My twin eighth grade daughters sit at my kitchen counter. Their dinner is off to the side, and they reach over every few minutes to grab a bite of their taco or spoon some rice into their mouths. Books, papers and electronic devices cover every additional open space and you can feel the tension in the air.
This is what 7:30 pm looks like in our house most nights.
On this night, my daughters just finished a cross country meet – a sport they both love – about 90 minutes earlier. After completing the race, instead of excitedly talking about hitting their personal best times, both said, “Ugh, I have so much homework.”
And it wasn’t THAT much. But it was a math worksheet and conjugating Spanish verbs and finishing notecards for science and reviewing vocabulary for Language Arts and studying for a Social Studies test.
That was after getting to school early for orchestra and going to a study session at lunch.
It all just seems so much for those little shoulders to bear.
Most nights, someone in our house normally loses it. It could be one of my three girls or me or all of us. I’m constantly clucking orders and someone is yelling for a computer and the dog is barking and a mess builds up that makes my kitchen seem more like a junkyard.
But knowing how tired we all were on this night, I tried to handle our routine a little differently. I just tried to make their lives a little easier.
I made their lunches and put away their dinner dishes, which is usually their responsibility. I started a load of laundry and threw in their practice clothes. I went and found computer chargers and sharpened pencils and looked up a geometry equation on YouTube (thanks Khan Academy.)
There were a thousand other things I wanted to get done.
I needed to return some emails and finish a work project. I had clothes to put away and a dog to walk. I desperately wanted to check my texts. But I left my phone and my computer upstairs where I wouldn’t be tempted to check every few minutes or after every ding.
And instead, I simply just stayed in the room with my kids. I puttered quietly in the kitchen and merely remained accessible. I tried to remain calm when the frustration erupted and gave a hug when the tears sprung and offered a little encouragement when one wanted to quit studying.
Sometimes I think that we put way too much pressure on our kids. And sometimes, I wonder if they could handle it better if we just stayed present with them when they need us the most–which might not be when we think.
I don’t think it’s always that we expect so much of our kids.
It’s that we don’t know how to support our teens in the right ways.
We interfere instead of assist.
We enable instead of teach.
We do for them, instead of showing them how or pitch in when needed.
We tell them what to do instead of talking with them to figure out solutions.
Although I always try to see every race and game and concert my kids participate in, I actually think my teens need me more at home. Not in their face needling and nagging, but floating around so they can latch on when needed.
While normally a stressful night like this would have caused epic pubescent meltdowns, we got through it relatively unscathed–this time.
You just never know if you are doing this parenting thing right, but tonight, as least I feel like I didn’t make it worse.
And I’ll take that as a win.