Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

How NOT to welcome kids home for the holidays

November 25, 2013

A post bearing a strong resemblance to this one was first posted here in January 2009.

Play your cards right and your empty nest isn’t empty 100% of the time. Since we officially became empty nesters in May 2007, our nest has expanded from accommodating just me, David and our dog, to periods where 5 people lived here, then 4, then 2, then one configuration of 3, then 5, then a new configuration of 3 and now… back to me David and our new puppy.  The key to success when coming together again, at home or on vacation, is replacing the old parent-child relationship with one that matches the new reality of who “the kids” have become.

Having our daughter and son, their significant others and/or their friends stay with us from time to time is a joy for which I am eternally grateful. It wasn’t that way for me visiting my mother. She and I were hopelessly stuck in a destructive gear. It wasn’t until the last year of her life, when she was terminally ill, that we finally figured out how to have a wonderful relationship… as two adults.

I didn’t want to wait until I was dying to make peace with my adult children. So I’ve worked hard to maintain a healthy relationship with them. The efforts have paid off, but it takes an ongoing commitment.

Since we’ve got no mind readers here and we don’t worship at the altar of “Grin and bear it,” whenever our kids come back to live temporarily or visit for more than 3 days, we call a family meeting and discuss everyone’s expectations and needs during the new arrangement. It usually boils down to two basics:

Parents: We want to feel like we’re all adults on the same team, sharing the shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Young adults: We want to be treated like adults, not kids who need your input on how to live our lives.

Sounds like we’ve got a deal. That’s why I’ve stuck by this mantra: “Give teens/adult kids no unsolicited advice.” Why bother? They don’t want it. They won’t accept it. And they resent you for offering it. Want less resentment?  Quit giving them advice. Good advice! But damnit I give advice for a living! Keeping my mouth shut when I’ve got a helpful suggestion is tough. It’s also be part of my yoga practice. Ohmmmm.

Here’s a holiday challenge for you, if you’re game… take a look at your relationship with each of your children. Now fast forward to a time when they will return, as young adults, to visit you for the holidays. What would you like to see your relationship develop into? What could you start doing today (or stop doing) that might help you reach the place you want to be with them when they grow up?

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

"We're safe, guys. I hear these folks are vegetarians."

Filed under: Holidays,Mindfulness,Parenting — Tags: , — Annie @ 3:34 pm

I want what she’s got!

November 21, 2013

The following post is an excerpt from my latest parenting book, Teaching Kids to Be Good People. You can read all of Chapter 1 right here.

Life, bring on the lemons!

Ever been up close and personal with a lemon tree and noticed how cool they are? I never had until I moved to California. Now I’ve got my own dwarf Meyer lemon and I can tell you that tree is an underrated miracle of nature. Right now, November 21st, it’s got teeny flower buds, heavenly smelling blossoms, baby green fruit, and ripe golden orbs, all at the same time. On a cosmic level, the lemon tree is constantly manifesting its entire life cycle, simultaneous living its past, present, and future! How cool is that?

One might assume straddling the time-space continuum causes internal conflict for the tree. Like maybe an undeveloped puny green guy eyes a juicy yellow beauty and gripes, “Damn! How come I’m not more mature?” Or some blossom whose petals flap in the wind, whines about how unfair it is that she’s no longer taut and firm like that sweet young bud over there. But noooo. The tree has evolved to a point where no phase of life is any better or worse than another. In the realm of lemon trees, there are no complaints, only total acceptance. What is, is. Lemon embraces all of it with equal acceptance and grace.

We humans on the other hand are hardwired for complaining. Even (maybe especially) those of us who have pretty soft lives compared to most folks on the planet. Adults often evaluate things in terms of what’s “wrong.” So how surprising is it that our kids frequently complain? The older they get, the more likely we are to find fault in what they do or fail to do! In addition to what we’re teaching them through negative modeling, teens are already incredibly judgmental. After all, they’re grappling with some key questions of their own:

Am I cool enough? Am I hot enough? Am I good enough?

The less confident they feel (from their own self-doubt and from the feedback piled on by their “friends” and parents), the more likely they are to complain. The more they complain, the more we complain about their complaining. Ugh.

Now I’m not advocating an all- Zen-all-the-time approach to living, where we make damn sure we never find fault with anything. That’s too tough to be practical. Besides there are certain situations that are inherently faulty. Like when the cottage cheese has gone off. No amount of Ohmmming is going to make me smile when I lift that lid and get a whiff. So yeah, life serves up plenty of unacceptable tidbits. When you’ve got one, just do something about it. Complaining is never a prerequisite for action. Nor is it a substitute.

When a family member presents us with something unacceptable, rather than exploding and losing control of mind and mouth, try this instead: “This cell phone bill of $1,000 is unacceptable. You will pay this, not me.” That’s not a complaint. That’s a simple directive. When we whine less and fill our sentences with more verbs (calls to action), we might get more cooperation and less complaining from our kids. At the same time, we are teaching them that a positive attitude helps us deal with life’s inconveniences more effectively than complaints.

On that positive note, I want to report that last week I picked all the ripe lemons from the tree and made lemon marmalade. Not to complain or anything, either the recipe was wrong or I misread it. Either way, the results were . . . uh . . . not edible. Fortunately the tree’s still got plenty of green babies. In another month or so, I’ll take another shot at it.


Give them the whole damn cookie…

November 18, 2013

UPDATE: Day 18 National Novel Writing Month. I’m 28,217 words into my YA novel. Can’t wait to find out what happens next in the story. Sure, I’m making it up, but if I already know everything my characters will say and do, plus every plot twist, there’d be zero fun in writing, thus I would not bother. It’s what I discover each day (about this fictional universe and myself), that keeps me drunk at the well.

Some semblance of the following was first posted in late 2009. Miraculously, the muffins are still fresh.

The Whole is Greater

Does this really need a caption?

Just pulled a batch of pumpkin muffins from the oven. Don’t know how they got in there, but I’m grateful as all get out. Golden, aromatic orbs of cosmic wholeness.

When Fayette was 3, David and I took her to Lake Tahoe with another couple and their two boys. IMPORTANT NOTE: Unless you know and like people really well, or you’re actually investigating ways to end a friendship, do not go on vacation with another family.

En route we hit a bakery. I let Fayette choose whatever she wanted from the display case. She picked a giant cookie carpeted in rainbow sprinkles and held it tenderly, incredulous that such a thing of beauty belonged to her. But before she got a nibble, Other Mom (the one we were traveling with, not my evil alter-ego) grabbed the cookie. “That’s too big for you to eat by yourself. Let’s share it.” Snapping it in two, Other Mom handed half to her son and the other half back to my shell-shocked girl who erupted in tears.

Other Mom shot me a “Woah, your kid’s a spoiled brat” look. I nearly slugged her for turning Fayette’s perfect treasure into a crumbly mess.

For the record, Fayette was never a brat. She sparkles with resilience and a sunny disposition, for which I can take no credit. She also has an outstanding mom. But I digress.

It’s been years since the unfortunate incident in the bakery and we’ve (mostly) forgiven Other Mom’s misguided attempt to teach the joys of sharing. No seriously, we don’t blame her any more. Okay.. well, maybe a tad.

When something that ought to be whole is less than, our wiring triggers a loss. Compound those disappointments and we lose our confidence and trust in the people around us. Obviously we adults can’t control what others give to us, but when it comes giving to our kids, we ought to deliver the whole. That means:

a) Our complete attention when our child wants to show us something, even when we’ve got a million other things to do.

b) Our completely open mind when our daughter needs to talk about what’s worrying her, even if it makes no rational sense to us.

c) Our completely open heart when our son confesses to messing up (again).

Our kids are quickly growing up and away. Give them the whole damn cookie while they’re still living with us. That’s what we signed up for. That’s what they need.

PS Got a pumpkin loitering about? Put it to use and have some fun in the kitchen with the kids:

Pumpkin Raisin Muffins (Thank you, Betty Crocker)

1 and 1/2 cups flour 1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
(Gotta cook it first. You knew that, right?)
2 tsps baking powder 1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp salt 1 egg
1/2 tsp cinnamon 1/2 cup of raisins
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400. Grease muffin tin. Mix all ingredients just until flour is moistened. Fill muffin cups. Bake 18-20 min. Pop ‘em out of the pan. Cool. Devour.

UPDATE 2013: A year ago David and I went to Tahoe and searched for the same bakery. Alas, it was gone. But we found a nearby bakery, bought a large rainbow sprinkle cookie and presented it to a delighted Fayette when we returned to the Bay Area. She was touched, her eyes sparkle and we apologized for not doing more during the original Cookie Mishap. Of course she forgave us and happily ate the whole perfect cookie.


Filed under: Happiness,Holidays,Parenting — Tags: , , — Annie @ 12:44 pm

Holiday stress is coming to town

November 14, 2013

It’s Day 14 of National Novel Writing Month. For those of you outside of my family who are interested, as of this morning I hit 24,684 words toward my goal of 50K by Nov. 30th. (SFX of CHEERS) For all you fictionists… fictionaries? BS artists? Write on, comrades!

To free myself from blogging this month, I’m reaching into my archives for oldies but goodies. Found this one (SFX of DUST BLOWING off stack of yellowed pages)

Holidaze? It’s About Time

Hey, kids! What time is it?

Recently my Christmas cactus awoke from its summer stupor, which can only mean the holidays are racing up the front steps soon to lean heavily on my doorbell. If that sentence triggered a stress response, I apologize and feel your heart palpitations. Holiday stress is very real especially if you’re anything like me when I’m on a quest for the perfect gift, the perfect turkey-brining recipe, the perfect holiday.

But, wait! My handy dictionary defines holiday as: “a day taken off for leisure and enjoyment.” Who was this Noah Webster dude anyway? Obviously he never shopped, hit an ATM, circled a packed parking lot for the fourth time, polished, cleaned, cooked, served, or stared bleary eyed into a packed fridge wondering where three more containers of leftovers could possibly fit.

Before we write-off Webster please note that in a perfect world holidays are meant to be a pleasant break in routine for you and your loved ones – well-deserved time to de-stress and appreciate being part of a family. Who knew?

As a family, we celebrated an unscheduled holiday in January 1996 when a tremendous windstorm roared through our neck of the woods, knocking out the power. No school, no computers, no work. We gathered around the fireplace bundled in blankets as I read aloud from a giant book of obscure folktales. We paused at crucial plot points and guessed what would happen next. We acted out alternative endings. We played Crazy Eights by candlelight. We roasted marshmallows and shared memories from childhood. We ate outrageous ice cream sundaes for breakfast. Hey, we couldn’t just let all that Chunky Monkey melt, could we?

During that long blackout we depended on each other for warmth, comfort, entertainment, and connection. And we had a blast. Five days later when the lights went back on, we all felt a little sad.

21st Century parents and kids need family to provide a place to de-stress. Don’t think your kids are stressed? Here are typical responses I get when I ask kids “What does the word ‘stress’ mean to you?”

“A kinda mind overload.”
“Pressure and lots of responsibility on your hands.”
“Overwhelmed and overworked.”
“…a lot of stuff that I have to do like homework, chores and other things a girl my age should not be stressing about. If I have to do all those things in ONE day I would just pass out. It’s too much pressure!!!!”
“A tax on your soul.”

Heart breaking, huh? And those are from 11-13 year olds!

Most things in this world are constantly changing but our unconditional love for kids isn’t one of them. We hurt when we see our kids so freaked out and wound up, but what can we do? We can’t stop the world, but we can slow down our own little corner and bring the family in closer. Don’t believe your kids want to hang out with you? Probably not all the time. And be honest. You wouldn’t want to hang out with them all the time either! But they do want to spend time with you. Especially when you show them that you really enjoy being with them.

If everyone’s schedule is already packed and you just don’t see how you’re going to create a regular Family Time then I suggest you sit down with your kids and talk about the daily pressures each of you deals with. Discuss how spending time as a family can actually help you all stress less. Unplug the media for one night a week and do something you can enjoy together: Make a meal, work on a project, play a game, go for a hike, make music, dance, look at old family photos or videos, tell stories, read stories, laugh, relax.

Try it and you may get the same bonus our family got when the storm blew out the power… the gift of time, which is the first step to reclaiming the heart of your family during the holiday season and year round.

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