Categories
Parenting

Being a Nana Keeps the Memory of my Mom Alive

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

My mom would have turned 68 this month. It’s hard for me to even imagine her at that age. She died two weeks after my 35th birthday in 2006. She was 55. Cancer. For many years, my grief was almost unbearable, but life being what it is, the raw pain has turned to a dull ache. She was a good mom, but she was an amazing Nana (her grandma name).

Now, I have a granddaughter of my own and a grandson due any day, and I love being Nana. It has had me thinking about my mom a lot more, though. She really was the best grandmother. I catch myself doing something she used to do with my kids when they were little, and I am all at once overcome. It’s not just sadness, though there is the pang of that…but it’s also a sense of contentment in knowing that her influence lives on in the experience my grandkids are having. I am singing the songs she sang; I tell the stories she told; the older I get, the more I even sound like her.

Mostly, I find myself thinking about my time with her when I was very young and an only child. My dad was always gone until 3 or 4 in the morning, delivering milk. When he first started working for the dairy, they still delivered milk to people’s front porches. By the time I was a little girl, he was busy delivering to grocery stores and convenience stores. He worked hard to support us, so Mom and I were alone together a lot. Sometimes, she would get lonely at night and she would let me sleep with her. I would climb up into her bed and snuggle right up against her. She would wrap her leg around me and pull me close and we would both sleep soundly. I could feel her heart beat softly against me, feel her breathing, and the warmth of her body around me.  I could even smell her.  She always smelled like Caress soap.

Most days, I would sit in a big brown leather barstool at our kitchen counter and watch her clean or cook dinner. She would buy craft projects and make things for people. She bought me a bunch of play-dough, so I could make things too. She let me use her old green plastic rolling pin to roll out the play-dough, and then she’d let me use one of our glasses so that I could cut out cookies. She showed me how to roll the dough to make hot dogs and hamburgers. I once made a whole feast for my dad. He made us both laugh when he actually took a bite of the cookie. He spit it out real fast, but he said it looked so real he just couldn’t help himself.

We lived in a trailer park up on a hill, and there were only about 10 trailers – “mobile homes.” Down the hill was a little mini-post office with a gas station. Beyond that, there was nothing but sage brush, scorpions, and black widows.

The best part about living out in the middle of nowhere was the thunderstorms.  Somehow, they seemed bigger out there.  The lightening was brighter.  The thunder was louder.  The rain poured harder.  During thunderstorms, Mom would wrap me up in a blanket and we would sit outside on the porch. She loved the smell of rain and loved the wildness of the storms. Storms in Reno weren’t as wild as the ones she’d endured as a child in South Dakota, but from the way she always started thinking and talking about her childhood, I knew that’s what they reminded her of.

As the rain splashed around us and the smell of the lightening filled the air, we would cuddle under the blanket and watch the storm. I loved being near her, feeling her warmth under the blanket, feeling my heart slow down from its normal racing, my breathing slow almost to a sleeping state.  Calm.  In the midst of raging storms I had my most peaceful moments with her.

Whenever we had a hard rain, whether it was thunderstorm or just a downpour, Mom would put a big bucket outside and catch the rainwater.  After the bucket filled, she would lay me up on the long counter to the right side of the kitchen sink scoop all of my long hair down into the sink and wash it. I would lay still and wait for the moment when I felt her fingers kneading my scalp and running through my hair.  Then she would rinse it with the rainwater.  The rainwater was always cold but it made my hair smell so good.  When we were done, she would wrap it in a towel so big I almost could not hold my head up. We would go sit on the sofa and she would the brush my long hair until it was shiny.

Before I was born, mom was a beautician. She went to beauty school in Reno right after high school, on a scholarship to the Prater Way Beauty College. She was good at it, but stayed home with me after I was born. People came over quite often to get their hair cut or styled. My dad had seven younger brothers and sisters and my mom had four, so even just taking care of their hair was enough to keep her busy, but lots of people came for haircuts. When someone would come over, she had a way of smiling and making them feel welcome, like there was no one in the world she would rather spend time with. I would climb up on my barstool at the kitchen table and watch her work.

I didn’t realize it then, but I know now that Mom’s haircuts lasted just as long as the person needed it to last. It all depended on how much they had weighing on them that Mom could help them work through…but she never took the drape off and finished the haircut until she felt like they were done with everything they needed to work on. I am not sure, thinking back, how many people actually needed haircuts when they came over, but they all left feeling better than when they came; whatever was troubling them when they arrived weighed less on them when they left.

I don’t cut hair the way she did, although I cut my husband’s hair since it would otherwise never get cut. I do sit on the front porch with my kids when it storms, wrapped in a blanket. I tell them about other rainstorms in my life. I cuddle with them every night before they go to sleep, hoping they don’t grow up too fast and hoping I’ve done right enough by them. And I have washed my daughter’s hair in the kitchen sink; I’ve even used rain water once or twice.

Mom has been gone for … 12 years. I no longer count the number of days she’s been gone. It’s no longer an automatic update in my head when I wake up. For a while that’s how I counted my days—by how many I had lived without her.  But it’s been 12 years of not being able to pick up the phone and tell her something, and there are still times when I wish I could.

I’ll never stop missing her. My life is like one of those bas-relief maps we used in elementary school…all of the details stand out, life-like, reminding me of all the moments she has not been here to be a part of. Everyone says that time heals the pain, and I know they’re right. It doesn’t hurt in the raw and horrible way it used to. I make it through the days without crying.

But like the scars I bear from the children I gave birth to, I don’t want the pain of my mother’s loss to ever heal completely. I want to miss her, to keep her close to the surface, to feel her loss. I don’t want her to fade away and become just a stray thought now and then.

So I am grateful that my grandkids revive her memory for me. I will keep talking about her to my children and grandchildren. I will keep singing the songs that she taught my kids to my grandkids, and I will keep telling my kids how proud she would be of the amazing people they are becoming.

I will talk about her to keep her with us, to keep her memory alive for my kids – and I will be the Nana to my grandkids that she inspired me to be.

 

 

Categories
Parenting

Motherhood Isn’t a Sacrifice and Stepmoms Need to Get on Board

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

I was reading this fantastic article in the New York Times about how motherhood needs some serious rebranding. The author nails it on the head: motherhood is advertised as a huge sacrifice, especially when living in a country that lacks maternity support of any kind and health care is a joke. It can be daunting to even consider motherhood, because people make it sound miserable. However, I’ve noticed this trend of “sacrifice” to be more obvious in stepmoms. There are actual groups of stepmoms on social media who gather like it’s an AA meeting to discuss the misery of their lives. Shame on them.

Get Over Yourself, Already

This “woe is me” nonsense seriously needs to stop. Stepmoms are not saints for supposedly sacrificing everything to care for or share space with the children of the person they love. No one is saying it isn’t noble to step up and care for kids that aren’t biologically yours, but acting as if you’ve given up everything to be with a man (or woman) who had kids without you – maybe wishing he didn’t have those kids – is disgusting.

Everything Has an Opportunity Cost, Even Motherhood

There is sacrifice in every choice, and motherhood is no exception. When you choose one job over another, or a new city over your home town, you are making sacrifices. Staying out late drinking is sacrificing your morning. Choosing to work instead of stay home with the kids, and vice-versa, requires sacrifice. Every action has a reaction, but it is your perspective that will determine whether the result is positive or negative.

Be a Stepmom, Not a Martyr

The assumption that motherhood as a whole is one giant sacrifice is ridiculous. And the idea that being a stepmom automatically makes you a martyr who has given up everything is even more ridiculous.

There are so many rewards to motherhood, no matter how kids have come into your life. You learn so much about yourself through the eyes of a child, and every day is enriched by their presence. It’s like parents who refuse to travel “because of the kids” – as if children ruin a vacation.

You Don’t Get a Medal Just for Marrying Someone with Kids

Sorry, but stepmoms don’t get a medal just for being stepmoms. If you’ve chosen to love a man with kids, you’ve made an active choice to love his children too – and if you can’t, you shouldn’t be there. Kids that have been through divorce and custody battles have enough to deal with, and they don’t need your disdain added to the mix. Kids are perceptive, and they’ll be able to tell if you’re in it for the glory of “stepping up” or genuinely making an effort to create a family together.

So much energy is put into complaining about caring for someone else’s children that could be put to better use. If stepmoms spent half the time building relationships with their stepchildren that they spend complaining  and making sure people notice what martyrs they are, they might actually enjoy being stepmoms. Yes, there are stressful days and sleepless nights, but nothing compares to being loved by a child.

Motherhood Needs Rebranded – and Stepmoms Can Play a Big Part

We need to stop telling mothers and stepmothers that motherhood is a sacrifice and start a conversation about all the benefits. Of course, there are challenges in motherhood – and in being a stepmom – but I’ve had the privilege of raising five  children, three of them bonus children. These are children I never knew I wanted until they were in my life, and with the reputation motherhood has, who could have blamed me?

Motherhood does need rebranding, and stepmoms need to be a part of the effort.

Want to be a better stepmom? Read 25 Rules for Being a GOOD StepMom

or get the book –

Categories
On Motherhood

Other Mothers: Our Own Worst Enemy

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce
Like the bodies that make the babies, motherhood itself comes in all shapes and sizes. And it really doesn’t matter what kind of mom you are; you’ll end up facing criticism. If you work while parenting, you aren’t there for your kids. If you stay at home, you don’t understand how to balance work and family. If you’re a single mom, you’re depriving your child of a father. If you’re a married mom, you have no idea how hard it is to do it alone. Don’t breastfeed? Don’t tell anyone – you obviously don’t love your child as much as nursing moms. Only have one kid? You can’t possibly call yourself a real parent.

Wanna know what’s worse?

It’s not dads or society doing the finger pointing, blaming, and labeling. It’s other mothers.

Perhaps it’s deeply seated in our own insecurities, but many of the harshest critics of the way we all mother is other mothers. Us. We look at another mom and don’t understand her choices, lifestyle, or parenting methods. And rather than extending her any understanding or even an open mind, we judge, quickly and harshly. Many of the issues over which mothers disagree have no clear cut answers. Every mother does the best she can with the experience and unique understanding of her own child that she has.

I’m guilty of this judging.

As a mother of five, I’ve often joked that you’re not a “real” mom if you only have one child…even though many of the most lovely women and mothers I know and are friends with do only have one child. Honestly, it’s more a reflection of my own jealousy or frustration, because with five kids, we couldn’t afford every event and dance lesson our kids wanted that my friend with only one child always could. Or I was frustrated at one more sibling argument that my friends with only one child would not experience.  Suffer with me! That’s what I wanted.

As a stepmom, I was also quick to pass judgement on other stepmoms who complained more about their situation or blamed their husband for the troubles they had. It took a lot of time talking to other stepmoms (and a little growing up) to realize that my situation was the one that fell outside of the norm, with far less baggage and frustration from bio mom than most had dealth with. And now that I regularly work with stepmoms and talk to them about their experiences, I have been humbled by how many struggles they’ve had to endure but still keep loving with all their heart and soul.

Mothers have a hard job, whether they have one kid or many, work outside the home or in it, breastfeed or don’t, have a partner or don’t. It’s time for all of us (me) to be more understanding and supportive of every mother and how she chooses to raise her kids.

Categories
On Motherhood

Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

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A strong relationship is built upon trust, which is so hard to maintain yet so easy to lose. Even your child’s trust isn’t guaranteed, although it may be more steadfast than other relationships. But after a string of empty promises, a child of any age will notice if you aren’t reliable. Once a child feels they cannot trust you, it can be very difficult to go back.

It’s important that you are honest with your child. If you aren’t going to be able to make the baseball game then don’t even say there’s a chance. And don’t keep saying “next time” to your child about a special day together. It will break their heart every time that you don’t appear and soon they won’t believe a word you say. It’s difficult to disappoint your child, but disappointing them with honesty rather than the emptiness of false promises helps your kids know you care.

To avoid such sad feelings on both ends, don’t assume you’ll be able to do something. Know for sure before you make any plans — and then stick to them. Your child will forgive one or two cancellations when you are there for them most of the time. The time you spend with your child is so precious and they will remember those moments forever. And if something changes for the better and you can make that baseball game, the surprise of you showing up unexpectedly will bring your child more joy than you can imagine.

Categories
Health Let's Talk

Raising My Daughter In Honor of the Women Before Her

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

My daughter, Anika, will turn 10 years old this year. Sometimes I look at her and see an image of the child I used to be. She has the same big brown inquisitive eyes, the same dimple in her cheek, and the same long brown hair. I look at her and I see all the women in my family – my sisters, my aunts, my cousins, my nieces; my mother.

She is the last grandchild my mother was able to know before she died.

When I was a little younger than Anika, we lived in the first “house” my parents ever owned. It was a double-wide trailer so far outside the city limits that Reno, my hometown, was a 30 minute drive away. We had a few neighbors—young couples with children wanting to own a little piece of land they could call their own instead of paying rent, and old people tired of caring for their homes and wanting a smaller, easier space to care for.

My mom did not like living out there. When we first moved there, she did not have her driver’s license and felt isolated and trapped, too far from the city to be able to even run to the store for milk if we needed it. But I loved being “stuck” out there.

My dad was often gone until 3 or 4 in the morning. When he first started working for the dairy, they still delivered milk to people’s front porches. By the time I was a little girl, he was busy delivering to grocery stores and convenience stores and driving a big truck.  He worked hard to support us, so Mom and I were alone together a lot. Sometimes, she would get lonely at night and she would let me sleep with her. I would climb up into her bed and snuggle right up against her. She would wrap her leg around me and pull me close and we would both sleep soundly. I could feel her heart beat softly against me, feel her breathing, and the warmth of her body around me. I could even smell her. She always smelled like Caress soap.

Most days, I would sit in a big brown leather barstool at our kitchen counter and watch her clean or cook dinner. She would buy craft projects and make things for people. She bought me a bunch of play-dough, so I could make things too. She let me use her old green plastic rolling pin to roll out the play-dough, and then she’d let me use one of our glasses so that I could cut out cookies. She showed me how to roll the dough to make hot dogs and hamburgers. I once made a whole feast for my dad. He made us both laugh when he actually took a bite of the cookie.  He spit it out real fast, but he said it looked so real he just couldn’t help himself.

Our trailer park was up on a hill, and there were only about 10 trailers – mobile homes, they’re called now – back then. Down the hill was a little mini-post office with a gas station. Beyond that, there was nothing but sagebrush, scorpions, and black widows.

The best part about living out in the middle of nowhere was the thunderstorms. Somehow, they seemed bigger out there. The lightning was brighter. The thunder was louder. The rain poured harder. During thunderstorms, Mom would wrap me up in a blanket and we would sit outside on the porch. She loved the smell of rain and loved the wildness of the storms. Storms in Reno weren’t as wild as the ones she’d endured as a child in South Dakota, but from the way she always started thinking and talking about her childhood, I knew that’s what they reminded her of.

As the rain splashed around us and the smell of the lightning filled the air, we would cuddle under the blanket and watch the storm.  I loved being near her, feeling her warmth under the blanket, feeling my heart slow down from its normal racing, my breathing slow almost to a sleeping state. Calm. In the midst of raging storms I had my most peaceful moments with her.

Whenever we had a hard rain, whether it was thunderstorm or just a downpour, Mom would put a big bucket outside and catch the rainwater. After the bucket filled, she would lay me up on the long counter to the right side of the kitchen sink scoop all of my long hair down into the sink and wash it. I would lay still and wait for the moment when I felt her fingers kneading my scalp and running through my hair. Then she would rinse it with the rainwater. The rainwater was always cold but it made my hair smell so good. When we were done, she would wrap it in a towel so big I almost could not hold my head up. We would go sit on the sofa and she would the brush my long hair until it was shiny.

Before I was born, mom was a beautician. She went to beauty school in Reno right after high school, on a scholarship to the Prater Way Beauty College. She was good at it, but stayed home with me after I was born. People came over quite often to get their hair cut or styled. My dad had seven younger brothers and sisters and my mom had four, so even just taking care of their hair was enough to keep her busy, but lots of people came for haircuts. When someone would come over, she had a way of smiling and making them feel welcome, like there was no one in the world she would rather spend time with. I would climb up on my barstool at the kitchen table and watch her work.

I didn’t realize it then, but I know now that Mom’s haircuts lasted just as long as the person needed it to last. It all depended on how much they had weighing on them that Mom could help them work through…but she never took the drape off and finished the haircut until she felt like they were done with everything they needed to work on. I am not sure, thinking back, how many people actually needed haircuts when they came over, but they all left feeling better than when they came; whatever was troubling them when they arrived weighed less on them when they left.

I don’t cut hair the way she did, although I cut my husband’s hair since it would otherwise never get cut. I do sit on the front porch with my kids when it storms, wrapped in a blanket. I tell them about other rainstorms in my life. I cuddle with them every night before they go to sleep, hoping they don’t grow up too fast. And I wash my daughter’s hair in the kitchen sink; I’ve even used rain water once or twice.

Mom has been gone for … six and a half years. At least this time I didn’t stop to count the number of days. It wasn’t just an automatic update in my head when I woke up. For a while that’s how I counted my days—by how many I had lived without her. Six years seems like a long time to people; six years to get used to living without her.  Six years of not being able to pick up the phone and tell her something. Six years without her in my life and being Nana to my kids.

I’ll never stop missing her. My life is like one of those bas-relief maps we used in elementary school…all of the details stand out, life-like, reminding me of all the moments she is not here to be a part of. Everyone says that time will heal the pain, and I know they’re right to some degree. I make it through most days without crying now. I don’t pick up the phone to call her, forgetting she wouldn’t be there to answer,  like I did the first year.

But like the scars I bear from the children I gave birth to, I don’t want the pain of my mother’s loss to ever heal completely. I want to miss her, to keep her close to the surface, to feel her loss to some degree. I don’t want her to fade away and become just a stray thought now and then.

So I will keep talking about her to my children. I will keep singing the songs that she taught them, and keep telling them how proud she would be of the amazing people they are becoming. I will talk about her to keep her with us, to keep her memory alive for my kids and for me.

Categories
Let's Talk Stress Management

Privacy is a Luxury Moms Don’t Have

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

I’m pretty sure every mother can relate to the idea that privacy is a luxury.  It never fails. I can be totally available the entire day to my children, but the moment I head to the bathroom for any reason that is the moment they descend without mercy or courtesy. Manners are what they demonstrate for others, but somehow the lesson is lost when it comes to me.

I long for the days of an uninterrupted shower or that long luxurious bath I once indulged in so often. It doesn’t matter how quick a pee break I need there will be a child banging on the door or barging in.

My favorite is when I explode, “GET OUT!” and the response is, “I just wanted to ask…”

I am mystified by the fact that the question, whatever it is, doesn’t occur before I head to the bathroom, and can’t possibly wait until I’m done. Is the universe going to implode if the question as to whether a cookie can be had now is not answered? Did my child not want to watch a cartoon before I closed the bathroom door?

This is one of the mysteries and frustrations of motherhood I have yet to unravel.

But it isn’t just them. There is my husband, too. I love the man, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not one of those people who are comfortable doing everything with their partner. Sometimes taking a shower overrides any interest in friskiness or conversation. I just want my shower to be a shower.

I’ve heard of the concept of being touched out, which many mothers feel. For me there is also being what I call thought out. I just don’t want to answer one more questions for anyone about anything. I want to be alone inside my own head for an hour and let my vocal cords rest. I want to take a hot bath in silence, alone.

Is that really so much to ask?

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Let's Talk Making Memories

Princess Masks and Stomach Pills – A Day in a Mom’s Life

Getting Real With Mary Swan-Bell

Lily, my five-year-old whirlwind, loves to hone her fashion designing skills. Unfortunately, sometimes her materials of choice leave something to be desired. Let me be more specific: Two of her favorite textiles are tissues and plastic bags. Ugghhhhhh. Whenever she begins one of these endeavors, I immediately develop an ulcer.

Obviously, given the disposable nature of these materials, the end result is NEVER what she has envisioned in her idealistic little mind. Hence, as the project comes to fruition, frustration leads to anger, which ultimately leads to tears and occasional door slamming. Lily usually gets pretty upset too.

So what is a trying-to-be-good mom supposed to do under these circumstances? I certainly don’t want to squelch her blossoming talents, but I absolutely know how it’s going to end. “Oh, that’s a great idea, honey, but I’m not sure if taping the tissue to your head is going to result in the Arabian princess mask look you want.”

“Why?”

“Hmmmm, for starters, the tape probably won’t stick too well. And then, if it does, it will probably pull your hair out when you take it off.”

“Can I cut this hair off?”

“That’s probably not a good idea.”

“Why?”

(ISN’T THE WHY PHASE SUPPOSED TO END AROUND THREE?)

“Because when the hair starts growing back, it will stick out and look funny and we won’t be able to put your hair in ponies.”

“I don’t care.”

And that is when the ulcer starts to bleed.

I’m not really well known for my patience. Especially with Lily, who definitely should have been born first when I was young and naïve and had more energy. But here she is, keeping my brain young and my stomach in knots. So, I make a few additional helpful suggestions: “Wanna play memory?” “Would you like a cookie?” “If you scrap this idea, I’ll take you to DisneyWorld!” Alas, nothing distracts her from her ultimate goal, and she pipes up with, “I’ll just use string instead of tape!” Excellent idea. Have you ever tried to tie string to a tissue? It’s a rocking good time.

But we manage to do it, she dons her Jasmine mask and twirls around happy and satisfied with her creation. I smile at her, take her picture, swallow a few stomach pills and then I’m happy too.

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Let's Talk Stress Management

Managing the Stress of Being a Mother-Writer-Woman

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

My kind of busy doesn’t always look like your kind of busy. Sometimes busy is reading a book or watching a movie with my kids. Sometimes busy is writing content for blogs or plotting a story arch. Busy is whatever I am doing.

I am a mother, writer, and woman. I am these things all the time and all at once. I do not understand the fragmented way we are encouraged to separate each of the things we are. Those commas should really be hyphens. I should say I am a mother-writer-woman.

There are days where I can proudly say that each item on the to-do list was checked off. Then there are those days I feel that I have accomplished nothing in my efforts to do everything and the best I can say is I helped keep everyone alive. Working at home with kids is like this.

To help me better deal with the demands on my life, whether from others or myself, I’ve started to really look at how I do things. Instead of having a to-do list to check off every day, about once a week or so I keep a list of what I did for the day. By tracking what I actually do in a day I can better see what I’m capable of. This allows me to make to-do lists that make sense, and which I actually have a chance at accomplishing.

I’ve also learned a few things about myself and how to deal with my kids that have become my personal tips-and-tricks to avoiding meltdowns (theirs and mine).

  • Avoid back-to-back appointments like your sanity depends on it unless they are at the same place.
  • Don’t tell kids any maybe plans, only settled plans.
  • Never leave home without a bottle of water and a few granola bars no matter how quick the trip.
  • When washing clothes wash all the underwear and socks first.
  • When putting clothes away put a few complete outfits on hangers, including a pair of underwear and socks.
  • Schedule a block of time for nothing.

That last one is a non-negotiable for me. During my scheduled block of nothing I walk away from the computer, turn off the phone, and do whatever I feel like. I do not plan or think ahead. For me it is organic free time.

These tips-and-tricks are not foolproof. I still get overwhelmed and over-stressed at times. I am a mother-writer-woman after all.

Categories
Let's Talk Parenting

12 Parenting Rules for Every Mom and Dad

1. Tell your kids you love them every day.

2. Keep your kids ready for school by encouraging them to read regularly during the summer.

3. If they’re old enough to ask, they’re old enough to know.

4. When it comes to the tough stuff, inform your kids before somebody else does.

5. Empower your kids to say no, even to you.

6. Give your kids a voice and let them express their opinions. It builds confidence and self-esteem.

7. Kids learn from what they see, not what they hear. Set the example by being the kind of person you want your kids to be.

8. Unplug from everything and engage with your kids every day. They need to know they are more important than texts, emails, and bosses.

9. Celebrate the individuality of your kids. It’s ok for them to be different from each other and different than you.

10. Don’t spoil kids with things; spoil them with moments.

11. Let your kids develop their own style, not yours.

12. Giving your kids the freedom to do it on their own – even if they make mistakes – is an important part of helping them grow.

Categories
Teens and Tweens

One Letter Makes All the Difference

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

One little S. That’s all you have to add to “mothering” to make it “smothering.”

The “s”mother is a close cousin of the helicopter parent.

But what do you do you’re not the smotherer?

I didn’t take it so well, myself.

There’s a teacher aid at the school – not my son’s aid, but in many of my son’s classes – who has that heavy-handed “I know best” personality.

She brings out the grrr in me.

First, it was little things. Parker carries a 3-ring binder with him to write song lyrics in when he has free time. Mrs. Smother decided it was keeping him from focusing on his Social Studies class, so rather than talk to his teachers or us, she forbade Parker from carrying the notebook, even making him take it back to his locker when he brought it to class.

We intervened, touching base with the teacher, who said, “Parker is my best student. He has a 99%. His lyrics notebook is not a problem and he is welcome to bring it to class.”

I was nice that time.

Then, she thought maybe Parker’s hair was too long. That one didn’t even have to come to us because Parker’s school counselor intervened on our behalf.  Parker has since had his hair cut, but it was his decision, and we let him get there on his own. He discovered that long hair was a pain because it got in his mouth when he was eating, and that rock stars can have short hair.

But when Parker came home from school frustrated because even after telling Mrs. Smother that he didn’t want to organize his things in a certain she took his property and did it for him anyway, I wasn’t quite as nice, although I did manage to edit the cussing that was occurring in my brain from the email I sent to Parker’s teaching team.

Kids in middle school are trying to learn independence. They won’t do everything the way we want them to. They won’t do everything perfectly. But we absolutely should be supporting them in their budding independence, respecting their space, and valuing their individuality.

As a parent, you can help your child by teaching him or her be respectful but to have the power to say NO. No thank you, even. But NO. And the younger you allow your child a little bit of personal control over his or her environment, the better. Empowered kids are independent thinkers with a strong sense of self-esteem and the self-confidence to say no to other things – like peer pressure and bad choices.

So whether you’re adding the “S” to mother or someone else is for you, take it back.