Let’s have some rainy Saturday morning real talk here. Before I was a mama, I totally didn’t get it, this whole, raising responsible teenagers thing. I was a school counselor in a large high school in Northwest Arkansas, and the regular things that many teenagers do kinda made me feel a little wacky. Kids being on time and following through with responsibilities always surprised me and made me happy, but I also realized that teenagers are just not quite there yet with that frontal lobe development that controls their ability to see something through and make long range goals and good decisions. I realized that I was probably (yes) the exact same way as a teenager, but I remember thinking I had everything together (I totally didn’t) at 17 years old.
Fast forward a few years, and I still work with teenagers in a similar setting, and am a mama myself, and go figure, teenagers still do the same things. They are still expected to kinda have things figured out, which is wild, given they are 15-18 years old. I have the great opportunity to visit with kids and parents often, and sometimes kids are so worried that they don’t know what they want to do with their lives yet, where they want to go, or even what they want to eat for lunch that day. It sounds so cliche, but I do tell kids in my office every day that “it’s going to be ok” on repeat. It’s ok if you don’t know exactly what you want to do for the next 50 years of your life as a 15 year old. Sometimes I still don’t know what I want to do for the next 50 years either. It’s ok if you have applied to six colleges, visited all of them, and you still don’t feel at peace at any of them. It’s ok if it’s 11:05 and you don’t know what you want to eat for lunch that day. It’s going. to. be. ok. I promise.
I kind of remember feeling this way in high school, but I remember getting a scholarship offer at a college where I was comfortable, because of some very positive camp experiences, and just going with it. I thought I knew what I wanted to major in (I did NOT, I changed my major several times trying to find my fit and my calling). And I had some fabulous dorm room decorations picked out. I thought I was ready to go. I wasn’t! I failed miserably time after time. And each time I would get up, dust myself off, and take off again (with minimal tears). I know that had to be difficult for my parents, but what they did NOT do was clear a path for me (the new term is lawnmower parenting) so that I would never have an uncomfortable experience. Mostly because I have always been this bullheaded and figured things out, not because I didn’t have a rocking support system, because I did. They also did not contact my professors, go to advising appointments with me, or try to navigate the situation for me (the term is called helicopter parenting).
You would think with all of that great parenting I had (and they are truly the best, my friends all wanted to be at my house mostly because of them), I would not be a helicopter or a lawnmower, but I do have my moments. No one wants their child to struggle, or come home upset with friends, or to fail assignments. It’s difficult as a parent to watch your child hurt and to not be able to fix it. I have waded in a couple of times on grades, and I have to give a shout out to the very calm people I work with who told me to calm down already because he had a 90.4 in 4th grade Writing. I breathed into a paper sack and he was ok. Children are going to encounter uncomfortable, sometimes even painful, situations, at school and out in the world. Your job as a parent is to listen, provide comfort, and sometimes guidance, food always helps with that part, and to be that shoulder when they need it. If you are always bailing them out, you will be doing it for the rest of their lives. Mark my word. Let them fail. Let them stumble. I promise you that they will figure it out and will be stronger grown ups because of it.
I always have to take a bit of my own advice, so yesterday I had rented a very large (boat) SUV to go to Houston to retrieve my parents, and when I got there, a very nice man told me they don’t even have that vehicle on the lot. So many table flipping scenarios pumped through my head. One being, my parents are depending on me to come and get them and now how will I do that. There are no other car rental places in my small town (seriously?), and it was 4:15 on a Friday. So, basically I had doomed my parents to languish in the hospital for the rest of eternity. Sigh. Did I say what I wanted to? No. I rose and said thank you, dusted myself off, and left (in a huff, but a nice one). That car not being on the lot, but on the website, was very much not that man’s fault, so flipping a table would not only have probably pulled a muscle in my back, but it also would have been ridiculous and not remedied the situation. This was totally my bad for not double checking before I got there, and I learned a valuable lesson in the process (never rent a car online).
My parenting is far from perfect, but I will say that even though I scurry around and panic in the background lot, Cole does a lot on his own that makes me proud. If he has a project due, he has learned to contact the people he needs to contact, and I bite my fingernails off thinking I should be helping him. If he leaves his water bottle in the car in the morning, he has got to make it work with the water fountain (my mama had to talk me down on that one), since I am convinced he always gets some kind of Oregon Trail illness from the water fountains. He looks people in the eyes when he talks to them, and is thoughtful and encouraging. Get yourself a good friend to talk you down when you feel like you need to remove any obstacles your child may have (like specific teachers, assignments, friend groups, etc. I am not speaking about basic human needs, like housing, food and clothing, or abusive situations, I want to help you remove those obstacles, for real), because I promise you that once they learn a lesson, they will learn responsibility for their own actions and behavior.
*About to head to Houston in my own vehicle to pick up my sweet parents and all is well, I promise!