The Gift of Presence in Parenting

I’m reminded of a circus clown when I think back on what my days were often like raising our three children. I was juggling several things at once, not always well, but I managed. Every day seemed like a constant balancing act – making sure everyone’s needs were met. And more often than not I felt as if I was in that tiny clown car going round and round in circles.

I mention this because I think as parents we try to be more than we could ever possibly be, and in the process we end up not being fully present for ourselves, our partners or our children. There were times when I would be so involved in planning and making sure everyone was where they needed to be that I’d forget to take a breath and enjoy the moment. I live on an island near Seattle, and I could go days without fully appreciating the natural beauty surrounding me.

One day as I was driving mindlessly to pick up one of my children from school (I think they were in three separate schools at the time) I drove under two wooden bumblebees thrown over the power lines. To this day I have no clue as to who put them there or why, but I am certain they were meant for me. Without skipping a beat I said to myself, “Just Bee” and just like that something washed over me. I suddenly realized how not presentI had become.

As I continued to drive the car I started to notice my breathing, paid attention to my posture and how I was tensing my shoulders. I kept a closer eye on the speedometer (that was a good thing). The bumblebees are no longer there; but now when I drive under those power lines it’s a simple reminder to bring my attention back to the present moment.

And then my children became teenagers. The circus act calmed down a bit but my knack for multi-tasking did not. When my middle daughter was 16 she and I were having a conversation in our kitchen. She was sitting at the counter and I was standing on the other side pretending to listen to her while I was doing 5 other things. At one point in the conversation she reached across the counter and gently grabbed my face and said, “Mom, Mom, pay attention to me. I’m talking to you.”

OK, this time I really got it. Not only was I not fully present for the conversation but I was also missing out on a precious opportunity to connect with my daughter.

These are just two examples from my life that illustrate the importance of self-care. If you would like additional strategies, send me an email and we can schedule a parent coaching consultation. I can help you find that balance between taking care of yourself and taking care of your family.

Nurture Shock – Chapter 7: The Science of Teen Rebellion

Teenagers lie and apparently they lie a lot more than even I realized – even after raising three of them! The story in the beginning of the chapter is a little unsettling though I think supports the notion that many teens are giving adults the impression that they are on a good path when in fact they are just ‘doing school’ (a term I’m borrowing from Denise Clarke Pope) and on The Race to Nowhere. In one study 96% of teens reported lying to their parents. The reason? The most common reason was,”To protect the relationship with my parents – I don’t want them to be disappointed in me”.

I see this as good news. It reinforces what other researchers have said – that for teens the relationship with their parent is the most important relationship in their life. This is a really great point to remember when you have a rebellious teen who is pushing every boundary you try to set. I always kept my eye on the prize, so to speak – and did my best to maintain a good relationship with my children. Sometimes it meant a lot of compromising, but in the end, really all that mattered was that relationship.

I’m bored – if only I had a dime for every time I heard that phrase. According to the authors the more controlling and enabling the parent the more likely the child is to experience boredom. I had the exception to that rule. We did not fill our son’s free time – because he rejected structure. But he also didn’t like down time. So he’d finish with one activity and want to jump to another right away. Tired of constantly hearing “I’m bored” we tried a little humor, “It’s nice to meet you, I’m Sally”. Wasn’t what he wanted to hear of course, but it helped me not feel like I needed to immediately come up with something else to fill his free time.

Teens are risk takers. We all know that either from parenting teens or being risk takers ourselves (guilty). Researchers in PA came up with a program called TimeWise to help teens understand risk, peer pressure and essentially be ‘architects of their own experience’. Initially it looked like a great program, but over time the class did not have a huge impact. And the reason has to do with the teenage brain. Some teens are just wired to take big risks. More specifically the teen brain is handicapped in it’s ability to gauge risk and foresee consequences. Another interesting tidbit – teens can think abstractly but not feel abstractly until they have had more life experience to draw on. So, what’s a parent to do? Create opportunities for safe risk taking – skateboarding, skiing and snow boarding, dirt biking, jumping on a trampoline, climbing walls, mountain biking, white water rafting – none without risks but it sure beats joy riding in a car with a brain that feeds on big doses of the thrill factorl!!

The last part of the chapter goes back to discussing lying and arguing. Those families where there was less deception had a much higher amount of arguing. Arguing was seen as good thing for the teens, not so much for the parents. Arguing wears us out – I know this first hand. I wanted to encourage negotiation, partly because I didn’t have that opportunity in my family of origin. But it’s a delicate balance knowing when to continue the argument/negotiation and when to zip it and stop engaging with your teen.

I absolutely agree that parents need to let their teen feel heard – even if you totally disagree. They need to practice on someone and a parent seems like the safest place to do that. The authors barely touched on listening. I think listening in this culture is one of our biggest challenges. In fact we only listen for an average of 17 seconds before wanting to jump in with a comment.

The most important lesson I have learned (and am still learning) as a parent of three teenagers is that listening, and truly being present while you are listening, is one of greatest gifts you can give your children. What were your teen years like? How has that experience informed your parenting?

Next Week: Can Self-Control be Taught?

This Week’s Recipe: Truffle Brownies from Bon Appetit (Reprinted from the Bainbridge Island Review )

I found this recipe today – I haven’t tried it, but I’m putting it out there for all you chocolate lovers. Enjoy!

truffle brownies 117

Truffle Brownies

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped, divided
  • 11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • special equipment

    9×9×2-inch metal baking pan

Preparation
  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 9×9×2-inch metal baking pan with foil, leaving overhang. Spray foil with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Combine 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate and butter in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and stir until chocolate and butter are melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water and cool chocolate mixture until lukewarm, 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Whisk sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt in large bowl to blend. Whisk in chocolate mixture. Stir in flour, then chopped toasted walnuts. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan. Bake brownies until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 26 to 28 minutes. Transfer pan to cooling rack and let brownies cool completely.
  • Bring cream to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add remaining 6 ounces chocolate to hot cream and let stand 5 minutes to soften, then whisk until melted and smooth. Pour chocolate ganache over brownie sheet in pan and spread to cover completely. Let stand at cool room temperature until topping is set, about 4 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.
  • Using foil as aid, lift brownie sheet from pan. Fold down foil edges. Using large sharp knife, cut brownie sheet into 25 squares, wiping knife with hot moist cloth after each cut. Arrange brownies on platter and serve.
  • The author recommends a sprinkle of sea salt for glamour and extra flavor.