Being Your Kids’ P.A.R.A. (Part 5)

The previous blogs were hot off the press, some not even posted, when I had an I-want-to-pull-my-hair-out incident with Ian, our middle schooler.  After the big pep talk of how close he was to getting all As and Bs with 14 school days remaining , the self-sabotaging increased rather than decreased.  He “forgot” to turn in papers he had completed.  He left materials at home.  He half-ass studied for quizzes.

Watching the free-fall, my husband hypothesized that Ian did not want to distance himself too much academically from a couple of his friends who were struggling in school.  The social pull to stay connected over-rode any punishment we could give him or any praise or self-satisfaction he could get from doing his best.

I could not understand it.

And we were pretty impotent against the psychological pull in the wrong direction.

Prayer should always be our first weapon.  Admittedly, I had been in high action mode, not depending much on help from above.  But Ian’s irrational and self-destructive approach to his education brought me to my knees.  What do you do when you’ve taken everything from them and tried to give them every support possible  to no avail?

You turn it over to the one who has all power.  The best P.A.R.A.s understand their limitations.  Mary didn’t change the water to wine.  But she knew who could and would.  So we put our Ian with his self-limiting beliefs and reluctance to use the gifts God gave him to be his best into God’s hands.  And my husband and I took a few steps back, waiting for instructions from an all-knowing and all-loving God.

The Catholic Women’s Guide to Healthy Relationships Tip:  Surrendering in our relationships after doing everything in our power to make it better is not a failure; it’s the foundation of our humility.

Being Your Kid’s P.A.R.A. (Part 4)

In my last blog, I explained how we can’t help our loved ones alone  as I told the story about my middle schooler.  To help us, during Ian’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) the deaf itinerant teacher got personal.

She explained that her son was very much like Ian.  Upon encountering the middle school free-fall, she had him do his homework at the kitchen table in her presence.  She made him call other kids or return to school when he did not bring home the correct material. She held the leash tight, until about two years later at the end of his eighth grade year when everything fell into place.  Her Arrangements had enabled him to develop the valuable habits of success.  Today her son leads other men in his role in the military, noted in his unit for his outstanding organizational and life skills.

With the endorsement to be a temporary helicopter-style parent to our wayward Ian, Joe, I and Ian’s para-educator Jenny dug in arranging a life of full accountability for Ian.  We communicated with Jenny and Ian’s teachers to make sure he had the materials we needed and that we were aware of his upcoming exams and clear on our expectations to assist him in preparing for those.  Additional arranging included the uncharacteristic move of having Ian attend his own parent-teacher conference with us.  While gentle and compassionate, his teachers generously commented on Ian’s strengths,, held him accountable, and clarified with him his future expectations.

Admittedly, at times with our busy schedules  some requirements slipped through the gap. Ian would find a way to  sabotage his academic success.  I Paid Attention that Ian had his eye on two of his close friends who were doing even worse than him in school.  He expressed worry that those friends might not advance.  It seemed he feared what would happen to those relationships if he did well in school.

Steadily the grades went up.  Ian did extremely well on difficult tests.  Putting a little more time  into homework produced good marks.  With the rising grades came the surge of self-sabotaging behaviors:  assignments not turned in,  needed materials in the backpack, etc. But this time, we had made the proper Arrangements.  A missed or incomplete assignment prompted Ian’s para to keep him in  for recess or lunch to complete it.  I was on the PowerSchool, holding Ian accountable for unacceptable work.

By using the Mary at the Wedding at Cana approach to parenting (paying attention, responding, and arranging), Ian is succeeding despite himself.  With three weeks left in the school year he is within striking distance  to getting all As and Bs. As we count down weeks Ian gets As and Bs on all tests and assignments, permitting him to play on the Xbox on the weekend.  Checking PowerSchool every weekday embeds my daily routine.

I can taste what every Mary at the Wedding of Cana Arranger loves.   My child’s external reality (good grades) are challenging and transforming his inner reality (that he’s successful, smart, and an excellent student).  With more Arranging and life experience the internal and external truths will be one, and Ian will be well on his way to becoming his best for God.

The Catholic Women’s Guide to Healthy Relationships Tip:  When a loved one is floundering, make sure you are clear on what you should and shouldn’t do and take action.

Being Your Kid’s P.A.R.A. (Part 3)

Our response to our son Ian’s entrance  into middle school provides another good example of being your kids’ P.A.R.A.   In Paying Attention (the first two steps),  I observed the impact of his early struggles.  Ian did overcome the social awkwardness of being a mainstreamed deaf kid with bilateral implants along with some physical and occupational therapy deficits from a treacherous birth.  But, their legacy influenced Ian’s perception of himself transitioning into middle school.  Despite, according to teachers, being one of the brightest in the class, Ian considered himself on the lower tier of the academic ladder.  He reacted with a minimalist approach to school work.

Ian rudely awoke to an array of never-yet-seen sub-par  grades the first few months of middle school.  Sloppy work, some late or incomplete papers, and not letting us know of his upcoming exams and studying for those didn’t cut it in middle school. Habits that allowed Ian to slide by in previous years collided with the demands of one of the most academically-challenging Catholic middle schools in our area.

Putting Ian in, as Dr. Ray Guarendi would say, “black out”— losing all privileges other than eating , sleeping, and doing homework—had some effect in waking him from his slumber of how serious we took his school performance.  But any progress seemed tenuous.

We took our Paying Attention and Responding to Ian’s I.E.P (Individual Education Plan) meeting.  There we collaborated with Ian’s real para-educator— the deaf itinerant teacher, the speech therapist, the social worker, etc.—to figure out the best way (our Response) to help Ian perform his best.  I was unsure how much hand-holding to give a 12-year-old, but not wanting him to drown in middle school at the same time.  Sensing my husband’s and my confusion, the deaf itinerant teacher dropped her waterline.  See what happened as a result of her getting personal.

The Catholic Women’s Guide to Healthy Relationships Tip:  Recognize we need to work with others to be the best P.A.R.A. we can be for our loved ones.

Being Your Kids’ P.A.R.A. (Part 2)

Being a P.A.R.A. means 1) Paying Attention, 2) Responding, and 3) Arranging; it’s the Mary at the Wedding of Cana approach to relationships.  The story about my daughter’s gymnastics team experience delivers on my promise for real examples.

The coach of the East YMCA Flyers gymnastics team approached Gianna two years ago to be on the team.  Unwilling to be a gymnastics widow, I loved the East Y’s balanced approach to competitive gymnastics: reasonable hours in the gym minimizing time away from family and family meals, super affordable rates, and the encouragement of the girls to work smart to be the best they can be without the stress of Olympic-bound kids’ sports philosophy.

Gianna beamed her first year.  Her scores gradually improved with each meet, and she loved the family’s attention on her during her competitions.  As the season progressed  though, the competition got tougher.  Moving towards the State Gymnastics competition practices became more serious as the coaches critiqued the girls more to perfect their routines. Gianna’s used to doing things well and being the top dog; being towards the bottom of the heap left her uncomfortable.

The intensity combined with consequences of Gianna’s shyness mounted.  Being more timid Gianna had not reached out to get to know the other girls.  Overtime, their unfamiliarity became awkward.

She wanted to quit.

My gut told me she wanted to quit for the wrong reasons. We compromised with an agreement to take a break over the summer.  When fall came again she was eager to get back to gymnastics.

The next year was a repeat of the first with the addition of the fact that for months during the tough part of the gymnastics season we had neglected having Gianna’s friends over to the house.  She was feeling disconnected socially at school and at gymnastics.  I realize all kids need to have friends on their own turf, particularly shy ones.

Paying attention to the root problem—Gianna’s shyness and consequent social problems and her perfectionism—I immediately ramped up the play dates.  Within a month there was no real talk of dumping gymnastics, Gianna had her confidence back, and she was willing to work through the emotions of competing without letting it tear her down.

The Catholic  Women’s Guide to Healthy Relationship Tip:  Not-enabling often means letting our loved ones work through their pain without rescuing them.

Be Your Kids’ P.A.R.A. (Part 1)

Differing parenting styles can still produce great kids.  I subscribe to the “Mary at the wedding of Cana” approach, as a beautifully feminine and engaged method of problem-solving and parenting (which sometimes feels like a series of problem-solving episodes).  At the wedding of Cana, Mary noticed a problem: the wine was about to run out.  She talked to the right person, Jesus.  And she took bold and decisive, God-directed action instructing the staff to “do whatever he says”, which gave fabulous results and averted embarrassment. The resulting wine was even of higher quality than the initial wine.

Being your children’s P.A.R.A. means following Mary’s example.  First we must P-ay A-ttention to what is going on with our kids.  One of the benefits of volunteering at the school or driving to field trips is you see the dynamics with your kids and their peers.  You step into their world with adult eyes and a fully developed brain.  Often you can see trouble spots your kids are not  fully conscious of and also simple solutions they might employ to overcome the challenges.

After P (paying) and A (attention) comes R (respond) and A (arrange).  Overinvolved parents pay attention, but then they  react rather than respond—often overstepping their kids’ boundaries.  A measured, well thought out response empowers your kid to experience success and failure, when necessary.  Mary did not frantically grab the wine jugs and take over; she implemented a calm directive that allowed many people to be touched by Jesus’ first public miracle.  When we “arrange”, we make sure all of the ingredients for success are present, and we step aside giving our children the gift of the satisfaction of making the right choice and the essential life lessons of the consequences of making the wrong one.

Next time I’ll share a couple of examples when I was being a P.A.R.A. to my own kids.

The Catholic Women’s Guide to Healthy Relationship Tip:  Part of helping is knowing when to step back and when to jump in.