Friday, January 23, 2009

I Love Eating Crow

If there's one thing I have done a lot of since becoming a parent, it's eating my words. I said lots and lots of stuff about parenting before I was actually a parent. My kid will never...." (insert offensive behavior here).

But as we've all learned, once you get down there in the trenches, you do what you have to do to cope. And that's alright. It took me a long time to be okay with being okay; to allow myself to be less than perfect. And to accept that I was a good mother anyway.

For me, it was every time I left work to stay at home with my children. I felt the need to justify and validate that decision. So I had to be the best mother. The best homemaker. The best household manager - EVER. Could I have set myself up for disappointment and failure any more effectively? I think not.

But I learned a few things, stumbled, found my feet and my groove, and ate a lot of crow regarding the judgements I'd made before I had children. My kids have eaten cold pizza for breakfast. I sometimes let them have dessert even though they didn't finish their dinner. I don't always follow through on my threats. I sometimes give in to avoid an argument. I sometimes pretend I don't hear when they let fly with a particularly "forbidden" word. (Things like, "stupid", "shut up", etc.....) The list goes on.

Because parenting is hard work and I get tired. Damn tired. So unless they are doing something really, really harmful to themselves or others, it's okay to let them get away with stuff once in a while.

Still, I do it. I judge. I find myself looking at teenagers and thinking to myself..."Boy, if I ever caught my kid behaving that way...."I should know better.

Recently, I've read a few parenting posts by bloggers I respect and admire. Nothing unusual there; a lot of us write about parenting. But what struck me about these particular posts is the fact that they made a whole lot of sense regarding a two year old, or a ten year old, but were completely off the mark for say, a nearly twelve year old. And I'm finding that's the case with just about everything parenting related. Everything I have learned over the past twelve years now means exactly nothing. And that's really what I want to tell you.

Parenting a teen or soon to be teen is, in essence, starting all over. So please, don't judge parents of teens by the same standards you judge yourself. They've got a whole new set of hurdles to jump, and a stranger that has sprung forth from the child they once knew. They are coping with issues that have long term consequences on the lives and future of their children. Because honestly? The age at which a child is potty trained or learns their ABC's is wholly insignificant when you consider the perils they face in adolescence. Drugs. Alchohol. Driving ((shudder). Sex and Relationships. Identity struggles. Being a leader and not a follower when following is so much easier. Autonomy. Who and what to be when they grow up, and how to achieve that.

And here's the thing...when we see them poised to misstep, we can't put out a hand to steady them or set them on the right path. We can only watch them muddle through and hope their mistakes are not too grievous. You can pick a toddler up, bush him off, and kiss away the hurt. You can hold their hand when they cross the street. You can hold the back of the seat when they learn to ride a bike. But you can't take their SAT's. You can't say no when they're offered a joint or a beer. You can't put on the brakes for them when they're in the throes of teenage passion. You can't tell them not to run that stop sign, even though there's no cop in sight.

Independance is the name of the game when parenting a teen. It's more about facilitating autonomy than imposing our own will. The focus shifts from actively teaching, to simply letting them learn. And that is harder than anything you can possibly imagine. Especially knowing that if we fail, our children go out into the world with no idea how to navigate it. And on top of AAAAALLLLL have to learn not to take it personally when they'd rather be with their friends than you. When they ask you to drop them off at the corner. When they roll their eyes and sigh at the things you say and do. When you are no longer their hero. I'm lucky. My almost twelve year old (in April) is really a good kid. But still he drives me INSANE.

So the next time you see a teenager in the mall, talking big, showing off, being obnoxious, don't judge him. Don't judge his parents. Chances are, he's a good kid too, despite his behavior. And believe me, his Mom is cringing in the wings. But she's smart enough to know that she has to let him experience the consequences of his actions in order for him to really get it.

Cherish your little ones. Don't sweat the Crayola on the walls. Kiss as many boo-boos as you can. Read stories. Play games. But be ready for the day when they push you away. It means you did it right.


Mark and Emily said...

I NEVER even looked at things that way! What an awesome perspective. Sometimes I think you are the worlds smartest mom!

Karen said...

I have tears in my eyes. How do you do it?? I love this post. LOVE it. I might have to come back and read it over again, and possibly again, whenever I think I'm messing up because the boys throw food on the floor too much. You have put everything in perspective for me.

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