This is Adolescence – Author Q&A: Bethany Meyer

This is Adolescence – Author Q&A: Bethany Meyer

Headshot Bethany MeyerWhat is it about mothering a 13-year-old that you liked the most?

I love to laugh, and so does my teenager. By age 13, my son’s sense of humor had matured enough that he and I could share an abundance of movies, books, and television shows. We talked more, texted our favorite lines, and emailed clips we each knew would make the other laugh. It bonded us in a new way. It was unexpected and fantastic.

The least?

Once my son turned 13, he engaged less and less frequently with his younger brothers. He shares a room with his brother who is 19 months younger, and my 13 year old’s silence changed the dynamic of their relationship. My second son felt that loss keenly. While this withdrawal was developmentally appropriate, the effect of it on his siblings was still difficult to witness.

When did you know your child was a teenager?

When he began surfacing for breakfast at 11:00 a.m., four hours after the rest of the family had finished eating.

What do you wish you knew before you had a teen?

I had no idea how much a single person could eat between 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. every night. I have never witnessed anything like the teenage appetite.

What advice do you wish you could tell your former self about mothering a 13-year-old?

Hug him every day. He may act like he doesn’t need or appreciate the show of affection, but don’t let that stop you. Embrace him every day.

What about motherhood inspires you?

Knowing my children are connecting with people outside our immediate family inspires me. From their first acquaintances in pre-school to their newest teammates on the soccer field, every time one of my children makes a friend I smile.

What do you hope readers will take with them from your piece? 

Once you have a teenager, life changes for everyone in the house—parents, teenager, and siblings. Some of those changes feel like a kick in the gut. But there is still space to connect. It’s worth identifying that space. It helps you, as a parent, feel bonded to your child and able to celebrate his growing independence.

cover art quarkPurchase Brain, Child’s Special Issue for Parents of Teens, which includes the This is Adolescence Series – Eight essays from America’s leading writers on ages 11 – 18.

Read an excerpt: This is Adolescence: 12

This is Six: Bethany Meyer

This is Six: Bethany Meyer

Kris Woll interviews Bethany Meyer, a contributing writer in This is Childhood, a book and journal about the first years of childhood:

Bethany MeyerWhat was your inspiration for writing this piece? Have you written about this age/stage?

My third son was 6 when I participated in this series. The natural pace through which he navigates life is slower and more thoughtful than that of his brothers. Observing him at age 6 required that I slow my pace—so fast in comparison—to match his. Once I did that, I fell in love with him all over again.

I’ve written about this age before, but it’s most endearing to me after watching how it transformed my third son. Precious is the word that comes to mind to describe it best. Six is precious, and that was lost on me until the third time around.

What is it about age 6 you liked the most? The least?

A 6-year-old begins taking little risks, and he can do that because he feels loved and secure at home and at school. It’s a privilege to witness that shift occur in my kids.

That sense of independence is also a sobering reminder that childhood is finite and our kid’s time with us is short. Each step our child takes away from us also brings a brand new set of parenting worries. The worrying sometimes eclipses our ability to enjoy and celebrate our child’s breakthroughs.

What do you wish you knew before you had a 6-year-old, or what advice do you wish you could tell your former self about mothering at that particular stage?

When my oldest son was 6 years old, he had not one, not two, but three younger brothers! If I could go back, I’d tell myself to walk away from the dishes, skip the shower, lay the baby down, pull that 6-year-old boy onto my lap and envelope him in my arms. Six-years-old is a mix of big and little. But mostly it’s little.

What other age/stage in this collection (which explores 1-10) is one you would like to explore more—or do you often find yourself turning to—in your writing?  

Details are more accessible to me if I write a story almost immediately after it has happened. If I wait—a week, a month, a year—to write it down, it collides with the other thoughts in my head like “have I bought toothpaste yet?” and “where did I put the soccer cleats?” Knowing this, I find myself writing about whatever ages my kids happen to be at the time.

There are few things funnier than 4-year-old boys. They are an endless supply of material for a humor writer. I miss having one in the house, and I do love to read about that age.

How do writing and mothering fit together for you? How has that fit over time?

My life is so kid-centric right now that my children are typically my muses. It’s strange being the only female in a house with five males. I look for the funny in that because it helps me keep things that are beyond my control in perspective.

Writing about mothering has been a natural fit for me. Being a Mom is so integral to my story, but it doesn’t singularly define me. Raising children turned me into a Mother. Putting my stories about raising children down on paper has turned me into a writer. I wonder whether my subjects will be different a few decades from now?  I’ll just have to keep writing to find out.

What is your advice to other mother writers?

Write, write, write. Ours is a genre that seems saturated, but the voices are as unique as the experiences. Writing, for me, is therapeutic, and when another parent connects with something I’ve written, it validates both of us. Parenting is an enormous responsibility. So many of us are leading parallel lives, but if we don’t talk about what we’re experiencing, the weight of it can feel isolating. Yours could be just the anecdote that someone needs to read to get her through a particularly challenging time.

What do you hope readers will take with them from your piece? From this collection?

For readers whose children have passed these ages and stages, I hope they nod their heads and smile as they read along. Maybe reading an essay will unearth a tender memory nearly forgotten.

For readers who are just beginning their parenting journey, I hope this collection excites them about how robust the first decade of childhood will be!

Read Bethany’s “This is Six” essay in This is Childhood, a book about the first years of childhood and motherhood. 

Saving Our Kids, At Every Turn

Saving Our Kids, At Every Turn

By Bethany Meyer

Bethany MeyerSchool is the place to be right now. My kids are experiencing magic at their school. Teachers know and celebrate the students. Curriculum is rigorous. Technology is embraced. Design based thinking is explored. Character education is emphasized. Community outreach is in place. The school they attend was recently featured in a magazine in celebration of its Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. My husband and I immediately shared a parenting high five, confident that our four sons will eventually grow up to be kind, independent thinkers … able to solve their own problems and eventually move out of our house and contribute to society.

The director of this innovative program has a son in class with one of my boys. My husband and I recently talked with him about the CEL program and what it looks like inside the classrooms of our youngest children. At its core, it’s not about creating miniature business minds. It’s about encouraging kids to take intellectual risks, asking them to experiment, allowing them to fail, then equipping them with the tools to pick themselves up and move forward.

“It looks like parents not saving their kids,” he told us. And we smiled. Because don’t we all know those parents? Helicopter parents. The ones who hover around saving their kids from experiencing discomfort in their young lives.

A week after speaking with him, I stood on campus. Strategically placed between the locker room and the soccer field. The director hurried past on his way to teaching a class, recognized me, and greeted me warmly.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Behind my back, I clutched the pair of white socks that I had dropped everything to run out and purchase for my 12-year-old-son, who absolutely had to have them for a game that would begin in T-17 minutes. I lifted the socks up for him to see. And hung my head in shame.

“I’m failing your program,” I announced, “and saving my son.”

That’s when I realized … I’m one of those parents.

I save my kids.

Too frequently.

Every morning when I lay out their clothes for school, I save them.

When I drive them to school every day so they can sleep later than riding the bus would allow, I save them.

When, despite my repeated reminders, they forget their gloves on a cold day, I reach into my handbag to extract and hand over my very favorite pair of running gloves that will never be seen or heard from again…

When I sort, fold, and put away their laundry…

When I labor in the kitchen over a delicious home cooked meal, then place buttered noodles in front of one picky eater and cereal in front of the other picky eater…

When I remind them that tomorrow is library day and tell them where their library books are scattered in various parts of our crowded house…

When I intervene with his brothers on behalf of my third son every time he cries because I feel this boy’s heartbreak so keenly…

There I go again…..

Saving them at every turn.

I do things for my kids that go well beyond the scope of what is necessary. Am I in good company? You bet I am. Do I do it because I love them? Absolutely. Is it consistent with my goal to raise them to be kind, independent thinkers, who are able to solve their own problems and eventually move out of my house and contribute to society? Not in the least.

I am not doing my children or myself any favors by saving them to the extent that I do. So I made a conscious decision to be more aware of my behavior. And I made a silent commitment to encourage them to be more mindful of their behavior.

I didn’t have to wait long for my first opportunity to be a parent who doesn’t always save her children. So goes it in a house with four boys.  One day, I tripped on my oldest son’s science textbook, abandoned on my living room rug in the middle of the school day.

Uh-oh. He forgot his book.

I pulled out my phone, prepared to email him that I was on my way to school for a meeting, and that I’d drop his textbook at the front desk for him.  

But I caught myself.

“Stop it, Bethany. Stop saving him,” I said aloud. I looked at his textbook, shook my head, and proceeded to the front door without it.

Instead I texted my husband, “I refuse to drive our son’s textbook to school. I win at parenting!” Because some days the most valuable lesson can be found in the place we least expect it. In my case, a forgotten textbook on the floor.

Later that evening, I pulled my oldest son away from his brothers and into the living room. I pointed at his textbook, still lying on the floor, and crossed my arms. He looked at me quizzically.

In a quiet voice, I said, “I had a meeting at school earlier today, and I could have taken this book with me. But I chose not to.  And it’s not because I don’t love you. It’s because I do love you. But I have to stop saving you. Otherwise, you’ll never learn to save yourself.”

He remained unusually quiet.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” I asked.

“That textbook is supposed to stay home,” he answered with a shrug.


That’s not important.

Semantics, really.

What is important is that I continue my effort to raise kind, independent thinkers. Boys who will take intellectual risks, experiment, fail on occasion, and persevere.

Boys who, I hope, will grow into resilient men.

And, if I stay the course, they may actually move out of my house. And contribute to society.

For now, school is where they belong. That’s where the magic is happening.

 *   *   *

Have you considered the role resilience plays in your child’s readiness to navigate the world beyond school? How do you see it in play both in your home and at school?

Bethany Meyer lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their four young sons.  Her work has been featured in the Parents section of the Huffington Post. Read more of Bethany’s work on her blog, I Love Them the Most When They’re Sleeping, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter