Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Parent, My Friend

     For this second installment in my parenting series, I’d like to expand on the partnership role I mentioned in my last post.

     At this point in my life, I’ve passed a good portion of that difficult transition stage. Thankfully, I’m no longer a teenager, overwrought with emotions, hormones, and other things I didn’t understand. Yet, I live with my parents for some of the year, and I’m still under their authority. The difficulty now is determining how much I’m under their authority, and how much I can have them next to me in an advisory role.

     We still argue, because there are times when my parents want more control than I’d like to give them, times when I want to tell them to leave me alone and let me do it my way. For the most part, however, I consider my parents my friends. They are my advisors in life decisions, my encouragers through all sorts of struggles, my resources of practical wisdom, my unconditionally loving and reliable foundation, and my examples of all I want to be as a parent (and some things I don’t want to be). I have said many times, and had many friends concur, that I probably have the best parents ever. I admit that I do not know a lot about parenting, because I am not a parent. I would contend, however, that I have a very good idea of what it looks like to be a good parent, because of the examples I have. When I think about my relationship with my parents (now, granted, not when I was a teenager), I can honestly say that I want my relationships with my children to be just like ours.

     How does one get there? I’ve certainly wondered why my relationship with my parents looks the way it does, especially as compared to several friends. For instance, I have a close friend whose parents want to be deeply involved in her decisions, including those regarding her relationship with her boyfriend. This type of parenting led to anxiety and stress for both sides, and a very strained relationship, even after the couple broke up. Another friend has expressed envy of families with parents who want to be involved in their children’s lives at all. How involved is too involved? How does one cultivate a good relationship with an adolescent child?

     My answer comes to mind in several parts: trial and error, contained failure, and it’s up to the child.

     The first part probably needs no explanation. Every parent makes mistakes, and every kid grows up and realizes (or should realize) that his or her family has issues. This is why I think everyone should go to counseling at some point in their lives, but I digress. Parenting is difficult, and no one has the perfect way all figured out. Being able to see one’s errors, acknowledge them (especially to the child, when appropriate), and learn from them in order to move on is the take-home point here.

     The principle of contained failure is one my parents were told when they were young parents, and one that has carried through the years. Essentially, it’s a “pick your battles” principle which says, if it’s not harmful to the child or others, let them do it. I have many memories of saying to my mom, “But I want to do it this way!” and her saying, “Okay, contained failure”. I can still picture her hands going up like she was physically letting go of the issue. It told me that she believed she had the better way, but that she would let me try it my way if I really wanted to. Interestingly, that was often all she needed to say for me to give in and do it her way. Recently, I had an interaction with a 4-year-old I babysit which affirmed my belief in the benefit of picking your battles and, more importantly, listening. I had in mind one way of doing things, and he wanted another, and started to whine and argue. I told him I didn’t want to argue with him, but I did want to hear why it was so important to him. This stopped him in his tracks. We calmly discussed both ways, and I decided it would be fine to do it his way this time. Yes, my way had better rationale, and his way ended up being more of a hassle, but the open, calm method of communication I initiated was worth it.

     The third point in having a healthy, low-stress relationship with an adolescent may be the most important: it’s up to the child. No parent can make a child want to talk to him or her by requiring it. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen this tried, and seen it fail miserably. The mother of one friend in high school made it clear to her daughter that she was not allowed to have secrets from her parents. Instead of fostering a relationship in which her daughter could tell her anything (which I’m sure was what she wanted), her daughter kept more from her. Another friend was required to come home from college for the entire weekend, every weekend of the first two years. He hated it. I’m certain that, once his parents no longer required it, he would almost never go voluntarily. I am absolutely convinced that the best way to encourage a child to involve her parents in her life is to allow her the freedom to decide when and how that happens. When I was a freshman in college, my parents told me they would enjoy seeing me home for a weekend when I could make it, and they would look forward to hearing from me often. There were no requirements, no guilt-trips, there was no emotional manipulation. The result? I called my parents every day, even for five minutes here or there, and went home about every other weekend. I adjusted to college, got busier, and relied on them less and less. The content of my phone calls changed from “what laundry setting should I use?” to “I got a great score on my test; how’s your day going?”. Now, in my fourth year, I don’t make it home very often, and I make many more decisions without needing my parents’ answers. Do you know what hasn’t changed? I still call them every day or every other day, just to say hello and to catch up. My parents know what’s going on in my life, have met (and like!) my boyfriend, and know many of my friends (and my dad is friends with them on Facebook). [As an aside, my dad is not on Facebook to stalk me, and I willingly became his Facebook friend.] If I don’t call for awhile, they’ll call me or send an email, but they don’t sound worried about me, upset with me, or say I’ve hurt their feelings. Sadly, I don’t know very many other people who can say that.

     Some people may think that this sort of relationship is bad in relation to respect and authority, but they couldn’t be more wrong. In my case at least, I respect my parents immensely, and honor their authority because they do not force it upon me. At 21, I feel blessed to have the kind of adult relationship with my parents that many people do not have until their late 30s, if ever.

     True, my parents aren’t perfect, and my family has issues. At the same time, I can truly say that I love my parents dearly, and I know with all my heart that I can tell them anything, and they will love me and accept me. I’m proud to call my parents my friends.


     Although September 11th was last Friday, I have no life outside of school and sleep, so this is late. Hopefully, its reflections are worthwhile even on a less significant day.

     It was an ordinary morning, a Tuesday at the beginning of the school year. I was 13 years old, and in the eighth grade. The first thing I remember of that fateful day, now imprinted on our national memory, was my mom, waking me up urgently. Later I would realize that those first moments reminded me of another strange day in my childhood, in which my mom woke me up and asked me if I wanted ice cream for breakfast. The freezer door had been left open overnight and the ice cream had melted, so my mother thought it might as well not go to waste, but it was quite surreal. It was a similar feeling when the first words I heard that morning were, "Get up and come watch the news - there's been a terrorist attack."

     Through the course of that day, I was confused, stunned, fearful, sad, and numb. I was struck by so many things out of the ordinary. When I went downstairs, my dad was still there, dressed for work but his gaze locked on the news. That afternoon, I went to the first day of choir practice, and all the kids were abnormally quiet. My mom told me that, "this will be for your generation what JFK's assasination was for mine. Years from now, people will ask you where you were."
     As far as I can remember, I started watching the news just before the towers fell. It's hard to say, because it was difficult to determine what was live and what was replayed over and over. Before that day, I had never even heard of the World Trade Center, but now the images I saw are burned in my memory. The towers, smoking...the shaky amateur video from the ground of the first plane hitting the tower...the skyline of New York City obscured by a huge cloud of smoke, ash, and debris...people on the ground, covered in white ash...bodies falling out of the towers -- jumping, I realized later. I remember when the news anchors realized the significance of the date.

     I remember being afraid, because LAX and Disneyland were possible targets, and our home was within the danger zone if that attack was nuclear. Afraid, because no one had any idea how many people had died in the towers and the surrounding areas, and I wondered if anyone I knew had been there, or lost family members. I felt terrorized. One of my coping mechanisms was to pull out my sister's Christian magnetic words set, and along the stove top I placed something to the effect of "God is in control".

     I remember feeling strangely more a part of the world of adults than children, when I realized that my 4- and 6-year-old neighbors would have no clear memories of this momentous day. I remember watching the rescue effort, and hearing some amazing stories, and many sad ones. I remember seeing the missing person boards, and all the American flags. I remember when they found the steel girders that formed a cross at "Ground Zero", and the thousands of people flocking to churches.

     Looking back, now eight years, I remember thinking then that "9/11" would be a day that changed everything, the Pearl Harbor of my generation. I remember that the American flags everyone put on their houses and cars faded, and were eventually taken down, and not replaced. I remember that of the thousands of people who flocked to churches, so many returned to normal life, and to attending church at Christmas and Easter. I remember the country fired up about fighting terrorism, and seeking justice, and then losing vigor and determination in the face of the difficult and long-term task of war. I remember forgetting we were at war, because it felt like something so far away, something I heard discussed, but never comprehended. Even numbers of deaths and prayers for soldiers my friends knew was unconnected to my normal life, the idea of war meaningless in my everyday reality.

     I remember stories of heroic deeds of civilians on a plane now known as United 93, and T-shirts and hats honoring New York City's firefighters, and policemen. I wonder now, how many have been truly inspired to be courageous and self-sacrificing in less obvious, more continuous ways.

     I remember the first wave of "9/11/01: We Will Never Forget" bumper stickers, freeway posters, and more. I wonder if we content ourselves with having "not forgotten" by holding memorials every year, and watching TV specials on how the tragedy could have been prevented, instead of learning what it looks like when the country comes together, when communities support each other, when people give blood and their time to heal and rebuild. I wonder if we have forgotten after all, less than a decade later, because I'm not sure that we know what it truly means to remember.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Growing Up is Hard to Do

. . . so is parenting. This post is the first in a series in which I will be ambitiously tackling a topic that is both close to my heart and relevant to my stage of life: The Transition to Adulthood.

     At 21, I’m considered an adult in many ways. But am I? I’m a student, so I don’t have a full time job, meaning I’m very financially dependent on my parents. I’m mature, but enough to admit I’m not completely an adult emotionally. And for several months of the year, I live at home, becoming more physically dependent on my parents (or at least their resources) than when I live at school.

     In college, I’ve had the opportunities to see my parents and family from a different perspective and to hear about and observe other people’s parents and families. I cannot begin to tell you how much I feel I’ve learned from this alone, setting my formal education aside entirely. Through my observations and my friends’ experiences, I have seen families ranging from emotionally manipulative to the point of abuse to those that are emotionally absent. I’ve seen a variety of parenting techniques regarding decision making, from allowing an adolescent to make all their own decisions in the middle of high school to holding on tightly well into college. One thing I know for certain: parenting is hard. All of these families care about their children, and want to do what’s best for them, and knowing when to let go is probably one of the most difficult parts of parenting.

     Teenagerhood is widely considered the most difficult time for a parent (and a child). I would propose that it doesn’t have to be as horrific as it often is. The main reason teenagers are so difficult to deal with is that they are trying to find out who they are and asserting their independence. Therein lies the struggle: the teenager striving for control, while the parents struggle to determine when it is best to let go. Here are a few things I’ve noticed about this transition.

     It’s always gradual, so there’s no “right age” to let go completely.
It’s greatly dependent on the maturity level of the adolescent, because a parent shouldn’t let go when the young person can’t handle it on their own.
It helps immensely to have an open relationship with good communication.
It helps to be emotionally understanding and loving.

     I think it also helps to view your children as little people from the beginning – that is, if you think of your baby as a baby until age 5, and then think of him as a child until he’s 15, you’re going to run into problems. Five-year-olds are not babies, and at fifteen, that “child” is trying to become a young man. When you perpetually have the perspective that you are the parent and you always know what’s best and he/she’s still a “child”, it makes it harder to transition to thinking of your child as a young man or woman. Granted, I don’t have children, and I imagine it’s easier said than done. However, I babysit frequently, and I can guarantee that you will make life difficult for yourself if you treat a five-year-old as a baby, let alone if you treat a fifteen-year-old as a child. Children, at any age, have their own thoughts and ideas about the world, and they want them to be heard and valued. How many times have you heard teenagers say, “You just don’t understand me!”? I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard friends say of their folks, “Why don’t they listen?”.

     Although in every family struggle, there are failures on both sides, the majority of the time, so much trouble could be avoided if the parents just listened. Let me clarify. This is not to say that the parents ought to listen so the child can dictate what happens or when, but listen and try to sympathize. Adults have experiences that should enable them to be emotionally understanding, putting themselves in that place. Listen to acknowledge feelings, even while disapproving of actions and offering alternatives. Listen to express to the child that his or her thoughts, ideas, feelings, and priorities have value.

     The bottom line is that this transition to adulthood is difficult for both parties. For the child, it’s learning new responsibilities, finding identity, and fitting in to a new role, even while we want to hang on to the old. For a parent, it’s acknowledging that you no longer have the primary role in decision making, but a partnership role. After all those years of deciding what’s best for this little person, I can imagine that the habit is hard to break, let alone how that change must feel. It’s hard, but necessary, and with cooperation and a whole lot of patience, love, and forgiveness, it can be done.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Who Are You?

“Hi, I’m . . .”

     What comes to mind when you are introducing yourself? Do you ever think about why you list things about yourself in the order you do? It may be a socially conditioned response – for instance, men are often asked to list their occupation first. There are certain things that are socially acceptable to share when you’re asked to “tell us a little about yourself”, and you do have to start somewhere.
     More than that, though, our answers may be an interesting reflection of who we think we are. There are so many ways to finish the sentence above, and each of them says something different about a person.

For example, your:
- job
- major in college
- family position (oldest/youngest/middle child)
- family relation (so-and-so’s father, or daughter, or brother)
- religious beliefs or denomination
- hobbies
- nationality, home state or town
- personality type
- character traits
- disability, illness, injury, addiction

    To introduce myself, I am a Protestant Christian, a nursing student entering my fourth year (of five) at a private Christian university, and a youngest child. I am a naturalized Californian, having lived here for just over half my life, born and raised in Texas. I am a lover of books and movies. I am a caregiver, for older adults and children, but also for my friends and family. I am a Myers-Briggs type ESFJ. I have an unusual joint condition that has caused me daily pain for 3 years.

     Although all of these things are true of me, and many of them are important to me, they are definitely not the sum of me. Why do I tell you that I am from Texas, but not where I want to be living in 5 years? Why say that I love books and movies, but not mention what sort of music I enjoy, or my ideal pets? Why include my home state but not my ethical heritage? Why not tell you that I’ve been skydiving, or that I just went camping?
     What determines what items merit mention in the first moments of an interaction? Why do these dry statements feel like I’m trying to place myself in a box? Is labeling ourselves a necessary coincidence of introductions?

Ready? Begin.

Hello, my name is Jacy Langford, and this is my blog. It will hold my thoughts and ramblings on various subjects, as well as lessons I’m learning in life. Its name comes from two Bible verses:

“My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” Psalm 25:15
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” Psalm 55:22a

These verses have been important to me for a long time, and I love the mental image the first verse gives me. I have often felt as though I keep looking at my problems and trying to fix them, but when I recognize my own limitations and allow God to be sovereign, I look up at Him, and I am freed.

Before I decided to start a blog, I had to ask myself what its value would be. After all, there are thousands of people writing about whatever they want, and wouldn’t I just be adding to the noise? I hope that isn’t the case, and here’s why. Some people (especially if you’re my age) may remember the show Animaniacs, and the segment Pinky & the Brain. Stay with me, I promise this has a point. Yes, the show was ridiculous, but every show opened with the same line from Brain: “Are you pondering what I’m pondering, Pinky?” Pinky’s absurd responses proved he was very far from thinking about taking over the world as Brain wanted him to do. Well, the fact is, you aren’t pondering what I’m pondering, and that’s why blogspace is so fascinating. Even though there are so many people writing about life, every single one of us has a different perspective. That uniqueness is, I hope, what allows me to be something more than just another blogger.

Also, when I considered starting a blog, I thought I wouldn’t know what to say. Having made a hefty list of topics to cover in the following posts, I realize the only problem is that I’m not sure where to start. Stick around, and you’ll be sure to find things to think about, and, if you’re willing, learn alongside me.