“I thought you were 21, 22!”
“Ha,” I scoff (21 is generous, early 30s might be a wee more realistic), “I have a kid in college!”
Don’t be deceived by over-sized bows and a penchant for knee highs. I absolutely have three teenagers, one of whom is closing in on her final lap around these precious years before heading off to her twenties.
How do you parent an adult child? How do you navigate teenagers? How do you offer them every support, but staying out of their way to make it on their own? How do you balance being a “helicopter parent”, and the friend?
I’m going to put a full discretion in right here, and right now. My method of parenting is strictly my own. It doesn’t come from baby books, or psychology notes. I carved this out, and it worked for my family. Maybe some of what I’ll outline you can adopt to your own ways of doing things, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you gotta figure shit out on your own. Only you – the parent – knows your child best.
But here’s how it works over here.
I had my kids when I was so young, I’m shocked as hell that I didn’t break them. To be completely transparent, I was so utterly afraid of family and children services that I was probably too cautious with my kids. (And lemme add this – F&Cs is an extraordinary entity that serves to help children in dire situations. Every organization has its flaws, but to be perpetually in fear of them was unnecessary; despite I had “every good reason”. I was young, single, living on social assistance. In my mind, they were lurking in every corner. Spoiler – they weren’t.)
My methods of parenting the kids evolved as we did. As we, collective we, aged, my intuitions grew, my understanding of these three babes did, as well. Every day was a process. And I don’t think it’s necessarily indicative of how young I was. Every person who tries on parenting for the first time is navigating their way through unchartered territory. I would just like to believe that the older, and more mature you are, you might have a stronger gasp on adulting than I did in my late teens, to early twenties.
Once we’d successfully ventured out of childhood and puberty took the kids by the hand and led them into a heavily wooded area of lost paths, dark moons, and low-hanging trees, my attack on parenting became very different. I realized very quickly it was no longer about “parenting”, but rather “mentoring”. It was time to guide these children, now tweens, and teens, into the next phase of their rapidly aging lives.
I instituted one rule with my children. Respect yourself.
That’s it. That’s the rule. That’s all I’ve got.
I think back to what it was like to be me as a teenager. An angry, rebellious soul who struggled to find her foothold in an unforgiving world. I didn’t fit in anywhere, and once I’d conceded that no one wanted me, that I was bound to be a wandering misfit always on the search for the next person to love me, I lost sight on respecting myself. I gave away the one thing we should each value, and quantify in our own lives – the respect we have for ourselves first and foremost. It took me years to reclaim. And I am hell bent and determined that my babes will remember to hold close their own, over anything else.
Because respecting yourself is far more than just remembering to hold your head high, and not berating yourself too deeply for the mistakes you make. Respect encompasses so, so much more.
I strongly believe that once my children remember to respect themselves first and always, they’ll consistently make good decisions. And at the very least – they’ll try. As I explained to Kid A – who’s now off at college, successfully slaying her first year away at school – I can’t teach her to respect herself. I can just expect she’ll learn it for herself.
Kid A and I held court many times on the discussion of respect. What it meant to her. What it meant to respect others, the world you live in, and the space you keep.
Respect for yourself means knowing that you might need to sleep because you have an exam the next day, instead of going out and partying. Respect for yourself means taking a mental health day, because you’re going into a stressful few weeks, and one day of self-care will help you be successful during the throes of it.
Respecting yourself means going to work on time, and setting alarms for school. It means keeping good friends, and allowing yourself permission to let go of those who are toxic to your heart. You’ll naturally respect the people around you, if you respect yourself first. You’ll keep your room straight, you’ll eat breakfast, you’ll care about your grades, your future; you get it. Respecting yourself is the one lesson I have, and often the toughest.
But it also means knowing that when a mistake is made, a misstep happens, when you don’t have it all figured out and you stay up till midnight and sleep through the alarm the next day – that you accept the consequences; own it and move on.
I’ll also add this – I put complete and implicit trust in my teenagers. I didn’t give Kid A curfews. I asked her to respect me enough to abide by checking in, and keeping in the know of her whereabouts. Even this week, she was asked to send me her new school schedule, just so I know. I didn’t set bedtimes, and if she opted to stay at a friend’s on a school night, I had to trust that was the right decision for her. And if it wasn’t, she’ll know it. She’ll know it the next day when she’s late for school, or her clothes are wrinkled, or she hasn’t showered in two days and she’s realized she wasn’t respecting her schedule, me, or even herself. That’s where the lessons come in.
I trusted that Kid A would come to me with it all. And she did. Literally, she did. I knew her personal secrets, her confessions. Her loves, and likes, and sadness and eagerness. Her hopes, and dreams, and we sorted it out together. And sometimes she took my advice, and sometimes we screamed at each other, and sometimes we cried and others we bickered.
But what I continued to tell her as she was treading water that last lap of school was that I was always going to be there for her. I gave her wings flight through the last few semesters. I granted her independence, and space, and opportunity to screw up, fall down, and get back up. I stepped back, because here at home she could land squarely on her face with the security of Mom right next door. Out there, she’d be on her own. So let’s figure out what we can now, so in the days to come, things are not as scary. She was prepared.
Kid A did the majority of the cooking her last year of school. And with that, I gave her access to my credit card for groceries, and gas, and oil changes, and whatever else may have been required around the house. Never, not even one time, did Kid A use my credit card for anything beyond what she said she’d use. And if she needed money for this, or for that, she asked, and she paid it back. I didn’t sweat the small things, like piercings, or hair colour, tattoos or what to wear. That all is blanketed under the umbrella of respecting herself. And that’s what she still strives to do.
Was this the right way to parent? Did it make me an absentee mother, with my daughter at the helm of her own life? Is there a right way to parent? How are we going to see our children through to the finish line of their adolescence if we’re drinking the water on the sidelines instead of passing it off to them? Shouldn’t we be giving them every single opportunity to succeed?
I told her often – I’ve already taught you to tie your shoes, and to brush your teeth. I can’t teach you that anymore. All I have left are the life lessons going into your adulthood. Pay your bills, and mind your environment. Look ten steps ahead, and revel in the present. Make good friends, go to all the parties, create memories, and moments, and experience everything. Learn how to do your taxes, and try to save. Live within your means, but don’t be afraid to actually find use of that rainy day twenty on a day that’s actually raining. Give presents at Christmas, and make plans to celebrate your birthday. Take selfies, get a financial adviser, remember to have the car oil changed and don’t forget to call Mom with your school schedule, work schedule, or with a newly broken heart you need her to mend.
Kid A and I didn’t always get along. Instead, some days she downright hated me. She hated me when I tried to teach her how to drive a car (that child now sails through Toronto 401 traffic like a prostar because we did this together), she hated me when I was right about that boy, or when I told her she needed to wake up in the morning. Part of growing into the person she is now is recognizing her own triggers, her own mental health. She needs to make dentist appointments, and pay her rent.
And I’m still helping her with this significant transition in her life. I don’t understand why we coddle and cradle our children till they’re 18, and then throw them into lion’s den of adulthood, wondering why they’re coming home with their laundry or rationing ramen noodles to stave off another day of food before coming back for a home-cooked meal. For the love of God, give them a chance.
Kid A’s transition year was a cooperative plan developed between she and I, my sisters and my parents. For a fraction of the typical housing costs, she’s boarding with my sister. Her “rent” covers her food, and access to WiFi for school. She has a parking spot. I currently cover her vehicle payments, and insurance. She’s required to pay for oil changes, gas, and basic vehicle maintenance. She budgets her school tuition, credit card payments, and anything extra she might require. And this is how we’ve padded her first year on her own. We want her to succeed, so we’ve carved out a plan and designed it to suit her needs as she finds her footing this first year of adulthood. It isn’t perfect, but it’s working. She’s not afraid to call home for help, or a familiar voice.
But further to that, she’s become her own person. Kid A becomes a little more self-aware every time I see her. She becomes a little more the woman she’ll always be. And we continue to work through the tough, the awesome, the sad, the hard, and the amazing -together – like we always did.
I miss her.
But I am so proud.
Kid B is headed to live here with me in a month, and we’ve already discussed my method of parenting. We’ll see if this works for him, too.
Respect yourself. The only rule I have. Once it’s broken, it’s not about me, either. It’s still about them. And how to repair it. I always have extra feathers on the ready, as they’re mending their wings back to fly. And I always have extra wind to carry them while they soar.
— c ☆