April 1, 2020
Parenting a teenager might be one of the most confusing and internally jarring sensations in the world. I was having a typical lunch with my oldest when it occurred to me that those loose unplanned moments were what I will miss when he leaves for college.
We drifted in topics and suddenly, ten minutes later, I was mentally calculating just how long until we can send him away! It occurred to me that during this part of raising kids, we live in constant contradiction.
Keep It Personal but Don’t Take It Personally
One of our topics of conversation was actually about college. I dared to suggest that my dearest child apply to a few safe schools near home in case we can’t afford housing elsewhere. He answered, “Ugh! No!! I have to get out of here.” Gee thanks, kid. This was followed by a monologue of how awful it would be to have to live at home or anywhere near home during college. This is when I started my own calculations about how much longer I’d have to listen to these same complaints.
But here’s the thing, I know I can’t take it personally. I remember feeling the same way. I loved my family. Probably more than the average kid that age because of my difficult younger years. I still chose the college farthest away from home, literally on the opposite coast, on purpose. More importantly, it was that time, living in a place where I was my only option, that I became who I really am. While it’s no fun to have the child that is a chunk of your heart explain how lame you and the entire life you’ve built are, it’s actually a good thing. Consider the alternative, your thirty-something child never changes and still lives at home because the idea of leaving you and your lovely home is just too much to handle!
I Have No Idea What I’m Doing, But I Do Know You Don’t Know Everything
No parent of teens I’ve met feels like they’ve got all the answers. Most of us feel like we’re scrambling to keep up and do the best we can. If our kids really do manage to grow into responsible emotionally healthy adults, it’ll be just a little bit surprising. Ironically, at the same moment, we’re feeling the most unsure, our kids are pretty sure they know … everything.
My teen likes to parent his younger brother, suggest how I should be a better spouse, and provide long summaries of where the world is going wrong on the whole. This is equal parts eye-rolling irritating and bite-your-lip-to-keep-from-smiling funny. I hold my tongue. The assurance that they are always right helps these kids take the plunge into the adult world. They’ll learn soon enough that life can be a lot trickier than they initially thought. And you’ll be there from them when they do. Although, I’m tempted to write down some of the baloney that comes out of their mouths in the meantime!
Be Involved But Don’t Get Involved
One of the most difficult contradictions of raising teens is how much to do for them or, as the case may be, NOT do for them. We all acknowledge that a good parent stays involved with their kid’s life and decisions. We should know what our kids do, who they hang out with, and what goal they set. That is safe, healthy, and advisable. In a word, easy.
The harder line to walk is when to get involved with their decisions. Kids have to develop independence. They have to learn how to make a good choice. But what do we do when that “I know everything” syndrome kicks in and they insist on doing something stupid? I’m not talking about blatant safety issues or the inconsequential stuff like haircuts or bedtimes. What do we do about the in-between choices our kids make? Like my son not wanting to apply to local schools. Or the kid dropping a required class because it’s “boring.” Or another teen who switches friend groups to a more destructive crowd.
Even a simpler dilemma I’ve faced a few times (my child not turning in important paperwork) can be a contradiction. You’re involved enough to know that they haven’t done it, but stop short of taking it out of their bag to do it for them. I wish there was an easy answer. It’s no surprise to you that there’s not.
Parents of teens live in this strange dual world. Most of us can only hold our breath as we pick our way slowly through the paradoxes that seem to oppose each other. Any parent who is actually trying is doing a good job. Keep up the good work! And, while we all wait to come out the other side, send a smile or a knowing wink to your fellow moms in the trenches!