Lessons from an A-Minus Childhood: “Do Your Best” or “Be the Best”?

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If Nancy M., my friend and occasional nemesis in elementary school, is reading this, I hope she is happy and successful.

No doubt she is because she was one of the smartest girls in our grade.

Born one month apart, classmates from kindergarten on, she and I shared a popular-at-the-time, first name (in case you missed it), as well as highly developed verbal abilities (top reading group!) and dark  brown hair. She was Nancy M. and I was Nancy W. We both excelled in spelling bees, english and social studies. Teachers always called on us because they knew we knew the answers. Our Moms were close friends and chatted often. Apparently a frequent topic of their conversation was how their daughters were doing in school.

When I came home after school with a newly graded test or quiz, the first question my Mom would often ask me was:

“What grade did Nancy M. get?”

Forever I was to be compared with Nancy M. And forever I was the one who received the occasional A-minus while Nancy M. dutifully came home with straight A’s.

I’m sure my Mom (who sadly, is no longer here to ask) never intended to create in me the belief that an A-minus was akin to a failing grade. But that is how her frequent question made me feel. I did well academically, but knew that however well I did, there was always someone out there, named Nancy or not, who got the A when I got the A-minus.

The legend of Nancy M. made me more sensitive when I became a Mom. I was determined to raise my kids without that theme of comparative childhoods.

Yet as hard as I tried not to put pressure on my own kids, anxieties about their academic success did cross my mind, even if they didn’t cross my lips.

One of my young adults tells me that I was always measuring his performance against other kids. To hear him tell it, his childhood was filled with stress-inducing, albeit unspoken, parental expectations hovering above him at all times like a cartoon thought bubble.

My other young adult remembers it differently.

I know you and Dad went to top colleges. So I expected I would do the same.” She tells me I didn’t have to say a word to know what was expected of her but that most of the pressure she put on herself was self-driven.

So I started to think during this March Madness a/k/a The College Admission Season:

Is it what we say as parents – or sometimes what we don’t say – that causes our kids to feel that sometimes overwhelming stress to succeed?

Last night I watched a new TV show that my friend Caroline (devoted readers of my Blog may remember her from “Road Trip” fame)  introduced me to. Called “Fresh Off the Boat”, it seems at first glance to be the kind of laugh-a-minute sitcom I usually don’t see. But this one is different, laughs yes, but subtle too, focusing on the immigrant experience, through a Chinese-American family who is trying to fit in without losing their values.

In last night’s episode, the Mom, Jessica Huang, adroitly played by actress Constance Wu, tells her children, as she does everyday:

If you are going to do something, be the best.”

But so well-written is the show that she doesn’t come off as a stereotypical, perfection-demanding, “Tiger Mom.” Instead we understand that the pressure she puts on her kids is because she truly wants them to be happy. And in her mind, being successful = being happy.

That made me examine my own parenting motives.  I always said “Do your best” to my kids before they participated in a spelling bee in elementary school, had a math test in middle school or took the SAT in high school.

But perhaps what my kids really heard was not the explicit “Do your best” –  but the implicit message “Be the best.”?

It is too late now to take back what I said or didn’t say to my own kids. But if yours are still young enough to be somewhere between math quizzes and the SAT – or even more importantly if they are looking at or are in college now – – the lesson here is that even if we don’t say it aloud our kids still hear the – do well! – succeed! – be the best! – pressure-inducing messages loud and clear.

And stress, teens and college students are an increasingly combustible mental health mix.

From a Mom who knows, please let them do their best without worrying that they must always be the best. Even if Jessica Huang feels differently.

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, College, Education, Mental Health, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

Three Friends, The MammoVan and The Flat Tire

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Men think it’s weird when women go to the ladies’ room in groups.

Men may think it even weirder that I go with two friends each year to get our mammograms.

We call it the “MammoVan.”

Let me clarify  – the three of us travel together in one car but we have separate mammograms in consecutive appointments. Even the most advanced imaging machine can only accommodate two breasts at a time.

The three of us – Martha, Liz and I went to the same college and ended up in the DC area. All lawyers but not the boring kind.

We became friends before our breasts did.

Somewhere in her 30’s Martha developed breast cancer (she’s fine now but pretty religious about keeping it that way, as you can imagine). And Liz, somewhere in her 40’s, discovered the BRCA gene ran in her family so she got the same religion.

Me? My breasts have been the healthiest part of my body so far.

Fortunately, another college friend of ours, Dr. Linda, is an expert radiologist with her own practice less than an hour from DC devoted solely to breast imaging. Picture a spa-like setting with plush robes, soothing music and soft colors on the walls together with cutting-edge digital technology. The best part is that all of her patients get the results directly from her that same day. No waiting a week to get a letter in the mail with scary words like “dense tissue” or “ductal.”

If you might be expecting bad news, what better way to take it in than with close friends?

That was the idea that launched our now annual MammoVan.

On our first visit Dr. Linda showed us around her new digs. In the darkened room where she reviews the images that look like white squiggles with a few bright dots on a blurry field she displayed three of our latest studies.

Liz innocently asked Dr. Linda – “Whose image is whose?”

Dr. Linda very sweetly answered:

Can’t you tell? Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear.”

Perhaps TMI but let’s just say that the three of us have differing physical characteristics of our upper torsos.

This morning we set off for our annual visit in the MammoVan (a/k/a Martha’s car.) Halfway there, while on a highway with trucks whizzing past us, we started to hear a clinking sound. Liz, the car expert, confidently announced that was a tailpipe that had come loose. The ridiculous potholes we have had this winter have done their damage. But as the tailpipe clinking become a louder, more clunk-a-clunk sound, Martha guessed correctly, the car had a flat tire.

We pulled over to the side of the highway.

(I was silently cheering. Surely it will take hours for the road service to come and install the spare tire? Yay, we will miss our mammogram appointments!)

No such luck.

While Martha called for help, I noticed that we had pulled over on an overpass precisely between the National Security Agency (barbed wire all around) on one side of the road –  and some kind of penitentiary (more barbed wire) on the other.

Yup, we and our breasts were stuck between two heavy and ominous places already – and we hadn’t even made it to Dr. Linda’s office.

Sadly, the roadside assistance arrived promptly and quickly put on the spare tire. Liz impressed me by knowing the location of something called a lug nut. And when I called Dr. Linda’s office, her receptionist told me she was able to squeeze us in (the squeezing thing!) even if we arrived late.

30 minutes later –  for the benefit of any men still reading this, the following occurred:

1. I took off my bra and sweater and put on a fluffy blue robe, then was escorted into a room with the giant machine.

2. I took off the fluffy blue robe.

3. While standing in front of the giant machine, a technician with a very soothing voice guided me into proper placement upon a solid glass plate onto which my breasts, first the left, then the right, got squished between the solid glass plate and a sledgehammer appearing device which came ever so gently slamming down on the top.

4.  “Hold your breath!”

5. The technician moves away behind the screen. A few buttons are touched.  I breathe again. Unsquished.

6. Then, while staring at a lovely painting of a calming flowers, I was repositioned to stand with my side to the machine. Again, the right, then the left, or maybe it was the other way around.

7. Squash, “Hold your breath!”, squash again, squeeze, more breath holding. Breathe.

8. Done.

It wasn’t so bad at all. I’ll take a mammogram over dental work anytime.

And then, one at a time, we take turns going into Dr. Linda’s office where each of us was told:

You look fine, you are good to go until next year.”

Good news: our breasts are healthy as is our friendship.

If you don’t have a MammoVan in your life, may I suggest you get one? And bring someone along who knows where the lug nut is kept.

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Filed under College, Female Friends, friendship, Lawyers, Men vs Women, Midlife, Women, Women's Health

Road Trip: Part II – An Empty Nester Tries to Escape into the Scenery

 

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The views outside the windows of my friend, Caroline’s, car are spectacular.

Ever changing landscapes that look like moonscapes so unusual are the rock formations that we are seeing at the place where the states of Arizona and Utah meet. The sandstone rocks have names like East Mitten and The Three Sisters and The Thumb. I study the brochure so I can distinguish between a butte, a mesa and a spire.

On Day 5 of our Road Trip we are visiting Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, a valley of shrubs and wind and underground aquifers and the iconic rock pinnacles that rise to 1,000 feet in the air from a valley that is already 5,564 above sea level. It is so very quiet here, off-season, only a few visitors; you can almost hear the wind whistle along the valley floor.

Caroline, who is a geography buff, talks about the forces of water and wind that created the rock formations millions of years ago.  No wonder the Navajo people revere this area.  I am filled with a sense of peace and contentment as I sit on a ledge with my face in the warm sun, overlooking the beautiful valley below.

Then my cell phone rings.

I knew it couldn’t last. I recognize the number, one which I am intimately familiar. It is my son, calling no doubt to tell me of some new problem that he needs me to solve. Right now. He struggles with his mental health. While I am sympathetic, often empathetic and love my son deeply, please know that – there are times – and this is one of them  – when I feel heavily weighed upon by his neediness.

I’m on vacation, I want to shout into the phone. Call your father, I want to tell him. (and then feel  guilty because my wonderful husband is at his DC office while I am the one getting to enjoy this amazing Road Trip from DC to Los Angeles with one of my oldest friends.)

I hesitate, then I pick up my phone, which I had turned on for photo-taking purposes only. A minute into the call, just as my son is getting ready to unload on me (I hear it in his voice), the call fails. Thank you to the cell phone gods for the very spotty service here in this remote rural area!

How ironic is it that even in this most ancient and peaceful place the real world intrudes. We can go on vacation to far away places but no matter where we are, the concerns we left behind follow us. I knew that but still naively thought that for a few days at least, I could escape into the scenery.

Tomorrow we head to a place where I will also be greatly needed.  Caroline and I are volunteering at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a 3,000 acre animal rehab and rescue center in southern Utah.  When we signed up for our shift at Dogtown, I had visions of sitting on the grass cuddling adorable puppies ready to be adopted. Or taking sweet older dogs on walks through the canyon trails. Caroline thinks instead that we may be asked to fold laundry or clean out dog crates. I am hoping Caroline is wrong.

Even if you are not a dog person, you have to admit that being needed by an animal is a joyful experience. You are nice to them and they love you back. Their needs are uncomplicated and easy to satisfy.

And if you are a parent, you remember, as I do, how when your kids were young how intensely they needed you. I loved that feeling of being the center of their world when they were little. I welcomed their demands and their insistence that I pay attention to them.

But as I relish my empty nester years, I am happy not to be needed so much.

After all I did to get to this stage of life, I feel, selfishly I admit, that I now deserve some “me” time. Realistically though that doesn’t always happen even when our nests empty out. If it isn’t our adult kids seeking our attention, then we have the demands of caring for our elderly parents. Most of my friends are pulled by their adult kids or their aging parents or both.  “Me” time can be very hard to come by.

So I consider myself lucky to be able – right now, this early spring, at my age (I just qualified for a senior lifetime pass to the U.S. National Park system, in case you were wondering) to have both the energy and the time to go on a Road Trip.

When my cell phone rings again, as it no doubt will, and given my son’s impeccable timing, he will likely call just as we are driving through the Mojave Desert in California, I will try to see it not as a burden.

Being needed is a gift, even if it sometimes doesn’t feel that way.

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Empty Nest, Family, Female Friends, Parenting, Travel, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

The Road Trip and A Reluctant Traveler

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My friend, Caroline, is the kind of person who can go on a 10 day trip with just one small suitcase.

I, on the other hand, am unfamiliar with the term “carry-on luggage.”

15 years ago when my husband and I flew to Bermuda for a short vacation (highly recommended to see grown men wearing knee socks with shorts), we arrived at the island airport with three huge suitcases. Two and 3/4 of them filled with my things.

(My husband asked me to tell you that he packs light; that I, not him, am the sole reason for the excess bag charges.)

The man at the airport who helped us with our suitcases directed us to the line for people intending to relocate to Bermuda. To move there permanently. I was embarrassed to tell him we were only visiting for five days. He smiled, sent us to the tourists’ line, having seen my type before.

My theory is that one must pack so as to prepare for all contingencies. This will not come as welcome news to Caroline as we plan to depart this Friday on our long-planned, Road Trip, driving cross-country from Washington, DC to Los Angeles.

I have been invited as a travel companion whose purpose is to provide lively conversation, map management and a guide to interesting restaurants. I have not been invited to do any of the driving. Caroline understands, as do all of my friends, that driving is not one of my better skills.

She has also told me, kindly but firmly, that her Subaru will be filled with furniture and the other items she is bringing to her son who recently moved to L.A. so I must pack lightly.

We won’t have a lot of room in the car. Remember, I am bringing all of Drew’s stuff to him. You can only bring a small bag.” she reminds me.

Uh, sure, Caroline, I’ll do just that.

But what if we hit an ice storm in Little Rock? or snow in Amarillo? There could be unusually cool weather in Kenab, Utah, too.)

(for those of you geography buffs following along, yes, we are driving well out of our way to visit the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in southern Utah to volunteer for a day.  One of the bonds that Caroline and I share is our love of rescue dogs. One of those probably won’t fit in her car either.)

To accommodate the potential weather variables, I intend to pack an assortment of light to heavy pajamas and sweaters, boots just in case, a fleece or two ,(it could be that cold), short and long-sleeve shirts, pants of varying weights, sandals (it could be that hot) and sneakers, something nice to wear in case we go out, my kindle, various device chargers, magazines, maps (I don’t trust GPS systems) – and of course, my blow-dryer.

Caroline, who does not like to fly, which is the reason we are driving, laughs when I tell her this.

“Seriously, you are packing lightly, aren’t you, Nancy?,” Caroline asks me during a recent planning phone call.

“You won’t need your blow dryer.  Your hair will look fine. The people at the gas stations and motels really won’t care what you look like.”

I am trying to be convinced by this but still not sure.

It is not that I am particularly vain. I last got a manicure in May, 2011 before our daughter’s wedding. My daily make-up routine, now that I am no longer office-desk-bound, is minimal. And I am not so wedded to my blow dryer, as close as we once were: I did survive without her (it?) for weeks in the hospital.

But I am the kind of person does not handle change well. I have a need to know what to expect at all times, a character trait which hinders me whenever I travel, because travel reliably delivers change, doesn’t it?

So I fool myself into thinking that a trip will go precisely according to plan if I bring most, if not all, of my favorite possessions with me. To trick the system into thinking I am at home – while on the road.

Taking a break from packing, I read an article in the New York Times about an empty nester couple’s year-long, 46 city tour of Europe. From the photos, I could see that both traveled light, back-packs and one small pull bag each.

(And not to be at all catty about this, but from the look of the wife’s hair, she seems to manage without a blow dryer. Her hair looks naturally curly, mine is that flattish kind of stick straight that we all admired in 1970 but not so much anymore.)

Even though this couple had minimal luggage, I was heartened to read that even these adventurous travelers brought their personal pillows with them to each city they visited.

I totally get that, that need to have a bit of home with you at all times. So while I am (sort of) looking forward to traveling across the country, I am already also looking forward to being back home again.

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Female Friends, friendship, Midlife, Travel, Women

Those Bright College Years

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***Happily Presenting a Guest Post Written By My Husband, JP, After Much Nagging***

Hard to believe my niece already received a college acceptance this month — via email of course.  That news had me drifting off to reflect on that special time of life – my freshman year in college.

I have always seen the 1968 – 1972 period as a kind of  “revolutionary window,” from the Los Angeles riots and Prague Spring to Nixon-in-China, layered over with really cool music. 1970 when I started college was smack in the middle.

I was the first in my family to go to college, a Vietnam-era, baby-boomer, whose parents came to this country just before I was born. They both had sixth grade educations so just the knowledge that I was going to college was its own achievement. Leaving Michigan to go to a school out-of-state, taking a plane to get there, those were big deals.

I had no idea what to expect, no one had told me what college would be like. The only pressure to succeed was what I placed on myself.  After all, this was a time of turmoil over “The War,” coming on the heels of major urban riots.  It was not the 1950’s with people eager to get started on the American Dream.  Did the America Dream still exist?

When I first walked across the New Haven green with a single suitcase and my prized electric typewriter, I heard the sounds of “Carry On” by Crosby, Stills and Nash blasting out of a speaker hanging from an Old Campus dorm room.  One of my new roommates had already posted an enormous picture of Chairman Mao on the ceiling of our dorm room. I was your basic all-around jock from the Midwest, rooming with the very radical son of college professors and a quiet oboist from the Savannah who spoke French to his parents on our single landline phone.

I had been transported from Henry Ford’s hometown to a campus that had recently been shut down in solidarity with the black panthers, anti-war protests abounded, the spring of the 1969 strikes was just behind us. It was the fall of 1970.  No cell phones, no PCs.  The telecomm revolution was presaged I suppose by the trickery passed on from some MIT students that enabled one to make long-distance phone calls for free. (Not that I ever did that.)

We didn’t wear uniforms, unless you counted bell bottoms, long hair and jeans with holes in them.  Never mind that many of my classmates came from some of America’s most burnished ‘burbs.  I learned quickly that every major city in the U.S. had its equivalent of Bloomfield Hills, the fanciest suburb near my hometown.

While many of my classmates came from privileged families, it was considered bad form in 1970 to be personally ambitious at a time when grizzled veterans of ZPG advocacy (zero population growth) handed out literature just outside the dining hall.  Back then they looked to me like they had the wisdom of the ages.  I realize now that they were 19 and 20 year-old sophomores and juniors.  Something about all these people who sprouted enormous amounts of head and facial-hair, coupled with dressing as if they had just emerged from 60 days of living homelessly, gave them an aura.

My college class was only the second freshman class of women – co-education had finally come to the land of 1,000 male leaders.  We took it as a given that the traditions were to be shaken and turned upside-down and inside-out, at least for a while.  Is it the same for college kids now, in the post-9/11, post-Title IX era?  Or has the Internet/iPhone/Instagram  transformed what we enjoyed as the cocooned, experimental, experiential experience of college in the early 1970’s?

Entering a dorm in the evening after classes was an olfactory and auditory magical mystery tour.  In the era well before iPods and little white ear plugs, listening to music was hardly a personal, private experience.  Music was to be shared, played as loudly as possible, so that the walls became part of the reverb.  Cat Stevens, Beatles, Stones, Robert Plant, Hendrix, Chicago, Led Zeppelin, Carole King, James Taylor, Clapton resonated in my head.

Why did Traffic sing that “John Barleycorn Must Die”? And just where was the watchtower that Jimi Hendrix sang of?  Beats me.  There was something tribal about listening to “In a gadda da vidda”  with new friends in darkened dorm rooms.  I still have those album covers, waiting to spring the music on my toddler grandson when he is old enough for me to explain to him what a turntable is/was.

What will the first year of college be like for my grandson 17 years from now?  What will be the “revolutionary” stuff that he experiences?  What sorts of cultural icons will his freshman year feature?  I look forward to being around to discuss it with him.

JP

 

(Readers: Can you see now why I married him? Thanks, JP, for sharing your memories. I will stop nagging you now. Sure.)

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Filed under Baby Boomers, College, Husbands, Midlife

A Caterpillar Becomes A Butterfly in the Land of the “Semi-Retired”?

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So a lawyer, a rabbi and a scientist walked into a bar…

Actually what really happened is that a lawyer, a rabbi and a scientist walked into a coffee shop. That line might be humorous if I had said the three of us  met in a bar. We did not. Though we are not unfamiliar with bars; sticking with lattes at 10 a.m. on a Thursday seemed the wiser choice.

The key to that last paragraph, in case you missed it (do you read as quickly as I do?) was that three friends got together on a weekday. In the mid-morning. Yes, you may realize, we could do that because we no longer work full-time.

We are allies in that fuzzy transitional period that comes after leaving long-held employment. Still active and productive, minus the regular pay-checks, yet nowhere near ready to a settle in for a quiet life of gardening and knitting.

(with many pardons to those of you who garden and knit 100% of the time.)

But the three of us admit to having trouble even getting the R” word out of our mouths. Just when did retirement become such a difficult word to utter?

So defensive am I about my current status that I tell people I am “semi-retired,” with the emphasis on the “semi.” I may not be lawyering anymore but I write, I advise, I volunteer. All active verbs. My friends, the scientist and the rabbi, are also similarly engaged. Which is important because if you tell someone in the DC metro area where we live that you no longer have a full-time job, watch out!

Last week at a cocktail party I had to attend – getting that inevitable question from a man I just met:

What do you do?”

I started to explain. Then watched as his eyes glazed over. Quickly he looked over my right shoulder in a desperate search for someone, anyone, on the other side of the room who might be more “interesting” to talk to. Someone who HAS A JOB and better yet (because this is the DC metro area after all) HAS AN IMPORTANT JOB.

Uh, excuse me, I see a friend, nice meeting you.”

Thanks so much, didn’t really want to talk to you either.

While I was more amused than offended, if Mr. Cocktail Party had given me more than twenty seconds, he might have learned (IMHO) that I’ve become a  more interesting person now that I am semi-retired. I have time to think the occasional deep thought, to read widely and to tap into the creative side of me long-lost while legally engaged.

Time I didn’t have when my weekday schedule looked like this:

1) go to the office,

2) sit in my chair,

3) answer emails, draft documents, talk on conference calls, do research, get on another conference call,

4) eat lunch (easily the highlight of my day),

6) do more of #3,

7) get up from my chair,

8) leave the office.

Next day: repeat as often as our mortgage company deems it necessary.

How interesting is that?

But I understand the reaction I get from people who didn’t know me in my former life. Semi-retired is a fluid space in which to exist. It can make people squirm a bit; people who still must operate on set schedules, clinging as tightly to their job identities as I once did.

I’m a consultant! I’m a doctor!  I’m a real estate agent! I’m a therapist! I’m an editor! I run a business! I do marketing!  The still-fully-employed world seems to be mocking me and my semi-retired allies – You don’t have an identities any more, take that!

Perhaps we don’t – or maybe they are just in the process of evolving, our identities less easily categorizable than they once were?

Kind of an uncertain, uncharted but exciting DIY project.

Being semi-retired is the search to keep our old selves but try out new ones, still us, but without the laminated plastic photo i.d. cards that once got us into the buildings where we worked.

I thought about these evolutions in identity when reading to my 16-month old grandson the other day. Reading one of his favorite books – “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. The little guy takes charge of turning the pages after he pokes his fingers into the paper holes that show the trail of foods the caterpillar ate en route to his own identity change. Apple, Swiss Cheese, Pickle, Cupcake (sounds like some of my favorite law firm lunches.)

On the last page of the book the fully fed caterpillar morphs into a butterfly. And maybe I am stretching this metaphor too far, I don’t think my rabbi or scientist friends would like to be compared to caterpillars. Nor have the three of us suddenly become gorgeous butterflies. Hardly.

But it is rather liberating to have crossed over the divide from full-time, desk-bound life to being a full-time person instead. If only Mr. Cocktail Party could have given me another moment or two to explain what it is that I do now. Much more colorful than being a lawyer, I think, but still not quite a butterfly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1st Grandchild, Baby Boomers, Books, friendship, Law firm life, Lawyers, Midlife, Reading, Retirement, Semi-Retired, Women, Working Women, Writing

When Cupid’s Arrows Stray – “Tough Love”

 

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When I was thinking about love during this week before Valentine’s Day, I visualized the greeting card aisle with its many categories. A card for every kind of love.

Sweet cards for child from parent. Sentimental cards to send to grandparents. Romantic cards for new loves. Sexy cards for not-so-sure-we are-in-love-yet loves. Clever cards for the long married. Even valentines for your aunt, your teacher or your best pal.

There is another different kind of love for which no valentines exist. Some of us who are parents may know it as “Tough Love”.

When I first heard about the concept of “Tough Love”, it ran counter to all of my Mom instincts. Rare is the parent that doesn’t want to protect and provide for her child. For as long as you can. And if your child colors within the lines and follows all the rules that society sets, you won’t have to stop protecting your child and providing for him or her until it’s time to leave the nest. All grown up and ready to seek their own loves.

But what if you have a child who not only doesn’t color within the lines but doesn’t believe that those lines apply? And when it comes to rules, decides that flouting them is better than following them? Up to a certain point, independent behavior is to be applauded but when it evolves into the land of out-of-control, then you, the parent, start asking yourself – is the love you are giving the answer or part of the problem?

And that is about when someone told my husband and me about “Tough Love.”

The name sounds like an oxymoron. Love, in the most ideal sense of it, should come easily and feel good. And if and when love becomes too difficult, that is when relationships fall apart and lovers part ways.

But you can’t part ways with your child. While marriage may not be forever, parenthood is. So when positive parenting falls off a cliff, you might have to turn, as we did, to “Tough Love.”

To demonstrate love to your oppositional, willful, non-compliant – you pick the descriptor – young adult, the experts told us, you have to set boundaries. Be firm (but be empathetic.) Stay united and consistent as parents. (Good luck with that one.) Definitely stop solving (or trying to solve) their problems.

And the big one, the first commandment of  “Tough Love”? Let them make their own choices – and, incredibly hard to do, let them learn from those choices or suffer the consequences, no matter the emotional or physical cost.

We tried. It worked some, didn’t work, then did again. Looking back at that period of time, those watchful days and worried-out-of-our-minds nights,  I can’t believe we got through it.

For if “Tough Love” is hard to apply to your own child, it is even harder upon a marriage.

One person in a marriage is always more of the tender sort, the other more able to harden his or her heart as necessary. One person in a marriage says “let’s give in just this once”, while the other says “no, we can’t help with that, we have to be consistent.”  One person in a marriage says “the hell with consistency, this is our child we are talking about” and the other person says “I know, that is why have to set limits.”

So we argued often, pushed and pulled, our marriage had many rocky days and certainly as a couple we won no awards for “most consistent application of the principles of  “Tough Love.”

Yet very slowly and very incrementally, it got better. Our lives now aren’t perfect. Far from it. But this Valentine’s Day, how ironic is that for timing, I am now able to reflect that we are in a better place. We have reached some semblance of stability. Our marriage is strong, our child’s life is more settled, all our lives have calmed down.

Still we are on the rollercoaster of parenting a young adult child who has a fiercely independent spirit – but the rollercoaster is now the kiddie kind, with lesser hills and smaller valleys. And when the bumps come, as they do, and always will, we know how to ride them out.

That is our love. No longer as “tough” as it once was but firm, we have stuck to that. The empathy part, also a daily principle. It isn’t romantic or easy or exhilarating.

But we have gotten through this tunnel of  “Tough Love” and have come out the other end. Intact. Still in love with each other and still in love with our child. What better Valentine’s Day gift is there than that?

 

 

 

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