges did not generate any remorse, my son was delivered the news he dreaded most of all: “We’re sending you to church camp. For a week.  Away from your nest.”

That boy’s face went white and tearful apologies began pouring out of him. If I wasn’t so wrapped up in the months-long shock of watching my sweet, sensitive, always-eager-to-please, golden-boy change into a moody, defiant teen, I would have laughed out loud. He wouldn’t even sleep over at a friend’s house, let alone go away with a relatively new youth group. He needed to always be surrounded by people he knew, and most people thought he was the bomb (a.k.a. – very cool dude).  Now, he would have to establish himself with a foreign crowd and what I believed most valuable: he would be uncomfortable.

With me, he was way too comfortable. Every time I thought my new “idea” for discipline or just establishing some “kindness rules” would turn him around, I was seriously mistaken. I foolishly thought I could make him change. I was thinking way too highly of myself.

That’s not to say that I don’t believe that parents are the most powerful influence in a teenager’s life. I unequivocally do. No matter how much eye-rolling happens, values are absolutely established and engrained in the home life of teenagers.

My son packed for camp with pleading eyes. Professions of obedience were made. Glimpses of the golden boy appeared countless times the week before he departed. All of this made me sincerely wonder if I had made a grave mistake and of course, I just battered myself even more, feeling unsure and worried. Tears streamed down my face as the giant coach bus pulled away.

He arrived home from camp in brighter spirits than we had seen him in months. He met a friend there that today is one of his best buddies. Let me not deceive you that camp cured all boundary-pushing. It did not. However, that experience did teach my son several lessons, and it taught me a few things.

My first realization was that the “little years” were over. Mine were no longer young children who only needed Mommy. During the teen years, new experiences and leaving the circle of comfort are crucial to their development and confidence.

More importantly, where did I place God in my parenting efforts? Did I sincerely trust Him? Did I honestly believe He was helping to raise and even discipline my kids when necessary? No, not really. I can’t be all things to my kids, but God can orchestrate circumstances and friendships and events to teach and nurture my children in ways that I never could. Great relief flowed over me when I accepted as truth that I’m not alone in this parenting business.

The TV Show The Middle is Funny. Everything Else “Middle”… Not So Much.

Middle

Sure we all like the show The Middle.    But I like little else involving “The Middle”. How about you?

Middle Age is surprisingly everything everyone older than me said it was. There really are aches and pains when you wake up in the morning. You really do notice that your skin is not what it used to be. I haven’t read, I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman, but the title makes me say, Amen Sister!

Middle of The Road or Middle Ground is not something I like to take. Although my job as a college teacher (and being a parent) forces me to accept and examine the “gray” areas of life, I like black and white. Right and wrong. I’m a rule-follower and life just seems easier when I choose one or the other. However, Middle of The Road is occasionally necessary.

The Middle of My Long-Gone Waist Line is flab and this makes me mad! I already don’t eat all the M&M’s and potato chips that I really want to, and I exercise a few times a week, and I STILL have a ridiculously soggy, mom-of-3-kids middle!

The Middle School Years… ahhhhh!!  Well, if we’re being Mommy-mushy, there are certainly priceless, beautiful moments between 6th and 8th grade. Lots of really nice days and fun events are now part of our family memories, but often, those years were challenging as I painstakingly sorted through daily questions, tears, and frustrations. Can we just camp on the Middle School years for a minute?

The Middle School Gym Class is where many girls decide that messing up their hair is so not worth actually trying to compete and win a game.

The Middle School Hallway is where walking to your locker feels like you’re being bounced through the center of a pin ball arcade game.

Middle School Staff sometimes forgets that the emotional maturity gap between a first-born 6th grader and a last-born 8th grader is the width of the Grand Canyon. Yet, we crunch them altogether and expect the 6th graders to feel welcome and safe. Some 11 year olds haven’t been raised on Black Ops and Mortal Kombat. If you’ve read my blog awhile, you’ll remember Desensitize My Kids?! This leads me to…

Middle School Assemblies. Sometimes, good intentions are ill-timed or go too far. Kids are ready for outside world information at very different ages. If they didn’t know prior to the assemblies, these events have taught kids where the best drug dealers can be found, how to roll, inject, snort and hide drugs. They introduced alcohol frozen pops and how to hide alcohol in your flip flops. Perhaps this information would be better suited for the parent assemblies in the younger grades. The Rachel’s Challenge assembly was much too early for my kids. My daughter’s eyes blazed at me that afternoon, “How can you EVER send me back to school?  Did YOU know that kids get shot at school?!” At 11 years old, the precious lesson from Rachel’s life which was well intended by Middle School administration, was buried by guns and mental images of terrified children. After that, I requested my children not attend any assemblies without a note or call home first regarding its content.

The Middle School Cafeteria is where lunchboxes stop being cool. Thankfully, my 9th grader still carries hers at the high school!  

The Middle School Church. Disclaimer: I delicately, respectfully and generally speak only of my small-world experiences!  We are in the Northeast and we can’t boast truly Christ-centered churches “on every corner”, as my southern friends have. Getting youth to come on a regular basis to church is challenging. That said, the desire for my kids to experience a thriving youth group led me a few years ago to visit several church kids programs, and similar organized events.  What I discovered was between nursery and 5th grade, the spiritual growth opportunities were plentiful. At 13, the kids are sometimes dropped off the edge of a spiritual cliff.

When kids are 0-12, they have little say about whether or not they’re going to church with Mom and Dad. When kids are 13-18, they can make dental surgery preferable to Sunday mornings.  Yet, at 0-12, my kids had more VBS, Sunday morning theatre shows, holiday events, and spiritually-driven girls and boys programming in one year than they’ve ever had as middle teens.

When they are little, we smile into those cherub faces saying, “God loves you!”  At 15, we shy away from telling them they are accepted and loved, often because their serious faces scare us off!  Leaving them alone just makes it easier for them to leave. The book, Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it, claims that approximately 90% of kids leave church in the middle teen years.

Not to mention that the best-intended parents who say church will come before sports when their kids are 5, find it terribly difficult not to break that family rule when the kids are 15 (myself included). When they do get to church, there needs to be connection. Important to note: we can be in the best spiritual environment possible and kids will still make their own choices-I know that. I’m also deeply grateful for the godly people who devote their time to the often thankless job of serving our youth at churches across this nation.

The Middle Teens: Aren’t Always “Cute”. Remember when your little ones did something mischievous or blurted out “no!!” to you? Their cuteness saved them.  During the middle teens, their moodiness and complaining is just ugly.

The Middle Teens: Puberty.  My son turned into a completely different species. Did you read, Moms of Teen Boys Be Encouraged?

Kids in the Middle of a divorce turn into adults who still identify themselves as such. Thankfully, there are programs, such as Kids in the Middle, Children in the Middle, and Divorce Care, which help children navigate the “two homes” “four parents”, etc., but living it out as a child is tough, no matter how well parents think their kids are taking it. Some interesting information is located in the book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.

The Middle of the Night. Or should I say 2am?  Anyone have the occasional insomnia? Just because I know it’s always “live”, QVC keeps me company!

The Middle Finger. ‘Nuff said.

The Middle Class and being Middle Child are up for debate! Have I bummed you out or can you relate? The Middle is not always great, so I keep striving for better. Because I hate ending anything on a downer, some good things about The Middle? Middle America! Malcom in the Middle! (I never saw it, but I hear it’s good). The Middle of an Oreo…:) Oreos

Choose My Battles?

boxing-gloves-picLast week my husband suggested that I more carefully “choose battles” with my twin 16-year olds.  Spending so much time together during the summer apparently had me criticizing them about “stupid things”.

While I might have dismissed my husband’s comment ;), I was convicted while reading a statement from Ruth Graham, located in the book: Billy Graham in Quotes.  She writes, “Never let a single day pass without saying an encouraging word to each child…” (pg. 41).

That hit me hard because my son was nearby looking sad.  Not mad, not angry, just disappointed that I suggested he get a haircut.  His hair is one of the battles that I’ve (for the most part) kept quiet about because he is a hockey player and having “sick flow” that sticks out of the back of the helmet is quite the rage.  I looked up from my book to see his expression which probably had less to do with the haircut and more to do with the previous hour.

“Your bedroom floor is always a mess.  Why don’t you bring the laundry when you go upstairs?  Did you seriously just leave the door open again, letting out the air conditioning?!  Can you please, just once, put the wet towels in a separate laundry basket?! Did you read anything today or just watch TV?”

His response?  “Mom, I cleaned all three bathrooms, did the dishes, and took out the garbage.  Did you notice those things?”  I had, but instead of praising the good, I focused on what needed “improvement”.

I had wet eyes as Proverbs 10:19 jumped into my head.  Just to make sure I got the hint, God dropped Colossians 3:21 into my mind:  “…do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Leaving my kids with heavy hearts due to “unnecessary comments” is a change I need to make.  So, I decided to abandon criticism and my drill sergeant tone of voice.  Within two hours, my resolution was a vapor and I promptly had something to say about my daughter’s shirt neckline being too low.

Her response? “Go ahead, make me feel bad again about the clothes I wear!”  All I heard was “again…”  I immediately tried to diffuse the situation, but she waved me off and stormed down the hall.

I have three really good teenagers and the four of us are particularly close.  This fact makes it especially terrible that I don’t always think before I talk.  I questioned why I am continually in their business and realized that although they have grown into young adults, often, I still attend to them as if they were ten.  There’s a major mind shift required by parents when kids become “upper-teens”.  Where monitoring the amount of texting and TV time was previously a sign of good parenting, during these years, such things become “battles”.

My daughter was recently watching “baby videos”, as we’ve been transferring old VHS tapes into DVDs of the kids when they were little.  All you hear are praises and encouragements spewing out of my husband and I on those tapes.  “Good boy!” “Great job!” given with serious enthusiasm from both of our “big” personalities.  Staring at the screen, I was reminded that those adorable cherub faces at 4 years old are the same people, just in bigger bodies…needing the same encouragement but less micro-management.  I again resolved to eliminate criticism.

It’s been a week since my resolution went into effect and it has been exceedingly more influential upon me than my kids.  I’ve picked up the laundry several times to find wet towels on top of good clothes.  The door is continuously left open on 80+ degree days.  They’ve plopped down to watch television while a mountain of clean laundry the size of Everest sat directly in front of them, waiting to be folded.  My mouth has either remained zipped or I’ve gently asked they take the clothes upstairs to their rooms.

What an enormous exercise in self-control.  About “choosing battles”?  There is already a societal and spiritual battle raging to destroy our kids.  I’m not “choosing battles”.  While I’m still making suggestions, I’m “choosing encouragement”.  1Thess5:11

Moms of Teen Boys: Be Encouraged!

Grumpy Teen BoyI got longer than most Moms.  More hugs, more “I love you’s”, more devotion from my son than any other Mom I know.  That was, until he turned 14 years and two months old.  In one overnight sleep from Tuesday to Wednesday, an uneventful week by anyone’s standards, my son woke up one day…a teenager.

On paper he’d been a teen for over a year, but he was still in my arms, or hanging by my side, and filled the house daily-often hourly-with professions of love.  He would literally yell from another room, “Mom!”  “What?”  “I love you!”  Apparently, if you’ve experienced this type of sensitive, loving boy at all in your home, it usually only lasts until about age twelve.

So, as I said, I got longer than most.  Instead of being grateful, I was appalled.  At his scoffs at dinner food, at his rolling of eyes, and barely-there embraces before going to sleep at night.  The grunts which replaced the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ were maddening!  Usually one to laugh easily and often, he began purposely moving his mouth around in contorted ways to avoid any expression of having fun with his family.  He would leave the room rather than let us see him smile.  If you asked me then, the friends who said that his behavior was “normal” should have be put into therapy.  “This is not normal!” I would wail.

Approximately 14 years and three months into my new son’s existence, we traveled to Florida for spring break.  I only had one rule: no texting.  This vacation was for us as a family.  Guess who broke the rule the first day and every day until the phone died?  Guess who forgot that I have access to verizonwireless.com and can see all texts?  After revoking the beloved phone privileges, I fully expected instant remorse on my son’s face.  After all, this was a child whose heart-on-the-sleeve sweetness was the envy of my girlfriends.  This time, all I saw was pure anger.  He was angry?  Who broke the rule here?  Again, my friend reminded me, “This is perfectly normal.”

For weeks following the consequence, my son schlepped around without picking up his feet.  He barely spoke to any of us in the house.  He complained about everything.  At nausea.  He needed a new folder and asked if I would go out and pick it up – that night.  I said we could both jump in the car and go get one.  “Ugh.  Can’t you just go get it?!”  I laughed.  Loud.  He opted to search out a munched, crunched, written-all-over, used folder from the mountain of “teaching supplies” my younger daughter keeps in her playroom.

Alien-like behavior ensued for a really –l–o–n–g–  18 months.  Our entire family was tortured by his nasal grunting, shuffling feet, excessively loud exhales accompanied by eye rolls, and a daily “who-gives-a-poop” attitude (this was the most irritating).  He made his sisters cry.  There were cyclical periods of disobedience followed by the exhausting task of disciplining.  I experienced floods of anger right back at him.  Other days, I would remain eerily calm in spite of his nastiness.  Many mornings, I wept on my knees upon his departure for school.  Throughout the 18 months I still said, “I love you” when he left for school, but he said nothing in response.  I murmured, cried, and sometimes yelled countless prayers to God, filled with unease that he was “on the wrong path”.  Anxiety plagued me:  Had I babied him?  Should I have made him do his own laundry?  Make his own sandwiches?  Should I have prayed more since his birth?  Was I to blame?

Then, as suddenly as the foreigner entered our home, he just as swiftly exited.  Inexplicably, without warning, another regular day by anyone’s standards, my son said, “I love you” in response to my “I love you” when he was leaving for school.  He climbed into my husband’s car and I shut the door.

Only a Mom can understand the overwhelming flood of emotion that instantly rose up from my stomach to my throat, forcing me to turn around, choking out a cheerful “goodbye!”, as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary had occurred.  Walking into the house, my face contorted.  I covered my mouth with my hand, and water poured down my cheeks.  Emotion ensued for a good, long time that morning, thankfulness to God overwhelming me.

My son wouldn’t become an empty, hardened criminal after all.  The casual “I love you” expanded nearly overnight, into doing chores without complaint, picking up his feet, laughing again with his sisters….

As I finish typing this, my now 16-year old son yelled from the basement, “Mom!” “What?” “I love you!”  Ugh, the joy and the pain.