Simi Valley Family Magazine --
Spring 1997 Edition
Deborah Tucker, M.A., M.F.C.C.
Wouldn't it be interesting if we prepared for the stages of our lives the same way we prepare for a new job, or class we want to take? Think about the various stages through which you have already been. What if you had known a little bit more about what was coming, and how to cope with it? Would you have made some different choices, maybe made fewer mistakes? If you had known then what you know now, would you have been able help those you love little more, or perhaps cause less hurt? It's an interesting concept.
Where would such a "Preparation for Life" course begin? Life goes through stages, and even as we pass through them, our children come along behind us, a concrete illustration of the circle of life. Erik Erikson described several stages, including infancy, childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle age, and old age. Let's pick a logical beginning place -- entry into adulthood. How many of our teens these days seem ready for adulthood? It seems to be a very common phenomenon for grown children to delay moving out until mid- to late twenties, or even longer. Is this only about economics, or is there also a sense of not being ready to be on their own -- even at ages when our parents, and probably ourselves, were "launched," married and starting families.
A "Preparation for Adulthood" course, targeted for high school junior and seniors, might focus on goal-setting, especially regarding education and career goals as they evolve throughout a lifetime. An important component would be teaching financial management skills -- how to properly use credit, tailor expenses to income, and the power of beginning to save early in life. Don't you wish you had begun sooner? Even more important would be how to develop a clear sense of one's values and emerging identity, and how to communicate about these to a potential future spouse. Think about the difference between "falling in love" versus "finding the person you can love for a lifetime."
Early in a couple's marriage, a course with a double emphasis on nurturing the relationship and preparing for children would perhaps avoid or at least lessen some of the stresses that often come up once the honeymoon is over. So many people today don't seem to understand that a relationship needs time, attention, and work to grow and stay strong. Getting a running start on these skills before children come along is vital. Obviously, a course in the basics of parenting infants, children and teens is probably essential.
A specialized course in preparing our children to become teenagers might also avoid much of the emotional upheaval that comes during this time. Sometimes we spend so much teaching the biology of sex ed that we forget to tell our kids about all the other changes that they will be going through -- bodies that change, emotions that run wild, insecurities, conflicts with friends, discomfort with family, etc., etc.
Perhaps even more important as parents end their thirties is a refresher course on marriage, with an emphasis on mid-life issues and how they torment us. It is so easy to take the issues we are struggling with --aging, giving up dreams, realizing our limitations -- and imagine that there is some "magic person" out there who will make us feel young again. How many marriages end at mid-life because one or both spouses don't realize that every relationship takes work, and that the pain of dealing with divorce is often far greater than the pain of working through the disappointments that we all feel at mid-life?
Learning to age well and confront the fact of our own and our loved ones' mortality is also vital. If we have learned to live well, paying attention to all the aspects of our lives, it is likely that we will be able to apply the same skills to the end of our lives. There is much to share with younger generations, and final preparations to be made in accordance with whatever our understanding is of what comes after death. As a culture, we seem to deny that old age really exists or that it's valuable. How foolish -- all the stages of life are important. We learn from them, and those around us benefit from that learning.
Preparation for Life 101 -- what grade would you get?
Wendy Wilkinson, M.S.
I never thought I would agree with Howard Stern.
When asked if his pre-teen children would see his new R-rated movie, Stern said, "Absolutely not." When the interviewer replied that if the movie is out there, his kids will probably see it, Stern said, "No they won't, because I'm a parent. My wife is a parent. If we think something is inappropriate for them, they won't see it!"
While I haven't agreed with much Stern has said, I do agree with this: Part of our job as parents is to set limits for our children.
Most parents naturally set limits for their young children, such as, "No snacks before dinnertime," but as our children turn into teens, many parents feel that their limit-setting duty is over. After all, they need to learn to make decisions for themselves, right? Actually, our limit-setting job is never more important, or more difficult.
I have told my teens that it is my job as their parent to keep them on the "straight and narrow path" until they are mature enough to keep themselves on that path. I know some people adhere to the "sink or swim" approach to parenting: let them go out there and make mistakes for themselves, and the consequences will teach them the lessons they need to learn. I don't hold to this philosophy of parenting because the consequences of today's world are just too high for a trial-and-error approach to life. Instead I adhere to an "active parenting" approach.
"Active parenting" means being involved, informed and present in our teens' lives. We all know that it is important to be interested in what they are doing. We need to go to little league games and parent's night at school. We need to ask how school is going and how much homework they have. We need to praise them on their accomplishments and feel sad with them about their failures and disappointments. We also need to listen when they talk to us, even though we may not like everything we hear.
Being present is sometimes the most difficult part of parenting teens, especially in single parent households or when both parents work. If this your situation, I would challenge you to be creative in your use of time, so that your teens are not left with too much unsupervised time. They may tell you that they are old enough to be responsible for themselves, but there is a direct correlation between the amount of unsupervised time they have and the amount of trouble they get into.
When our kids do get into trouble, I know it's very tempting to turn our heads and say "It's not that bad" or "There's nothing I can do." I know many parents who deal with their worry over their children by keeping themselves busy instead of keeping their kids busy. But it is when they are getting into trouble, or making unwise choices that they need us to "parent" them the most. They need us to provide the limits that they are having trouble providing for themselves. And they will fight us all the way about it, because they don't want to be dependent on us. But when we are lovingly firm about the limits we set, they will eventually have a peace that comes from security. They need the security of loving parents that are willing to keep them on the "straight and narrow" until they are ready to keep themselves there. If you don't set limits with them, they might continue to go further and further until they find a limit that you will set. In an extreme case, they may finally run into the limits set by the law, and end up in a lot of trouble. Do your kids and yourselves a favor, and set your limits closer to home. Be willing to fight the small battles (i.e., curfew, friends, etc.) so the bigger battles will be fewer and farther between.
Setting limits may not be the most fun aspect of parenting teens, but it is certainly one of the most important.
Sue White, M.A.
With the arrival of March, comes the advent of Spring, that beautiful time of year when new growth pushes through the earth, flowers bloom, and the annual urge to clean returns. This year, while we're washing windows, scrubbing down walls and cleaning out closets, let's also spend some time giving our attitudes a good spring cleaning.
Does it sound like too big a job to tackle? The dictionary defines attitude as "A state of mind or a feeling; disposition" and defines disposition as "one's usual mood, a habitual inclination." Have your usual mood or habitual inclinations gotten a little off kilter? Good news: your attitude is governed by your state of mind or feeling, so it can be easily altered. There are some effective ways to accomplish this without adding too much work to our already busy lives.
First let's pull open the blinds, let in the light and air out our winter depression. In an attempt to keep out the cold, we sometimes hide behind closed drapes, curl up with a good book, and shut out the world, which sometimes leads to depression. I'm not depressed, you might say, I'm just a little tired and not very motivated; I'd rather just sit here and eat this bag of chips. Well, some signs of depression are fatigue or loss of energy, diminished ability to think or concentrate, and diminished interest or pleasure in normal activities. You may be comfortable in the chair, but try getting up, stretch a little, move forward and actively enjoy life.
Next, we'll spruce up our self talk. William Backus and Marie Chaplan, in Telling Yourself the truth, define self talk as "the words we tell ourselves about people, self, experiences, life in general, God, the future, the past, the present; it is specifically, all of the words you say to yourself all of the time." What are you telling yourself about your abilities, your hopes and dreams, your family and friends? Is it time to make some changes? Learn to identify the misbeliefs in your life by listening to your self talk. Do you often think or say things like "I don't excel at anything," "I'm so clumsy," "I'm not very creative," or "I don't have anything interesting to say"? Start making some changes in the way you talk. "I'm learning to be more outgoing," "I enjoy a challenge," or "I'm growing as a parent." The words that we say have a great impact on the life that we live; clean up your talk and move forward.
And finally, let's polish up our positive qualities. Now's the time to re-evaluate if you're using your talents in the best way. Do you enjoy community service? Do you live for a challenge? Set an attainable goal that stretches your ability. Get involved in life and let yourself soar.
Sometimes we find that the task of giving our home a good spring cleaning is overwhelming and we opt to hire professional help. So it can be with our lives. If you find negative attitudes are getting the best of you or you just can't shake off the depression, or feel you have nothing left to give, perhaps it's time to enlist the help of a professional; an objective third person who is trained to help you attain your goals. It can make future maintenance a lot easier and your life a lot richer.