The Big Stuff

The Big Stuff

With my eldest now 16, I'm at the point where I can say that I'm dealing with stuff that's big by anyone's standards

 I'd add: "If your kids are already big and not telling you the big stuff, may you slowly start showing that you are ready to change and that a part of you wanted to listen all along yet didn't know how."

I'd add: "If your kids are already big and not telling you the big stuff, may you slowly start showing that you are ready to change and that a part of you wanted to listen all along yet didn't know how."

If having adolescents is far off for your family, just know that you are laying the groundwork now with each attempt to apply the P.E.T skills! I cringe inside when people, upon discovering what I do for a living, tell me that they'll look me up when their kids are older. While it's never too late, it may be harder to create close communication after 10+ years of the opposite. 

With Harrison, the big stuff has included:

  • Drinking & curfew
  • Faith v. organized religion
  • Choosing a college
  • Whether to take the SAT again
  • Sex, sexting & romance (we were listening to a National Public Radio interview with the author of "Why Teens Sext" when Harrison interjected that the justice system's approach was "ridiculous!")

I find myself continuing to rely on the Behavior Window to make parenting decisions that get the job done and are still gentle on our relationship

 Harrison is so unlike the way I was as a junior -- driven, regimented, allowing myself very little time to relax. Who am I to say which way is better?

Harrison is so unlike the way I was as a junior -- driven, regimented, allowing myself very little time to relax. Who am I to say which way is better?

My past self would have done things much differently. How do I know? Because, as the prospect of college applications looms, I've caught the old Catherine creeping around more, itching to Roadblock:

  • "You brought all this stuff on the plane and didn't touch it. Do you think you could have been more lazy?" (Name-calling & Sarcasm)
  • "From what I can tell, you seem not to be too concerned about your grades." (Analyzing)
  • "Every time you decide to spend more time Skyping than studying, it's just stupid." (Judging)
  • "Do it. Now!" (Ordering)

What works for me is a to take a deep cleansing breath and to Active Listen my anxious self -- This is sooooo frustrating! It feels near impossible to keep quiet because you care so much. 

When my anxiety abates, I can then summon my P.E.T. self to take the lead, as in the following ways:

Accept that getting into a "good" college is his problem

When Harrison didn't take notes at the eight different admissions sessions we attended a couple of weeks ago, I simply mentioned it twice (ok, maybe three times, but I was always calm and then no more!)

I controlled my urge to jot down helpful essay material (between the US Common Application and supplementals, he will have to write about thirty essays come next fall!). I don't want to be a bulldozer parent who smoothes the way for him and deprives him of learning moments. 

When I saw him watching airplane movies instead of doing homework, I resolutely kept my eyes on the prize -- a SELF-disciplined young adult, not someone who is used to a task master. Yes, junior year grades are on the line and it's very scary; I have bitten my tongue many, many times!

By nagging, our relationship would suffer. One parent of a senior says the application process is so stressful for her that, at the end of the year, she is going to give her son a big fat "good riddance" kick out of the nest!

I'm doing my darndest to accept that this is Harrison's quest. I want to hitch a ride alongside him, offer support and hope that he will keep talking to me. (You know you are a parent of older kids when you switch from wanting them to stop the chatter to feeling grateful they open their mouths in your presence.)

So far, he's still willing to let me in. I have learned so much as he weighs what's important in a university:

  • He may want to join a fraternity -- Really? Wow!
  • He doesn't necessarily need all the choice given by my alma mater (Brown University is unique in that it has no course distribution requirements) -- I was the opposite!
  • He values campus dialogue that is measured and not dominated by didactics on either side -- I agree but emotions sometimes get in the way!
  We are standing on the exact spot where, 21 years earlier, his father (a fellow alum) told me that I was the woman he was going to marry! That's why I'm so sentimental about this place. 

 We are standing on the exact spot where, 21 years earlier, his father (a fellow alum) told me that I was the woman he was going to marry! That's why I'm so sentimental about this place. 

As last week progressed, I came to the (quite shocking) conclusion that there are a bunch of schools Harrison might choose over Brown.

After licking my wounds, I had to admit that his decision (all costs being equal) does not have a concrete or tangible effect on me. Rather than persuade him to do things my way, I can let him carve a college experience for himself. 

Consult effectively in the No Problem Zone

When I have been moved to say something, I time it better and I prepare!

What this means is that I don't interrupt Harrison's conversation with his girlfriend, or his video game with his buddies. I wait until he has the space to hear me and I can speak like a rational human being.

This tack helped me on one of our many car rides between campus visits. We set off for an 80 minute drive and he had a plan to which he did not stick, instead dividing his attention among SMSing, Facebook and game scores.

I focused on the road but silently watched the clock too. Later, I gently pointed out that he had started work one hour into the ride and, even then, had checked his texts multiple times. My tone helped him hear me and he was genuinely surprised.

That evening, Harrison spontaneously announced that he might start using Concentrate, a program that closes distracting applications for as long as you see fit and one that he had formerly derided as "useless." He reflected that he has a bad habit of checking social media sites and ESPN "without even thinking." 

For my part, I shared that, yes, he might use it for 15 minute bursts because some believe that's the maximum length people can truly focus. He's downloaded Concentrate on both his laptop and Jake's.

I have a whole lot more to share. Harrison knows my tips for writing a first draft and the importance of multiple rounds of edits. As an alumni interviewer, I've told him what Brown looks for in an applicant and how it sounds if a student says this or does that.

Throughout, I'm mindful that I don't want to be fired as an influence in Harrison's life:

Today’s youth are discharging their parents — informing them that their services are no longer desired — because few parents are effective consultants to their kids. They lecture, cajole, threaten, warn, persuade, implore, preach, moralize and shame their kids, all in an effort to force them to do what they feel is right. . . As consultants, most parents’ attitudes is that their clients must buy; if the clients don’t, they feel they have failed.
— Dr. Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, pages 304-305

Active Listen him through relationship woes

When Harrison has shared difficult moments, I just keep trying to pour out my empathy. (I had a boyfriend in high school and I well remember my own emotional volatility and wanting to spend every waking moment with him.)

When I hear the voice that desperately wants to tell him, "But, but, but you should be focusing on your academics!" it's Active Listening myself that again saves the day: Catherine, this is one of the hardest things you've ever done! You are so worried about his well-being. He will always, in some way, be your little boy!

And then I can go about fulfilling the roles called for when our children have problems:

Parent is a listener
Parent is a counselor
Parent wants to help child
Parent is a "sounding board"
Parent facilitates child's finding her own solution
Parent accepts child's solution
Parent is primarily interested in child's needs
Parent is more passive

-- Dr. Gordon, page 118.

Harrison is so happy in this relationship; it's pretty crucial that I am there for him.

So I actually think -- no, I know -- I will be okay over the next 14 months (the application deadline in the US is January 1 of senior year). After all, not long after that, Harrison leaves home. I've already teared up about it more than once, prompting Harrison to shake his head and point out, "Mom, I'm still with you for two years!"

My incredulous Harrison, that's not enough. You better believe I'm pullin' every P.E.T. skill out of my hat to make your too-short time in the nest warm and unforgettable. 



Credits: Big Stuff (http://supermonkeycreative.co.uk/portfolioitem/logos/); Listen Earnestly (http://spirituallythinking.blogspot.hk/2012/04/listen-to-little-stuff.html);