Tag Archive for: teenagers

Often, as I wrestle with a parenting dilemma, the ghostly voices of my parents come to me. Often, we have entire conversations in my head. Most of the time, I win. That is a function of age and defiance and some therapy over the years, I think.

Today I pondered the role of punishment and consequences versus empathy and compassion. I thought about whether the most important thing is to STOP a particular behavior or to let my children know that I used to act the same way because I used to feel the same way. I wondered whether acknowledging the intense emotions raging inside my girls might help to decrease their effect or at least provide a balm. I recalled learning that my strongest feelings were to be hidden and not used as an excuse for bad behavior and also that it was very important not to get caught doing something your parents didn’t want you to do. I learned that hiding both my emotions and my actions was better for everyone involved unless I was feeling giddy or euphoric. I think I decided that I would rather tolerate some minor bad behavior that “could lead to something more” in my father’s words and commiserate with my children, let them know that I see what they’re up to and that I think I know why. Give them an opening to acknowledge and air their feelings instead of poking them down that deep, dark hole. When I came to this resolution, the silent dialogue Dad and I were having while I brushed my teeth this morning abruptly ended. I think he saw my point and decided it was silly to argue.

On Wednesday, Bubba and I will celebrate twenty years of marriage. Twenty. And, no, I’m not old enough to have been married that long, and neither is he, but we somehow managed to jump the space-time continuum and make it so, anyway.

The past year has been one of the best years of my marriage, for certain, and as much as it pains me to say so, I think it’s because it has been one of the most challenging years of my parenting life. Not despite,     because.

The first six years we were married, we worked full-time, Monday through Friday jobs and spent our weekends eating out with friends, going to the movies, taking urban hikes and sleeping late. We spoiled our cats, traveled domestically and internationally and drove his parents crazy as we remained childless.  One day, all of a sudden, I wanted to be a mom. I never had before and, in fact, had been quite vocal about my desire to never raise children. (Turns out Bubba never really believed that bluster, but he wisely kept his mouth shut and didn’t challenge me or tell me how much he wanted kids.)

So one day, I woke up and said to him, in a hushed, rather quavery sort of voice, “I think I want to have a baby.” I couldn’t look him in the eye. I whispered it to him as his head lie nestled into his pillow, so close that if he had turned to look at me, my nose would certainly have lodged itself in his ear. He kept very still and said, “Cool. Me too.”

So here we are fourteen years later with one teenage daughter and another one on the cusp of teenagerhood.  In those years Bubba and I have grown together and apart, shifted the responsibilities of the household and our lives to accommodate each other and our girls as much as possible without blowing completely to pieces, and at times it has felt fragile. We don’t fight, but we have disagreed on some vital issues from time to time and on at least one occasion I insisted we go see a counselor in order to find common ground.  I have never stopped loving him, but there were times when I wasn’t particularly convinced that I could see forward to a time where I would ever be madly in love with him again. Part of that was due to simple fatigue (especially in the early infant and toddler years), other times I felt resentment when I saw his life as dynamic and mine as stagnant, and through certain periods it has been due to an absolute inability to see anything beyond the absolute frenzy of activity filling up day after day after week after month ahead.

But today, two days before we celebrate twenty years of marriage (and nearly twenty-four together), I find myself completely, madly, head-over-heels for this man. And I’m certain it is because of the turmoil and challenges we have faced with our girls in the past year. They are growing up, asserting themselves, doing their level best to find holes in our armor through which to poke sharp objects. They are doing everything they are supposed to be doing at this stage of their lives – testing limits and pushing back and exploiting loopholes and screaming, “INDEPENDENCE OR DEATH!” and it is hard. It hurts your feelings. It makes you question everything you thought you knew. It is ego-bruising, teeth-grinding, upside-down-in-a-hurricane, soul-defeating hard. There are bright spots in all of it, don’t get me wrong, but they mostly feel like opportunities to fill your canteen in anticipation of the next onslaught.  Bubba and I are flying blind here, not ever having found a manual for how to parent two such completely different children making their way through this life full of technology and stimulation and choices and emotion.

But we’re doing it together. And even when he is traveling for work, gone for days on end, he never fails to call or text us to check in. He never minimizes the challenges and he always reminds me that I’m a good mom. He lets me know that he is struggling, too, and he works really hard to stay engaged, asking the details of the last basketball game or pop quiz. He just returned from a week-long trip to Mexico with Eve and the rest of her classmates (14-year old girls, all) as a chaperone – a hot, exhausting, Spanish immersion trip where he was pleased as punch to get to know Eve’s friends. He is my rock, but just as importantly, he lets me know that I am his. On any given day, we might spend half an hour texting each other to talk about every subject from the most mundane to the most painful, it’s all on the table, and it’s all important.  This period of parenting has reminded me that what we have is a partnership built on mutual respect and trust. That Bubba remains vulnerable and honest about his own challenges while simultaneously supporting and affirming my strengths is huge. The fact that he can acknowledge my weaknesses without accusing or demeaning and step in to shore things up where necessary is just as amazing.

I remember thinking that after six years of marriage, I knew Bubba inside and out. I remember thinking that there was nothing that would surprise me about him. And then one day, when Eve was a toddler, he used a washable marker to draw this crazy face on the top of her foot. I had never seen him draw anything before and it was really good. I was surprised. Over the years, I have been surprised again and again as I watch him parent our girls with careful patience, humor, creativity, and so much love that my heart bursts wide open. I know now that twenty years is only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to know and love about this man. And I am so lucky to have found him.

Forain – The Tightrope Walker

Monday morning I went for a walk with two friends who are mothers.  As it often does, talk fairly quickly turned to our teenage daughters and the triumphs and challenges we are facing right now.  We took turns talking about and listening to each others’ unique perspectives and it felt good to be in the company of others whose values are similar and who may have fresh ideas for looking at sticky situations.

I was struck by how incredibly important parents are to children as they go through the early teen years.   Despite the fact that Eve is more interested in spending hours alone in her room (well, not digitally ‘alone,’) and she maintains that she has her own ideas about everything and my opinions aren’t always welcome, I know she is still looking to Bubba and me for a baseline.  She is in the throes of determining her own personality, her own values, and finding her unique path for the near future, and I have to respect that, but her frame of reference is us.  I can see her picking and choosing which pieces of me to absorb or eschew, shrinking away into her own space and crafting her world view from the bits and pieces she has decided are important.  She is watching the way that Bubba and I move through the world, how we react to lack of control, how we prioritize, how we act in community with others (or not).  We are the starting point from which she jumps and our role is so important in giving her something to either emulate or discard, something to react to.

One of my girlfriends was lamenting the fact that her teenager has such a negative view of her own life.  “She has clothes, food, a roof over her head. She doesn’t have parents who scream at each other all the time or kick her out of the house. How hard could her life be?”  We all laughed in that way you laugh when you know you’re all sitting in the same stew pot together.

We kicked around the notion that, in order to differentiate themselves and individuate (their most important developmental ‘job’ right now as teenagers), they have to craft some kind of backstory that justifies defiance, a pushing away. They have to have something to push off of in order to propel themselves out into the world with less fear and trepidation.  It is so much easier to push off when you’re angry or defiant than it is when you’re reluctant to leave.

There is such a strong temptation to take that “backstory” personally.  I have found myself more than once, mouth open, words tumbling out to justify or defend or belittle the “hardships” Eve has built up in her mind.  If she is listening, all I am doing is giving her ammunition in those moments.  When I’m feeling particularly disparaged by her, it is incredibly tempting to check out and let her spend hours alone in her room texting her friends, not invite her to play a game with the family or walk the dog with me or sit and do her homework in the kitchen while I make dinner.  
And then I remember what it was like to be a teenager who didn’t have parents that were available.  I remember feeling adrift much of the time, as though I was making choices about who I would be in a vacuum and ultimately, wondering why it even mattered.  It is hard to deny or embrace something that isn’t actually there.  In the moments when one of my parents was around, even if I felt they were being perfectly horrible, at least it gave me something to decide NOT to be, some solid ground on which to put my feet as I leapt in the opposite direction.
Even though I suspect Eve would say in a very brave voice that she doesn’t “need” us as much anymore, I think that the things for which we are necessary are simply different than they were in the past.  I am entirely convinced that our presence as role models in her life, however quiet and unobtrusive it may be at times, is incredibly vital to her sense of who she is now and who she may become over time.  I don’t expect or even want her to emulate either of us to the exclusion of her own burgeoning personality, but consistent availability to her, emotionally and physically, may just be the thing she needs in order to feel safe about trying on new personalities.  It may be both the bedrock and the safety net she needs to set her compass by.  

*Note: This photo is not of me. This girl is waaaaay younger than I was when I got my Easy Bake. I got it from Wikimedia Commons

Times have changed.

Man, even thinking about uttering that phrase makes me feel old – as old as I thought my grandparents were when I was a kid, and that’s ancient!

I was having coffee with the mother of one of Eve’s friends yesterday and somehow we got to talking about the things we fear most about having a teenage daughter.  It’s hard to even begin to know what we are up against, given how different their world is from what we knew.

The two of us shared the requisite stories of summer days spent completely unsupervised by anyone other than our older siblings (who often meant us as much harm as not).  Those mornings when we would dash out the door in packs, or looking for the roving packs of neighbor kids, to the familiar refrain of, “Be back in time for dinner!” were absolutely priceless.   Not in small part due to the fact that if our parents had known half of the stupid stunts we pulled, their hearts would have stopped no less than a dozen times a day.

We did things I wouldn’t let my girls do one tenth of. I rode my bike barefoot or with flip-flops (and lost toenails when I crashed). I rode on the handlebars of my brother’s bike as he tore down our steep hill as fast as he could.  No helmets. Only a front brake that would catapult both of us off the bike in a heartbeat if he squeezed it.  Oh, and did I mention that at the end of the street was a set of train tracks running perpendicular to it?  We never stopped. We never looked. Despite the fact that I lie in bed at night listening to the whistle of those trains coming through, it never occurred to me that one might come ripping down those tracks at the very moment we were bumping across them in a mad dash to get to the park that lay on the other side.  Never.

I could go on, but I suspect we all have stories like that from the 1960s and 1970s. Stories of freedom and exhileration and death-defying stunts that we only realized were incredibly stupid when we became parents ourselves.

And then the car seat laws had been enacted.
And we knew about sex predators lurking and lying in wait for unattended children.
And we bought bike helmets and knee pads for our kids and made them wear them.

And the dangers became more nebulous. Like online stalking. Cyberbullying. Sexting.

At least while we were endangering ourselves, we were having fun.  Real, actual, physical fun. We were playing slingshot tag (yes, someone sat in a tree with a slingshot and hurled a bb or a gravel bit or a plastic pellet at people running by and if you got hit, you were ‘it,’) or exploring construction sites or playing hide and seek in the condemned house down the road.  If someone pissed you off, they did it to your face and, often, others in the group would choose sides and it would be settled right there.  Generally with blood spilled or rocks being thrown, but it was settled face-to-face.

When I think about Eve turning 13 and wanting a Facebook page and her own cell phone, my head hurts.  I am fully aware that I don’t know most of the things that could go wrong. Yes, we’ve talked about being careful not to share too much personal information about herself and not “connecting” to people online that she doesn’t know in person.  But, just like my parents, I’m certain that most of the things she will encounter are not things that I could have anticipated, and it’s because of this that I wish I could get her to trade me her digital identity for some of those other things we had as kids.

I’d give her a woodburning set for her Facebook page.  Sure, my brother used it to threaten to brand me if I didn’t do his bidding, but that’s how I learned to stand up for myself. And think creatively (it took me a while, but I finally figured out that if I broke the tip off the damn thing, he couldn’t sear his initials in my left butt cheek).

I’d give her an Easy Bake Oven for her text minutes.  My sister and I kept ours in our bedroom. And lest you think we had rats or ants, let me be clear that we only baked cakes in it for the first week we had it. After that we experimented with Shrinky Dinks and our brothers’ socks and Barbie dolls. Yes, in our room. Yes, it’s a wonder that we didn’t burn the freaking house down.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t trade her any of those things.  But I do hope that someday she has a friend that she can reminisce with about all the insane stuff she and her sister pulled behind my back. And I truly, honestly, deeply hope that none of it has anything to do with the Internet or cell phones.  Lawn darts maybe.  Or a bb gun. Or a bungee cord.