Chaos On Serenity

Diary Of An Off-Grid Homesteader

Category: Free-Range Parenting

How To Ruin Your Teenager’s Life In Three Strategic Steps

To all my parenting peeps out there, sit down and hold on to your hats for a few minutes as we enter the turbulent world of teenagerism.

Truly, it has been my experience as having been a teenager once myself and now living through my second bout of it in my kids, that being a teenager is TOUGH. Much tougher, perhaps, than even being a parent of a teenager.

And it’s getting tougher. I mean just yesterday, when I was a teenager, we didn’t even have social media to screw with our heads. If we wanted to join up with other teens and make bad choices, we had to put a little scheme into it. Nowadays teenagers can just google their way into trouble. Often while sitting on the couch right next to you (if you can get them to come out of their room, that is).

This is why it is even more important than ever that we, as responsible parents, try really, really, hard to ruin our teenager’s lives. Because if you aren’t ruining your teenager’s life, somebody out in there in google world is (for realsies).

So, based on my aforementioned experience, I have created a quick How To guide to help you do your absolute best in your noble parenting quest to ruin your teenager’s life.

Strategy #1: Chores. Lots Of Chores. 

Now when I say chores, I don’t mean some cute little chart where they earn stickers for unloading the dishwasher and brushing their teeth. I mean real, gritty, down and dirty chores. That actually help you out and make life easier on the entire family. Sure, cleaning and bodily hygiene rituals are just fine (we could actually use a little more of those around here) but think about adding something intense to the mix- something that makes them sweat, makes them think, and/or creates a lasting result.

My children haven’t always had to do chores (this could be why we have such a hard time with cleaning and bodily hygiene rituals…). To be honest, it wasn’t until we started homesteading, living off-grid and taking care of animals that I realized chores weren’t cute anymore. In our life, everybody is needed to keep everything running smoothly (and even then, we are often still just puttering along).

For my sanity and because I would turn into a bitter old lady otherwise, everyone has to do their fair share of chores every day. Which translates to hours and hours a week. And the older they get, they more chores they get to do. Yay!!

So how is this beneficial to anyone else but me? (Said while sipping a pina coloda from my easy chair as the children fan me and feed me grapes). It creates this thing called character. It creates confidence. It gives a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Basically, your kids won’t be whiny namby-pamby’s if you work ’em young and work ‘em hard.

Now, I realize most of you are not living off-grid on seventy acres with endless amounts of work on your horizon. I am not suggesting you disassemble your house and have the kids nail it back together. But I am suggesting you create the kind of life where each member of your family contributes in a valuable and meaningful way. And if it makes them sweat, even better.

If you are homesteading, coming up with chores is easy. If you are not, you might have to get creative when it comes to doling them out in large quantities. Some ideas for meaningful chores for teenagers are: Design and take care of a small butterfly or vegetable garden, help with a building/repair project, learn how to fix a flat tire/change the oil, assist in family meal planning, or committing to a volunteer project or organization like Habitat for Humanity, etc.

Fun Fact: The younger you start them on chores, the easier it is to get them to actually do anything by the time they are a teenager. Plus by then, if you have done due diligence, they will surprise you with how capable and helpful they can be, even while perfecting their death glare.

Strategy #2. Make Them Spend Time With You

Now I know this sounds cruel, but hear me out. To truly ruin your teenagers life, you need to insert yourself strongly into it. That way, when they are thinking back on how you ruined their life, they will have lots of memories of you doing all kinds of stupid stunts to support their theory. Drag them to a movie, ask them about their latest book (tips on how to get your teenager to read in Strategy Three), do a chore together (my favorite).

Don’t be afraid to act silly, talk to people in public, or show some kind of affection towards your teenager while spending time together as these actions are sure to having a lasting embarrassing impact, a key to ruining their life. 

It really doesn’t matter what you do together, but it is important that you remain positive and unaffected by their attempts at withering your soul with a single glare. Forcing your teenager to spend time with you when what they really want to do is kill you can be brutal on the tender parenting heart. This is a good time reach into your spiritual toolbox and pull out the Second Agreement from Don Miguel Ruiz’s incredibly simple yet profound book, The Four Agreements, which is this: Don’t Take Anything Personally.

Of course, getting a teenager to agree to spend time with you can be pretty tough. The first step is getting them out of bed.  For tips on how to do this, refer back to Strategy One. The second thing you need to do is to completely bore the shit out of them so they talk to you out of sheer desperation. Which brings us to Strategy Three, the Mother of all Methods for ruining your teenager’s life.

Strategy #3: Take their phone away. (Insert horrified gasping emoji here)

Yes. I. Did.

I took my teenager’s phone away.

And guess what, everyone? She didn’t die! She didn’t go into convulsions, or start blubbering and drooling. (Actually, she quit doing that when I took her phone away).

In the interest of full disclosure (a caveat of this blog, really), I can now admit (a year later) that Maverick was right (of course, once again, yawn..) when he suggested we wait to give Phoenix a smart phone and social media. But did I listen? Oh no, I did not.

In hindsight, the best tip I have for moms and dads approaching the should-I-give-my-teenager-a-phone-and-social-media-decision is this: The minute that smart phone (or even tablet or ipod) goes into their hands and social media accounts are opened, the lines between parent and child autonomy start to blur, getting ever blurrier as the days, months and years go by.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, as developing personal autonomy in our children is a baseline goal for parents. But giving your child too much autonomy too early sets the stage for trouble, as I found out the hard way. So be very, very sure you are ready to go down this road.

Also, parental controls and/or spying apps are there for a reason, so don’t be afraid to use them. They allow for a slow release of your child’s privacy and autonomy as they prove they can handle it.

Above all, always make sure you follow your mom instincts and DO NOT give in to the mom guilt, no matter the amount of justification they sling at you. Truly, my resolve to wait on the phone/social media was blasted apart when Phoenix began pointing out all the deficits she already had in life, such as living in a camper in the woods, being homeschooled with no close friends, and the whole pooping in a bucket thing.

She begged for a phone, citing all the ways it would magically change her social life for the better. Saying yes to the phone, Snap Chat and Instagram was really my way out of all the mom guilt I was feeling. Of course, when I realized what I had done by giving her the phone, my mom-guilt came flooding back. Oh, the irony.

When I made the counter-decision that my teen’s phone had to go, it was not easy. By this time, she had pretty much turned into Gollum from The Ring, stroking the phone adoringly while muttering precious, my precious over and over to herself.

Honestly, I was downright scared. For some irrational reason, I thought I might actually ruin her life if I took her phone away. I even googled how to take your teens phone away and also should I take my teens phone away. (Apparently, teens are not the only ones who no longer have to think for themselves).

And even though, in all of google land, I found not one professional advising me to take my teen’s phone away (in fact, all I found were articles telling me how I should never invade my teen’s privacy or break her trust by taking/searching her phone), I did it anyway.

Best. Decision. Ever.

After all, do kids really have a right to social privacy? Shouldn’t they at least have to work for it?

I mean, when I was a kid, we had to sneak out in the middle of the night to have any privacy with our friends. And there was a reason why we wanted privacy in the first place, which wasn’t exactly anything our parents would have approved of.

It seems the leading edge opinion on the topic is that going through your child’s phone is akin to sawing off the top of their head and peering into their private thoughts. A complete violation of their personal being. Yet maybe, just maybe, it is not in the best interest of our children and teens to have unchecked and unregulated access to each other (and everyone else lurking around the internet)

Of course, when I took Precious from Gollum, there was a period of total freak out. The death glares were in full swing, along with dramatics to make any momma’s heart race. Yet, with the gentle support of Maverick, I stayed strong, my friends, and just loved her through it.

Then slowly, every so slowly, my child came back to me. Now a year later, she told me just the other day how glad she was we took her phone and social media when we did because she was being a ‘total idiot’ and that she is still suffering some repercussions from her ‘wild days’.

I am not telling you what to do, just reminding you to listen to your instincts and find what works for your family. But please, as tempting as it is, don’t put your head in the sand. What you don’t know CAN hurt them.

Believe me, I know how tempting denial is, but remember, as parents it is our job to ruin our teenager’s life. This means doing the tough work sometimes. So even though they may scream and shriek and have phantom limb pains, stay strong, my parenting warrior.

And if you find your resolve weakening, just repeat this mantra over and over: A phone is not an appendage, a phone is not an appendage.  Also, try not to delay, as I am pretty sure taking your child’s phone away will soon be illegal. 

And there you have it friends, three strategic steps for ruining your teenager’s life.  They seem to be working really well for me, judging by the intensity of death glares I am earning lately. If you have a strategy to share with the rest of us, let me know in the comments! #parentingwarriors

Two Sisters, A Comparison

I once joked with my sister that the only thing harder than my life is hers.

The face she made when I said this was one of utter shock.

Apparently, she disagrees with me.

So much so, she actually bet me that if I wrote this blog post, nobody who reads it will agree I have the easier life. ​Nobody.

And so, the challenge is on.

Don’t get me wrong, as mentioned in previous posts, my sister is basically perfect.

She has four, right-in-a-ridiculous-row, cutest-things-you-ever-saw, age-six-and-under, mesmerizingly adorable children.

She married her high school sweetheart at the tender age of 18, has never been in any kind of trouble for anything ever, and mails out thank you cards as religiously as I lose library books.

She has been a maid of honor at more weddings than I have been ​invited  too.

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Yet… yet… I still wouldn’t ​prefer her life.

She definitely wouldn’t prefer mine.

My sister and I are opposites, from our physical appearance to our personalities. We have learned to compliment each other quite nicely over the years. Where I am passionate and impulsive  (irresponsible), she is organized and level-headed (boring).

We are also very competitive. Hence this post.

Now I get it, I am the crazy sister – not exactly a badge of honor, though I wear it proudly.

Still, there has got to be ​someone out there who would rather live in the woods and commune with the trees than be at the beck and call of tiny humans 24 hours a day.

As mentioned, my sister has four young children. She has pretty much been pregnant or nursing for the past seven years, non-stop. She is also a very attentive mother – which translates to very needy children. Stage five clingers, she calls them.

I may live in the middle of the woods with no indoor plumbing, but my youngest child is eight. When my kids get on my nerves, I simply send them away to do chores.

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My sister and I both added new puppies to the family last year. Mine is a little shit, but since he has the run of the woods, who cares?

My sister’s dog is a little shit too. Only they don’t live in the woods, so it matters. She often escapes from their fenced-in backyard and runs straight over to the neighbors. This neighbor is not a nice lady.

Neighbors scare me. The thought of wrangling my wayward dogs out of some crotchety old lady’s yard makes me quiver.

This is why I live in the middle of the woods.

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Also, I do a lot of cooking. As a vegetarian who wants to eat healthy, it’s sort of a must. Plus it’s a very homesteady thing to do.

My sister doesn’t really cook and her kitchen attests to it. She has like, one pan and a whole bunch of upcycled yogurt containers.

With one baby glued to her boob, another poking a finger in the dog’s butt, a third crying because someone looked at her wrong, and the eldest hiding in a closet making silly videos on a stolen phone, I get why my sister doesn’t have time to cook.

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Still, is that really an excuse for not having a decent can opener or a simple lid for steaming rice?

No, no it isn’t.

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But what I really want to know is how she manages to keep her children so clean and coordinated, looking like little baby models, every single day.

Sure, she has indoor plumbing, so that helps.

But still, when it is time to leave the house, she’s like Mary Poppins, all smiles and songs, managing the impossible: four snotless, stainless, adorably dressed children out the door on time with no yelling. Something’s not right people.

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My sister is an extrovert. She never stays home if she can help it. In one day, she can easily handle ballet class, lunch date, park, grocery store, library, another playdate and top it all off with a ladies’ night out.

I am an introvert. I never leave the homestead if I can help it. I get tired just ​thinking about running errands. Socially busy days drain my body of vital life force energy.

Another reason I live in the woods.

You know what else? I have spent the last 20 years coming up with awesome business ideas. A handful of them even made it out of the idea stage, like, to where I actually made business cards and everything. None of them ever amounted to much as I have a tendency to move on to something new as soon as I get bored (usually right after I order business cards).

My sister, though. She sits silently by watching me come up with one hair-brained idea after another. Just minding her own business, changing diapers and such. Then bam! She decides she wants to be a photographer. And after less than a year has a bonafide photography business with actual ​clients.

She doesn’t even have a business card! Something’s not right people, I’m telling you.

So sure, she is organized, efficient, calm, patient, beautiful, joyful, sweet, polite, reliable.

But she doesn’t live in the woods.

Now, who’s with me?

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Library Liberation

I am in love with our local library. Obsessed is more like it. As a poor, homeschooling, homesteading family, the library is a miraculous beacon of hope in a world of expensive curriculum, allowing us to function with little funds in our quest for wisdom.

It’s a beautiful thing, my friends.

After all, the library has to be one of the last places on earth that offers it services completely free. Free books, free movies, and free internet (makes it a triple threat in my book). They also have free room rental, which we occasionally use as a winter school solution to keep from killing each other in our tiny, cramped space.

So, yeah the library is amazing. And the people who work there! At least at my local library, they are like another species of humans all together, so friendly, patient and ​helpful.  My local librarians are my idols. I want to be just like them when I grow up.

So you can imagine my embarrassment when, just the other day, my girls called me out in front of one of my favorite librarians so brilliantly, so perfectly, I was left bright red and sputtering from shame.

See, the problem is, I have very little self-control, especially when I’m surrounded by books. I’m like the proverbial kid in a candy store. Only a kid is at least limited by the change in his pocket. When it comes to checking out books, I am limited only by the library’s generous cap of 75 items.

Lots of books plus poor organization skills equals large library fines.

Amazingly, considering all of my issues, it has taken me a long time to get to my current library low.

Mav was the first one to go down. It took me less than a year to desecrate his library card. Then I got a card in my name and, for a long time, I kept it under control. Sure, there were occasional hiccups; a lost or ruined book here and there. But I paid off the fines as needed and we kept the reading rolling.

Unfortunately, I had a recent relapse and watched my library fine jump to $160.00! Oops. Can’t pay that anytime soon. But…

I must have books.

In desperation, I turn to Phoenix who shakes her head, shrinking away from me.

She knows what’s coming.

“We are going to have to put a few of our school books on your card. No choice, we need them for our learnin’. Plus a book on cultivating mushrooms for the homestead, and this other one on fermentation. And just one more item, a princess book for London. That’s all, promise. Unless you want to get a movie…” says I.

Phoenix sighs, reluctant to allow me to defile her sacred card. But, she basically has no choice.

I must have books.

And so that’s that. We got some books on Kyrah’s card. No big deal.

But, after having to beg Kyrah to relinquish her card, I realized it was completely shameful to force her hand. I mean, what kind of example am I setting here?

So I got a card in Leyla’s name.

And everything was cool until a few days before Christmas. Phoenix wanted to grab a few books to read over the holidays and I had a couple of holds that were ready for pick up. When I walked up to the counter, the librarian, recognizing me, immediately went to look for my holds, only she couldn’t find them under my name.

I casually mentioned they were on Leyla’s card. Shrugging it off like, of course an eight-year-old is reading this 800-page biography on Joan of Arc.

Phoenix had come to the counter with me to check on her fines. She knew she had some late fees (of her own doing!) but was aiming to keep her card under $25.00 in fines so she could still use it.

When the librarian announced her fines at $32.00, blaming a certain over-due princess book, Phoenix immediately turned on me, claws out.

“This is why I don’t want you using my card! You’ve already ruined yours, it’s not fair, now I can’t get any books!” She hissed loud enough for the whole library to hear her.

I could feel my ears burn, I began to sputter, about to throw Leyla under the bus in my place when-

The librarian, beautiful being that she is, sprung into action, overriding the fines so that Phoenix could use her card. “You need to get some books honey, and it’s Christmas.

We thanked her profusely, me feeling doubly ashamed. The shame of the poor and the shame of the guilty. I told myself it was okay, the librarian still loved me, they are super-human after all and not prone to judging. I took a deep breath and got my anxiety under control.

As I was finishing up my transaction with the holds, Leyla popped out from under my elbow. The librarian was explaining the more rigid late fee policy with the special-order books when Leyla piped in and said, “Mom, no! You can’t order these books on MY card, I don’t want big fines!

My ears, which had just returned to their regular color, burned bright all over again. I gave the librarian a pitiful smile and nudged my loud-mouths out of the library where they got a full briefing on tact and diplomacy.

In other words, throw me under the bus again ladies and kiss those coveted cards goodbye!

How about you? Have your kids ever thrown you under the bus? How did you handle it?

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What Type Of Homeschooler Are You?

Sometimes I feel like an imposter when I tell people I homeschool.

After all, when I think of homeschooling, I picture a super-organized, perpetually perky mom and her brood of perfectly polite, constantly clean, studious children. I imagine this homeschool mom having a detailed schedule that she sticks to like clock work, planning out her handpicked curriculum a year in advance while her offspring practice rote memorization and dote on each other all day. Hmmm… come to think about it, that sounds an awful lot like my sister!

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Okay, so now that we established my sister is my fantasy homeschool mom alter ego, lets talk about what kind of homeschool mom I am.

I am the type of homeschool mom that starts a cleaning project in the morning and by evening realizes the only ‘school’ we did that day was home ec.

I am the type of homeschool mom who makes a mountain of lists, outlines, and diagrams only to misplace them right before we need them.

I am the type of homeschool mom whose children wear pajamas all day and brush their hair only when we are going somewhere important (grocery store is low on the priority list).

I am the type of homeschool mom that starts a lesson, realizes its boring and pointless, and sends the kids to play Legos while I regroup over a bottle of wine.


One of the rare occasions I managed to get the girls all cute and somewhat matchy-matchy. This was the first day of a twelve week homeschool art class (note the bow in Leyla’s brushed hair and the fact they both have their lunchboxes packed and in-hand). Sadly, it all goes downhill from here my friends.

​It use to be that I pushed against who I was as a homeschool mom.

I would spend hours creating beautiful schedules and chore charts, ordering curriculum and reorganizing our collection of books. Hours I would spend on these things, waiting for them to magically transform me into the homeschool mom of my dreams. We are now in our fourth year of homeschooling and I have yet to be organized or perky.

In fact, the only thing which has really changed over the years is that I no longer strive so hard to be what I am not. I have given up trying to fit us into a fixed schedule, as we are just too spontaneous for that kind of planning. Instead, I keep a nice loose tally on what we have going on. When something is working, it is easy to keep at it. When something isn’t working, we drop it and move on.

Once I gave myself permission to relax, we became way more consistent and found a routine we actually look forward too. Since we no longer have to follow a list of Things We Must Get Done, we can get lost for hours reading together. We can choose to put the books down when the weather is gorgeous and friends want to come over, knowing we will pick right back up where we left off tomorrow, or the next day.

So how do I measure our homeschool progress if I not by what we have tangibly accomplished?

I pay attention to who my kids are. I look for signs we are on the right track. I am happy to report my kids are curious, creative, and thoughtful. They love to explore and have adventures. They are able to converse with people of all ages. They are not too self-conscious. They are smart and capable. They are strong and responsible. They care about ethical issues. Most of all, they are happy.

This is not to say I don’t still pine over moms who actually stick with their curriculums and carefully chart their children’s progress. Mom’s who always have a clean, matching pair of shoes (and socks!) for each of her smiling, hair-brushed children.

The fact is, a part of me will always want to be that mom.

But, I am not.

And I have realized when I quit trying to be someone else, I can actually be a pretty good me.

And now some more pictures of my adorable nieces and nephew.

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So what type of homeschool mom are you? 

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