This is where I am right now. I’d guess that about age 12, middle school, is when things really start to change. Puberty is kicking in. Emotions and hormones are running crazy. Kids start to realize that they know stuff. We are leaving them home alone. We give them autonomy and trust.
Along with that comes the attitude of “I dont’ really need you.” It totally sucks. Your baby no longer really sees you as a necessity in their lives. You struggle to remain ‘cool’. You search for relevance. If you ask, “How was school today?” there should be no surprise at the inevitable one word response. My new favorite expression? “It’s fine dad.”
I’m certainly no expert here and I fumble through each day trying to make myself useful, just like every other parent. But what I have learned is that you can find a way to be part of their lives by cultivating the thing they love. In some cases you do that in exchange for the things you love yourself. After years of giving, this is just one more example of how we happily keep giving to our kids.
I have talked about this in other posts. You can try to find a way to be a coach. Since we most likely do not know as much about their passion as they do, you have to leverage what you know and meld it into something they are doing. Use what you know about something else, to help make them better at their thing. Examples…
- For Taylor, my interest in exercise and healthy living has translated nicely to her desire to be a great soccer player. Coming back from her LCL tear, we did a lot of work on strength, speed and stamina. It’s great for me whe she talks of hitting goals, how she feels stronger or when she can do more push-ups than kids on her team. Last night she was the only cadet to win the silver level award for presidential fitness in her JROTC unit. That means she is top 85 percentile in the country.
- Recently Haley has gotten excited about strengthening her core and legs specifically to give her more strength for riding. It’s awesome how she has taken to this herself. She is now doing situps, pushups, squats and supermans daily (actually more than I can do… sshhhhh). She and I have also talked a lot about breath control and visualization skills. We have practiced when she is in the saddle before her riding classes. I believe it has helped to get her mind in the right place.
Another manifestation of this thinking is to co-opt a life experience by doing something that they love as part of things you would do anyway. Taking vacations is a great example. Most likely you wanted to take a vacation anyway. But you can theme the trip around something they are passionate about. I’ll elaborate on the point with a few recent examples of things that we did that went over well.
- Two years ago as our ‘summer vacation,’ Taylor and I went to Canada to see the women’s World Cup. It was a weekend full of soccer. I was able to put a little spin on it, by purchasing tickets to the Jazz festival in Ottawa. Overall the focus was soccer, though I think even Taylor would admit that we saw some good shows.
- Last year Haley and I took a vacation and went to the Rolex Kentucky 3 day event. I even got tickets to the Hunter Hayes show (I am not much for country music). But as with Taylor, I was able to put a little spin on the trip as we drove around the University of Kentucky campus. Haley felt excitement for college in what I felt was palpable for the first time. Of course we stopped to pet every dog on the show-grounds. (side note- The weekend turned into a nightmare for travel reasons, but we were having a great time up until then.)
- This summer Tay, Sara and I are turning a trip into a joint vacation, college visit & soccer camp to the Air Force academy (we did last year too).
- Sara and I are also looking for horse shows near a lake or beach to try to take a few days that we could all enjoy.
I think that the notion of being a coach in the Cultivating phase is the most important one. Part of being a coach is seeing the bigger picture of what possibilities can come from the thing they love so much. Despite all the challenges, moodiness and emotional rollercoaster, I admit that this is my favorite time in their lives. Being a parent is much more rewarding when you share your life experience with your kids and get to see tangible results. Parenting is hard, but it starts to be more rewarding when you see that you can affect real change.