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Felice Shapiro


The Single Parent: Closing The Parent Gap

Posted: 05/03/2013 6:20 am

After my second son was born, had there been a parenting course about how to raise boys, I would have signed on. I was out of my comfort zone.

I had almost no interaction with boys until I went to college. For the most part, boys made me nervous. I was extremely proud to have made a guy friend when I was 12, we hung out summers on Martha's Vineyard and we were coming of age buddies -- but I didn't view him as the "other sex" as he was "just a friend".

Being from a family of all girls, I was number 3 of 4, and went to an almost all girls school (our class was the first co-ed graduating class), boys were not on my radar.

So I understood nothing about boys or men -- or so I thought, until I became a Mom.

The truth is, I was sort of raised like a boy. Dad was desperate for sons and after his first two girls were born, my parents were sure I would be their Gabriel (that was my chosen boy name) - but that was not to be. And when the youngest, Emily popped out 5 years later -- the deal was sealed. We were known as "The Four Graces" as coined by Great Auntie Fanny. Nevertheless, Dad was determined to raise us like a pack of sons -- at least the first three of us, as we were only 12 to 13 months apart.

Family time was sport time with Dad -- skiing, tennis, biking, climbing and sailing. It turned out Dad was a bit reckless but we never noticed; the riskier the activity, the more fun. Ganging up on Mom for worrying became a bit of a sport too. We saw her as wimpy, nervous and girlish -- not like us, we were tough. Whining wasn't tolerated and doctors were visited only when it was critical. We didn't' spend time talking about clothes and parties -- she did.

Small craft warnings beckoned my Dad to the sea and en famille we would crash through cresting waves and radar through fog from Falmouth to Maine. We were building our childhood stories on natural highs of adrenaline and serotonin which would be followed by scotch as we came of age (14 or so). The bonds were cemented, and we were ready for Dad's next road trip.

It turned out Dad had indeed prepared me to be a mother of sons. It was no surprise that I married a man much like my Dad in his adventure-seeking quests. It was a given that I was not to be left behind in the kitchen tending to the children. We were equals out in the wilderness; equals on the slopes, and our dreams of adventure were aligned. This is how we raised our 2 boys -- 2 years apart. It all worked out well until the boys became older and stronger -- ages, 11 and 13.

It was clear the boys' adventures with their Dad were becoming more intense and I was starting to trail the pack. I was no longer out in front; but now breathlessly, I chased them through the glades on skis as the 3 of them floated on snowboards out of my sight -- I realized I was losing ground. Fears were starting to invade my yahoo spirit and anxiety about them hitting a tree or getting lost out of bounds was pushing the fun of it all. Summertime brought it's own new tension too -- there were no more sweet days body surfing easy swells at the beach as the 3 of them preferred the big rollers on red flag surf days.

I could see myself becoming the "Mom" -- the outsider, anxious on the beach, anxious on the slopes and less able to enjoy the adventures. I wasn't happy about it but couldn't wrestle down the mounting fears.

And suddenly the playing field got tougher. The boys lost their Dad at the ripe age of 16 and 18 and I was suddenly riding solo as parent. Without the buffer of their Dad's brave leadership, I was on the front line and not ready to assume the role of fearless ringleader. Unsure about my ability to fill in the Parent Gap, I didn't want to pass my mom worries and anxieties onto those boys -- they needed all the courage they could muster to get through this loss.

Tapping into my now minuscule thimble of courage, I gave them permission to continue embracing their edgy adventures. I bought them surfboards so they could surf with their buddies but I wasn't going to watch them. When they came home with extra long (super fast) skate boards -- I looked away, pushing down thoughts of double yellow-lined roads filled with cars, trucks and them.

I swallowed my fears as best I could because I wanted those boys to enjoy the thrill of discovering their physical limits as I had.

And as the years unfolded, I could see their good sense was beginning to gel and although I still worried, I was starting to have faith in their judgment.

So this past December I closed the Parent Gap. I booked a surfing trip and took my boys to Costa Rica for 5 amazing days. As I had never actually watched my boys surf, I decided it was time. They were thrilled and cleared their crazy schedules for the trip. I signed up for surfing lessons and moved to the front line parent position. Floating on my board, I watched them "ride" by me tumbling off exhausted and laughing. Feeling my heart in my throat, I watched them get hammered in the curls and cheered as they miraculously arrived on shore -- with full-on smiles.

Mission accomplished: The Parent Gap was officially closed.

Read more from Better After 50:
Ignorantly Dumb and Purposefully Stupid
What Up With Mom?
Mother's Day Gift Guide
My Son Chose His Dad Instead

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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  • Taking A Bath

    Ahhh. Why does taking a warm bath instantly destress us? "[It] calms our physiology [and] relaxes the vessels," explains Dr. Ackrill of the American Institute of Stress and WellSpark, a leadership development firm.

  • Praying

    Praying can lead people to feel a connection with their spiritual health, writes Dr. Cynthia Ackrill.

  • Eating Chocolate

    "I have a love affair with chocolate, but unfortunately, sugar is not a help in stress," Dr. Ackrill shares with Huff/Post50. "We crave it -- we want dopamine and serotonin to feel better -- but it is not a help at all in the long run. Sugar actually is inflammatory (a version of a stressor)."

  • Snuggling With Puppies

    Got a dog (or two or three)? "Loving pets lowers blood pressure and increases immune responses, counteracting the negative effects of stress," Dr. Ackrill explains. But don't think your puppy<em> is</em>a stress cure-all, she explains. "Don't keep living a life that is filled with stress and stressful perspectives, then love on your dog -- make changes and love the dog!"

  • Listening To Music: Brahms Violin Concerto In D Major

    "Some music actually increases coherence of our heart rate -- a really healthy state," Dr. Ackrill writes. "And if you are actively listening you are less focused on the stress."

  • Getting A Hug

    Don't underestimate the power of human connection as a form of instant stress reduction. "We need more touch, [which is] sometimes a challenge as we age," Dr. Ackrill writes. "Massage even releases anti-stress chemicals."

  • Knitting

    The rhythmic movement and creative energy expelled during a knitting session can instantly reduce stress.

  • Listening To Audiobooks

    When you listen to an audiobook to destress, you're "usually [shifting] focus," Dr. Ackrill allows. "But if the stressor is still looming, this may only be procrastination. If it sparks creative thinking to deal with a stressor -- to expand thought patterns -- it may be helpful."

  • Walking The Dog

    When you walk the dog you're hitting three stress reducers in one activity: exercise, and being around animals and nature, according to Dr. Ackrill.

  • Drinking Water

    When we are stressed out, we tend to get dehydrated, Dr. Ackrill explained. Drinking water can be soothing and a way to help our bodys handle all the reactions that happen when we're stressed.

  • Listening To Music: Dave Matthews Band

    Readers told us they automatically destressed when they heard Dave Matthews' music. (For a two-for, watch <a href="">Dave Matthews Band's video for the single "Everyday,"</a> featuring lots of hugs.)

  • Eating Strawberry Ice Cream

    As with chocolate, this instant destressor can actually cause more harm than good in the long run. While we love that rush of feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin, sugar causes inflammation, a type of internal stress.

  • Deep Breathing

    A number of Facebook fans said deep breathing instantly reduces their stress, and for good reason. "This is one of the oldest and cheapest forms of stress management known to mankind!" writes Dr. Ackrill. "Mindful breathing resets brain patterns, increases heart rate coherence, lowers blood pressure and many more effects." Yoga and meditation also made it on the list.

  • 'Seeing My Grandkid's Smiles'

    Experiencing the love of our families creates a connection that releases inflammation-fighting DHEA and other chemicals, explains Dr. Ackrill.

  • Crying

    Crying can release tension, but is not a proven stress reducer, Dr. Ackrill told Huff/Post50.

  • Dancing

    Dr. Ackrill calls dancing an "excellent" way to instantly reduce stress. "Movement releases stress reducing chemicals as well as chemicals that support brain growth. Exercise rivals antidepressants."


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