On my right hand, I am inked with a compass and the letter ‘E’ to denote the direction East. My daughter has West. Scattered across the province are two of our friends brandished with the others. But she and I? We are East and West. Geographically, physically and emotionally. We are opposite of one another, yet we are facilitating the same principle – we are pointing to a direction.
How do you qualify your success as a parent when you’ve parented teenagers? Is it that they went to a good college, got a good job, were successful in high school? Was it that they bought a house in their twenties, or invested early? What threshold do you use to grade yourself on a job well done? And are you ever really done parenting your children?
I’m in the crosshairs of parenting three very different young people. And as their paths and personalities collide, I find myself becoming a uniquely different Mom to satisfy their emotional needs from me. I use the same guiding foundation in each of my approaches, but I soften the edges to address what each of them needs from me. And, I feel qualified that I can speak to the subtle art of parenting teenagers. Because I gauge my success on their quality of happiness. And if you can stick to that, you can certainly feel successful at any stage.
My philosophy towards parenting a teen daughter was to start by conjuring up my own insecurities from my youth. Really examining what caused mine and my parents’ breakdowns that would see me becoming a runaway, a rebel, an angry and hurt soul who would have rather been anywhere than home. I wanted to figure out exactly what happened to me, and see if I couldn’t bridge the gap on my own parenting to do things in a new way that would hopefully prevent the same fate and outcome with my own kids.
They’re all alive and thriving. That is the start.
While I try not to live with regrets, I can certainly testify that the all-consuming drama that I force-fed my adult life is a part of my sordid history I’d rather do without. My multiple failed marriages, stints on the system, two college degrees and financial insecurity has plagued my conscious for these kids and what trauma would follow them into adulthood.
If there were anything I could give myself the high five over was being truthful and transparent with my kids. That rule number one left them open to understanding the situations they were growing up and rounded them out as able-bodied teenagers who understand that tough decisions are best faced head-on, rather than avoiding. And while I wish they weren’t “divorced kids” and half-siblings, they know the truth of their pasts, and they are able to arm themselves with the knowledge that decisions produce consequences. And their mother always made her bed of consequence, living with the outcomes of each decision she made in each scenario she created.
While I can consistently bemoan my past, it won’t get me any further ahead. Instead, I turned my attention to producing a pack of teens that were set on the path of success for their adulthood – in my glorious, unconventional approach. As always.
My kids will testify that I only gave them one rule in my home. Just one. “Respect yourself.”
These two words produce more than a chore wheel ever could. By respecting yourself, I told my teenagers, you will make cognizant decisions that will impact the rest of your life. Are you respecting yourself when you stay up till 3am the night before an exam? Are you respecting yourself if you compromise your ethics and follow the pack? Respecting yourself in all areas of your life will inspire you to keep your room clean without chiding, will have you party responsibly, will keep your manners keen and sharp around guests and loved ones and employers. It means you will not take anything less than your worth. That you will not accept what is beneath you. That you will make decisions that are true to your authentic self. You will give yourself the breath you need to breathe when you fail. And you will be able to face yourself in the mirror when you come to terms with the hard choices you have to make. Respect yourself.
My teenagers are teenagers in all its typical trope. They can be sloppy, insubordinate little shits who cause a ruckus at home. Who slam doors. Who don’t do the dishes. Who sleep in late. Who frustrate me into an inch of my life.
But. They always work their way back to centre.
I have always given my children the power to choose. Where do they want to live. Where do they want to go to school. I am constantly lining their emotional boxes with the tools they need to live independent lives. How can we expect our Grade 12s to be able to cook more than noodles their first year of dorm life if we didn’t spend that last year of high school coercing them to learn to fend for themselves? I don’t want to do my adult child’s laundry. But she’s welcome to use my machine if she needs. I don’t want to know that my kid can’t boil water. I spend their high school years backing off of parenting them, and make my way into mentoring them so I can feel confident they’ll be truly ready to spread their wings with their finally ready to soar.
Jayda left home right after high school. She budgeted, and made a deal with my sister to rent off her on her first year of college. Midway, she met and fell in love with her new fiancée and together they saved and scrimped until they could afford their first apartment together they acquired on their own. At twenty, she’s never missed rent, nor a bill payment, her credit card is paid in full, and she’s on her way to buying her first car. She has a gym membership, and two jobs, a cat and a French press she was gifted for Christmas. She files her taxes, and monitors her credit score and remembers to call.
This kid isn’t a trust fund baby. She wasn’t afforded luxuries. She was brought up by an off and on single Mom, without a father, in two different cities and two different high schools. Her stability didn’t come from the outside world. It came from a mother who loved her. And my adoration of her, and my prioritizing of her and her mental health was what became the rock to sturdy her through a an emotional ocean of what could have been collapse as an adult. She comes to me about everything, and we work through everything together.
It’s hard to give your teens the keys to the ignition. But this is their highway. At some point, you have to be okay with being the passenger.
When she lost her virginity, I asked her one question: “Would you do it again?” And when she said, “yes”, I told her – “then you were ready, because if you wouldn’t – you weren’t.” And we made sure she was protected. We made sure she was safe. We had frank, open and honest conversations about partying and drugs. “If it didn’t come from the ground, how can you control what’s in it?” I’d say to her.
And as Colby nears adulthood this summer, we with him are using the same key principles I used with Jayda to get him to this point. We recently ran into whether he was prepared to live in our home under the conditions we have. And he took his time. He took a week to decide if where we are is what he wants. He needed to decide if he wanted to live with us, or his Dad, or rent a room off a friend. Ultimately, he came to us with compromises we were able to work through with as a family. But I couldn’t force feed Colby his decision for him. At nearly 18, he had to start making tough decisions for himself. In a year from now, he’ll have to be able to count on is intuition and inner strength to make decisions we may not be there for. We are his safety net, but he is in control. And he is the kindest, most compassionate young men I’ve ever known. I am acutely aware he has his mother’s empathetic streak. When he stumbles, he crosses it off like scars on his heart. Colby rarely makes the same mistake more than once. He takes everything, everything, to the core of his soul.
As for my youngest. Well. She’s everything a fourteen year old girl typically is. She is tempestuous and moody. And she slams doors. And she gets cocky and flings the ‘f’ word. And then she is lovely and cooks dinner. She is rebellious and angry, and wonderful and kind. She loves children and animals until both or either annoy her. She is hormonal and stable, and frustrated and complacent. She is whimsical and serious. And we treat her the same way we have treated them all – teetering on the rope of parenting and mentoring. As she rounds the corner to 15, we have begun giving her the freedom to start navigating her own travels. She started by electing to move to my sister’s back home. A far cry from being under our roof in Kingston, but she never fully adjusted to being with us. The pandemic disrupted her chance at a typical introduction to her teen years. We live in the country, and the back and forth virtual schooling, and bus cancelations made her feel isolated and without friends. She was unable to thrive without after school activities, or siblings. Now, she’ll be headed off to school with her cluster of cousins, surrounded by family in a small town. She has life at my sister’s. A family with family dinners – something our insane work schedules rarely permits. She made this decision for herself – a decision with open communication and working through together with us and my sister and her family. And watching her blossom from this very real control of her life has been all I could truly ask for of my teenage daughter. Confidence, and respecting herself. She knew she needed to do something because she was miserable out in the sticks with us. Now she looks like you’d have to break her smile into three pieces just to get it through the door.
This is the subtle art to parenting teenagers.
And these children that you spit on. As they try to change their worlds. Are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.David Bowie, “Changes”
They are woke, and hate skinny jeans and side parts. They say “yeet”, and watch TikTok, and would rather stare at Snapchat then have a meaningful conversation with you. But if you remember that you’re not seeking ways to be hip, or trying to con yourself into believing you should be their friend, you have a real shot at becoming the mentor they’ll turn to when the tides turn in their own respective lives. My teenagers are the only thing I could have ever asked for – happy. And it takes work to truly listen to these little humans who suddenly have big opinions about their own lives, and what they see as possible futures for themselves. And remembering that they are scrutinizing themselves far harder than we could ever is a lesson best served hot. I read once that our words become their inner voice. Language counts. When they stare at the mirror and question everything they thought they knew, who will they hear looking back at them? Make sure it’s your voice reminding them that you love them, that you’re proud of them, and that they only thing you expect from them is that they respect themselves.
Lent is up on the weekend! So, I’m back to my old carb-loving ways. Mind you, I said carb “loving”, and not “loading”. After a seriously rad weekend giving way to Little Caesars and a full on turkey dinner, I’m back to shakes, meal planning, calorie counting, and cardio. I weighed in this morning at 170. I’ll take it.
I’ve also discovered I still have my Y membership! So, it was back to the gym, running on treadmills, saying hey to the trainers. I have to add here that the last time I was at the Y, I watched that clunky old weight scale go up and up as you move the blocks from 160, to 180, to 200… On Wednesday, I cried.
Major thanks to my Y family for having me back.
A few things to remember!
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Much love to each of you. It’s a bonus week! New blog Friday.
You can if you want to!
c xo ★