If there’s ever been a challenge for me, it’s parenting.
This little human is placed in your arms when they are completely helpless, and the challenge, sometimes, especially as they get older, is to remember that they are not.
With each passing year, they become more independent. Less in need. They become much less desiring of boundaries, and can be outright resentful of authority.
It’s a fine line to walk with them. In this day, this era of ever-changing technology, those of us raised with “conventional” parenting philosophies struggle to implement what was good about our upbringing and bestow it on our young ones while often trying to incorporate the changes that the world demands of us in order to raise an adult than can thrive.
It’s especially hard when our children are not like us. Or when they are VERY MUCH like us.
My mantra, since my daughter was old enough to walk, talk, and use her own fork, has been, “Choose your battles.”
Her stepdad and I choose different battles all the time. This, among all the things that can cause marital strife, would probably top my list.
My husband is an old-fashioned parent and I am not. Not because I don’t see the value in some of his ideals, but because I know my child. I like to think we’re finally learning, after 12 years together and working through all of the blended family hurdles, how to be parents together. But it’s still a challenge.
She’s headstrong, stubborn – not unlike another teenager that I remember well. And, rather than butt heads with her, I feel like my best solution is to navigate the challenges alongside her, rather than drawing lines in the sand. Using my life experience to teach and guide her, but, on a lot of things, let her make up her own mind.
Because I’ve been her age. And I know what would have most benefitted me then. I’m trying to carefully exhibit the signs of an adult that only wants to help her, not stand in her way.
And the key to that, I think, is the word “carefully”. Because even though she shows signs of adulthood, she is still fragile in my eyes. She’s moved into physical independence, and the mental is definitely emerging, more and more. Soon she’ll be able to legally drive. She has an opinion on everything.
No, it’s more of an emotional standpoint from which I constantly see flashing caution lights.
Because the emotional is where things get dicey.
And teenagers are emotional beings.
So am I.
I do my best to remember that the offspring I want so badly to raise into a healthy, functioning adult has already experienced many an emotional rollercoaster, and has dealt with things I have never, and could never, understand. So I try to remain emotionally steady for her and gently guide her.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I do opt for this approach above others, because it keeps me, well, approachable.
I have no interest in being a cool parent. Or a teen’s friend. But the last thing I want is for her her to ever feel that I’m not in her corner. Fear of a parent has no place with kids prone to anxiety. Disagree if you want, but it is this author’s opinion that respect can be gained without fear of authority. It’s the consequence that should persuade or dissuade. Not the parent themselves.
Whenever I punished Reagan when she was younger, I’d ask her if she understood why. Her first answer was always, “Because you’re mad at me.” And kids continue to feel that way until they begin to understand that it’s their behavior that is punished. And while the behavior may make us parents angry, our anger isn’t directed toward them, as a person.
I learned long ago that I cannot control my child, much as I would like to sometimes. The part of me most heavily influenced by my own authority figures can’t help but lecture her at times. But I want her to make decisions. Hard ones. And I want her to make mistakes in that decision-making process while she’s still young enough that she can fall back on me. Because that won’t always be the case.
It’s part of the learning curve, for both parent and child. And it’s never easy for either one.
She is not me. And I have to let her be herself, even if I don’t always think the decisions she makes are right. It’s a constant weighing of what is harmful with what is just part of a learning process. God knows I made my own share of adolescent missteps.
And I still screw up. I always will. I’m human. But I trust the child that is growing up before me. I trust in what I’ve taught her, even when she ignores it sometimes.
Maybe I’m an unconventional parent in that way. But I remember what it was like to be her age. I remember the emotion of it. And, like any parent, I’m just doing the best I can.
A week ago, my daughter approached me about wanting to attend a concert. It was in a not-safe place and I gave a resounding “no”, and, understanding how much she wanted to do it anyway, offered a compromise. “Somewhere else. Somewhere safe.”
So we found one.
I didn’t relent out of fear or frustration, but because I viewed it as a teachable moment. When one thing doesn’t work, you don’t have to give up. You can find something that will.
She then decided that, due to the distance we’d have to travel and the high probability that she wouldn’t attend another until she was old enough to attend alone, that she wanted to be up close and personal with the experience. She wanted a ticket on the floor of the arena.
Knowing that I wouldn’t pay for the hefty expense, she hired herself out to my dad and has been wrangling cattle and washing cow shit out of trailers to earn the money herself.
Once my dad heard how she planned to spend her hard-earned money, Reagan proceeded to hear his thoughts on it. And, like she does, she listened. But it didn’t change how she felt on the matter of getting the most out of the experience.
At the end of the day, the money she earns is hers. And she can spend it how she chooses with the exceptions of illegal purchases.
Fiscal responsibility is a lesson that many, many adults never learn. I am well aware of it in my job, because I have repossessed many a car that a debtor couldn’t afford and foreclosed on many a house that became too much for their pocketbook. I was raised with a heavy emphasis on living within my means, living below my means, and I still did stupid things with my money.
But my child has no debts, and her money is only obligated to her choices. It won’t always be that way. Which is the position I decided to take in this situation. Because I could use the opportunity to drive home a point that feels hundreds of years away for her, or I could choose to not take this battle on today.
In the midst of raising a teenager, I am constantly reminded how quickly she is growing up. And my fervent desire is for that grown-up to become a responsible and mature one.
But I also want her to experience her youth. Because, life can be so short. And youth, even more fleeting.
So I didn’t choose this battle. I kept my opinion on the matter to myself, mostly. I will offer my protection at the concert, and safety to and from. The rest is up to her. She’s having to work for her heart’s desire. And she stepped up to do it with no prompting from me.
I have no way of knowing whether or not she will need me to help her out of a financial bind one day. I hope not, but if she does, I seriously doubt that this experience will be the rock that caused the ripple of self-indulgence. Whatever happens, she knows that she has to work for money, that it doesn’t come without sacrifice and time and labor.
And, at this point in my parenting experience, watching her understand that is enough.
I’ll be here when the lessons stick, and more importantly, when they didn’t. And she knows that. Which was the point of it all.