August 7, 2013

How Hosting an Exchange Student Helped Me Grow as a Parent

I'm sure it's clear from my last post that I had a great time hosting our exchange student from Spain. What I might not yet have conveyed is how the experience caused me to think differently as a parent.

At the most basic level, I quickly developed an awareness of the many similarities between my children and our exchange student. For example, my kids (who are pretty darned cool), aren't very enthusiastic when we are on a car trip and I insist that they stop what they are doing (be it reading a book or playing a game on their ipod/ipad) so they can look at a beautiful mountain or cloud formation or sunset.  The routine goes something like this:
Photo Credit: Gabeguss

Me: "Hey kids. Hit the pause button. Look up. Look out the passenger side window. Hurry. Don't miss it. Isn't that amazing. Oh. My. Gosh. That is beautiful. Isn't that absolutely beautiful? Are you looking? Did you see that?"

My kids: "Yah. That's nice Mom. Thanks." Reading/game playing resumes.

Me (to husband): "How can anything on those blasted little screens possibly be more compelling than the view out our window right now? How. Is. That. Possible?"

I'll resist the temptation to go on. You know the drill. This sort of thing drives me crazy. I get on my kids' case about it. Even when I reflect back on how uninspired I was when my own parents gave their enthusiastic speeches about the wonders of looking out the window, I still have little empathy for my own kids' perspective in these situations.

Somehow, our exchange students' visit helped me put this in perspective. Here he was, traveling across the world, visiting a completely different country, seeing things he'd never seen before, and may not see again, and he too was nose down into his screen as we drove past these wonderful sites. He looked up, just like my kids did, and he (happily) took their queue and resumed his game as soon as my kids resumed theirs. I found myself thinking, "He's a 14 year old boy. Of course this isn't his thing."

And suddenly empathy for my own kids kicked in. They're kids. Completely. Normal. Kids. Interested in their games. Their friends. Their priorities.

They are good kids. They are happy kids. They are smart kids. And, they are likely getting more out of those brief glances out the window than I give them credit for. I suspect they too will grow up and oogle over mountains someday. In the meantime, I will continue to rattle their cages when we drive past beautiful views, but I will try to resist the temptation to be frustrated or judge. That's an important reminder to my inner parent, (and my inner author, given that I write for kids).    

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