Driving Lessons

Driving LessonsThis right of passage – giving driving lessons to a teenaged child – is not one faced by single (only) parents – but it’s been a unique challenge for me as an only parent to conquer, I think largely because it involves facing the fact that I have to give up some control.

Thinking back, I can remember the year from when I turned 16 (when you can get a learner’s permit) to when I turned 17 (when you can get your license) as a long year.  I remember doing the math and realizing although it seemed like it took forever to reach 16 (and 17) eventually I would be driving for more years in my life that I wasn’t.

So, I focused on learning to drive – both with my mom’s help and driving lessons and working for just about anyone who would pay me – so I could get a car the day I got my license.  For me, a car was freedom – the same way my bicycle was freedom when I was 10.

Now teaching 16.0 to drive is a whole new experience.

While I like to think I’m not a control freak, keeping things under control is important to me.  There is a definite sense of loss of control when you turn your 16-year old loose (even when you’re in the passenger’s seat and she’s in a parking lot) with your hard-earned automobile.

While I expect her to take a full driver’s ed course over the winter into the spring ahead of her June birthday – I’m trying to teach her how to be situationally smart while driving.  How to make decisions, and not what decisions to make (the model I’ve used for the last 6 years).

But now it’s hard to try to let her make decisions and sit there quietly while our safety (and my car) is on the line.

Slowly we’re getting there.  We’ve been out of parking lots a little and working on practical driving stuff (I’ll leave the technical teaching to the professionals).  And I’m slowly learning my driving lessons while I teach driving lessons to my daughter.

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Snap Decisions

Snap DecisionsThis morning I was playing back a conversation I had with 16.0 last night and it finally crystalized for me – the toughest part (so far) about being a parent to teen-aged daughters is the snap decisions that have to be made.  The moments I’m talking about are when you’re in the car or eating dinner and a subject comes up – and you’d like to say give me a few hours, but the verdict needs to be rendered now.  A snap decisions, and then you have to live with the consequence.

It’s not a new subject to struggle with. I found this from 2011 about snap decisions.  Although this context was much different I think the key is consistency.  The decisions that are a bigger struggle are the ones that fall outside of the flow of the day-to-day.

The most recent use case was 16.0 wanting to go to a party with some of her co-workers.  She got into the car a little after 7 and wanted to know if she could go.  Honestly, I was not thrilled with her going – not because I don’t want her to have friends at work but because this was with some of the older people she works with, who are in this country to work for the summer and living at a hotel a few towns away.  So, knowing all of this I held my breath and told her yes – and she knew she would have to figure out how to get back and forth to the party.  (I dodged the bullet when she couldn’t get a ride).

In thinking about this a little more – I realized a snap decision – positive or negative is actually easier in an only parent household.  There is no good cop/bad cop bit to fall back on, and no worry that the script won’t play forward.

So now I kind of like those moments when I get time to think about something and make a decision.  That’s not to say it’s still not a chance to agonize – just that agony can be dragged out before I’ve made a decision – as opposed to agonizing after another snap decision.

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Surviving Travel With Teens and Tweens

ski tripAs the annual winter break comes to an end for the girls, and we get ready to get back on schedule and do the long stretch (relatively long stretch) to the spring break – I look back at how surviving travel with teens and tweens this week.

There were five days off from school (Monday to Friday), add two weekends and it’s nine straight days off.  We spend three night’s in hotels in two cities and five days on the road.  This is not the first time I’ve traveled with my girls, but I realized during our ski trip to Lake Placid there are things I do in the name of surviving travel withe teens and tweens.

Normally, I don’t do lists and top fives etc, but if you are a single dad, traveling with girls in the teen and tween years – I feel your pain.  So, here is the official Dad the Single Guy survival guide:

  1. It goes almost without say, but bring your patience.  Just because you are on the road doesn’t change anything.  Chances are as far as your kids are concerned you are still wrong.
  2. I’m not ready (financially or practically) to give the girls their own hotel room.  So get two keys and set expectations.  Respect privacy as best as possible and try to stay above the sibling fray.
  3. Make as many decisions as possible. Don’t open everything from timing of events to meal choices up to a debate.  It will only give you the chance to be a referee and you’ll never enjoy your time away.
  4. When you decide to cede a decision be ready to support several choices. Try to allow creative decision-making.  For breakfast before skiing I sent the girls into a store and told them to make a choice, knowing what the options were there were no bad choices, and they did not have to choose the same thing (although they did).
  5. These kids are from the digital era, headphones go in and phones are always present. It’s not a slight, its part of life today.  Accept it, and when you need attention ask them to disconnect.  We have a rule in the house, if you are not making money with you phone there is no texting during meals.  I enforce it equally.
  6. Share as much time as you can.  Remember this is still a family vacation, treat it as such and share the time and experiences.
  7. Teens and tweens are very different.  Where you can allow for those differences and respect them.  Let the teen be a teen while allowing the tween her space as well.
  8. Set expectations and keep your goals in reason.  It’s their vacation too, let them relax and feel like they are getting away too.
  9. Pay attention to what they pack.  We were in Lake Placid and neither of my girls had the right boots to walk through snow and slush.  And we had one emergency trip to a Rite Aid for a forgotten item.
  10. Expect help.  Don’t play servant.  My kids have chores at home, on the road they have responsibilities to make sure we all enjoy.

I have no idea if the above works with boys, and no thoughts on if having two parents present makes a difference (my guess is probably not).

And remember, these are official for Dad the Single Guy only – your results may differ.  It would kind of interesting to find out how you go about surviving travel with teens and tweens.

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Right or Wrong It’s a Fine Line

Style Sheets MasterThis morning after doing my usual trip to the fruit stand and butcher I was putting stuff away and 11.0 asked me for pancakes.  Not an unusual start to a weekend morning.  Then I realized no one managed to empty the dishwasher in three days.  Annoyance.  Then I went looking for a pan and it was not where I keep it.  More annoyance.  Then I pulled a mixing bowl out of the closet and it was greasy.  Over the edge.  Right or wrong it’s a fine line and I went off.

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I felt bad while exploding.  Yelling at no one, but 11.0 taking the wrath for her sister and our sitter.  Looking back it was a human moment, but one I wish I could take back.  I can’t.  More annoyance.

I apologized to 11.0 and she said she understood.  I’ll talk to her sister and the sitter as well, they won’t get the theatrics though, as I’ve managed to navigate that line.  But there will be another one just around the corner.  I’ll judge myself based on how I handle it.

On the other side of the coin was the random conversation I had with a friend tonight.  He’s going through a tough time, and based on my experience, I can share some insights and offer some practical insights into the way life ebbs and flows.

But even that presents the same conundrum: right or wrong it’s a fine line when offering advice.  As I’ve learned most situations are unique, defined by the people, places and events.  I can share my experiences and thought process-but I am always reluctant to offer it up as advice.  It’s a fine line to walk, and the yardstick is alway looking back at me in the mirror when I shave in the morning.

I showed some emotion this morning, I’m not sure why.  It can’t be about a misplaced pan can it?  And I offered some thoughts and insights tonight-I hope I was helpful to my friend.

In between, 11.0’s softball team won their fall league, 13.5 finished her homework, we shared a nice family dinner, went to the supermarket as a family and mostly had a nice quiet Sunday.

Life is filled with fine lines, right and wrong are tough barriers to entry.

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I Can Parent My Way Out of That

Somewhat accidentally, in context of a conversation with a friend last weekend I came up with a new way to express my thoughts on parenting:  I can parent my way out of that.

The context in this case was a discussion about television shows and the current crop of faces for 11.0 and 8.5.  Some of them are questionable (although 11.0 did surprised me by getting a Van Gough reference in “The Family Guy” Sunday night).  I kind of let Sunday night on Fox fly in my house-it’s full on Simpsons, Cleveland Guy and Family Guy.

Some of the references are a bit over the top-70’s TV shows I watched growing up, clearly adult context and even some maybe PG-17 language (or at least close to it).

But I’d like to think I can do a good enough job as a parent to “parent my way out” of the negative impact those shows could have.  I do at times tell them they can’t watch some shows-but it’s rare.  I’d rather they watch the shows with me  and give me a chance to explain context or find out what they understand or not.  Because if what they watch has a bigger influence on them than I do, I’ve done something very wrong.

And this use case extend beyond TV.  It includes music, books, friends and other “influencers.”  It’s a little bit about the concept of blanket denials making those things more appealing.

It’s also about managing the list of “No’s.”

No one wants to be in a world of “no.”  The constant battle of, “No, you can’t do this, no you can’t do that” is not a great way to thrive and survive.  Maybe it’s rationing my no’s or perhaps it’s being selective-I’d like to think though it’s just good parenting.

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About Regrets, In Real Time, I Have A Few

It should not be this tough, right?One of the keys to parenting-at least I think-is the willingness to make snap decisions, and then stick with them, even if the outcome is not right.  It’s that snap decision, coddle, challenge, help, or let them learn on their own.  I think all of the strategies have a place, and often its a snap decision as to which you will use in a given situation.

Being consistent, and standing pat are important-because you don’t want to challenge your child and then back down from the challenge (especially if its something you know they can do).  A simple case in point was last week during one of 10.5’s softball games.  The team they were playing put in a second pitcher, who was throwing heat-easily high 30’s to low 40’s but the girl had no control (she hit two batters).  10.5 was visibly worried about stepping into the batter’s box.  A moment to do some quick coddling, make her feel good to get in there.

Yesterday, with 8.5 was a different situation.  In trying to get control of her allergies, I’ve been giving her fairly large capsules to swallow each morning.  Three straight days she’s been able to swallow it-with a few tries and words of encouragement.  For some reason yesterday she was unwilling to even try.  A split second decision-as I pointed out a few weeks ago, in a two-parent household the old divide an conquer would work perfectly but I don’t get that option.  So I went with challenge.

15 tear filled minutes later, I had her throw away the capsule and go upstairs.  She won’t be trying that anytime soon.  I’m not sure if my strategy was wrong.  During the 15 minutes, I went blog surfing looking for suggestions, and basically as far as the blogosphere was concerned I was doing the right thing.  But none of those folks were here with a teary eyed child not able to swallow a capsule.

But I decided I was right, and I will hold that line-and offer other solutions.  The capsules will wait for another day, another time and we’ll try again.  For now, I think I have to let my decision heal.

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Cause and Effect: Sometimes it Just Is

One of the toughest challenges I face right now as a single parent is trying to figure out which behavior exhibited by either of my girls is “normal”and which is a result of what they have seen and lived through over the last 2-3 years.  And within that is a gamut of feelings and decisions that often have to be made quickly and with a best guess.

A reason for everything

When one falls, so go the rest

Case 1: 8.0 has been disorganized and unfocused lately both at home and at school.  Her room is an embarrassing mess (almost to the point where I won’t send the bi-weekly cleaning lady in any longer).  At school I get notes and emails from the teacher asking if anything is wrong.

In therapy both at home and at school, the indication is its not related to anything emotional.  Yet, I can’t help but wonder.

Case 2: 10.5 has developed a near-hair trigger temper.  She goes from calm to hitting and yelling (usually her sister) in no time.  There is very little middle ground.  This is not behavior she exhibits at school, and at home the therapist again says there is no cause and effect.  Yet I can’t help but wonder.

And as we go through all of the changes and all of these behaviors, I tend to mix and match the way I react.  Sometimes I just ignore it.  Sometimes I come down hard and sometimes I coddle.

Of course that gets me wondering if the message is getting too mixed.  It probably isn’t, but still I wonder.

For 8.0 we’ll come up with a goals chart and create a risk/reward environment to help improve organization.

For 10.5 we’ll try to eliminate the touch points that can get her upset.

And for the three of us, we’ll soldier on able to live another day.

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