I really didn’t do the math to foresee that I would have 4 teenagers at a time. Having a flock of teens, most of whom have some form of behavioural challenge as a direct result of prenatal drug/alcohol exposure, was also not given any forethought. Not that it would have changed anything except that a lot more thinking and planning would have been involved!
I have never been one to consider that all teens suffer from a sort of sickness, or that parenting teens should evoke dread because of the perceived attitude issues, or disinterest or whatever malady of this day are attributed to young adults. I believe everyone is a unique individual, and while some struggles are often considered as being the “norm” for kids these days, there is no “norm” that applies for The Caveman Clan. I think some of the things that are challenges for our family are just as real for other families, even those families that haven’t been affected by drug abuse, neglect, eating disorders, or just plain ol’ wierdness. Here is a little insight my reality…
I have often considered myself a terrible parent. I have not been patient enough, devoted enough, understanding enough, gentle enough…just not enough. I have awakened of a morn with cheerful good humour and a devotion that TODAY, I will be gentler, kinder, and all things that signify more, or enough. As the day progressed, I became discouraged as I reacted to situations with the usual “not enough” behaviour I had come to despise in myself.
I think many parents can relate. The beautiful thing is that we can change. As I get the hang of things, I think I am learning some valuable lessons. Sometimes, the lessons that are really simple are the hardest to learn and apply. I want to share one experience that has been a life changer for me and for my Clan.
I have always felt that the Clan was about as democratic as could be – we voted on things that affected all and had family meetings to discuss plans, events, challenges, disputes, large purchases, etc. so that everyone could have “a voice and a choice”. I wanted everyone to be an active participant in life, not just a bystander. We have done this weekly, more often if needed, for years. Sounds great, right? It would go like this:
I would offer the obligatory opening, “Would anyone like to start”, followed by silence, then I might mention something that needed attending to, or something that bothered me, then the floor was open again and usually someone would say something…
The problem was that these turned into the weekly bitchfest! There was no end to the complaints against one another, the unrest that was unleashed, the dissatisfaction that could be released. Then, one day, I said that I had had enough, for what was the point in releasing pent up frustrations when no solutions were offered? No one objected. So, we were meetingless for sometime.
But I grew dissatisfied with the state of our Clan. There was arguing, retaliation for perceived hurts, daily distresses that just sucked the life out of me and the fun out of everything. Pouting and sullenness became routine for a few of my cavemen and I decided that we needed some change. I thought I needed to reevaluate, reorganize, reinvigorate, and specifically, to rethink, my parenting skills.
I began to study and devour parenting books, psychology books, FASD and adoptive parent blogs, etc., day and night. To be truthful, I did learn a lot, but didn’t feel confident that I had struck the “motherlode” of parenting gold. Why couldn’t I find any answers to the tough stuff?
Then it occurred to me that I couldn’t find answers to fit our needs because no one has ever had a family like ours and parented my kids before! We are unique, just by the very nature of our existence. We are so unique, yet our needs are so similar to the rest of humanity. Ahhh, considering humanity led me to consider human nature. It dawned on me that it wasn’t parenting skills that I needed to devote so much energy to learning, but human behaviour and leadership skills that needed understanding and developing.
I changed tactics and started learning more about people, rather than parents. For what are these creatures entrusted to me to raise up, but at their very core, just people. Little and frail and needy, but just people. Have I ever learned! I thought I knew people – whole ones, broken ones, weak ones, strong ones – but I was, as usual, so wrong. I learned about needs, desires, self confidence, relationships, communication, body language, and so much more. One thing that I truly treasure is how to effectively lead and gently influence my family, without pushing, pleading, stubborning, misunderstanding or shouting. It not only applies to my family, but all of the people in my world.
In all of this, I discovered that as I understood humans and people (not just my children), I found more of my purpose and calling, my relationship with God became more and developed. As I began to apply these new found ideas, my children began to respond, not in profound or earth shattering ways, but immediately and positively. They began to be active participants, sharing ideas, encouragement, challenges – and solutions! – things that had been difficult for them to express before. That’s not to say that everyday is a daisy, but life is good…really good!
As I changed my behaviour, they responded in kind. We put our heads together to develop practices that not only addresses all of our wants and needs, but offers empowerment, problem solving opportunities, and encourages self esteem building, as well.
One of our practices is to have a daily “Think Tank”. We address a need, a behaviour, or a situation and find real solutions. Occasionally, we share goals or desires in our think tank and everyone takes a turn at finding ways to help each other attain those goals, or consider the dangers or drawbacks. It may require us to divide and research and think in alternative ways. This has been a huge help in fostering communication. Is it still a family meeting? Well, yes, sort of, but everyone had a hand at developing the Think Tank and the boundaries that we felt were important. The focus is on solutions, discussion and encouragement, rather than just vomiting up more complaints and arguing.
I’ll share some other resources and practices that we have found helpful in another post….