Monday, August 15, 2011

Not Just Any Teenage Romance

Of course you want to be happy for your teenage daughter when you see the sparkle in her eye. The sparkle that shows that she has felt the stirrings of love, or whatever you call the feelings of a teenage romance. You remember those times not that long ago that you held her as she cried, and told her that she IS pretty and smart and funny, and that a boy WILL want her to be his girlfriend, and he will want to be her boyfriend. And you told her that she shouldn't base how she feels about herself on whether a boy is interested in her.  She doesn't need that validation.  But you knew she didn't believe you. You actually knew exactly how she felt because it seems like not that long ago that you felt that way too. It seemed that everyone around you had a boyfriend, but it just wasn't your time. And you wondered if it would ever be.

But now you see her sparkle and you notice her smiling and laughing a lot more, and you know that this is her time. And you are happy for her and you are scared. Scary, unpredictable, tumultuous, passionate teenage love.  You want to throw up all the warning signs (and vomit as well): Proceed with caution, go slow, danger ahead, beware of the bumpy road...And you talk to her about some of this, and you try to get something out of her, but you know that she will need to navigate this one on her own, and that she will most likely consult with her friends about it, rather than you. You can talk to her about being safe, making good choices, remind her of her (and your) values and staying true to herself. But you know that teenage love can cause teenagers to lose themselves in the throws of this wonderful newfound feeling of infatuation and lust. You know that you did, or at least you wanted to. You pray that she will use good judgment. How very different and scary it is to be mothering your teenage daughter through this frenzied, unpredictable time. Hold on tight and let go.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Making Mistakes

They all do. Make mistakes, that is. Kids, adolescents, teens make mistakes. They fall down, they hurt themselves, they cry, they get back up and try again. One of the hardest things I have encountered as I parent my four children, is knowing when to leave her/him on the ground for a while, and let her figure out how to pick herself up, or when to run to him right away and be the one to pick him up. When children are younger they obviously need help in getting up from their falls but as they get older, we need to start to resist the urge to come so quickly to their aid. My two older children are 17 and 14 and they have each made their fair share of mistakes. Yes, they have learned from them and yet I realize that they will continue to make them and hopefully continue to learn. But so often the real learning comes from letting your child endure the full consequences of their mistakes, which cannot happen if we quickly try to pick up the pieces for them or cushion their fall.

One of the most instinctive drives we have as a parent is to protect our children, so the letting them fall strategy can be all but excruciating. And it goes further than that.  It is what we do from there.  Do we try to clean things up for them, erase their mistakes, cover for them, save them from embarrassment or shame? As an outsider, the answer seems so clear. Of course you don't do that. How will they learn? But I am here to tell you, that as easy as it is to know what to do, the execution of this is not so easy. Why? Because tough love is hard. Because they will ask (beg) for your help. They will feel alone in dealing with the consequences of their mistakes and they will try to pull you in.  The boundaries between their hurt and your hurt become clouded. But we know in our heads that we are doing them a disservice by taking on their pain because if they know that mom is going to feel badly about what they do, they are less accountable for their actions, and therefore the real learning will not happen. They will not own their own mistakes.  So as they tug at our heartstrings, and our own desire to scoop them up and make it all better kicks in, remind yourself that by resisting the desire to take the fall for them, you are helping them develop their own internal compass, which they desperately need to make good decisions, guide them through their lives, and ultimately to keep them safe.