Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blank Slate

Tonight was our third Parents' Book Club meeting at the high school. The Club was conceived in part from a sense that as our children grow, we have fewer opportunities and forums for sharing the triumphs and travails of parenting, despite having just as many questions about whether or not we're doing it right.

As a parent of young children, my husband and I have numerous occasions to touch base with other parents: at school drop-off and pick-up, at the playground, at sports games and birthday parties, and in front yards in our neighborhood as our kiddoes zoom around on scooters and Big Wheels. We also still feel some license to discuss our children's habits and peculiarities; we've bonded over the vagaries of poop, pee, and vomit.

But at some point it won't be cool for us moms to talk about our kids and how and when they go to the bathroom. As our children grow into independence, boundaries between adult and child grow more distinct. Trust and respect between us and our children will be predicated upon appreciating their needs for privacy.

But we can't parent in a vacuum; we will still need our village. We will still need reassurance that we're not completely crazy, unreasonable, and unfit parents. We need comfort in knowing that our peers will supervise our children in their care--not so much so they won't run in the street or use the sharp scissors, more so they don't raid the liquor cabinet or initiate a game of strip poker. We will still need strategies, insights, and warning signs.

Parents' Book Club seemed like a non-threatening way to bring parents together to provide one another with listening ears and support. So far this year we've read Michael Riera's Staying Connected to Your Teenager, Kindlon and Thompson's Raising Cain and Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabes, and Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers, by Chap Clark.

Our discussion this evening was on Clark's book, a sort of anthropological look at adolescents. Feeling like I take an anthropological look at teens on a daily basis, the book held few surprises but confirmed much of what I've learned over the years, particularly in my role as vice principal. And one major conclusion I've drawn (true, arguably, for kids any age) is that teenagers want adults to demonstrate genuine interest in who they are as individuals, and they want to be taken seriously.

Four years ago Vanity Fair magazine sponsored an essay contest on the topic, "What is on the Minds of Youth Today?" Feeling fairly qualified to expound on the subject, I submitted an entry. My thesis was, essentially, we should ask the kids what's on their minds; we spend too much time and money (marketing to teens) making assumptions about their thoughts and concerns.

I didn't win, darn it, but as consolation I humbly published my own essay in newsletter/journal of which I am co-editor, ha ha. You can read my essay here in The Dialogue, the publication associated with the San Diego Area Writing Project (educators' professional development organization).

I haven't officially parented any teens yet, and I've struggled mightily enough with my own five-and-unders. So I will continue to seek all the help, advice, and support I can get as my children grow.

It is impossible to quantify how grateful I am every day for my "village."

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