Clean-up on Aisle Five, or What It Takes to Parent Teens

I kind of interrogated and then lectured Big Man this morning, and then I came back and apologized for being a little over the top. I told him we’re trying to figure out this parenting-of-teens thing, and sometimes we’re going to mess up. I reminded him we trust them until they give us a reason not to, but give us a reason not to trust, and they’ll go back to being treated like five year olds on lockdown. This stuff ain’t easy.

The morning conversation had me thinking during a.m. carpool what it takes to survive parenting teens. First off, God hears from me a lot, even if it’s just something like, “Sweet Jesus, get me through the next two minutes without totally screwing this up!” and “Good Lord, what  now?” There’s a LOT of head shaking involved, and frequent banging of that same head against the proverbial wall. They will insist upon messing up – often repeating the same mistakes, doing the same exact thing you’ve already had five conversations about with them. And as Little Man would say, there’s a lot of face palm too. I almost need a neck brace at this point, and my youngest JUST turned 13, which means I have a ways to go.

You definitely need your tribe. There are days the frantic texts fly – “Hey, have you been through this?”, “Hey, have you heard of this thing?”, “OMG!!!! WTF??!!”. “Would you believe he/she?”, “Do you know anything about such-n-such kid?” It’s not just bad stuff. It’s sharing the really good stuff too, along with the commiserating. There are the sanity-saving, wine-fueled pow-wows where we remind each other not to put our own crazy on our kids, and where we can actually  hash out whatever situation has come up, knowing we need to keep our mouths shut around said teens, and that they wouldn’t listen to us anyways.

Which brings me to another thing….There’s a lot of tongue-biting and teeth clenching. I think I might be rolling my eyes a bunch too. Spouse and I are having more conversations about the kids than we’ve had since they were little and we were just trying to survive baths and bedtimes. We keep checking in to make sure we’re on the same page. He checks my crazy, and I give him lessons on life with teenage girls (remember, he has no sisters and went to an all-boys high school).

I frequently remind myself to just shush – that whole “check yoself before you wreck yoself”. That. They have stuff they need to figure out on their own, without my interference or advice. Unless it’s a safety/legal issue, or will have really big-picture repercussions, I try to leave them to it. Not that I don’t ever try to help, give some direction, or at least offer my opinion, but they’re working on becoming independent young adults. You can’t stop that process by running their lives for them.

You have to take care of yourself. I run, I spend time with my friends, Spouse and I have our date nights. I remind my children I am not here at their beck-and-call, not here to serve them 24/7.  I work hard to maintain an identity that isn’t just “mom”.

It’s hard, but I admit to them – or try to – when I’ve messed up, and apologize. While as parents we need to maintain our authority, we also need to acknowledge the fact we aren’t perfect, and we are learning too. I read something the other day that to us, our kids will always be babies – baby preschoolers, baby big kids, baby teenagers, baby college students, baby adults. Every first is still a first. That means to my parents I’m a baby mom-to-teens. This is a first for me. I’m sure my parents are giggling while they’re watching this – the difference being a baby-parent-to-teens will ask her parents for advice, and will also actually listen to that advice.

If they should happen to read this post – I love you guys so much and I’m so proud of who you are, who you’re becoming. I truly don’t think this stage is the worst thing ever. It’s amazing to watch you face all these firsts, to see you experience high school and all the memories you’re creating.  I’d do anything to make the process easier, to keep you from pain or  hurt, but this is your life, your experience. Go live it. Go be great. Become.

I have good kids.   They do give me great joy. They also frustrate the hell out of me. (Why can’t people just do what I think they should do??!!). I am still figuring this whole thing out. I’m adding tools to my toolbox. By the time Little Man is a Senior, I just may have it together.

No, I don’t always have their backs

My oldest two are at a stage they’re really figuring out who they are, what they are, how they want to go about life. It’s an interesting, frustrating, gut-wrenching, beautiful time. Some days are amazing. Some days completely suck.  I’ve said it a lot lately – I equate the difficulty level of parenting teens to that of parenting three toddlers at the same time. Yes, I’m still wearing that dazed/glazed look of a mother overwhelmed and disoriented.

Here’s the deal – because they are figuring out who they are, because much of their days are outside our realm of control, because we want them to learn about life and how to do life as much as they can while still under our roof and under our guidance/protection, we let them make as many decisions and choices as possible. There are times we make decisions for them – when we have to, when the choice has more long-lasting repercussions, or when it’s a safety issue. They aren’t always popular decisions. We just hope and pray they appreciate our intervention somewhere down the road.

But yes, we do allow them a bit of leeway. But no, I don’t always have their backs. I think that’s an important distinction. I don’t think we do our kids any favors if we calmly turn our heads the other direction when we don’t agree with their choices. My children are not perfect. I know their faults as well as I know their strengths. I feel a responsibility to offer my opinion when I don’t agree, and make them come up with arguments to support their choices. I don’t always have to agree with their decisions. I don’t always have to have their backs, particularly when decisions might hurt them, hurt someone else, or have results they aren’t considering. I let them know I love them no matter what, and support them always, but that I don’t have to roll with their flow at all times. I’ve gotten some backlash for that, which I totally don’t get.

We do our kids a disservice when we blindly back them in all things, at all times. I am their safety net. It’s my responsibility to help them learn to be compassionate, caring, productive, happy adults. That’s a fraught journey. If we don’t help them understand other perspectives, if we never make them think deep enough to be able to defend their decisions, if we always tell them they’re right but not telling them when they’re wrong, we are failing them. We have to allow them to make choices that matter, because they need to learn how to win gracefully, and how to recover from mistakes and missteps. I need them to learn how to fail, and how to get back up from failing while I’m close by to keep an eye on the process.

I don’t presume to be a perfect mom. I don’t always know the best, right answer. Lord knows I’ve made plenty of parental mistakes in the last 16.5 years. But I come at life with quite a few spins around the sun. My perspective is broader, I can see the bigger picture as opposed to just the decision at hand. I can see the gray, where they tend to see black and white. I realize one of the last things teens want to do is listen to their dumb parents, but hey, we kinda know what we’re doing most of the time.

I happen to love my precious children – I love them enough to not always agree with them, and still come out the other side with an intact familial relationship. I don’t just show them approval. I don’t just show them disapproval. I show them love, constantly. I show them the pride I have in them. I encourage and support, but no, I don’t always have their backs. Hopefully in the end that results in well-rounded, thoughtful, successful adults.

In which I noticed something strange

When I was in high school, I didn’t know one kid who couldn’t wait to get her driver’s license. We all took driver’s ed at school, got our learner’s permits as soon as we could, and did our best to schedule our license appointments as close to our sixteenth birthdays as possible. It was just a thing….that freedom….we all couldn’t wait for it. Even if a kid didn’t have immediate access to a vehicle, he’d still get his license as soon as it was allowed by law. I grew up in a small town – a license allowed one to cruise, to actually even escape to the next, larger town, and if you were of a mind, it allowed you to get out to the “far out country” to party in the gravel pits (I wasn’t a partier in high school, so never experienced those infamous gravel pits).

Something seems to have changed over the years, because I know a ton of kids at my kids’ high school who have seemingly zero interest in getting their licenses.  Seriously, wth? It makes  no sense to me. You’d think they’d all be like we were – so ready for that freedom of being able to drive themselves where they need and want to go. But no….

Big Man turned sixteen nearly six months ago. He will finally take his license test at the end of February. Now his is a different circumstance – we held getting his permit over his head to push him to get his grades up. Doesn’t seem it was much incentive. I finally caved, knowing I was punishing myself more than I was punishing him. I know boys older than him who don’t have their permits yet, and some just now getting their licenses. One of my friends has a daughter who’s a Senior – she doesn’t have her license, and doesn’t want it.

I’ve been trying to figure this out. Why don’t they seem to care about this typical teenage milestone? Is it the parents, or the kids? Is it because we’ve just gotten into the habit of doing so much for our kids, it doesn’t seem to matter? Are we part of the entitlement problem, enabling our kids to disregard learning how to drive because we simply take them everywhere? Are they so used to, and fond of, us having total control? Or is that one on us as parents?

Like I said, Big Man will test for his license the end of this month. Am I nervous about him taking the wheel by himself? Of course I’m nervous, but you know what? I can’t wait…I can’t wait to not have to drop three kids off at school at three different times. I can’t wait to not have to pick him up from school, take him to the golf course, and then wait for his text they’re on the last hole to go pick him up. I can’t wait to have one more driver in the house to help with errands and getting his siblings where they need to go, when they need to get there, without  me losing my mind.

Do you have kids old enough to get their driver’s licenses? Do they have them? Do they care? What’s your take on this situation?

You don’t know her

I was downloading performance pictures from Nutcracker this week, and, like any good dance mom, posting them to my social media. It hit me that most of the Princess’ friends have never seen her dance. She lives in two separate worlds….her school world, and her dance world. They don’t overlap at all. There’s an entire side to her that her school peeps have never even glimpsed. I don’t hold it against them  at all. I just find it interesting.

I looked at those pictures of her dancing, knowing exactly what faults she would find and point out, which she would like, which she would tell me to not download. She sees herself critically in the photos. I just see her when I look at them, and I realized, you don’t really know her if you’ve never seen her dance. She bares herself when she’s dancing – her passion, her drive, her emotions, her intent,  her strength, her vulnerability. Every time she performs, I learn something about her, and I think that’s what makes me cry when I watch her. I see her, and I know all the work she’s put into it.

I hope someday her friends get to see her dance. They’ll see a side of her they’ve never known, they’ll maybe understand why she frequently has to say, “I can’t, I have dance”, and they’ll know her better, because you don’t really know her, all of her, unless you’ve seen her dance.

Invisible

I’m learning that when you are the parent of teens, you must become invisible in their presence, especially if any of their friends are around. This is really hard, as I spent years figuring out how to stop making myself invisible. I feel like I’m becoming smaller, disappearing from their lives, that I’m not really allowed to be part of their day-to-day stuff.

When your kids are in the car, you are to be a silent chauffeur. Don’t say a word, don’t ask any unnecessary questions, don’t comment on their conversation, don’t greet their friends, don’t even let them know you’re there. Above all, don’t even consider singing along to the music as you normally do. Just drive, wherever they need you to drive. You are an “old person” and not the least bit cool, so just keep anything you have to say to yourself. You can tell your spouse about it later, and whine over wine with your friends.

Pretend you don’t notice your kid is on her phone. Don’t ask who’s texting her, or what her friends are up to. You aren’t even supposed to know their friends’ names most of the time. Don’t acknowledge you’re aware who’s on what team at school, or who is dating whom. They seem to forget my friends – whose kids are in the same school – post status updates and photos all the time, and that sometimes, I actually have MORE information than they do. So there!

I have learned if you’re a silent observer, and can become invisible in their world, you hear more and see more. I’ve learned that sometimes, if you play your cards right and their friends aren’t around to witness it, they will actually talk to you. They might even talk about their day during dinner. If all the stars align in just the right way, they might – SHOCKER! – sit on the couch and watch a game or movie with  you. Very, very occasionally, they might allow you to hug them (just don’t even dream of that happening in the school parking lot when, “SOMEONE MIGHT SEE!”)

I keep finding myself struggling against these restraints. I know – we complain for years how needy our kids are, then suddenly they want us to essentially disappear, and we complain all over again. I don’t like having to be invisible. I’m used to being smack in the middle of their lives. I like knowing everything that’s going on. But now, I find myself telling myself, multiple times a day, to keep my mouth closed, and to become invisible.

They come back from this stage, right? At some point, I’ll be able to be a real, talking person around them? Tell me I won’t have to be invisible forever……

The Meanie

There’s a new look on my kids’ faces lately. Well, I guess I’ve seen it before, but it’s been a really long time. You know that look your toddlers give you when you tell them no candy for breakfast? The same look when you take away their favorite toy because they haven’t been sharing, or tell them they have to take a bath, or that it’s nap time? It’s that look of stunned disappointment,  the look that tells you that in that moment, you are the biggest meanie in the world. That’s happening.

I spend my afternoons and evenings hounding Big Man on all the work he needs to do to dig out of the hole he put himself in. It really isn’t fun. I’ll give him credit – he has hunkered (isn’t hunkered a great word?) down and has spent hours actually doing homework. Trust me when I feel horrible for sending back to the grindstone each time he groundhogs. I’m not an evil taskmaster – he does get breaks, and I try to reward what I know is difficult, sometimes tedious work. I get he’s overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed too. When I look at the mountain of work that needs to be done, I hear myself sighing. But this is a life lesson I’d much rather he learn now, rather than later when I’m not around to keep pushing him to finish.  So I’m the meanie taking his phone away when he gets home from school. I’m the meanie who keeps checking his grades and making lists of all he needs to do. I’m the meanie making him pull his planner out every afternoon and show me he’s written his current homework down, and then that he actually does said homework. Yes, I’m THAT meanie.

It doesn’t end with Big Man. Teenagers will push that fine line, trying to find your boundaries and what will happen when they try to cross those lines. I’m sure they’d prefer I were more a friend than a parent, but that’s not my job. My job is to parent them through to responsible, accountable, decent human-being-type adults. So yes, I’m going to call you out when you’re wearing something I don’t find acceptable. I’m going to take your cell phone at night, and check your texts, Insta, Snapchat, and all the little hidden messages in each of those. I’m going to make you go to bed at a decent hour. I’m going to get ticked off when you roll your eyeballs. I’m going to insist you respect your parents, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, and every other adult in your world. I’m going to remind you that no, you don’t know everything, and yes, I do know quite a lot about how life works. I’m that meanie

I’m going to show you every day how much I love you, and care about who you are as well as who you are becoming by being that meanie. Trust me, I don’t love it. It’s hard, and I don’t love seeing that look on your faces. But this is my job, and darn it, I’m going to be as good at it as I can.

Wednesday Rant, or, Why aren’t we allowed?

Goodness knows I love my three babies, and am inherently aware the gift each of them is. Trust me…after two years of fertility testing and treatments, a miscarriage our first pregnancy, and then Big Man’s 3.5 month early arrival, they are each treasured. They are growing up quickly; our time with them at home is dwindling. I know someday soon, I will miss all this crazy. But good golly, why does that seem to mean I’m not allowed to complain how much it sucks some days, how hard it is, how exhausted I am, how over any particular season I might be?

Why aren’t we allowed to say this is hard? That doesn’t mean I’m not grateful and thankful for my babies, nor that I’m not aware they’ll soon be grown and gone.

We’re not quite a month into this school year, and I’m kind of over it…the fire-drill mornings, the “Do you have homework? What homework do you have? Did you do your homework? Did you put your finished homework in your backpack? Did you actually turn in your homework? Why didn’t you turn in your homework? Did you study for your test?  Do you have your running shoes? Do you have your uniform? How are you supposed to wear your hair for the game? What time is the game? Why is this envelope I gave you to give your teacher still in your folder two weeks later?” and on, and on, and on. Not to mention the hauling people everywhere all day, every day…..three or four trips to the high school most days, one trip across town to Little Man’s school, games, meets, dance classes, trips to the store to get this or that for whatever project that’s somehow due tomorrow and I’m just being told he/she needs something. We won’t even talk about grocery shopping,  meal planning/prepping/creating, and the billion doctor/eye doctor/orthodontist visits that have to be scheduled and attended. Throw in a back-t0-school  night, or a PTA dinner/meeting, and I’m totally rattled.

Why aren’t we allowed to say we’re exhausted? Why don’t we get to say this is hard? Why don’t we get to fuss every once in awhile without being reminded  – sometimes nicely, sometimes not-so-nicely – that too soon, we will miss this, and we should just be grateful. I am grateful. I’m thankful for every breath each of my children takes, every single day. I’m grateful I have to go to the mall and buy clothes, make-up, jewelry, shoes for my baby girl. I’m grateful I have to take my biggest to the running store to get racing flats. I’m grateful I get to take a picture of them by the courtyard gate at harvest every year. I’m grateful I have to buy food for five people. I’m grateful I have to make sure three kids get to school every day, home from school every day, showered every day, to whatever activity every day, to bed every night. I’m damn grateful. But I’m also exhausted, tired, stressed, frustrated. I love that I get to see my once-two-pounder run cross country and play golf. I love that I get to watch my princess dance and cheer. I love that I don’t get half of what Little Man is telling me about coding or whatever app he’s discovered. I love all of that. But I’m still tired, exhausted, drained, stressed, and frustrated, and it should be okay to say that out loud sometimes.