So much of motherhood seems to revolve around those infant, baby and toddler years. While those years are challenging and exhilarating, I am today, entering the parent-of-adult-children domain. That seemed a good time to reflect back on parenting teenagers. I find my teenage children to have been challenging, fascinating, and rewarding in very different ways. And like those early years, they provide lots of room for parental growth as well. In fact, I believe that the teenage years require a deeper, more challenging, commitment than those early years.
In the early years, love and good intentions (and perseverence) really do go a long way. In the teenage years, those are the very things that get you in trouble. Instead, it seems to me that one needs to temper one's love with the ability to be wrong, the ability to realize that your children are not you -- they may develop different values and a different outlook on life -- you can either accept them or alienate them.
I am always careful to avoid posting things that will annoy or embarrass my children. I fear that this one may cross the line today, but I post anyway, because I believe that at some point, each of them will get it and realize that it is neither embarrassing nor annoying.
I've been working on this for years, waiting until I might post it without incurring the wrath of the children.
Being a Mom Means:
- Not flinching even though your stomach churns when you learn that the foreign country your 14-year-old will be visiting tomorrow experienced a 5.8 earthquake.
- Nodding goodbye at the airport as you bid your firstborn adieu for a 10-day adventure with his teachers and classmates, because hugging him would embarrass him to death, even though, when alone, he's willing to admit that he'll miss you.
- Watching the clock and realizing that your child is now navigating an airport he hasn't seen since he was 10-weeks old -- only this time, he's with teachers and friends, not you.
- Knowing that there is nothing you can do or say to ease the pain of middle school social challenges.
- Being at home while your child lives it up and has the adventure of a lifetime in a foreign country.
- Letting a child mess up and suffer the consequences, regardless how just those consequences seem.
- Watching a child fail without offering to help, because only through failure can s/he learn.
- Making your child spend three days at a place she'll hate, eating food she doesn't like, with strangers, in the rain, because it will help her grow and adapt.
- Letting your child make decisions, without comment or judgment.
- Hearing, "I don't want to talk about
it," and letting it go, even though you want to hear about "it"with every fiber of your being.
- Watching your child shed tears of love and loss as s/he leaves a community.
- Not knowing all your child's friends.
- Stifling that gasp when you see your children from afar and realize they look much more like young men/women than children.
- Knowing when it's OK to touch your children and when it's not, and resisting the urge when it's not, even if you desparately want that high five, handshake, hug, or other sign that you matter.
- Knowing enough to say, "Is there anything I can say or do that will help or should I just shut up?" and then just shutting up (because the answer is always, "No, you should just shut up.").
- Asking permission before telling their stories as if they were your own. Your stories of parenting are your child's stories of life -- let them set the access controls.
- Letting your child struggle to accomplish something, because helping him/her doesn't actually help him/her learn.
- Saying, "OK," when your child says, "Yeah, I can navigate the public transportation; you don't have to do it with me."
- Pretending not to exist when you chauffeur your teenage children and their friends around.
- Knowing that even though your 15-year-old says he doesn't want to do anything for his birthday, making his favorite food is still the right thing to do.
- Struggling about how much to pry when they tell you they were "hanging out with friends" after school.
- Swallowing that, "I told you so," or "What did you think would happen," before the tiniest bit of it escapes from your mouth.
- Telling your daughter how much you love her for her hard work or brains or cleverness or humor instead of for being cute or nice or good.
- Asking permission to attend events or do things, instead of assuming you get a choice in the matter.
- Biting your tongue while your child's friend chastises him/her for behavior you've been trying to change for years.
- Letting your child be really, really angry at you.
- Wrapping your head around your 15.5 year old spending a month in China ...
- Not reading your child's college essay
- Watching your daughter independently make her way through the dark night to the bus that will carry her and her 7th grade classmates away from you for the next week.
- Telling your child, "I'd like you to think more about whether you are exercising good judgment," instead of yelling, telling him/her that s/he is wrong, or punishing him/her.
- Learning to recognize the subtle indications that you're doing a good job, such as when your teenage child wants you to know the good things that happen to him/her; when your child is in trouble and wants to talk to you first; when your child initiates a discussion with you about sex or drugs; when you overhear your kids describing you as "strict, but fair." (I have not experienced all these, but for those I've not experienced, I've heard from other parents and frequently pointed out that these are the things that tell them they are doing a great job.)
- Letting your children make their own decisions rather than deciding what's best for them.
- Savoring each and every hug, while accepting the fact that the next one might be a long time away.
- Realizing that it is your existence as a parent, not your existence as a person, that your children despise.
- Watching the clock as your "baby" flies to a foreign country without you, waiting somewhat impatiently for the first pictures letting you know that she's OK.
- Honoring the request that you not read your child's personal statement, no matter how much you want to read it nor how much you think you can read it and pretend not to have.
- Praising the hard work that went into accomplishing something, not the external award acknowledging it.
- Paying enough attention to your child's friends' accomplishments and behavior so that when parents congratulate you for your child's behavior or accomplishments, you can sincerely return the compliment.
- Accepting that your children have adult friends you don't know and acknowledging that this is a good thing.
- Trusting your child when s/he says, "I'll take care of it."
- Telling the people who care for, teach, and love your children just how grateful you are.
- Collecting your own friends as your children make their way through a series of daycare centers and schools.
- Facilitating your child's transition to managing his/her own medical care.
- Treating your offspring's significant other as an independent adult, not just an extension of your child.
- Dealing with the sheer terror when you hand over the car keys for the first, second, or Nth time.
- Recognizing that once your children leave home, you are allowed to have a life, even if the particular choices make your children sad. Then being willing to talk about those choices and try to make their reality work for everyone.
- Truly wrapping your head around the fact that your child is now officially an adult.
- Letting those you care most about in the world, those for whom you would, without a thought, lay down your life, fly free and grow up.