I have the pleasure of living across the road from an exceptional family. Mom, Nick, is a hospice social worker, Dad, D, is a Pilot (among many other things), and their two sons, who I've watched growing up through their teen years. Yup, those years when kids are rebellious and experimenting, finding trouble – both good and bad.
Now they are 16 and 17 years old. They launched a modest handy-person business for the summer months (parents insisted they be busy during vacation months), and the boys are booked weeks in advance. The teenagers are smart, caring, polite, and respectful. They do well in school, love being out in nature, and both play music - one on drums and the other on electric guitar.
This year they both achieved shared goals through saving their money by making and selling holiday candles and raking messy yards (including mine). After years of saving, they both purchased their first cars – two old VW Beetles. One boy earned his driver's license and the other his permit. Neither car was in running order. They've spent many months working side by side with their dad – a guy who can fix, do and build almost anything. The boys now know their Bugs from the inside to out. I cannot picture a day when they will not respect their cars or the rules of the road.
The family does almost everything together. They camp in the mountains and swim in pristine lakes. They make annual trips to landmark places like Magic Mountain, where they all love the most terrifying rides, and to the shores of the Pacific to wander a beach they've been visiting since Mom and Dad put their parenting plan into action.
That plan has played out against many odds – the era in which teenage boys often bow to temptation, and through extraordinary pandemic isolation and separation from their friends. All this while experiencing the normal rebellious urges of morphing from childhood to adolescence.
But that was by design – a plan developed by two people whose own childhood conjures up hurt and regrets - parenting that lacked the consciousness my neighbors now shower on their boys. The scars of childhood haven't healed for Nick and D, but they were motivated to plan their own path to healthy parenting. I've been watching it play out for about six years, and I know they're doing something absolutely right. I want to share a few of their strategies with you.
Mom tells it best – her reflections on bringing up great boys require no editing or comment from me:
"It's not simple. It's messy. They haven't given us a run for our money yet with the teenage rebellion. Not like I did with my parents. I was hell on wheels."
Nick credits her husband for his inner patience and open mind. "And if I'm being really honest, I would say that D spends a lot of time really trying to understand how they feel and what they want… Like he's more patient with that than I am. And because of that, when they do want something that might not be our first choice for them, we've had many calm discussions about it, and D has been able to really understand their point of view … It makes it hard for me not to see it and respect it too. Even if it's not something I want for them - like getting an Xbox, for example. They talked a lot about it, and it really was important to the boys. And D helped me see that it probably wouldn't be the end of the world if they got one."… with limits, Nick added.
But screen time was never a competitor for their sons' attention. "We limited technology. Nobody used a computer until they were in, like, fifth grade. Nobody had video games until they were in high school … I think a lot of teens are not coping well because they live in a digital world, and they don't know how to navigate through tough situations. So, their anxiety and depression is through the roof, and everybody's off the rails."
"We do things differently than other families do. We make them have real conversations with people, we hold them accountable for their behavior … We don't shelter them from the work that it takes to navigate dealing with people." This is a daily lesson - now that the pair have been working on their own – making appointments and negotiating business. Nick says they argue daily about who did or didn't do what. But they're solving the conflicts on their own, learning real-life lessons.
"Part of it is, I think, that we just got really lucky because both boys are a lot more like D than they are like me, temperament-wise… But I also believe that we are navigating these uncharted waters smoothly, in part because we have fair winds and calm seas, and in part, because we spend so much time with them, doing things together, and learning who they are."
"Being a mom has been the biggest, best, most amazing, and rewarding experience of my life. "If I were telling others how I felt about the best way to raise kids, I would say 'raise them like they are the most important job you'll ever have. Because they are.' And I would say, 'don't f*** up.' And when you do (because you will), tell them you're sorry right away. Even if they've made you stinky mad. …"
"And my husband would tell you that if he can't think of a good reason to tell them 'No,' he's going to say 'Yes'… And I learned that that's really good for kids. He taught me to say 'Yes' to them more.
I tell Nick (a passionate, expressive writer) that she owes the world a book about heartfelt, hands-on parenting in the digital age. But she's too busy living the plot.
Thanks for your time and attention - and hoping you're not in a region that's baking under an angry sun! In my part of California, we are veterans at enduring temperatures of 100F and more - but I know some of my readers are getting their first extreme dose of outright dangerous heat. Say Safe, protect your family - we'll all get through this, right? Let me hear from you at email@example.com
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Since it's not the season to be "cozy" -I'll call this week's ebook promotion a "Gentle mystery" giveaway - grab something fun and FREE to read - indoors with air conditioning or lots of fans!