Monday, April 21, 2014

Teen Parenting Advice from An Imperfect Mom

Bill Cosby said parenting teens is like nailing jello to the wall.

No one is going to be the perfect mom really - or even almost perfect, so before I even get started, let's keep that at the forefront of our thoughts mmmk?

So let's talk about some teen parenting advice from an imperfect mother

I think the sub topic of this post would be "but one who is doing/has done pretty good so far"

also a sub sub topic would be "just love them" and I could have probably summed this whole thing up with that and left it there - but I'll expand on that thought if you if you'll bear with me through a long list of stuff.

Also, I think about writing blogs about parenting all the time but then I never finish them or publish them (well a couple of times I have, but you get what I'm saying), because the last person I want to be is that annoying mom/person.

But still - I notice little things all the time, especially in my job, and they seem so simple and yet parents seem to struggle.  So here are my rules for parenting (from an imperfect mom) in no particular order:

1.  Close your eyes.  Think back.  Remember 12 year old you.  Now 14.  Now 16, 17.  Maybe 18.  Do you remember that person?  What did you want?  Who did you think you were?  What was important to you? Did you feel like people didn't understand you (my guess is going to be definitely yes, unless you were a super weird teen, and by weird I mean...not weird at all, which if you think about can't be normal)?  Can you try to hold those ideas in your head simultaneously while you try to be the "adult" in your house of teens?  Because just remember all of that is going to make you approach your children differently than you might otherwise.

2.  You are you.  Your kids are not you.  As much as I think number 1 is important, number 2 is equally important.  Your insecurities are not going to be the same as your child.  Your children are unique and you are their parent.  Your own parent may have been fantastic or lacking but whoever your kid is (even if they are a lot like you) - your kid is not you, and your kid doesn't have your mom or dad as their parent.  They have you.  So don't assume.  Things that may have been a big deal to you may not be to them, and vice versa.  Keep your mind open to all the ways in which your child may be vastly different than you and need something different from the world, school, parenting, friends, activities, etc. than you did at their age.

3.  You can fix a whole bunch of stuff with humor.  If you can laugh and get your kids to laugh - even if they really seem like they might not always think you're funny - you're not going to have too many problems you can't get through.

4.  Have expectations.  By that I mean, expect them to do their best, expect them to be good people, expect them to have goals, expect them to be kind to others, expect them to be somebody.

5.  Have realistic expectations.  They may not be exactly who you imagined or who you want them to be.  That's okay.  Figure out what the basic most important things are.  Take some time to think about this.  Stay open to learning who your children are while they learn it too.  In other words, you may know your kid really really well, but you don't really know who they are going to become.  They're still figuring it out.  Allow that process to happen somewhat organically.  Try not to control it too much.  Expose them to lots of options.  Expose them to lots of good things.  You doing so will have more influence on them than you realize.  They will make mistakes, so will you.  It's okay as long as generally things are headed in a good direction.

6.  PLEASE remember that whatever ideas you have about what chores they are suppose to do, what homework and grades are suppose to look like, and whatever other achievements you believe they should be working on, should not be the whole entire basis of your relationship with them (and source of conflict on the daily!).  Parents get this so screwed up all the time.  Want your kids to do chores?  Great. Keep trying to figure out how to make this happen if it's a struggle - but do not let it become the entire aspect of your relationship with them.  Let me repeat this - parents get stuck in dumb power struggles over things like believing their child has to practice the piano every day, or do the dishes, or whatever the heck it is, and they fixate on focus on these like two or three things all day every day.

7.  Remember it would be okay for your child to NOT learn to play the piano if they hate it (my mom used to say I would regret not practicing - guess what?  I don't.  What I wish my mom would have done is leave me alone to let me write in peace because that's what I really enjoyed doing).  Tons of things fall into this category.  My theory is let your kids join and do whatever they want (within reason) and if it sticks it sticks and if it doesn't, not a big deal.  If they love something they'll keep at it.  My only exception to this is if you see a kid has a ton of potential but they are scared to do something.  A smidge of pushing just to test the waters and 'try' it would be okay.  Like maybe saying "you can quit after a month/season, I just want you to at least 'try' dance" (or whatever).  Otherwise, let them dictate what they do as much as possible.  It could be they will love something and get a ton out of something you never even thought of before.

8. You know that whole thing about not being their friend but being their parent?  Yeah, that's good.  But also?  Being their friend is not a bad idea either.  They are not mutually exclusive.  Yes, be the parent first.  But then immediately fall into friend mode whenever you think it's possible.  Listen to their music.  Show them the music you love, and loved when you were younger (if you're lucky maybe there will be common ground).  Watch movies they chose.  Show them yours.  If you can find any common interests, explore those together.  But at the least, encourage their interests and pursuits like you would any other friend of yours.  What do they do when they are hanging out on the internet or whatever?  My kids pretty much only watch youtube these days.  What are they watching?  Maybe you would like it too.  Maybe you won't, but you should at least check it out first.

9.  Give them their space.  When they have friends over, be near by, but stay out of the way when you can.  Don't eavesdrop too much or otherwise overly concern yourself in their world.  Let them be - they really probably don't need you to be checking on them that much dude.  Chill.  Don't try to fix problems with friends or call other parents and try to go that route.  Don't get too involved in their dating life.  Don't stalk their social media too much.  Just enough - not too much.  Be a very aware person who steps in very infrequently or rarely.  Mostly you trust them.  And you tell them.  "I trust you".  I trust you UNLESS you give me a reason not to.  Then, all bets are off.  (but please do give them their privacy - though you may demand you have access in theory to all their accounts, etc., don't go snooping around.  you don't need to be reading all their texts or scanning their twitter constantly - they need that space from you, its normal).

10.  Don't be an idiot.  Your kid is at least as likely to lie or do some other bone headed thing as someone else's kid.  Pay attention.  IF you become concerned about something going on - a friend, a situation, a girlfriend/boyfriend, whatever, then you can pretty well ignore number 9 above.  Go ham.  They need to know you are just crazy enough to make their life miserable if needed.  If you lay down the law and do some serious grounding, lay out loss of privilege, or take away their property, BE CONSISTENT.  Don't say they are grounded for a month and cave in 2 days.  Be realistic and then don't change your mind about the punishment.

11.  Curfew is not negotiable.  5 minutes late one time and big consequences.  Just be a jerk about that one thing at least.

12.  exception to 11 is a big event like Prom or whatever.  If you discuss it with them ahead of time and agree on something different, cool.  But that should be rare.  There does not need to be some discussion every weekend about why they need to be out later.  No they don't.

13,  Have everything at your house.  Seriously.  all the sleepovers.  all the parties.  all the movie nights.  swim parties.  trampoline jumping.  Whatever it is.  Try real hard to be that house.  (see number 9 above to find out how you become that house).  (and don't try too hard to be "fun mom" you'll end up looking like a moron.  don't be that mom posting 400 selfies and trying too damn hard.  just BE and be cool.  If you're cool, no problem, if you're not naturally cool, that's okay.  be the nerdy mom.  they'll still like you anyway)

14.  Don't freak out if you can help it.  If your kids start telling you about a friend of theirs who does drugs don't flip out.  Have a frank discussion with your kids about why this is a terrible idea, sad, concerning, whatever.  But keep the conversation open and don't react in such a way that they will never want to tell you anything ever again. Mostly listen.  Be spare with your thoughts.  You want to make the experience of them telling you things comfortable and you want to create a safe space where they want to come to you because they know you aren't going to freak out.

15.  Do stuff when you can.  Go on a road trip.  Go get milkshakes.  Swim even if you hate how you look in the bathing suit.  Light fireworks.  Go to the mall when you don't really feel like it.  Watch the football game on tv with them.

16.  You don't need to spoil them but it's okay to spoil them sometimes.  The details are up to you.  But make their life pleasant sometimes if you can.

17.  Do give them responsibilities.  Help them figure out a part time or summer job or whatever.  You might be surprised to find they are much better employees when they have a "boss" than they were doing your dishes.  But it's okay to "help" them with this.  Teach them the things they need to know for a job interview.  Help them navigate the process.  I'm shocked how many parents are unwilling to help with this kind of stuff.  They have never done this before and there's no better person to help them than you.

18.  Help them explore ideas about their futures but allow them the freedom to change their mind.  Encourage them to "follow their bliss".  It will work out.  Really.  It will.

19.  If things go sideways don't be afraid to get help.  Substance abuse? Depression?  Cutting?  Self-esteem issues?  Eating Disorders?  Sorry but these are all the possibilities of being a semi-grown up in a confusing world.  It's okay.  Get the appropriate kind of help.  Get them good counseling or other interventions and try not to make your worry become the whole aspect of your relationship.

20.  LOVE THEM.  Do you know how often parents just flat out forget this?  LOVE THEM above all else.  No matter what is going on make sure they know that one thing.  Every Every Every day.  Make sure the bulk of your interactions with them are positive.  Parents think their kids should know they love them.  But when everything you talk about it is to argue about something - they really don't know.

And a few other thoughts:

Sometimes I put my marriage first above my children.  This seemed like what I should do at the time.  But now I'm not so sure.  I realize partially this is because I find myself divorced now and if I weren't I probably would look at it totally differently.  But in retrospect, I'm not sure.  I guess just be judicious about this and try to think about how your kids will ALWAYS be your kids.  The spouse, is a less certain thing (no matter how certain you think it is - I hate to sound like a jerk about that, but it is experience that gives me that perspective).

Teenagers are not aliens.  They are normal people.  You maybe forgot what that was like, but don't be all awkward around them.  You are the one making it weird.

On the days when you get kind of sad about them growing up, spending less time with you, maybe even moving away - remember that this is an awesome time for them, even while it may be hard for you.  Focus on being happy and excited for them.  Not sad for you.

Get a life.  Have interests besides your kids!  Do stuff.  Go do something with your friend.  Don't be one dimensional.  They will like you more if you are an more interesting person.

It's okay if your kids opinions and yours are totally different.  Maybe your politics don't match up exactly.  Maybe they think rap is awesome and you hate it.  Whatever.  It's all good.  You helped create this really interesting person.  Revel in that.  Be proud of yourself for creating someone who is confident enough to just be themselves and not a miniature version of one of their parents.

It's not about you.

Don't be jealous of your children.  That's weird, creepy and wrong.

Don't compete with them in some odd way that makes you feel good about yourself.

Be kind to yourself.  Be proud of all the stuff you're doing right.  But realize it's always one day away from going sideways on you. Be humble about that.


If you're pretty screwed up from your own childhood, trauma, issues, whatever - get your own therapy.

Expose them to the arts, ideas, philosophy, and culture.  Even if they protest. Eventually they will thank you I promise.

If you have a particular faith you are trying to raise them in.  Cool.  That is good.  Such things generally tend to be a positive thing for kids.  One caution: Be careful that you use it to build them up and not tear them down. If you don't have a specific faith or spiritual belief, at least impart to them your values.  Know what they are and how to teach them.  Most of all, try to live them.  They will notice when you don't.

Can I say it one more time?

If you screw up everything on this list, as long as they know that you really truly deeply 100% love's probably going to be just fine.


Rae's World said...

Thank you! I have been struggling over these teens I have. I am trying and it helps when I remeber that I am not perfect and they are not perfect.

Gayle K. said...

Loved this!


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