When you read the title of this blog, I hope you do so in the same sing-song manner as if you were watching “The Wizard Of Oz” and the gang is frightened while on the road to the Emerald City and singing “lions, tigers and bears, OH MY! lions, tigers and bears, OH MY!” but now say “18, College and First Love, OH MY!”
My purpose of writing this blog is that I often see loving and nurturing parents stunting their youth’s normal development in the area of dating and every summer, I worry about those graduates who will be headed off to college like sheep to a slaughter. The idea that parents are sheltering their children from experiencing the NORMAL developmental stages of attraction can be controversial because for every opinion there is a counter-opinion. Since this is my blog, I will share with you my opinion; throw it into the mix of others out there and the reader can decide for themselves what works for their own children.
I had been planning to write this blog all week and like many people, I was busy and just never got around to it and then poof! out came the headlines about a young woman getting married after “supervised courting” and receiving her first kiss as a married person. Now, I had no intention of piggy-backing these headlines with this blog but the timing works, I suppose.
Do I think it’s fabulous that a young couple got married in a way that works for them? Absolutely. As a counselor, even a Christian counselor, do I recommend a similar courtship for all young adults? Absolutely not. I don’t know the young couple (I am referring to the Duggar daughter and by the way, 19 kids is a lot in my opinion) so I can’t say whether it will work for them or not. What I do know is that I would be terrified to send my own young adult off into the world, especially college life, without knowing first hand that he or she knows how to handle all the emotional strings that come along with falling in love.
I believe that there are stages to normal development that must be experienced along the path as a tween becomes a teen and a teen becomes an adult. I do not agree with saving all the experiences for when the youth is a “magical” age of 16 years or 18 years old. I get very nervous when parents tell me that they will allow their teen to date at 16 years old and not a moment before. Let’s think about this…give the youth a car, car keys, a long-awaited love interest, no experience in setting boundaries in real life situations as opposed to hypothetical scenarios and that sounds like a good idea? Not to me. What does sound like a good idea to me is to parcel out small dosages of “dating” and “being in love” experiences as is right for the tween/teen and let each experience serve as an opportunity for parents and children to have honest conversations.
This year by 4th grade son said that he wanted to buy a Valentine’s Day gift for two girls at school. We talked about why he wanted to buy them each a gift, what it would mean to the girls and since the girls were friends would that cause conflict, etc. It was a wonderful discussion about friendships and boy/girl expectations. Eventually he decided that buying just one gift for a girl was a better idea (that was probably after we did a pre-purchase swing through Kohl’s to see just how much of his allowance he would have to shell out on these gifts). He and I talked about whether the girl’s parents would be ok with her receiving a Valentine’s Day gift as a 4th grader and I directed him to ask the girl beforehand and have her ask her parents. Once it was confirmed that she was allowed, he and I went back to Kohl’s with enough of his allowance saved up and he began the process of buying his first treasure for a girl; which is a normal desire that I want to foster in raising a gentleman.
The time at Kohl’s also served as a great learning opportunity because he was drawn to the flashiest, largest, gaudiest jewelry Kohl’s had to offer during the month of February. He said the girl liked “sparkle” so he was going for a lot of sparkle! But I explained she was a young girl who deserved something that was sweet and dainty, like her. He understood what I was saying and ultimately selected a very pretty little Cross. He knew the girl was a Christian because since that was a quality that was important to him, he had on his own gained this knowledge at school one day. You should have seen the tender care in which he carried the little bag that held this precious possession he had selected and bought with his own money for a girl he thought was very special, in a 4th grade way. I believe all that to be really normal and healthy. Some other adults might disagree but there were so many amazing conversations that took place during this Valentine’s Day purchase that I am so glad my son, and us as his parents, didn’t miss out on them.
Each parent has to decide what is right for their family. That’s the bottom line. As a therapist and a mom, I really want to see young adults launch off to college-life away from parents watchful eyes already having had the experience of learning boundaries even while in love, having learned the art of balancing school work and a love interest, having learned what is an unhealthy relationship and how to leave it when necessary and on and on. Keeping our youth from dating at all until they are 16 years or 18 years old or only dating towards marriage (which is another topic for another blog, but I completely disagree with this philosophy) only delays the developmental stages that all youth must go through as it relates to healthy attraction to their peers. I would much rather a 12, 14, 16 year old act their age, than have an 18, 20 or 25 year old acting much younger than their chronological age because they were never allowed to develop normally.
What are your thoughts about preparing young adults for dating life?
My Master’s Degree is in Social Work so every two years, I have to do continuing education hours that is specific to the field. In every training I have attended, everyone goes around the room to introduce themselves and where they do their work. Inevitably, after I share my name and that my work is in private practice in Southlake Texas at least one if not more attendees pipes up to the group and says something like “Southlake?! What problems do people in Southlake have? Can’t decide which BMW to buy?” and then there are chuckles throughout the room. Being me, I do my own piping up and inform the group that making assumptions based on preconceived ideas about a specific group of people has a name for it and I highly doubt they want to be seen as “those” types of people that are, gasp, prejudice. I also remind them that tears are tears and it doesn’t matter where they are cried, pain feels the same no matter what zip code you live in. That usually quiets the room and the instructor moves on to the next person for introductions. I really adore and value my clients and how dare anyone in a training put them down? I have a little justice streak in me so going to bat is a comfortable place.
With that said, I have dealt with the professional mocking, if you will, for having a counseling practice in Southlake Texas, which in 2008 was named by Forbes magazine as the nation’s richest community. Not sure how the economic shifts since then have affected Southlake’s standing but you get the point.
So with this perception by “outsiders” that no one in a community like Southlake, Colleyville, Coppell or the other surrounding cities have any real problems to speak of, I was relieved to see the December 2o13 issue of Psychology Today have an article titled “The Problem with Rich Kids.” The researcher has found that “in a surprising shift, the offspring of the affluent today are more distressed than other youth.” What? Yes. The article states that research shows that affluent youth are at equal or higher risk than their lower socioeconomic counterparts for “substance abuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, cheating and stealing. It gives a whole new meaning to having it all.” Our kids are hurting and finally someone outside of us is noticing.
I am so thankful that an article such as this has been published in a well distributed magazine like Psychology Today. It is high time that the serious concerns facing the youth of affluent parents is being talked about at a broader level than community based.
What are we to do for the youth in our neighborhoods, schools and homes? The same thing that myself and other therapists in the area have been talking about; help youth find their individual giftedness and interests without putting excessive pressure on their daily schedules. I know it’s hard to break the mold of what everyone else is doing and what is needed to be competitive when preparing for college. We have to give our youth the ability to get off the figurative treadmill for breaks and refreshing.
The pressures that our youth feel within this geographical region won’t go away tomorrow. But we do have to teach them to value self-care as much as maintaining the highest GPA possible. I would much rather youth learn to balance the many demands they face and not need a stint in rehab to give them a break from a high pressured life.
We have some incredibly sweet, loving, smart and gifted youth in our community. I am proud to own a business in Southlake and work with the clients I am privileged to do life with. I am very thankful that the concerns many of us have been facing regarding our precious youth is getting the much needed attention it deserves. Maybe next time I attend a social work training, there might be more enlightenment in the room. I can only hope.
Ah, yes. The debate of all debates among women. Stay-at-home moms versus working moms. The topic that hurt feelings, strained friendships and some tears have hovered around. Just this week at the office, it was the center point of several sessions so I have decided to throw my two cents into the blogging world on this issue.
I began working with families in 2000 so that gives me many years of having counseled with hundreds if not a few thousand different couples and kids. Women with children all fall into one of the two categories so these last thirteen years have been a wonderful research opportunity to gain insight into how either option for women can be done well or a train-wreck and everything in between.
There are several ways to be really good at either a SAHM or a Working Mom. I won’t be able to share everything that I have observed as a counselor on both sides of this debate but I do hope to at least hit the highlights and lowligths; if you will.
Moms With Young Kids:
This is definitely the hardest season for a mom because the decision to work or stay home with the kid(s) pulls women in so many different directions. A couple has to decide together what is right for their particular financial situation, young children’s needs and the needs of the couple. I say the needs of the couple because marital satisfaction is closely tied to this decision and how it is implemented by the mom. Sorry ladies but a SAHM who doesn’t do it well will cause major cracks in the marriage that need to be addressed quickly.
If a mom is going to stay out of the marketplace and be with her children during the day while they are young, there are some definite pit-falls to avoid. I have seen many fine women really fall apart in areas of organizational skills, personal care and overall quality of life. Now I have also seen some amazing SAHMs of young kids. Perfection is never the goal but these moms keep structure to their day, never forget about their own interests and really maximize the opportunity they have with their kids. I believe that the SAHMs of young kids who are most successful see it as a season in life and really pour themselves into enriching times with their children but never lose sight that children grow up and moms need their own hopes, goals and dreams beyond parenthood.
Working moms of young children also have a wide range of success possibilities. Some of the greatest challenges I have seen for working moms of little ones is creating the moments of emotional connecting; even after a long exhausting day and week at work. It’s the same struggle for working dads but many are successful at it so there is no reason a working mom can’t be also. Kids of working moms get to see that there are a wide range of people who can love them, enrich their lives and I believe this leads to kids developing a strong sense of community and their place in it.
Moms With Older Kids:
As a counselor, here is where I start to see being a SAHM really take a turn for the worse for many of the women I have worked with over the years. What is a SAHM of young kids to do when those kiddos start school? My answer? Get busy. I believe therapeutically that it is very worrisome when women do not re-enter the marketplace after their kids have started school. I am not saying that all moms need to be working a full time job. Not at all. Being able to pick up kids after school, drive them to their activities and have that time after school of bonding is essential. What I am saying is that the moms of older kids that I have seen navigate well into this new season of life have done so by putting structure to their week by getting a part-time job.
Why is a job important? It allows former SAHMs to realize that their season of full-time parenting is waning, it allows moms to regain skill sets that might have been lost during the years at home and it situates the women to be better prepared for the changes that are ahead as children grow and seek more independence from mom and dad.
There is no reason a mom of older kids can’t work a few days a week and take care of the household chores on the other days. Truth is that it doesn’t take five days to clean a house, do laundry or run errands. Ask any working mom. They do it in the margin left over. Ideally, a mom of older kids would be out of the home, in a work environment, and still have time for the other tasks of raising kids into adulthood. A part-time job is a great solution.
One argument that some SAHMs have about employment is that they have been out of the work place for too long to be hired. I have seen bright, motivated SAHMs who approached a business of interest to them about volunteering 15-20 hours to gain experience. Tell me, what small business would turn down free awesomely-organized-get-it-done- mom labor? No one. The SAHMs of older children who have made the transition well are those that have returned to the marketplace at least on a part time basis and are able to contribute again to the family income.
Yes, family income. Let’s chat about that for a minute. With many of the SAHMs or Working Moms I have seen, there is a correlating husband to go with it. There are a few common denominators to the husbands of especially SAHMs. The husbands seem pleased with the fact that they are able to provide a lifestyle for their families that includes a mom that stays at home. This is a source of achievement for most of these men and that’s a good thing. What I also hear very frequently in the office is a sense of resentment that the whole burden is on them. What? Wait, isn’t that the opposite of what I just said? Yes it is. It seems, like with all things, there is a double edged sword to having a husband as the breadwinner and a SAHM.
The couples that I have watched do the very traditional family structure of dad works and mom stays home and do it well have really good communication with one another, respect for each other’s roles and most of all, great discussions about money. Ironic I know but when the SAHM takes on the job of managing all the finances, this is where many husbands start to feel like a hamster on a wheel running fast to keep the electricity on at the house.
As you can see, there are so many things to cover on this topic and I can’t do it all right now but the main point is that with every decision, there is a correlating pro and con. Whether you are a SAHM or a Working Mom or married to one of these ladies, finding a healthy balance is essential and if you find yourself out of balance, counseling is an option to help set the course in a better direction for everyone involved. A perfect equilibrium is really tough to achieve but important to strive for it daily.
Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:
1) Often times we get the “opportunity” to repeat a life lesson we’ve already learned. For example, we figure out how to set boundaries with people who are excessive takers (as opposed to givers) and wouldn’t you know it, here comes another taker so we get to fine tune our boundary skills even better. It may seem annoying but in fact, it’s a blessing to be reminded of how far we have come in our own personal growth. Besides, all excessive takers need to hear no more often.
2) Many kids and teens deal with anxiety and panic attacks. There are ways parents can help their children learn through these experiences so the youth can become more self-contained emotionally. There are also ways parents can hinder their children’s emotional well-being. When in doubt, see a counselor for guidance. Childhood anxiety handled poorly can lead to phobia development that is crippling to the youth’s future.
3) Love that reaches your soul is rare and is to be protected and cherished when it finds you.
4) Just because today may look dark and overwhelming, it doesn’t mean tomorrow will be the same. It is always shocking to me how the emotional conditions can vary from day to day. Hang tight if today is dark and appreciate it if today is bright!
5) Stressed out? Get alone with some good music that is gentle to your spirit. It’s amazing what quiet time will do to change your perspective on things. Life just comes at all of us much too quickly, so getting away for a bit is a must.
What’s on your list?
Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:
1) Unless we are willing to do something different, the outcome will continue to be the same.
2) For many parents, the years between sixteen until the eighteenth birthday are confusing. The teens are not yet adults but have grown past those early teen stages. My advice is that with each passing year, the parenting relationship should morph into mentoring; with the parent’s directives lessening and the teen’s decision-making skills increasing.
3) Failing to nurture relationships will cause them to wilt; just a like plant that is not given water.
4) Burning the candle at both ends really does eventually lead to the candle burning out.
5) I love free things and every Monday in April was free coffee day at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Dunkin Donuts. I will miss Monday’s in April for that reason but wait, there is one more!
What’s on your list?