Category: Connected

Transitions, Undone

Spring is always a whirlwind for families. It’s already late summer and getting closer to the fall ritual of kids returning to school.

This year our second son graduated high school and we are just weeks away from him leaving for college. He’s ready. I think I am.

But something feels like it has been left undone over these past few months of transition.

What am I going to do? Part of me wants to hold him tight, engage deeply, soak up each last moment.

His summer plans have taken him overseas, and my summer plans have involved travel and home repairs and medical appointments.

I stay in touch with him via messenger. I follow his friends who post pics on Instagram. I try to do the bits and pieces of college paperwork that remain.

But it is so little. So distant. So electronic.

No real hugs. No making coffee for him and talking about both the minutiae of our days and the big plans we have.

What I can do is pray. I trust our sovereign God. I trust that this is His timing for T—— to take the next step.

I remember my mom telling me years ago that the most important work of parenting is done on our knees. I believe this is true. Sometimes I even act like I believe it is true.

The best book I’ve read on parenting is The Praying Life, by Paul Miller  (aff). It has nothing in it about child development or connecting with your teens. Instead, he writes of the importance of prayer and how to make praying a practical part of our parenting.

I struggle with this. I struggle with transitions in life.

I am trusting God to keep us connected.

5 Ways Parents Can Help Teens Sleep

As parents, we often suffer under the delusion that we have more control over our kids’ lives–and sleep–than we actually do.

Just ask any mother of a sleep-resistant infant who has tried every trick in the book.  Can you make that baby sleep?  Nope.  You can do a lot to help foster sleepiness and good sleep habits, but you can’t actually make that little one close her eyes and sleep.

Similarly, we can’t actually make our teens sleep.  And the reality is I would rather have my teens learn responsibility and self-regulation, than control their sleep myself.

So, what CAN a parent do to help teenagers get close to getting enough sleep?

 

1. Model good sleep hygiene.

We all know that “more is caught than taught” — and this is true of sleep patterns as well.

I live barefoot and in sandals. Every night I use a baby wipe to clean my feet before getting in bed. My toddler pulls out a baby wipe and cleans her little piggies, too.  It’s adorable, and I’m sure you remember your toddlers copying everything you did. It may not be as apparent, but our teens are also copying what we do.  The rhythms of their lives they have picked up from watching us.

I’ll be honest, I’ve had to work on my own sleep habits and it hasn’t been easy.  Making the  bedroom a peaceful place, a consistent bedtime and wak-up  time, daytime exercise, turning off electronica early in the evening, letting go of stress, and having a regular evening routine… These are the good sleep habits we want our teens to practice and we need to start by modeling them.

How is your sleep hygiene? Do you have a before bed routine, or do you stay up as late as you possibly can and sleep in as late as possible on weekends? Our teens are taking their cues on sleep from us.

 

2. Regulate light

Melatonin, the hormone linked to the sleep regulation, seems to be controlled by the exposure to natural light. Bright light in the morning helps us wake up, and dim lights at night trigger the production of melatonin to help us get good sleep.

In the morning, we can open blinds and turn on lights throughout the house. We can dim the lights when the sun goes down, and maybe even light candles. Exposure to the blue light from screens seems to suppress melatonin. This is tricky when it comes to teens, who often have to do homework on the computer at night or are still engaged socially with friends.

We want to help our teens take ownership of their own sleep cycles and school responsibilities, and so in our family we  don’t “make” them get off their computers at a certain time. However, we model making sure we aren’t using devices about a half hour before bed and encourage them to do the same.

We’ve found some tech helps useful as well.  We’ve installed and encouraged our teens to use f.lux software, which automatically changes a computer/phone screen to be less bright and more warm as it gets later.

At an agreed upon time in the evening, our internet is programmed to go off (through Covenant Eyes–affiliate link). We’ve worked to get buy-in from the teens, rather than made a unilateral decision about this.

 

3. Create a Calm Atmosphere in Our Homes

Make your bedroom a sleep haven, the experts say. Reality in my family? The teens’ rooms are often messy and not the “sleep haven” I would envision. I’m not going to go in and take over. But I do try to make sure they have sheets, blankets and pillows they find comfortable — and you know, everyone is different with that.

While they are responsible for the upkeep of their rooms, without invading their space, I’ll change the sheets, grab dirty clothes, empty the trash from time to time. Not to invade their space, but help them stay on top of it. Again, this is where modeling comes in. My bedroom is not a “sleep haven” either, yet. But we’re working on it.

As parents, we can do more in the public areas of our home.  We turn the thermostat cooler at night.  What about making an evening routine of dimming the lights, lighting candles, putting on calming music?

Teens and parents need evening routines almost as much as toddlers and preschoolers. But our routines are no longer bath and bedtime story.  What might it look like for you and your teens? Making herbal tea? Asking about their day? It’s amazing how hearts often open up when the lights go down.

 

4. Create a Calm Atmosphere in our Relationships

Stress and the stress hormone cortisol work against us going to sleep. And the resulting lack of sleep leads to increased cortisol production. It’s a perverse cycle that works against our teens getting the sleep they really need.

Many teens feel intense pressure to perform — in sports, in school, and in peer relationships. While we can not take away all the stresses in their lives, we can work to create calm in our relationships with them.

Conveying our unconditional love and acceptance to our children can help alleviate the anxiety to perform, especially in the areas of academics and sports. It’s tricky to communicate confidence in their abilities through high expectations, without implying pressure to perform.

Even though we dearly love our teens, the reality is our relationships will have conflict.  That is part of life and close relationships.

Yet we can have control (sometimes!) over the timing of conflict, and to the best of our abilities, we can avoid conflict and adding stress to our teens in the evening.

I try not to have conflict with the kids in the evening.

In the “pick your moment” life hack, Gretchen Rubin recommends waiting for the right time to address something that may be particularly challenging. This is great for parenting teens. They aren’t toddlers who will forget if not corrected right away.
My coaching on the right way to clean the kitchen doesn’t have to happen after dinner.  That’s when it bothers me and when I want to deal with it — but it could easily trigger conflict and a cortisol dump, and doesn’t need to be addressed then.   I can wait for a time when they are receptive to hearing, we are both feeling positive, and not dump a bunch of stress on them when they are supposed to be winding down for sleep.

 

5. Understand Your Teen and His Sleep

Experts estimate that teens need 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night. Is your teen getting that? Mine aren’t.  Even though I understand my teen’s NEED for sleep, beyond that I need to understand my teen.

Lack of sufficient sleep snowballs in to a whole host of issues.  But the big one in our home?

Tired teens and parents are cranky.  Irritable.  Irrational.   It’s true for me when I don’t get enough sleep, and it’s true for my teens.

This is where the power of understanding comes in. . .  When we understand these external factors and internal issues, we are empowered to act and not react.   Understanding the pressures they are under to stay up and get schoolwork done helps us encourage them. Understanding when they snap at us with an attitude when first waking up, helps us overlook the offense and not take it personally.

Ultimately, the power of understanding helps me “bear with one another in love,” and show that love in patient ways to my teens. And if I can’t give my teens the sleep they need, at the least I can give them understanding and love.

Time is Short / Teens and Connection

It’s February.

 
In June my second son will be moving the tassel, graduating from high school.

 
It’s a little different this time. My first son finished high school as a home school student, with minimal fanfare. The school my kids are attending now has all the pomp and circumstance they can muster up for a high school graduation.
 

Not only is our time before he leaves limited, but even our time together now is scarce.

 
My son is waiting to hear whether he was accepted by his dream schools — and whether they offer a financial aid package to make those dreams a reality. But my reality is that very soon he’ll be going off to college and our family dynamics will be changing again.

 
Our time with him under our roof is short.

 
How many Sundays do we have left, our family filling a whole pew as we worship together?

 
How many family dinners? How many more Taco Tuesdays?

 

Not only is our time before he leaves limited, but even our time together now is scarce. School demands a lot from him. College and scholarship applications demand the energy he isn’t giving to school.

 

Time is scarce, and it is also precious.

And the logistics of life are demanding a lot from me — especially with other kids at home, including a precocious preschooler and toddler who never sits still! Living overseas seems to double the time routine errands take. Time is scarce.

 
Time is scarce, and it is also precious. This is a unique season in our son’s life. He’s making decisions. He’s seeking our guidance. Our relationship has been shifting over the years, and we are his trusted advisers. Yes, we are his parents — but he is also growing in his independence.

 
For our family, the pace of change seems to be snowballing.

Nobody mentioned when I was having babies in quick succession is that they would be flying the nest in quick succession.

 
One thing nobody mentioned when I was having babies in quick succession is that they would be flying the nest in quick succession as well. People always reminded me, “Oh, the time when they are little goes so fast.” But they never told me that just as much as my hands were full with toddlers and preschoolers, my heart would be full but my nest emptying as they became adults.

 
We have sons graduating this year, next year, and the following. Soon we’ll have four kids in college and graduate school.

 
So many of you are in the same season of life — but perhaps not multiplied by as many teens as we have. Whether you have one teen at home or several, we are in this together. This is our one and only chance at these years.

 

Whether you have one teen at home or several, we are in this together. This is our one and only chance at these years.

Your other children may have already flown the nest — or maybe the next ones are barely verging on the tween years. Are feeling the same tension I am feeling? Are you feeling that urge to connect/reconnect with your teen during this time of transition?

 
We can’t turn back the clock. As much as I treasure my memories of when the teens were younger, I really don’t want to return to those years. Yet I feel the intensity of the time now — how am I going to find the energy, how am I going to make the time to really connect with my teen?

 
Toddlers and preschoolers are easy. Well, maybe not easy — but I know how to mother and nurture that age. I’m on a new journey now, really focusing on being connected with my teens.

 
The time is short, and connection is vital. I believe we can make these the best years of parenting yet. We can resolve connect as we journey towards letting go.

Arrows, Soaring

When the boys were younger, they had plastic toy bows and arrows. I remember playing with the boys, and shooting arrows with them.

I draw back the arrow, the bow bends — and I’m worried that I’m going to break the plastic bow if I pull too hard. The string is taut and tense and for a moment before I release the arrow.

I’m living in that moment now, feeling the pulling tension between the bow and string.

We’re on the verge of great action, energy, loosening, flying, soaring, aiming towards a goal. . . Pulling back and taking aim. Drawing firmly, but not too hard with this plastic toy bow. The bow is stressed.

In this analogy, it only seems proper that the young adults are the arrows getting ready to soar.

But where does that leave me? Am I the bow? The string? The archer? I’m not sure.

Things are taut. There is tension. Everyone in our family feels it. We are all living through this time of stretching and expectation.

I want to be in this together. Connected. Not working at odds with one another, but pulling together. Aimed at the same target. On the same team.

We’re working on that.

Being connected, while preparing to release.

CONNECTION, noun [Latin See Connect.] The act of joining or state of being joined; a state of being knit or fastened together; union by junction, by an intervening substance or medium, by dependence or relation, or by order in a series; a word of very general import. There is a connection of links in a chain; a connection between all parts of the human body; a connection between virtue and happiness, and between this life and the future; a connection between parent and child, master and servant, husband and wife; between motives and actions, and between actions and their consequences. In short, the word is applicable to almost every thing that has a dependence on or relation to another thing.

Webster’s Dictionary, 1828