Tag Archives: positive discipline

The Excuse Maker vs the Howler Monkey

Howler MonkeyThere is a certain sound resonating in my household that is akin to fingernails on the chalkboard or a dog howling out of tune in the middle of the night. Without warning, this noise modulates into a higher pitch with each note, getting more frantic if it is left to continue. This annoying clamor, unfortunately, is an epidemic. What starts out as an innocent first becomes a habitual occurrence. They come more frequently as time goes on. And the result of this reverberation to anyone within earshot (mainly those it is directed at), is an elevated heart rate, a clenching of the fists and teeth, an ability to see red, and a sudden burst of mania that comes forth as a string of shrill commands even louder than the original sound.

I am, of course, talking about the “excuse maker”.

It’s funny. I used to view whining as the all-time most annoying sound ever to experience. I would tell the Taz to put his things away, and fight him as he gave me a slow, “But whyyyyyyy……..?” The whining would grate on my nerves, and would usually result in said item to be taken away. But now? I would gladly welcome back the innocent whine to this:

“Pleasemompleasedon’tmakemedothatIjustneedtofinishdoingthisandyou’re
ruiningmylifeandIwilldieifIcan’tfinishdoingthisandIjustwanttofinishthislevel
itwillonlytakeasecondwhyareyoualwaystellingmewhattodoIcan’tstandthis
pleasemompleasepleasepleaseplease…..”

Except, imagine that run-on sentence made in one breath and getting shriller with each syllable until it is barely a squeak by the time it ends. And me? I am clenching and unclenching all parts of my body until I am one big ball of stress ready to unleash. And unleash is what I do.

Mr. W was describing his own mother’s conduct when he and his brother’s would pull some sort of childish action. For many years, she would remain calm, talking in a quiet voice about their misbehavior and what the consequences were. But being that there were three boys in the family, and being that their antics were only getting more mischievous as they got older, Momma W ended up correcting them in a much louder way. Read: she turned from a controlled superior to something that more resembled a screeching howler monkey. And, of course, this would leave her boys in hysterics (on the inside, of course), and unable to take her seriously.

Frankly, she had lost control. And when I look back at how I’ve dealt with the Taz as he’s frustrated me to no end, I wonder what kind of screeching animal he’s comparing me to.

The biggest obstacle I’m struggling with the Taz on right now has to do with responsibility. Our biggest dispute is over his ability to remember important details I have laid out for him. When he goes to his father’s house, he forgets half of his clothes at his dad’s house when he comes back to me. When he goes to school, same deal (it’s amazing he doesn’t come home naked…). Getting ready for baseball games is an interesting ordeal, as he has left his uniform all over the county (his dad’s house, school, his friend’s house, my parent’s house…). He consistently gets late notices from the school library for the books he has failed to turn in despite reminder after reminder from me. Homework that we have meticulously worked on the night before comes back unread in his homework folder because he hasn’t turned it in, or he has left his folder on the kitchen table. When it is time for chores, he will goof off if left to his own devices. I have to stand over him to get him to do anything. And after 10 minutes of that, the “excuse maker” and the tears start.

Frankly, I’m exhausted. I can understand the importance of keeping on him to get all of his responsibilities straight when he was younger. But at 9 years old, it is my belief that he should be able to manage his own responsibilities to a degree. At the very least, he should be able to remember to bring home all the articles of clothing from his father’s house or his classroom, turn in his assignments on time, and not have to be reminded constantly to do the same thing that is required of him every single day. And, unfortunately, growing tired of repeating myself, the Howler Monkey comes out in me. I think the Taz has successfully learned how to tune out the Howler Monkey.

When relaying the tug-of-war I’m experiencing with the Taz to one of my friends, and lamenting about my reaction to his irresponsibility, she relayed to me how her grandmother handled it when she was young. Her grandmother rarely raised her voice. Instead, she’d keep her voice in an even tone, alerting them of their screw up. And then she would calmly point them in the direction of the bathroom. For the next few hours the mischievous child would scrub the room from top to bottom. And when they were done, their grandmother had to inspect it and approve. More times than not, she would find one or more things wrong, shake an entire can of Ajax over the whole bathroom, and order them to clean it over again. To this day, my friend cannot stand the smell of Ajax, and will not let it anywhere inside of her home. And she also learned to stay the straight and narrow.

What I got from my conversations with Mr. W and my friend is that a quiet voice and a firm composure is much scarier and more effective than a screeching Howler Monkey.

This weekend we had the chance to test this theory. The Taz left his baseball hat in his desk at school on Friday, meaning that he wouldn’t have it for Saturday’s baseball game. The old me would have howled at him, ranting and raving the whole way to the store as we bought a new one. His punishment would have been ineffective, as the screaming and yelling on my part took up a good majority of the energy I could have used on creating a real consequence. Instead, I kept calm and told him that Saturday morning would be spent cleaning my bathroom top to bottom. And I explained to him that the yelling in the house was going to be kept to a minimum. If he failed to execute the minimum responsibilities required of him, he could expect to do some heavy cleaning as a consequence. This seemed to go over well with the Taz. And the next morning, he woke up before I did to clean the bathroom and get it over with.

cleaning 002

He woke me up to come check his work, and I did with a critical eye. I told him all the things that still needed to be done.

“ButMomIhavebeenworkingsohardonthisallmorningandIjustwanttohavefun
whydon’tyouevencareaboutmethisistoohardyou’reruiningmylifeIjustwantto
goouttoplaywithmyfriendsandI’mhungryandthebathroomlooksfinewhycan’t
Ibedone?”

Instead of clenching and unclenching my hands, hyperventilating with a raised heart beat, or seeing red, I stood there watching him in anticipation. His “excuse maker” tapered off and he waited for my reaction.

“Are you done?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said.

“Good. Now do what I’ve told you to do. You can eat breakfast only when you have finished.

We went through three more occurrences of failed cleaning attempts until I finally sat cross-legged by the door and pointed out one by one what needed to happen for me to be satisfied. 2 hours of total cleaning time, and he was done.

I’d love to say that this one event has cured him of all irresponsibility altogether. Of course I would. But come on, we’re talking about kids here.

“Mom, I’ve decided I want to quit baseball,” the Taz told me last night as I drove him from the meeting point his dad and I set up halfway between our homes.

“Why?” I asked. I had just finished telling him that we had an extra practice the next day.

“I just want to quit. I’m not enjoying it.”

I told him we weren’t just going to quit like that. And then it occurred to me why he was having a sudden change of heart.

“Did you remember to pack your uniform from your dad’s house?” I asked him.

“Um….no. I have everything except for the jersey.”

Right now I am enjoying a quiet house with a purring kitty, fondly eating some strawberry yogurt. And upstairs, the Taz is plugging away at making sense of the chaos in his room until I deem it acceptable. Maybe it’s going to take some time until he has mastered the art of responsibility. But my house is about to get really, really clean.

Is there a Howler Monkey living in your home? How about an “excuse maker”? Share your horror stories, or how you accomplished getting those two unwelcome guests evicted.

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Loving the Bully, part 2

Follow up from Loving the Bully, part 1

We live in an area where bullies are a part of day to day life. There are kids who have families that are not exactly on the right side of the tracks, and who are destined to go down the same road. Except, in this day and age, that road is a lot rougher. A mom wrote me today regarding an article I wrote about bullying, and relayed her own story of her son being bullied. When the school wouldn’t do anything, her husband finally went down and let the bully know in no uncertain terms that if he bullied his son again, the bully would be dealing with him, the dad, in the same sort of manner. This was years ago, of course. Nowadays something like that could never happen without legal repercussions resulting. But how many of us parents have been tempted to knock the block off of the overgrown kid that is tormenting our child?

As you remember, my son has also been the victim of a bullying situation. Basically, there was a 12 year old kid, “Trevor”, who was as big as a linebacker and picking on all the other kids who like to play basketball in our apartment complex. My kid happened to get in Trevor’s way, and the kid pushed my kid around. I found out when the neighbor kid came running breathlessly to my door to let me know that the Taz had been hurt. The Mama Bear in me came out, and I wanted to wrap my hands around this “little” twerp’s neck and squeeze. But I couldn’t. However, I did get involved by marching Trevor over to his parents (all 5’4″ of me to his 6 foot brawny self) to settle matters. Thankfully there have been no problems since, and the kid has actually been staying away from the basketball courts.

At the time, I was furious. I wanted to murder this kid for touching my child. And I don’t excuse that feeling. Kids who are victimized over and over grow up with feelings of low self worth, and are constantly haunted by the bullying they endured in their youth. I’d have a hard time feeling any kind of love for anyone who was hurting my son, now and in the future with the repercussions that ensue.

However, everyone has a back story.

As a counselor at the summer camp the kids and I attend every summer, I came across one of these difficult kids. This boy had done his best to be as difficult as possible with the staff, and with all the campers around him. He didn’t want to participate in any of the activities. He would verbally berate anyone who tried to get him to join in, going so far as to tell the teen staff to “F- off”. He threw rocks at the other campers. Whenever I’d step in, he’d glare at me and ignore me.  The last straw was when he broke the bathroom door, and then denied that it ever happened. It seemed like every bit of trouble that was going on involved this kid. What was worse, he was starting to gather a following of boys who were joining in on his misfit actions.

“What do you want to do?” one chaperone asked me when I came to him about the situation. “Call his parents? Send him home?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “All the staffers are throwing their hands up in the air. We just don’t know what to do.”

We ended up talking with the camper. I started out really closed off. I wanted nothing to do with this kid who was making everyone’s life miserable. And if we ended up sending him home, that was fine by me. But one little trick I learned was to keep my mouth shut and listen as the other counselor asked him about camp and how he liked it. And little by little, the kid opened up about his home life. He didn’t see his mom at all, and he lived with his dad. The only other camp he attended in the summer, besides this one, was one called “Alateen”, a camp for kids of parents who abuse alcohol.

The kid was acting out because of his anger at a life that he had little control over.

It’s just like that kid who was going down the bully path in my daughter’s 3rd grade class who I wrote about in “part 1″ of this topic.  He was the one that caused trouble in class and was kicked out, and I followed behind to talk with him and see what was going on. It became clear that this kid was hurting. He had no mom, and he hardly saw his dad. When his dad was around, he came down hard on this kid. The kid, in turn, lashed out at everyone around him to compensate for the hurt he was feeling on the inside. For the rest of the year, it was apparent that there had been some sort of connection. He would actually smile and wave when he’d see me, and seemed to respond to me the rest of the year whenever I called him on his behavior in class. Of course, I’ll admit that it was easier for me to be kind to him because he had never tried to hurt my child.

“Whatever happened to that kid in your class?” I asked DQ today as I drove her home from school.

“He moved away,” she said.

“He kind of has a sad home life, doesn’t he?” I mused outloud.

“Yeah. His dad scared me,” DQ said.

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

“His dad was huge, and looked like a gangster. And he always seemed really angry.”

When it comes to dealing with bullies, I really have no concrete advice. It’s easy to feel helpless in such a situation, not knowing how to wrangle in the wild horse that wants to run free and lash out at anyone trying to corral it. But in one of my comments on the story of Trevor and my son, Jo came up with a more positive way to deal with bullies:

“Being the eldest of 10, and having worked with kids a lot (not having any–by choice) I would like to suggest something. It may not feel like the right thing to do but I’ll bet it just might work. Taking a batch of cupcakes out to the basketball court some afternoon with your little ones may put a period at the end of the sentence…. Part of the issue is the not knowing when it will happen again—and in Trevor’s case–looking good to his buddies. So many kids these days don’t have enough supervision, attention, love –whatever. When a group of kids come together over “goodies” and sit around enjoying them, they can begin to shift the focus. If nothing else, all of the other kids will see your attempt and appreciate it. Your two will have a community of support and I’ll bet Trevor will be among them. I think you might have his respect and your children will see that by taking the high road it just feels better.
I don’t suggest this will work in every case–but I have a feeling….

It seems such a grandmotherly thing to say “you can catch more flies with honey”. But it’s true. The kid at camp? He smiled a lot more after our talk than he had the first part of the week. And the trouble ceased. I grew to understand him more, knowing where he came from, than I had when I just saw him as a bad kid. I was able to act differently toward him, with actual care. And he, in turn, would respond much more kindly. And my daughter’s classmate responded in much of the same way. But can every bully situation be handled so kindly? It’s hard to say. When it’s your own child at the hands of an angry kid, how can you remove yourself? There are so many different levels of bullying, and some of it is more than painful.  And there are times when more serious action needs to be taken.  But in every situation, whether big or small, the problem needs to be tackled somehow positively, whether by a parent, a teacher, an officer – anyone who can – so that the human inside is reached, and the bully is conquered.

Inked

My mother called me over the weekend before the clock even hit 9 am.

“Are you at home right now?” she asked.

“I am.”

“What time are you going to take the kids over to their dad’s house?” she asked.

“Around 2,” I told her.

“Oh. That’s too late. Nevermind.”

She was being awfully cryptic, which of course got my curiosity up.

“Why? What’s going on?”

“Well…..” She asked me if I remembered the Ninja Star that the Taz had been coloring at her house. Of course I remembered. He had colored it pure black and told me how all he had to do was throw it and it would whip through the air slicing anything in its way. I suggested that he not throw it in the kitchen, at least.

“I remember. Why?” I asked her.

“Well, apparently he was coloring it in my living room…”

Crap.

“Where?” I asked her, almost afraid for her to continue.

“On my couch. With permanent black ink.”

“We’ll be right over,” I told her. I was still wearing my robe and slippers. I hadn’t brushed my hair or teeth yet that morning. I looked pretty scary as I marched outside to go find the Taz. He was not out at the basketball courts in our complex like he said he was going to be, and his friends who were already playing out there said they hadn’t seen him yet. So I tried my luck over at one of his friend’s house. The Taz opened the door.

“You’re coming home. And you’re in trouble,” I told him, not even beating around the bush.

“Mom, I tried to call you to tell you I was at Todd’s house!” he protested.

“That’s not why you’re in trouble.” He followed me home, asking me over and over what he did.

“But it wasn’t me!” he said, once I told him of his crime. I saw red. I laid into him as we walked home, fully aware that the neighbors were probably hearing every single word I was saying to my son. I didn’t care. Now I was not only furious about the ruined Ethan Allen couch that sat in my parents’ living room, I was furious that he had the audacity to LIE to me. The next door neighbor sat on her front porch, smiling and waving at me as we walked up the walkway. Without breaking my tirade against my son, I smiled and waved at her. It was only seconds later when I realized how ridiculous I must have looked as I lectured my son and still kept up appearances, somewhat, to the neighbor – all while still sporting my robe, fuzzy slippers, and wild hair.

We got dressed and went over to my parents’ house. My son sat miserably in the back seat, occasionally letting out a sniffle. If there was anything scarier than his mom (and lately, I think I’ve lost the scariness factor…), it was his grandparents.

“They’re going to kill me,” he sobbed, finally admitting fault about the marked up couch.

“You’re right,” I told him. “And this time, don’t even look to me to protect you. You’re on your own, buddy.” It brought back memories of the golf ball through the window. I had felt it my duty to take the brunt of the punishment of my father’s anger before it was passed down to him. But this time? No. It was all on the Taz.

We got to my parents’ house, and my dad greeted us with a smile, obviously trying to lighten the situation. My son slunk out of the car and faced my dad, much like walking the long pathway to his executioner. My dad led him into the house and called my mom. Together they went over the various things that the Taz had done just this past week. He had left the gate open so that the horse was able to get out and potentially stomp all over my dad’s newly landscaped backyard. He had missed the toilet and peed all over the floor. And now my mom’s couch held numerous black marks that might never come out.

It came time to talk about correcting this situation. My parents looked to me, the hopelessness in their eyes. They had been growing increasingly frustrated over the past year as the Taz messed up at their house. He had been eating their leftovers planned for dinner after school. He had been eating food in the living room. The house was growing messier and messier because he wasn’t picking things up. He was going to his friends’ houses and not coming back when he was supposed to.

“Maybe he needs to go back to daycare,” my mom said. “I’ll even pay for it if I need to.”

“No, Mom,” I said. I couldn’t let him go back to daycare. His teachers there had been wonderful. But the Taz was a handful there too. I was constantly being called in because of something the Taz had done – breaking the pencil sharpener, experimenting with potty language, not following direction, doing gymnastics during circle time… With a bunch of kids as his audience, the Taz’s behavior would only get worse. “But he can’t come over here anymore. I’m probably just going to have to take him to work with me and let him sit and be bored for the last 2 hours,” I said. It was the only option. At my parents’ house, he had too much unsupervised time. My dad was there, but he was working. And the Taz’s ideas for self-entertaining were just not working. I turned to the Taz.

“And your Xbox is gone, again.” He shrugged his shoulders.

“That’s ok. At least I have my friends,” he said. Seriously? I mean, seriously? The kid was under scrutiny right now, and actually had the audacity to brush off his punishment?

“Well, they’re gone too. Is there anything else you’d like to mention that ‘at least you have’?” I asked him, daring him to speak.

“I’m thinking…” he said. I think smoke may have been coming out of my ears at this point. “Nah, I have nothing.”

“Taz, aren’t you tired of getting your things taken away from you?” my mom asked.

“Well, I’m kind of used to it,” he said. “I get my things taken away from me all the time.”

And it’s true. The Taz screws up. And then he opens his mouth and denies it. And then we argue about it while he shifts the blame on everything and everyone around him. And by the end I am so mad that I have taken away his video games first, then his friends, and then, if he continues, anything else that is within eyesight that he cares about. He’ll then be on his best behavior for a couple weeks or so until he has earned everything back. And then, the cycle starts up again. It’s never ending.

It reminds me of my childhood. When I was a teenager, I was a punk, straight up. And because I symbolically stuck my middle finger up at my parents by blatantly disrespecting them in all things I did, I constantly had things taken away from me. First to go was always the car. Then it was time taken from being with my friends or my boyfriend. Phone use was taken away, as was my stereo. Little by little, all my belongings were taken out of my room and stashed away until I had learned to talk a little more respectfully and had done my time for whatever infraction I had committed. Thing is, I got in trouble so much that I stopped caring, and pretty much acted like I could do what I want. If my parents took the car away, and everything that came after that, it stopped phasing me. And it definitely didn’t improve my attitude.

And now, I am having this same battle with my 9 year old son, struggling to reach him as he makes himself unreachable. And if he is acting like this now, what is it going to look like when he is a teenager? If he has a constant need to break rules as if he’s forgotten them, lie and blameshift when he gets caught, backtalk when the conversation isn’t going his way, and then get in a power struggle with me as I try to correct the situation and he acts like he doesn’t care, how horrendous will it be several years from now?

I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried talking to him, getting down to his level and allowing both of us to talk about our feelings in this situation. I’ve tried the silent treatment, limiting my conversations with him to one or two words, telling him I cannot speak with him until I have cooled down considerably (and sometimes taking days because it has set me over the limit). And of course, I’ve been mainly resorting to taking away his possessions.

Nothing’s working.

The only answer I have left is constant supervision. Obviously I have to be the Taz’s shadow. If it’s attention he wants, well, he’s going to get it. When he isn’t in school, he will be at my side. Truth is, he does better when he is under my thumb. So I will be taking the extra measures to make sure that this is what happens. I might be losing my freedom in a big way, but the behavior issues need to be addressed and put to a halt before they get any worse.

I’m not going to lie, though. This bites. Totally open for suggestions…

Is it ok to discipline other people's children?

It’s important for our kids to have friends. At a technical level, having friends teaches our kids their first lessons of interaction and socializing. But mainly, it feels good to have friends. Their first friends are usually their parents’ friends’ babies – and dubbed their first boyfriend or girlfriend. They are friends with their brothers and sisters, their cousins, and whichever small child is brought along for a playdate so that the adults can get in some coffee and chat time. But it isn’t until they hit preschool that they get to choose their own friends. And this is when your child will be drawn to other children without someone else telling them they have to be friends and play nicely with each other. For the first time in their life, they get to like someone because, well, they like them.

We want our kids to have friends. Many of us will go out of our way to open up our home for playdates, or to organize birthday parties for our children’s friends to attend. We will learn the names of our children’s friends’ parents, and suddenly the shoe is on the other foot – our children are choosing our friends for us. But it’s welcomed, an easy way to meet new people and also stay involved in our children’s lives as they near that road of independence.

But sometimes friends aren’t welcome. Little Timmy comes over to play with your son, and lets himself into your home as soon as you open the door. And even though he came over to play with your son, suddenly your child is playing by himself in the living room while Timmy rifles through his things upstairs. He invites himself on your family outings. He opens your refrigerator to see what you have to eat. Maybe he lies repeatedly. Maybe he makes a mess of your home and then leaves before cleaning it up. He might use language that doesn’t fly in your home. He might be a hitter, or a biter, or use some other form of brutality to get his way. He might even steal your child’s belongings, maybe even yours. Whatever he’s doing wrong, the kid gets under your skin. Little Timmy has no sense of boundaries whatsoever, fails to follow the house rules even though you have reminded him of them repeatedly, and you have noticed that your child’s behavior has gone downhill dramatically ever since Timmy made his first appearance. And yet your child insists he wants to be friends with him.

So what do you do?

Do you do nothing, since this isn’t your child and have no place telling him what to do? Do you hope that maybe the positive energy of your home will have some effect on this troubled child? Do you discipline the child, coming down harsher than the gentle reminders about how the household works? If spanking is a part of your own family’s discipline, do you spank your child’s friend if they cross the limits?  Or would you give them a time-out, or any other form of punishment?  Do you go to his parents and talk to them about Timmy’s behavior? Do you forbid your child from playing with Timmy?  How far is acceptable when it comes to other people’s children?

Guiding our Children Positively

Call it sassiness, adolescence, or plain old Back to School backtalk, but my 8 year old is suffering from it. And this means that our whole household is suffering from it. Last night was a prime example. We’ve been working on implementing the rules for a successful back to school schedule: packing up the backpack the night before, preparing most of the lunches, and being dressed for bed before bedtime so that a little bit of downtime is allowed. But each direction I gave was met with a complaint, a whine, a cry, or a “You’ve got to be kidding me!” The last straw was when he had to get a lunchbag down to put his lunch in. Upon trying to reach the top shelf and failing, he uttered, “Are you trying to humiliate me?!?”

Kids.

He claimed I didn’t care about him. To that I told him that I felt he didn’t care about me. It all went downhill from there. Argument after argument ensued until finally it was all done. By the time it was finished, it was bedtime. There would be no time for downtime. And he had a fit over it. I was exhausted, he was angry, it was all a bad combination. I put both kids to bed with a hug and kiss, though it wasn’t as endearing as usual. Upon closing the door, he called out, “I love you!” I said it back, and went back downstairs with feelings of guilt over how the night had played out.

The best way to guide a child is with love. Not with yelling, not with frustration, not with anything but love. They respond to it, things go more smoothly, and real lessons are taught that they soak up and remember. A hug telling them that you understand how hard things are with so many new responsibilities. Helping them when they get so overwhelmed they can’t see straight. Encouragement that they can accomplish anything. Telling them how proud you are of them when they succeed.

I got caught up in the moment. I did not do any of that. I was so frustrated I couldn’t get past the stress I was feeling over the frustration of the night. I failed to stop and think about the stress my 8 year old son was feeling, and how he really could have used an encouraging word. As the adult, it was much easier for me to turn the situation around than it was for him.

In times of stress, stop and take a deep breath. Pause before you say anything. Ask yourself, what am I teaching my child with this behavior. And then implement the kind of behavior you want mirrored back to you. Yelling never creates peace. As parents, it is our job to control the environment in our households. It’s not easy, it never is. And as humans, we’ll slip up time and again. But if we work at it, we can create more peaceful households, which can have the potential to create a more peaceful world.

Teenage Angst

I was an awful teen. I can say that now that I’m in my 30’s, because I sure didn’t think so then. I thought my parents were idiots, completely clueless about anything in life. I was sassy (to put it nicely) and sullen. I would lock myself in my room all day long just to be on my own. And if they tried to ask me anything, it would most likely be met with a roll of the eyes. The rules they infringed on me were ridiculous. The expectations they had were ludicrous. There was nothing worse than doing things as a family. I’d save myself by plugging into my walkman and zoning out. In my defense, I wouldn’t say I was any different than any other teen. I had two sisters who were just as cheeky as me when I was a teen, but I was just louder about it. So I was always the one who got in trouble.

The result to my difficult teenage years was a rift in my relationship with my dad. He couldn’t relate with me, which made me unable to relate with him. Any conversation between us usually ended up with slammed doors or strong words. He had high expectations of me. I just wanted him to leave me alone. I think the hardest part to all of this was the fact that we had actually been really close before everything changed. To suddenly find ourselves in this canyon was shocking to both of us. I hurt on the inside (though I never let him know) because he was so disappointed in me. His approval meant everything. And because he didn’t approve of this cranky teenager I was becoming, I went out of my way to be worse. I acted like I didn’t care at all. I figured that by “not caring”, I wouldn’t hurt as much. I think I have a clear understanding that he was hurt too.

There was one thing, though, that brought us close together – coffee in the morning. We had a ritual. Every morning he woke up super early to get to work, but would start out with a cup of coffee in the morning over the newspaper. I would wake up early as well to get a cup of Joe. And together we would sip coffee, even occasionally sharing stories in the paper. In those few moments before the rest of the house woke up, it was like time had reversed. There was no rift. Occasionally there was even a mutual truce put up as we talked about the hard stuff. It was when we connected.

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday. Our family all sat around the table at Olive Garden in Rohnert Park, celebrating my dad’s 60+ years. It was amazing to see how full circle we’ve come in our own relationship. My dad is the man that I look to when I think of how a man should be. He’s a great dad, and an even better grandpa. He’s been my kids’ role model and father figure, as he was mine all along.

The reason I write this is because I know there are a lot of parents of teenagers out there that are at their wit’s end with children who have suddenly become something they don’t recognize anymore. It will pass, I promise. Someday you will be able to sit with your child, and know that they are your friend. And that might be hard to see right now. So find the one thing that you DO have in common, and hold on to it. For my dad and me, it was morning coffee. For you it might be something totally different. Whatever it is, let them meet you. If that one small thing is the only thing holding the two of you together for the next few years, so be it. They want you to care. They want you to listen. And they want you to be the constant in their lives. But they just can’t say it. At least not yet.