Remembering 13

As a social worker, my whole career centres around building working relationships with a wide variety of people. Whether I’m at the office or in clients’ homes, I’m always navigating unique and dynamic relationships and taking on many different roles (spouse, sister, friend, colleague, social worker, employee). On many days I have returned home marveling at the complexity and uniqueness of people and their relationships, and how amazing it is to get to witness these sagas and ‘character developments’ that unfold around us. We get to analyze, learn from, and be inspired by them, and that is a gift.

Most days my work is heavily centred around spending time with young people, getting to know them, and learning how best to help them navigate their own relationships and deal with the shit hands that they’ve been given, always with the hope that I am helping them towards a best possible outcome.

The thirteen (going on sixteen) year old that I hung out with this afternoon reminded me what it was like to be thirteen and what a crazy stressful time in life it is. Many people cringe when thinking of adolescence, yet it can still be so easy to forget what it was like to live in a thirteen year old’s body and world, and how real and intense everything feels in those moments.

It can seem like no matter to brush off their moods and drama, because you know that it will pass and that what happens in junior high typically has little consequence in the big picture. But they don’t know that, and you will be hard pressed to convince them if you try.

At just thirteen, a child’s mind has just recently expanded from the safe world of home and family into this new awareness of the outside world and all the vast and complicated relationships that come with it. Of course, for many foster children, they are forced out of that safety much too soon, if there was ever any to begin with, having a tremendous impact on their development as they are forced to deal with circumstances that their brains are not yet capable of comprehending (and sometimes that is for the better). I ramble, but the point is that it is the natural progression of things that around nine or ten years old children’s primary focus begins to turn from being primarily centred around family, towards peers and the bigger world.

Adolescence is a natural time of turmoil and it is a time where a significant amount of guidance can be required. It may even be the most needed time for guidance, since they have for the first time developed enough abstract thinking ability that they can begin to explore and create kind of person they want to become. With time, patience, understanding, and some kind words, you can have life changing conversations with your kids at this age. For some, the memories made in adolescence remain some of the strongest for life, since over time we will have rethought them and rethought them some more, trying to understand how they shaped us. So seek out those teaching moments (better yet, don’t wait until thirteen, just start finding those teaching moments right away).

Understand that it is not her fault that he’s/she’s dramatic. In adolescence kids’ brains experience huge growth in the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that manages executive functioning. Executive functioning includes those activities in the brain that lead the processes of  problem solving, organization, emotional control, and learning to work towards longer term goals. So the part of the brain that we become so frustrated with is literally under construction. This means patience is needed (just like dealing with road construction – ugh!).

At that age and developmental stage, they may believe that their friends now will be their friends for life (or conversely, that if they have few friends now that they will always have few friends), not comprehending just how much growth and change they have ahead of them. This is normal! Lifelong friendships do happen for some, but they will vary over time, they don’t happen for all, and they all will eventually end.

In a thirteen year old’s world, though, none of that matters. In junior high every child learns to weigh their self worth against others and to judge their peers likewise by who they associate with and how. This is our teaching moment!

Alas, when you try to explain to them why they should let go of other’s judgments and just work on creating the life they want, you may find yourself met with an off-pitch cry of ‘you don’t understand!’

Well, their worries need our attention, too. Even if you see them as no matter of significance, what is significant in that developing mind and how they work with that concept may have any degree of impact on their future self As much as you think you may know your children, they will all grow into independent human beings who will make their own decisions. So listen, and help them to come to their own resolutions so they can develop the self-efficacy to get through life right side up.

Us older and wiser folk know that they will most certainly make friends later, and that whatever the problem is, it is most likely just a stage. But brushing off their concerns is only going to make them feel like you don’t care. Relationships are tough, man, and we are forever entwined in them, for better or for worse. Nobody can pretend that wading through relationship muck isn’t hard af work sometimes, so as parents and mentors we owe it to our teens to help them understand how to they can learn to cope in this crazy, constantly shifting world.

It’s important to teach children to determine right from wrong, and to instill a sense of work ethic and accountability in them. If they have made a grave mistake, then by all means that gravity should be impressed upon them to encourage them to learn from their mistake. I am not in any way saying that young people don’t need firmness, responsibility, and boundaries.

But it is also important to give them a break. Understand their development and current capacity for what you are asking of them before allowing yourself to forget that making mistakes and learning to navigate relationships in adolescence is just par for the course.

Appreciating Motherhood

Let’s just be happy that we’re all on this journey, k?

So I read a post recently written by a woman who declared that mothers are tired because they often manage all or most of the details involved in running a household. She described how all these little things she keeps track of add up to a lot more than some may think. She was a stay at home mom who noted that her husband helps with some things, and her message was that she is very tired due to her mental load.

After reading I thought to myself, “That’s nice, she seems to be working really hard to ensure her husband and kids have a good life full of lots of positive experiences. Good for her for taking some time to reflect that she is taking on a lot. She’s allowing herself to be proud of what she does and recognize all of those many little things, while also acknowledging that she has this in common with many other women. She’s letting other people know she’s not alone. It’s awesome that she has this awareness because now she can do something about it if she wants. I like how she articulated it in a way that described facts about her own life, without generalizing or judging, and although she clearly says she’s tired, she still manages to come off like she doesn’t hate her life for it. Good for her.”

I was shocked to read the comments on this post! People judged her very harshly, making wry comments that she shouldn’t complain as it’s her own fault, that if she hates her life she should do something about it, and comments from dads who were offended by her position on the subject (despite that she clearly stated she was not generalizing and that she knows that there are other men who do more of the share of this unpaid work).

I just do not understand the need to judge other people’s lives so harshly, as if any one of us has all the right answers?! Why not just see the good in people and recognize that she is expressing her feelings about her life, which is perfectly fine? It’s great, in fact, that she has found this way to get her thoughts, feelings, and opinions out into the world. If that’s what makes her feel good, then why not? Why should anyone care anyway?

All of this got me thinking though, and I wondered where I stood on the matter of roles and responsibilities in a family, as a woman in her early 30s preparing for marriage and motherhood.

Well, it seems to me that a lot of women actually like to ‘wear the pants’ and manage the house! Although I definitely think there are some men somewhere who can do it really well, it is more commonly seen that women take on the bulk of this work in a household, often without their partners even fathoming the intricacies of all that they do.

This is where the conversation typically turns to a discussion about gender roles, and many will argue that the old-fashioned views of women needing to manage the household is unfair and that we should change the way we think about these responsibilities.

But doesn’t it also seem like many women also just prefer to do it? Isn’t it maybe that many (not all) of us women can’t wait to be moms and get to do all those things?

Don’t many women enjoy doing the organizing, the keeping the kids fed and ready to meet the world, getting to shop and decide what products everyone uses, taking pride in a clean home, getting to plan for success and enjoy the love that they cultivate within their family?

I understand that for some it’s not that they want to take on so many tasks, rather it’s that if they don’t plan it or manage it then it might not get done, or it will be done in such a way that ruins other plans or takes more time to fix than it would have to have just done it themselves. That makes it hard to delegate, which could understandably lead to frustrated exhaustion.

I’m sure that a lot of the time it’s that mothers do like doing a lot of these things, they just wish they had more help with it or that their partner enjoyed it as much as they do, and so they are again frustrated and exhausted.

But it is okay to admit that you are tired! Recognize it and do something about it!

Even with all these frustrations, I still believe in the importance of appreciating what you have and enjoying that time while it lasts, because you only get to do it for a fraction of a lifetime. Although you will be a parent forever, your children will grow and you will enter a new phase of your life. I am determined to make the most of raising a family and being a wife, because I can’t see how life would be tolerable if I didn’t look to the good as much as possible and as often as I can.

So I’ll be tired. I’ll be tired from making memories for the whole family. Still, time will pass and life will change but the memories will last forever.

I know that mine sounds like a pretty rosy picture and that eventually I will have to work to keep this perspective. I know that it won’t feel great all the time and sometimes it might feel awful. I might need to really push myself sometimes to remember what a gift I have. And when I need to, I will.

I’m not even a mother yet but I am so aware that we can never know how much time is left with a person or how your life will change, so we need to cherish the time that we do have and make the most of it, no matter the circumstance. Learning to feel happy with what you do have even when things are shitty? Who wouldn’t want that?

I also know there will of course be many women who read this and think, “But I don’t love all those things!” That is more than fine. Do your best to make your life the one you want to live.

As for me, I can’t wait to try raising good little humans and getting to do it all with my very best friend.

I’m saying I know it is going to be hard, but I also know that I am choosing to do it because at the end of the day, this is the life I’ve signed up for, and I’m creating the life I choose.

“Learn to appreciate what you have, before time makes you appreciate what you had.”

–  unknown