How I Parent: Writer Mom Who Has a Foolproof Way to Listen to Teenagers

Name: Karen Gurwitz
Location: New York City, New York
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom and writer
Family Situation: Married with three kids: Nika, 18, Sophie, 16, Ethan, 14.
Parenting Philosophy: Borrowed from the horse whisperer, Buck Brannaman: “Be gentle in what you do, firm in how you do it.”

What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
When we got married, we wanted to start having kids right away but it took us about two-and-a-half years to get pregnant. I didn’t expect it to take as long as it did but we were very fortunate because we got to know others who were trying for much longer so I really appreciated my journey. Once we had our first child, we just let go of the process and ended up having two more very quickly afterwards.

I originally thought that conceiving would be easy and natural. We kept trying and expecting that it would happen but it wasn’t working out that way. We went to doctors and found out that we were both well, in terms of our fertility health, and were urged to continue to try and conceive naturally. We did work with a fertility doctor but didn’t end up going through any of the treatments because eventually, I got pregnant.

How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
My parents were immigrants from Israel and my upbringing was very related to that. Education was really important. Maintaining our culture and identity was really important. There was a lot of focus on achievement and success. I think that created an environment that felt rather strict to me as a child. I do think that’s influenced my parenting style. I took the pieces that I felt worked and then became much more relaxed around other things.

What’s your favorite thing about parenting?
My absolute favorite part is having the relationships I have with each one of my kids. I love hanging out with them together but I love the relationship that we each have separately. This is how I like to describe it: If I was in high school, I would’ve been best buddies with my daughter Sophie. I would’ve been so intimidated by my oldest Nika, and I would’ve had a crush on my youngest, Ethan.

Nika and I have incredible conversations. She’s so smart, challenging, and passionate. I love discussing things with her. Sophie and I barely need to speak. We always get into fits of giggles whenever we’re together. Ethan is just super cool. We just hang. We like to watch movies — that’s our thing.

What’s the hardest part?
The hardest part when they were younger was not being able to step in and intervene if they were suffering. It was hard, especially with things you have no control over, like getting sick. Now that they’re older, the hardest part is making that judgment call of when it’s time to step in and when it’s time to let them fall. Both are tough situations, in which you’ll need a lot of time to think and seek advice. Sometimes we hit it and sometimes we mess up.

How do you find time for yourself?
My kids are older so my husband and I are back to Saturday night dates. It’s different because it’s not a challenge anymore to find time for ourselves. But when the kids were younger, we made Saturday mornings our alone time. During the week, we’d both be tired so Saturday morning, we would leave cereal on the table with bowls and milk and my husband and I would stay in our room. Saturday morning dates is a parenting trick I love sharing because it really worked for us. Other than that, my alone time has always been my workout time. I’m either running outside or in the gym.

What’s the best advice you can share with new parents?
The best advice that I ever got dealing with older kids is that whenever they come talk to you about anything, your response should be, “Anything else?” That’s it. No questions and no comments. Just, “Anything else? Anything else? Anything else?” until they’re done. I do this often and you can apply it to anything. They could be coming to complain about their day or to complain about a friend; asking if there’s anything else helps them unwind until they’re finished. It’s not about tricking them to get them talking, it’s more for me to help keep track of what they’re going through. As parents, we have so much to say, so much advice to give and suggestions to make but teenagers mostly need someone to talk to. I may want to offer them my point of view but it might not be what they want. They just want someone they can trust, who will listen. Being a writer who has a lot to say and having no filter … it’s a great way to also remind myself to shut up and listen.

As for new parents, I would say ask for more help than you need. When you become a parent for the first time, you can never predict the level of the emotion you will experience. You’ll feel fear at a totally different level. You’ll feel humility at a totally different level. It’s the same for patience and obviously, love. I didn’t realize just how intense those emotions would be, so asking for help is always a good thing.

How do you embrace the most unpredictable moments of parenthood?
I embrace it the same way I embrace the unpredictable moments of life in general, which is with my friends, my husband, and my Spotify playlist.

What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?
My answer to that is: I don’t care what they say about me. I have teenagers and the thing is, things are going to change. They’ll change today, they’ll change in five years, 10 years. They’re going to change depending on where they’re at in life so I could not care a less what my kids say about me as long as they know they’re loved and cared for.

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