gratitude-a-thon day 576: parenting a teenager, and you thought labor was hard

Labor and delivery are hard, but they’re really nothing compared to the labor of parenting a teenager.

The job description for this gig includes being able to tolerate attitude, BIG, BIG attitude, loud noise, persistent nagging, near constant sounds from a television or computer, i-pad, or i-phone, eye rolling, trails of dirty clothes, plates, shoes, and friends. You will be treated like an Uber driver, but not nearly as nicely. You will be told you don’t do the laundry enough, don’t ever grocery shop, never make anything good for dinner. They will shame you for your texting mistakes, your driving, your blog.

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But you will also bear witness to a flower blooming in your midst. Like time lapse photography, you will see your child navigate the nearly impossible terrain of teenage-ness (and can I tell you, they have added more mazes, more mountains, more deep Grand Canyon like valleys than we had when we were the same age). Your guidance, which seems to be consistently ignored, rears its head frequently when said teen is faced with a challenge, and actually makes a good decision. But of course, no teen life would be worth it’s mettle without The Mistakes. Those are the moments, when your child is faced with that path that diverges in the wood, and doesn’t take either one, but heads, instead, to the little discussed path in the middle, called DISASTER. You can only watch, and love them during these various moments of WHAT-WERE-YOU-THINKINGNESS. Because, although we want to desperately share our epic mistakes with our offspring, in hopes that they might benefit from our own faulty thinking, we cannot. As it turns out, everybody is on their own, here. Every generation must make their own stupid mistakes, just like the generations before them. This is one of the hardest things to understand as a teen parent, that you cannot help your kids avoid pitfalls. They have to fall into the pits all by themselves. That’s the way we learn. What a system.

And learn, we do. This is the money shot of teenage parenting, to see your child make a poor decision, but learn the lesson that it reveals. While we may not be able to influence our teenagers by sharing our experience, what we can do is make sure the lessons are illuminated like the Vegas strip, that our teenagers eyes are open wide, that they are not sleeping on the job. What we can do is tell them that mistakes do not define us, our reactions to them do. What we can do is make sure that their earbuds aren’t in, and they can hear us loud and clear when we say, “It’s ok to make a mistake. It’s how we learn.”

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As a parent of a 13-19 year old, you will suffer. A lot, in fact. Because your child is filled with the hormones that bring on adulthood. And adulthood is hard. We as adults all know that. But you will also glory in the magnificent evolution of a person, your person, your child, as they learn the lessons that teach them who they really are. I wouldn’t give up this experience for the content of Barney’s, dinner with Clooney, or world peace (well, maybe world peace). I love my teenagers. Mistakes and all.

gratitude-a-thon day 267: parental intuition

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jake in london, striking a silly pose.

Jake went to London this weekend to see a friend. On the way home, he miscalculated, got lost and missed his plane. What ensued were frantic texts, a slew of self-deprecation, and a land mass of total frustration about doing something wrong that he should have been able to do right.

My feeling about these sorts of things is simply this: if there’s no threat of death, you’ve got all your limbs and shopping bags, and you can right your course, learn a lesson about how to do things better the next time, relax, and make a plan.

I’m grateful for somehow knowing when to let Jake make his mistakes and when to intervene. I didn’t think I had that in me. I imagined that I would always do whatever was necessary, come hell or high water, to fight my boy’s battles and challenges, like when he was 5. Turns out there is some internal parent thing that lets you know when you should get up in there, and when you have to let your kid figure it out by themselves. This is called learning. And I do believe it was a lesson for me, that he is capable and can figure out what to do (by the way, I didn’t jump ship, I calmly texted with him to make sure he understood that this was not an emergency landing and just an easy mishap to fix), and a lesson for him, that he should leave earlier for a flight to give himself time to get lost. This kind of stuff has happened a few times since he’s been in Barcelona. And each time, I’ve reacted with concern, but a certain distance. This is how kids, hell, how all of us, learn. We’re given the space to do so.

Like so many parents I know, I can be accused of having done too much for my kids. I’m grateful for knowing when enough is enough, though. That’s when real learning happens. You get an A on this one, Jake.