Monday, June 27, 2016

Middle School Years Hardest for Moms

The middle school years from grades 6 through 8 are a time of big transition for families as children become teens, deal with the hormonal changes of puberty, and move from an often supportive elementary school setting to the world of middle school where parents aren't as involved at school. A 2016 study of 2,200 mostly well-educated mothers found that mothers of middle school students also struggle. Mothers report more distress and less well-being when their children hit grades 6 to 8. Mothers of infants and grown children are happiest, according to the study, lead by Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor and researcher at Arizona State University at Tempe.

Researchers expected to find that mothers of infants are similarly stressed as the levels experienced by mothers of middle-schoolers, but they are not. The University of Arizona's research team believes this might be because infants are exhausting, but are also intensely rewarding to hold and cuddle. Middle-schoolers are usually not as rewarding or cuddly. Their developmental task is beginning to make them seek individuation from parents and push parents away.

Other factors probably also impact parents' levels of satisfaction. Many parents know their children's friends, classmates and a community of other parents and teachers. When the middle school transition begins, students often interact at school with minimal parent involvement, and moms may feel more disconnected as students share less about their world, their school experiences and their friends. A number of the middle school students I see in counseling long for the independence of being dropped off to see a movie or spend time with friends without a parent accompanying them. Parents can suffer a big fall from grace, as the big need that our children had for us in younger years begins to change.

Parents' confidence in their abilities to discipline, influence and communicate with their child all decline in the middle school years. It's important not to buy in to stereotypes about teens which lump them all together as negative. Friendships with other parents of middle school age children and parenting classes can really help mitigate the sense of distress and isolation, as well as normalize the developmental parenting shifts that are happening.

Parents of middle school students need to get support from each other as less emotional rewards come in from their children. It's also important to shift and continue to connect with children, but in different ways. For example, providing space for your teen or preteen to have friends over at your home and provide snacks but remain on the periphery. Continue to reach out to connect with middle- schoolers at dinnertime and in the car, and having them teach you some things when you can.

It's been said that preteens and teens are building a house of self, and that they need to be able to set some boundaries and separation from us in order to feel they are opening and closing the doors in their house.They let us in close at times and close us out at others. It's our job as parents to be there, be loving and interested and not too needy. Keep that in mind when your sweet child asks you to drop them off down the block from their middle school or high school so no one sees you. It's a bittersweet passage that is necessary so they can begin preparing to separate from us and begin those first steps towards becoming their own person.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Honoring Our Dads, Stepdads and Granddads

With Father's Day approaching this Sunday, I think it's time we all pause and reflect to honor good dads everywhere. Many times, Father's Day gets trampled on by Mother's Day, graduations, and spring birthdays. It's just not fair. Fathers and the other important good men in our lives who nurture, develop, inspire and support children, teens, and young adults deserve the spotlight all on their own.

Together, let's reach out to the men in our lives who make a difference, both to us and to our children, because they suit up, show up, and do the right thing. These are the good men who show us that women do not corner the market on nurturing and supporting others. They might be our fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles, or family friends. What they have in common is taking a loving concern for the young people in their lives, and doing all they can to be a positive male influence. We salute you. You make a huge difference.

Men and women are different, and we provide children and young adults with different things. I often think of it as women bringing children INTO the world and men taking children OUT into the world, helping them launch into the adult world, separate from their mother, and become a successful adult. All our lives, we benefit from having a positive, kind male role model we respect and can turn to for advice. It's not that you can't succeed without that support; it just makes it so much easier. It gives you a firm foundation. You have someone to ask about the exclusively male perspective on life, and ask for their input or guidance.

Good dads stay connected to their children, whether or not they are still married to that child's mother. They stay involved and actively engaged with their child or children all their lives. We hope that our marriages endure, but the parent-child relationship must endure all your life. In research by the Center for the Family in Transition in Mill Valley, California, Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D., and her team has done the longest study to date on outcomes for children of divorce. One of the worst things that can possibly happen to children in their parents' divorce is that their father disengages, in terms of emotional support, time, and financial support. I often caution parents I counsel not to do this. Parents who love their children stay involved, no matter what.

Grandfathers, stepfathers, and uncles can all be critically important roles, defined by who plays the role and how you play it. It's messy to get involved. You have to give---time, attention, listening, support. You can receive incredible rewards by becoming a positive male influence. You might be the only chance a particular child in your life has to know a honest, kind, nurturing, grounded man. Both girls and boys need the positive male adult energy to have successful careers and relationships later on.

This week, give some affirmation and applause to the good men in your life who nurtured and supported you, or who give that love and positive male role modeling to your children. Stand-up guys are sometimes taken for granted, but they really shouldn't be. Strong, kind, loyal and devoted men are an incredible blessing, both to good women and to building a wonderful next generation. We honor you for defining what a good man is really like.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

New York Times Article: Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person

An essay by writer/philosopher Alain De Botton from last Sunday's New York Times has great relationship advice with a healthy amount of skepticism about finding one right partner, and a realistic view about learning how to become mature, flexible and negotiate differences gracefully. Read the article here!