Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Parenting Teens in a Pandemic

Since my teens returned to school I have been rapidly consuming adolescent development, Christian parenting, and positive mental health resources through books, podcasts, articles, and conversations with trusted people.

Here are a few that have spoken the most to me this week: 

Love Her Well by Kari Kampakis

Java with Judi podcast (a ministry of Authentic Intimacy)

All About Boys podcast by David Thomas (based on his book, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys)

The 2020 Back-to-School List for Teens' Emotional Well-Being by Dr. Lisa D'Amour

As a result, I have a few reflections: 

1. One of the things teenagers value most is honesty and authenticity. Being able to honestly say to my people, "I have never done this before...I am learning right along with you," seems like a great place to start in maintaining my credibility with them. It invites grace with integrity. 

"Whereas you cannot provide certainty, you must provide clarity. Parents, leaders, influencers, mayors, senators, you can be uncertain! You can be uncertain but you cannot afford to be unclear. Our mandate, as leaders, is to be clear even when things are not certain. Clarity is honest and clarity, as we're gonna discover, is enough. And here's why I say that; clarity is actually perceived as leadership. Clarity is actually experienced as leadership. Clarity, in the midst of uncertainty, creates its own influence, its own momentum." - Andy Stanley, sermon "Leading with Clarity"

2. While much is written about the challenges of those virtually/hands-on homeschooling little ones-- and the parents doing this have my deepest empathy-- sending my adolescents back out into the world after a cozy bonus few months in the nest has its own unique set of considerations. 

I have been hovering over them trying to make this COVID season special and safe for five months. Developmentally, this is the time when my teens really should be individuating--learning important and lasting lessons socially--and finding their footing with budding independence. COVID precautions stunted that growth. 

“The work of mothering a son is mostly about stepping aside with precise timing. I want my sons, both of them, to learn from me that they are free to be rooted in home and still be abroad in the world as men." Gina Bria, The Art of Family

My introvert is thrilled to have excuses to retreat to online games and forums, my extrovert has to negotiate with us over the risks and precautions for every planned outing, and my teen that hasn't found their social footing is struggling with how to do so in these unusual times. How do you make new friends and form an intimate group when groups aren't allowed? 

In normal 16-year-old circumstances, youth leaders would be present as healthy and trusted voices to navigate these decisions. A typical sophomore year of high school would present many social opportunities to develop these skills. Alas, this is 2020 where developmental and mental health concerns must be weighed against community health risks and mandates. It is exhausting!

3. After a 3am wrestling match with the Lord and my worries this morning, I feel like I left with a mantra:

  • Parent with the LONG VIEW in mind...character, faith, foundational truth...not just behavior management.  
  • LISTEN and LOVE more than lecturing. Now more than ever, home should be a safe place.
  • Let the Lord have His way in His time with the hearts of these His children. He loves them more than I do. He sees the big picture and the deepest places in their hearts. I can trust Him. 

I still have so much to learn, but I am grateful for what the Lord is revealing to me and how He is growing me in this process. I hope some of these lessons are encouraging to you as well. 

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." Matthew 6:34 MSG

One day at a time. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

August 2020: Another New Normal

According to my calendar, tomorrow morning ends our crazy Covid induced 5-month break from school. The last time my children wore a backpack was in March. We had no idea when they left school on a Friday afternoon for Spring break it would extend through Summer. And now, as quickly as it all came to be, we are entering yet another phase. 

So many aspects of life have changed since my people were last on campus, it is hard to keep track. For posterity, I wanted to record a few:

There is now a small bottle of hand sanitizer stashed in every car and bag. 

There is a designated spot in my home for clean face masks. 

We choose restaurants based on their outdoor dining options. 

I finally quit Facebook for good.

Having enough toilet paper in our pantry is an actual consideration.

Online church is our norm.

My teens are driving, dating, and employed. 

There is no 'next adventure trip' being planned.

The phrase, "I have no idea," now rolls easily off my tongue.

My world has gotten infinitely smaller and quieter. 

I have watched the many societal fires of the last several months draw out anger, greed, and anxiety in many people (myself included.) Frankly, I have lost a bit of faith and trust in people in my extended circles and I really hate it.

I am praying for healing of these fractures--for patience, understanding, and grace.

Although I have truly tried to relish this season with my people--to thrive, not just survive-- we are all looking forward to a re-emergence of sorts tomorrow. I pray it is marked by faith, hope, wisdom, and health.

I plan to still stick close to home. (I can't believe I am not even driving them to school!) I hope to maintain some of the quietness, pondering, slower pace, and prayer which have become so vital to my mental and spiritual well being.

And as much as I don't want to admit it, I am afraid--not in a paralyzing way--but in a sober way that reminds me of my deep need for TRUST. 

I was looking back through posts on this blog from years ago and almost didn't recognize that author. Her thoughts were clear and confident. She had a plan. She was so busy! 

I struggled to recall if Covid alone has changed this, or if it has also been the slow sanctification of years of life combined with adolescent parenting. And even though there is much about this new normal to resent, I am beginning to realize this humbled, stripped-down posture of reliance is perhaps the greatest gift. 

Thursday, June 04, 2020

May 2020: 16 Year old Milestones

Kate, Ryland & Parker:

Lest we forget what a historic month May 2020 turned out to be--for you personally and in our nation...

At the first of the month, pandemic restrictions were lifted in Georgia and we took a 36 hour trip to the beach. It turns out sand in our toes was grounding. The sun on our skin was therapeutic. A change of scenery was a glorious gift to our mental health.

We returned home for a final week of online school. Ninth grade is officially complete!

A week later you all became gainfully employed with your first jobs--K & R lifeguarding and P at a favorite local deli. You filled out your first tax forms and rose to the occasion of adult activities like drug screens, orientations, and negotiating work schedules.

On the 26th we celebrated your 16th birthday in a back-to-basics driveby/stop by front yard gathering with friends. Watching all of you interact was a reminder of how important social interaction is--never forget the gift of community and friendship!

Kate and Ryland each passed their driver's test--another non-traditional affair as Covid regulations prohibited the examiner from riding in the car. Instead, she watched with her clipboard as your Dad and I rode in silence (under threat of penalty) if we spoke. This proved harder for one of us than the other. ;-)

Parker, you wisely chose to let the first wave of new drivers pass as you take your time with your training and grow in your confidence. Having your own fleet of chauffeur's seems to be just fine by you! You also colored your hair in an evolving attempt to find your style. Your unapologetic individuality is a joy to behold.

I didn't mention the first date and new crush that emerged from this month for two of you...and what an absolute handful our pandemic pup has been. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of milestones to note in this house!

It is now the first week of June and even without camp this Summer is proving itself to be one of tremendous growth. Physically,  all three of you are over 5 feet. (5 ft K, 5'4" P, and 5'9" R) Spiritually, you each are investing in your personal relationships with the Lord and your church family. Civically, you are learning how to work hard and contribute at home and in the world.

The racial unrest in our country has led to deep and important conversations about the multi-layered complexities of race in this country and how we can serve as allies. There are no easy answers--but I am so proud of your willingness to consider the questions.

We have spoken of the importance of lament, leadership, compassion, and authentic love of neighbor.

And that was May.

This has been a month I've wondered about since I knew I was carrying triplets--three 16 years olds!! But I can honestly say, as with most things, the anticipation was far more emotional than the actual season. Perhaps it is because there have been SO MANY firsts, I haven't been riding the waves.  Instead, I feel buoyant with hope and joy.

While I know the Covid crisis has been devastating for countless people, the time at home before you emerged into the world this Summer was truly formative.

I know this is just the beginning of all that comes with budding independence and adolescence, but I am truly more joyful than sad and clinging to the hope of Phillippians1:6 "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it..."

"So, be truly glad, there is wonderful joy ahead..." I Peter1:6

Monday, April 13, 2020

Week Five: A New Normal

We are entering our fifth week of social distancing. 

For posterity's sake, here's glimpse into daily life. I try to make just one trip to the grocery store each week for produce, milk, and other essentials. People are now encouraged to wear masks and stay six feet apart. The stores are strangely quiet and I have realized it is the absence of children and social chatter. I have tried a couple of different grocery delivery options, but prefer to make my own trips. 

But for driving me on these essential errands (where they stay in the car) or trips to our farm property 8 miles across town, our kids do not leave home. 

Ryland is still working, although most surgery is still on hold to save PPE (personal protective equipment) in the event of a surge in the virus. His office has most of their staff only working 3 days a week now and financially everyone is hurting. For my husband, a helper, leader, and problem solver being sidelined during a medical crisis is a frustrating experience. Surgery is not the cure for a virus, and so he is doing all he can, spending hours daily catching up on the ever-changing research. At this point, we do not see an immediate way forward and so settling into a new normal is the order of the day.

Yesterday was Easter and the end of what would have been Masters week. Instead of Augusta National's beauty and visits from out of town family, we watched church from our sofa, had a take out feast here at home and enjoyed a Zoom call with family from Atlanta, Maine, and Denver.  There was terrible weather in our region throughout much of the night, so we spent hours in the cellar during tornado watches and warnings. 

Life these days is a bit surreal.

We are keeping a record of Covid losses and gains. As the days have turned to weeks, the list of cancelations has grown to include the following: 

- Neighbor's wedding in New Orleans
- Young Life camp for the boys
- Kate's braces off
- Masters Golf Tournament
- Soccer, lacrosse, and track seasons
- Study abroad in Spain for Kate
- Driver's license exams for the kids (already canceled even though birthday is weeks away)
- Big Sweet 16 bash we'd been planning since February. 

We are waiting with bated breath to hear the official word on Summer camps. Kate is a club leader and truly relishes this two-week experience each year. This was to be Ryland's age-out year and his last chance to be tapped for Palladin. (A big accomplishment that he hoped to follow his Dad's footsteps in achieving.)

This is to say nothing of all the daily life losses like time with friends, small groups, our former foster child, and the grandparents. There were also many boarding students at our school who never returned from Spring Break and my children are disappointed there was not a proper goodbye.  

These are small in comparison to loss of life, homes, businesses--but we mourn them in our own ways. All were extras, not critical to our survival, so rather than deep grief, we are experiencing a quiet reorienting of what we thought our privileged first-world Spring was going to be.

In happy news, we adopted a puppy. We've learned new games, made new memories, and enjoyed time together that we would have never had in the hurried pace of a typical high school Spring. 

The children are beginning their fourth week of online learning and it is going fairly well. I am trying to take my own parenting advice and let them own their academic life, but this is new to all of us and having a child with ADHD and other executive function challenges is causing me some confusion as to how much to enter in versus letting them learn to self regulate. There is no handbook for adolescent crisis learning during a pandemic!

While we are on the subject of parenting during a pandemic, I am realizing that allowing my teens room to grow while we are stuck in the same house all day every day is extremely challenging. When they are at traditional school I can let go with an "out of sight- out of mind mentality." I trust the adults there. I know the process is essential to their healthy development--and not having to witness it all relieves me of my overwhelming feelings of responsibility. At home, the gap between what I want to do (back off) and how I feel (responsible) is a true source of stress. Managing this gap is exposing some control issues in me. 

I know how important it is to be consistent and I find I am quite the opposite. I try to give everyone space to do the right thing in terms of chores, screen time, academic work, etc...but after a few hours of ignoring, I frequently swoop in and have a mini freak-out from all my stuffed feelings of anxiety. I fear I am not being a good Mom and they are regressing instead of progressing. I really hate this cycle of loose-controlling-loose. I am hopeful that we can settle into a space that is healthy for all of us.  

It is ironic that I trust the Lord with their spiritual development, but feel a LOT of pressure for their social and academic progress. Awareness and admission are good first steps, but I am ready to move forward. 

Truly, the inability to move forward is perhaps one of the most discouraging and frustrating aspects of this pandemic period. What is the way forward--economically, financially, socially, professionally, academically? Who will define it? 

I trust the Lord for the long-term big picture, but the daily challenges necessary to get there are a struggle for me. This is where the rubber meets the road of daily devotion to the Lord and my inadequacies are being exposed.  

I wrote this on Instagram last week, but it bears repeating here. The frustration with the unknown timeline has led me to ponder why it seems to matter to me so much. In addition to planning and control issues, I think it also has a great deal to do with a desire to pace myself and my family. I am reminded that we are exhorted in Galatians 5:25 to "keep in step with the Spirit." The Lord of the Universe is to be the pacesetter. We cannot allow ourselves to fall too far behind or rush ahead. So, I am renewing my desire to stick with Him as the refinement and sanctification continues. 

Onward, into week five. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Choosing Joy in this Journey

Last Fall I was asked to speak to women in our congregation about my journey towards a life of joy. I had no idea then how diving deeply into the Scriptural commands to be joyful would be so nourishing to my spirit mere months later.  

At the time, my greatest thief of joy was the way my teenaged triplets were slipping away as they asserted their adolescent independence and how I mourned the loss of quality time with them. (Oh, how this makes me giggle now after two straight weeks of uninterrupted quality time due to a worldwide pandemic!)

This afternoon I pulled out the notes from my November talk and was reminded of a few specific truths that bear repeating. Life as we know it has drastically changed, but God’s Word stands as a timeless and firm anchor for our souls.

Many of us have spent years sitting under solid teaching, meeting in small group studies, and doing our own personal study of Scripture. This season is our opportunity, as Paul exhorts in Philippians 4:9, to put into practice what you learned, heard, saw and realized. “And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:10 (NIV)

I Peter 1:8-9 describes being “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” as a result of faith and trust that is not based on circumstances. Our joy must flow from the Spirit that we KNOW not the news we hear, the future we fear, or the scarcity we feel. This world is not our home, our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 320). We are being given the unique opportunity to hold out the Word of Life to our family, friends and a watching world as we walk through these days with hope and faith anchored not in the temporary, but the eternal.

Rick Warren has defined joy as “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” (emphasis mine)

So, let’s go forth in peace, joy, and confidence that can only be explained by Christ. Cling to the truth and look for the gifts.  

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12

(I wrote this for a church publication, but am crossposting here for posterity.)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Covid Quaranteens: Week One

Our first full week at home social distancing was actually quite smooth. In many ways, this Mama's heart was overflowing from the gift of so much time with my people.

I wanted to establish some sort of rhythm without being overly controlling, so I settled on a checklist with categories of activities. My teens were given freedom in what order they completed the tasks and how to fulfill some of the requirements.

We were able to address a dozen "life skills," complete many home projects that have been lingering on my list and learn lots of new games (including Texas Hold 'Em and Spades). I also took advantage of the captive audience to introduce a few movies they might not have otherwise chosen for their screen time.

Ryland returned to work at his surgical practice and covering call for two hospitals. He is adjusting to a new normal as all elective surgical cases have been canceled and this was a large portion of his practice. There will be tremendous financial implications, as well as difficult management decisions within the practice. At this point, the caseload of Covid infected patience is under control enough that Ryland is not on the front lines, but this could change at any time. In the meantime, he is researching a great deal and ordering his own personal protection (when possible). 

Parker, our introvert, is thriving. Kate seems to be enjoying the forced sabbatical--a pause from all the social, scholastic, and schedule-related pressure. RyGuy, my extrovert, has been the most affected so far. The greatest losses for them at this point are their lacrosse, track and soccer seasons and the threat to their age-out years at Summer camp.  Kate is also disappointed that her date from brace removal has been kicked back three weeks :(

I am adjusting to the loss of my daily normal it has been quite manageable so far. I always said I wanted to cook more, so I guess this is my chance!

So many poignant things have already been written about the hopes for this period of history and what we will learn. I don't necessarily feel the need to add to that here. But I do think it's helpful to look for the lessons. At the conclusion of the first week, I am grateful for the forced pause, the opportunity for a reevaluation of life priorities, technology to stay connected, and the peace of being at home with a strong family unit to weather this storm.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Whiplash: From Chile to Covid

Two weeks ago today my family left on a plane to South America for a bucket list Spring break trip to Patagonia. We had a head full of adventurous dreams and a packed calendar to escape. We had heard a little bit about a coronavirus making its way through China, but there was no personal relevance for our daily lives.

While we were away, enjoying the incredible beauty of Chile, life, as we knew it at home, had drastically changed.

I cannot adequately describe how serene and calming our experience was at Tierra Patagonia. The breathtaking beauty of creation and the vast, natural landscapes surrounded us. There were no televisions in our hotel and we only checked in to WiFi twice a day, mostly to post photos. On Thursday I started to receive messages from worried friends at home. "When are you returning?" "Things are getting crazy here." "Did you hear they are closing some borders and canceling flights from certain countries?"

Checking social media, I started reading about grocery store shelves being picked clean and strangely, about toilet paper shortages.

Saturday we left a small, new and clean airport in Puerto Natales for a two-hour flight to Santiago. When we disembarked the plane there I started to feel hot and panicky. I cried twice as we stood in long, crowded lines for baggage check and security. People were wearing makeshift masks and warily eying one another for threatening symptoms. Every time someone coughed, a protectiveness welled up in me that made the stranger feel like a dangerous enemy poised to hurt my family.

The flight home was nine hours long and full of cruise ship passengers, many of them older. A woman behind me was coughing and it led me to cover my entire head and face with a blanket while I slept.

Our flight landed in Atlanta at 5:20 am, which meant Customs and Immigration was a fairly speedy process. We chatted with other Americans who were returning to the same new world. Our spirits were mostly jovial and resigned to face whatever was coming...and at that point, none of us could determine if this was an overreaction or a necessary way of living.

Our 90 minute drive home from the airport was calm. It was still dark outside. We were exhausted from our redeye flight. The radio was on a news channel and our driver, Jerry, tried to fill us in on how our community was being impacted.

We unpacked the car in the dark, leaving all the luggage outside. Each of us showered immediately and while I made a trip to the grocery store to restock our food supplies, Ryland set up a decontamination process in the laundry room while the children tried to sleep a bit.

My trip to Kroger was emotional whiplash. I was expecting it to be like a pre-snow day trip in the South...but instead, I felt afraid, sad and disoriented in a place that has been a regular part of my weekly routine for 16 years.

Although it was only 8am on a Sunday there were many shoppers and even more employees. Shelves were being actively restocked on every other aisle. The store was eerily quiet. Everyone seemed to be on a mission and processing in silence. A couple of times I started to make eye contact with another patron only to realize humanity might make me burst into tears.

With a cart full of two week's provisions, I thanked the shellshocked employees in the check out line and returned home to begin our self-quarantine on Sunday, March 15, 2020.