parenting advice
from a 24-year-old son

A few weeks ago, I called my son Jack for advice.

I’d been invited to California to speak to parents of teenagers, and I was just starting to think about what I could say that might actually be of practical use, especially to parents whose kids are giving them cause to worry. It occurred to me that the best person to consult was my own son, whose challenging adolescence is still fresh and raw in my memory.  (I imagine it’s pretty vivid in his memory as well.)

At twenty-four, Jack is sober, self-sufficient, and making a difference in the world.  Working full-time as a mentor in a residential treatment center for troubled teenaged girls, he’s been able to transform his own youthful experiences with addiction and recovery into a gift to others who are struggling.  Had he not walked this walk himself, he couldn’t extend his hand so whole-heartedly to the young people in his care now. He’s received extensive training on the job, first during a year-long stint as wilderness-therapy counselor and, for the last seven months, as a team member at this therapeutic facility in North Carolina.

But I think he’d  agree that his effectiveness at work is as much a product of his own first-hand knowledge as it is a result of his training.  In fact, it’s both, in combination with his innate curiosity, his sense of humor, his gift for listening deeply, and his calm demeanor, even when things get tense and crazy.  Jack isn’t attached to being right and he doesn’t get flustered, the way we parents so often do. Yet when he speaks of the young women with whom he works, I hear the pride in his voice, especially as he describes moments of growth and change and healing.  I couldn’t be prouder of him.

And as it turned out, Jack really was the perfect person for me to call.  “I figured you might have some thoughts about how parents can stay connected to their teenagers,” I said.  “I do,” he replied.  “Every single girl I work with has some kind of conflict with her parents. I think about these kinds of things all the time.” [continue…]

the family we choose

IMG_2949“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.”
~ Chinese proverb

I always wanted a daughter. Last year, I finally got one.

She arrived not as a newborn into my arms, but into my heart instead, and fully grown. And yet the mysterious, compelling process of attachment has changed us both. Perhaps that’s because as long as we’re fully engaged in forging deeper relationships with others, we’re also continuously being formed ourselves, sculpted and honed by the invisible hand of love.

The first email from my daughter-to-be came a couple of years ago, through my website:

Hello…. Today I watched the Ordinary Day video and found myself crying in my cube at work. I am not a mother (yet). I am a Connecticut native who became a transplant in Atlanta – working and dating with no long-lasting luck.

Your video moved me because even though I am 32 years old, I have always longed for my parents, or perhaps more so my Mom, to share with me her feelings like you did. . . .Funny enough, I am much like you: Nostalgic, and with a plethora of stories of the five kids I grew up babysitting, and I long for those “ordinary days” even for myself!”

Lauren wanted to order a book for herself and one to give to her cousin for Mother’s Day. And, Lauren being Lauren, she wanted to make her gift special by having me inscribe it.

That was the beginning – an innocuous exchange similar to hundreds of others I’ve had over the years. But, Lauren being Lauren, she followed up her request for books with a thank you note. What’s more, she told me she’d now read The Gift of an Ordinary Day and sensed in me a kindred spirit, the kind of mother she herself aspired to be one day.

Fast forward a few months, to early autumn 2013. [continue…]

best books for mindful parents
— and a give-away

 

FullSizeRenderTwenty-five years ago, as a new mother trying to figure out what kind of mom I wanted to be, I went in search of books to guide me. I hoped to find some wise mothering mentors who could shine a light on the path at my feet and say, “Here, follow me, come this way.”

Looking back on those days now, I realize how much things have changed. Back then, there were no cell phones, the word “text” referred to print on a paper page, and news of the world arrived via the newspaper that landed on our doorstep each morning.

We bought our first computer in 1990, when Henry was three months old, so I could begin working from home at my new job editing The Best American Short Stories. My Apple IICX could run two programs at once, Clarisworks and Filemaker Pro, which meant I could do word-processing (an outdated phrase if every there was!) and keep a database of my two hundred-plus magazine subscriptions. I dialed in for an internet connection, kept all my reading notes on file cards, and corresponded with authors and friends through the mail.

There were no blogs to read or online parenting forums to join, there was no Amazon to browse nor any algorithm recommending books for me to buy, there was no Facebook. My husband took photos of our new baby boy with his 3-pound Nikon, we dropped the rolls of film off at CVS, and then carefully placed our 4 x 6 prints into a photo album, sending dupes off to the grandparents.

It all seems pretty quaint in retrospect, so innocent and simple. But at the time, working and raising children and trying to do it all and have it all and give it all to them, I still sensed that life was moving too fast. Much as I yearned for less pressure and more fun, my days were spent juggling: too much stuff, too many choices, too many obligations, never enough time. [continue…]

Motherhood Realized

motherhood jacket imageFlying to the west coast recently, I found myself seated on the plane alongside a young couple. They appeared to be about twenty-four or so, the same age as my own older son. She, five months pregnant, was immersed in a how-to book about mothering newborns. He, sweet but distracted, played a video game on his computer.

I couldn’t help but watch them with tenderness, these two innocent parents-to-be with so many joys and challenges and unknowns in their future. The young woman spent a long time bent over a page of diagrams showing, in step-by-step detail, how to swaddle a baby. At one point, she summoned her husband’s attention to the page as well. She went through the motions of blanket folding in the air, concentrating intently, referring back to the directions. It was clear she wanted him to take the swaddling lesson as seriously as she did.

“We have lots of time to practice, honey,” her husband said, before turning his gaze back to the screen on his laptop.

Shyly, she turned then to me. “Do you have children?” she asked.

I told her I did, two sons.

“Did you swaddle them?”

“Yes,” I answered. “But not for long. That only lasted for a week or so. By the time I got good at it, they didn’t want to be swaddled anymore. And then I had to learn something else. That’s pretty much the way it goes all the way through motherhood — just as you get one thing figured out, your child is on to some new stage, and you’re trying to keep up.” [continue…]

A Religion of One’s Own

IMG_9798The first thing I did when I found out I was pregnant, twenty-five years ago this winter, was get in my car and drive to Harvard Square to buy a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  I am a book person, a life-long reader.  And so my first response to anything new or challenging in my life has always been the same: go find a book on the subject.

For a few years, as I became a mother to first one son and then another, I read my way through an entire shelf of parenting titles.  I read books about every age and every stage, about attachment and achievement, discipline and diet.

But the book that finally set me on my own path, both as a mother and as a person, wasn’t a parenting book at all.  It was a book called The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life by a writer named Thomas Moore.

Most of us have a handful of books we consider seminal, books that make such profound, deep, and lasting impressions that we remember, even years later, exactly where we were and how we felt as the words landed in our hearts.

I was in a lawn chair at my parents’ house in Florida, savoring quiet. [continue…]