Back to school, back to anxiety

It’s that time of year again. Yes, it’s exciting to enter a new year at school, meet new friends, learn new things. But many back-to-school experiences are infused with anxiety — both for students and their parents.

school-anxiety1

Student anxiety

Students of all ages are nervous as well as excited, whether they’re in elementary, middle, high school, college or beyond. Their questions vary on similar themes: will I get a “good” teacher? How will I find something I like to do and people I like to do it with? How can I make good grades without working too hard?

For students moving away to college, the thrill of living on their own is often matched by a latent fear of whether they’ll be happy. Whether they will find people who accept them for who they are, or whether they should “try on” new personalities in order to fit in.

Even going back to college after a summer away brings worries: will I still like my friends from last year? Will they like me? What am I going to major in? How am I going to juggle all my responsibilities?

Parents are anxious for our kids

We parents may try to hide our anxiety, but it runs high. We’re worried about how our younger children are going to choose friends, make good grades, excel at sports, get their homework done. Anxiety builds as they start high school. We fear that even tiny missteps will limit their options for college.

Clearing the college hurdle brings on new worries. As parents of college students, we have to content ourselves with what our kids choose to tell us. Even if we had tried to guide kids’ choices in the past, they’re out of our reach now.

We worry about ourselves, too

Those are the worries we have for our kids. What about the anxiety we feel for ourselves? For example, how can I volunteer at my child’s school while still leaving time for my job or other commitments? Are the other parents going to accept me as one of them? Now that my kids have moved on to college, what should I do? Should I change jobs, start working again, go back to school, take up a new interest? How will my spouse and I get along with each other, now that the kids have left home? How can I meet new friends, now that the interactions with parents I used to see at school or sports are more random?

Relationship anxiety

So we worry about our relationships with other adults, and also about how we will relate to our children who are becoming adults. But deep down, both parents and students want to know the same things:

  • How do I separate?
  • How do I stay connected?

 

school-anxiety2

Letting go of anxiety

Vague advice for anxious parents or kids like, “Just chill out!” may be well meant, but it’s not particularly helpful. Of course we know that worrying doesn’t do any good! Various religious traditions (not to mention common sense) admonish us to let go of anxiety. For example, Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount: “Which one of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?(Matthew 6:27 ESV)

For those of us who are prone to anxiety, however, it’s not so easy. As a near-professional worrier myself, I struggle with letting go. But my own experience suggests starting small can help. For example:

  • Commit time to take a “worry break.” Go for a walk or sit outside and breathe slowly. Get a pedicure or massage. See if you can think about something else for thirty minutes, maybe even an hour. Block the time out on your calendar.
  • Let go of one thing: Figure out something you’re worried about that logically, you know you can’t control. Don’t try to let go of all worries at once — just this one.
  • Turn the camera around: notice what’s going on in the lives of people you encounter every day. The cashier, receptionist, school janitor, or homeless person. Sometimes the simple act of focusing on another’s problems, even briefly, can give you perspective on your own concerns.

Letting go of anxiety, even temporarily, is something we can train ourselves to do. Not unlike learning to hit a slice serve or sink a four-foot putt, this training requires us to practice and build on small successes. But even little improvements will start to add up.

OK, it’s time for me to walk my dog. Likewise, go on your own “worry break!”

school-anxiety3

 

 

Images licensed under CC BY via Flickr: Mari Z., T. Goskar, P. Nouhailler

Patrick Nouhaill

 

Have YouTube don’t need Mom

Say you’re a teenage boy. There’s a girl you have a crush on, and you want to ask her to the school dance. But you can’t begin to tell anyone or get tips on how to act calm when you’re nervous.  Least of all, you can’t discuss it with your mom. She wouldn’t get it, anyway. She’d probably say something dumb and make you feel embarrassed. But that’s okay: lots of other guys have gone before you, and they’ve documented their experiences on YouTube.

Or you’re a middle school girl, and you’re itching to dye a pink streak in your hair. You know your mom will freak out, though, so you can’t ask her to help you do it. Again, no problem: there are tons of YouTube videos to show you how.

In short: have YouTube — don’t need Mom.

YouTube shows you how

YouTube is not merely the source for home videos, humor riffs, stupid cat movies and viral memes. It showcases people demonstrating all kinds of practical skills, answering questions like you used to ask your parents. You’ll find YouTube channels devoted to cooking, makeup, home and car repair. You can learn to sew, knit, crochet, do macrame or pottery, just by watching videos on your smart phone or computer.

YouTube takes over mom’s job

Mom’s job of teaching her kids how to do stuff is becoming obsolete. For example, none of my kids cared about learning to do laundry before they left for college. Never mind: there are plenty of videos online where college girls or guys show you how to wash your clothes, and they’re much more fun to watch than Mom. For more info on garment care, young men can turn to Esquire’s Virtual Valet channel, which has videos on how to iron a shirt, pack a back, polish a shoe, sew on a button, and more.

Mom’s not the expert anymore

Moms no longer possess exclusive knowledge or skills. Anyone can use web video to learn to make pie crust, peel an orange in one long strip, fold perfect hospital corners on a bed. My son sent me a link to a video for “spatchcocking” your Thanksgiving turkey to cook it in half the time. Not only has YouTube replaced me as the source of cooking knowledge — I’m now a recipient of its wisdom, directed at me through my offspring.

YouTube targets ever-younger audiences

As if that weren’t enough, YouTube assistance is reaching down to younger ages. For example, there are numerous videos on how to tie your shoes. Moms can get advice on potty training or sleep training from YouTube. But think of it this way: we can outsource tedious child-rearing tasks — especially now that lots of kids have iPads. Too bad a video can only show you how to change a diaper.

YouTube states that its users watch over 6 billion hours of video every month, with 100 hours of video being uploaded every minute. It’s no wonder you can find better how-to instruction online than Mom could have ever offered. More than that, you can learn stuff Mom never would have told you.

But YouTube can’t do everything

What’s a mom to do? She’s no longer the one her kids look to for advice on domestic matters or traditional passages along the way to adulthood. However, a video can’t look at the jam your son is cooking and tell him when it’s thick enough to put into the jars. And while YouTube might show him the best method for tying a bow tie, it’s not going to tell him how handsome he looks as he leaves for his senior prom.

Furthermore, YouTube can show your daughter how to pick up a slipped stitch in her knitting, but you’re still the one she’ll turn to when she gets frustrated and needs someone to correct her mistake.

You can’t beat YouTube, so embrace it

Here’s how I see it: YouTube offers more and often better “how to” information than moms could ever provide. It’s crowd-sourcing at its best. For moms, delegating instruction in tasks where we don’t excel anyway is a win for us and our kids.  It leaves us more time for the aspects of parenting that YouTube can’t handle. We get to focus on things we do best, connecting with our children in more meaningful ways.

And since we’re saving time by having YouTube teach our kids basic chores and life skills, we can do other stuff. Like watch stupid cat videos.

 

Image credits: YouTube, fdecomite via flickr

Communicating with your college student

When my eldest child left for college, he chose not to call, text or email us for three weeks. This was his way of separating, but I didn’t like it. My daughter, on the other hand, follows the more typical college student practice of phoning me on her way to class. From a parent’s perspective, neither of these communication styles is particularly desirable. But we take what we can get. Technology may have made communicating with your college student easier. But in fact, modern communication vehicles compound age-old communication issues between parents and our emerging adult children.

communicating_with_your_college_student_girl_on_phone

 

Cell phones make communicating with your college student easier

It goes without saying that cell-phone equipped college kids are more “in touch” today than we were. Members of our generation generally shared a landline phone with one or more roommates. Sometimes the best way to reach a friend was the memo board on her dorm room door. Now parents can call kids directly, plus we can send quick emails or texts like, “good luck on your midterms!” or “buy a plane ticket home before prices go up!” There’s no need to plan for a Sunday night phone call or interrupt our kids’ busy (ahem) schedules with a short message or reminder.

Cell phones make authentic communication harder

Even with smart phones everywhere, authentic communication between parents and our college children remains elusive. While it’s great to receive a photo of your child and her roommates, you’d really like to know how she feels about her relationships with them. You wish you knew whether she wants to be going out with her roommates, or whether she’d prefer to be doing something else. In short, you wish you could tell from the photo whether she “fits in.” But you can’t. It’s even worse with boys, since most of them give their parents minimal information. When they lived at home, at least you could see them and observe how they were doing. Now you’re at the mercy of their choice to reply (or not) to your messages. My youngest has a personalized ringtone for me in the tune of La Bamba, “You got a call from Mama.” It’s hilarious, but I can be sure he won’t answer the phone without knowing I’m on the other end.

communicating_with_your_college_student_iconnected_parent

 

Communicating with your college student: The iConnected Parent

The iConnected Parent, first published in 2010, addresses cultural shifts in parent/student communications that parallel changes in technology. Written by Barbara K. Hofer, a psychology professor at Middlebury College, and Abigail Sullivan Moore, a journalist who reports on high school and college for the New York Times and other publications, the book compiles Dr. Hofer’s research on undergrads at Middlebury and the University of Michigan in 2006. While it paints a picture of helicopter parents who can’t leave their children alone at college, it also connotes the complexity of parent/child relationships in the Internet age.

Parents and students average 13.4 contacts per week

A frequently cited statistic from The iConnected Parent is that, on average, college students and their parents communicate (via phone, text or email) 13.4 times per week. This figure is slightly higher for girls and slightly lower for boys, but it doesn’t vary by ethnicity, race or distance from home. (Ch 2)  While parents initiate more of the contacts than kids do, communication goes both ways. And habits that started in high school, such as a parent helping to edit a child’s paper, can continue throughout college thanks to the ease of emailing documents back and forth.

Communicating_with_your_college_student_phone&envelope

Problems with the “electronic leash”

In addition to emphasizing the student’s need to further his/her own development by separating from home, The iConnected Parent points out that parents are short-changing themselves by staying too connected to their kids. In past generations, the empty nest period tended to give parents a chance to reinvigorate their marriages and explore new interests or careers. Now parents never completely end their child-rearing years, as they continue to manage their children’s lives via cell phone and Internet. A conscientious parent may feel she needs to be constantly available to her college-age children — indeed, her kids depend on instant access. But such an arrangement heightens stress for parents and can even create a false sense of security for the child. (Ch 6)

Communicating with your college student: cut the cord

For the sake of parents as well as kids, the authors say, both parties need to “cut the cord.” How easy this is to do depends on patterns established during childhood. The authors’ observations suggest that helicopter parenting has lasting consequences, and their research highlights parent/child relationships with these types of patterns firmly in place. Given this vantage point, I feel relieved to have fewer contacts per week with my college kids than their study revealed to be the norm. At the same time, however, it would be nice for my offspring to phone home once in a while . . . A future post will offer tips on communicating with your college student. But if I’m going to achieve the average 13.4 communications with each of my college kids this week, I’ve got to shift my attention to texting and calling now. TTYL.

Image credits:
the girl who owns the world via Flickr, Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net, Amazon

 

Two weeks, two graduations, what’s next for me?

Last month we celebrated. First was college graduation for my eldest on the East Coast, then back home for the last rites of high school with my youngest. There were so many parties and official events that I powered through by focusing on logistics. Now I have time to stop and consider the meaning of it all.

 

Graduation_Whats Next 1

 

There’s no denying middle age

In addition to the festivities, I also underwent that initiation into middle age, the baseline colonoscopy. And recently I’ve spent hours collecting financial documents, as my husband and I worked with an attorney to update our wills. Little wonder that my spinning instructor cautioned me about hunching my shoulders, and my chiropractor told me to come back in just a week.

 

That persistent question

Why can’t I stop and bask in my kids’ graduations — celebrate a job well done? Why do I jump to “what’s next?” Maybe it has to do with the question people were asking me at last month’s functions: “Now you’re going to be an empty nester. What do you think about that, and what do you plan to do with yourself?

 

Graduation_Whats Next 2

 

I tense up. For twenty years I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, school and sports volunteer, carpool driver and family chef. I don’t know how to translate these skills into something that will give my life meaning for the next twenty years.

I know I’m over-reacting. Folks are just being nice when they ask me “what’s next.” We don’t know each other well, and they’re trying to make conversation. Maybe the woman who asks me this is gathering ideas for her own midlife transition, or maybe she wonders if anyone else dreads an empty nest as much as she does. In fact, the actual number of people asking me “what’s next” has been small — nonetheless, I feel overwhelmed by the question.

 

Not knowing what’s next

For lots of us, it’s a scary transition. We’re left alone as our children go off to new adventures, friends and opportunities. Although it doesn’t hit you when they’re in elementary or middle school, the implication of raising your kids to be independent is that, eventually, they won’t need you anymore. This is good. But it’s also terrible.

I’ve spent the better part of two decades shepherding my children through their activities, helping with homework, doing laundry and cooking, and learning about their friends and interests. Now I’m staying put while they move on to do these things somewhere else, without me. Sure, it’s nice to do less laundry than before, not to always plan ahead what we’ll have for dinner. But there’s a big hole in my day-to-day life where my kids used to be, and I’m not sure how to fill it.

 

Graduation_Whats Next 3

 

A beginning or an end?

Commencement: for the graduates, it’s a beginning. For me, the graduates’ mother, it feels like more of an end. The end of their childhoods, the end of little people who need me, the end of doing what I know how to do.

I have faith there’ll be more joy ahead — I’ll make my way through this tunnel of sadness, fear and confusion. But I’m not ready to announce “what’s next” for me.

When I figure it out, though, I’ll be sure to let you know.

 

Image credits: Daisy Shih, Nick Harris, Anne Rosales

My life is good; so why am I feeling bad?

Have you ever had one of those days? Maybe not a day worthy of posting to the FML website, but one that reminds you of the children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Monday was like that for me. By the time the day ended, I couldn’t isolate anything that I’d call “terrible” about my life — I just was feeling bad.

Alexander No Good Very Bad

Feeling bad after the older kids leave

It started Sunday, when my college kids returned to school after being home for a week on spring break. I liked having our whole family together again, enjoyed seeing the older two tease their younger brother. It was just like old times. Then they went back to their “real” homes at college, to their friends and their lives there. While it’s nice to stop sharing my car and go back to my routine in our household of three, I know that next year we’ll be a household of two  — and I’m worried that’s not going to feel so great, at least not initially.

Knowing I wasn’t feeling particularly good, I thought I’d ease into Monday, use the morning to catch up on paperwork, do laundry, change sheets and clean up my older kids’ bedrooms. They left their rooms as if they’d been leaving a hotel — beds unmade, shopping bags on the floor, papers and receipts on the night tables. Straightening up in the quiet, I felt like a housekeeper — not the mother of three well-adjusted children.

Feeling bad about a lost ring

Then I realized one of my rings was missing. Not my wedding ring, but the one my husband gave me for our twenty-fifth anniversary. A little worried, I checked the bathroom, the kitchen counter, my jewelry box. Not there. So I looked harder: I put my hand down the kitchen sink to check the disposal, looked all around the house. Cleaned out my purse, checked the pockets of my clothes.

I called the restaurant where we had dinner last night. No, they hadn’t seen my ring.

 Life Good Feeling Bad_compost

 

Feeling bad and sorting through refuse

So I went through the last three days’ worth of garbage, then turned over the recycling bin and emptied it out to make sure the ring hadn’t slipped off my finger when I tossed out old magazines. Still nothing. I went outside and dug through the compost, running my hands through banana peels, coffee grounds, chicken bones, Saturday’s Indian takeout, and more slime I won’t discuss. But still no ring.

So at least we weren’t about to send it off with the garbage truck. But if the ring wasn’t in the trash, I’d have to look more aggressively inside the house. I cleaned out two bathroom drawers, then dismantled the sink drain. No luck.

Finally, something possessed me to check a closet I had looked in two hours earlier. This time I saw it.

But you know what? I thought I’d feel happy to find the ring, especially after looking all that time. Instead I just felt relieved. And emotionally worn out.

Feeling bad at tennis

I left to play a tennis match I had scheduled for the afternoon. It lasted only an hour. I lost 6-0, 6-0.

I wasn’t sure what was going on with me, but the day wasn’t getting better. I remembered my dad’s response whenever things got tough. He would say, “Want a cup of coffee, honey?”

So I went for a cappuccino and one of those delicious seven-layer cookie bars. I sat and stared out the coffeeshop window while I gathered my strength to go grocery shopping. I wondered whether I should quit playing tennis, spend my time on something I could do well. But wasn’t it okay to like a sport and want to play it, even if I played poorly?

On the other hand, if I couldn’t win, could I honestly say I liked tennis? I realized I was immersed in a conversation with myself, with my own Voice of Judgment. I had made this whole day about me, and I was over-reacting to a poor outcome in a match I supposedly had played “for fun.”

Life Good Feeling Bad_Vortex

 

The feeling-bad vortex

How did I get here, to this place of feeling bad? I have a great life: faith, family, friends, health, financial stability, and more. So why, all too often, do I spin down the woe-is-me vortex?

Sure, I know there are real people with real problems in this world. And I’m not one of them. It’s just a lot easier to stay in my personal vortex, than to get out of it and experience someone else’s.

I bought my groceries, went home and cooked a good dinner. At least that much of my day went okay. Actually, the whole day was fine, if you consider it in relation to the day of someone with real problems.

What drags you down, and how do you pull out of your vortex? Let me know in the comments!

 

Image credits: Amazon, Portland Observer, photoholic1 via flickr