Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Having Of Teenagers -- Part I

As you may or may not know, I have three kiddos.  Two girls and a boy.  Andrea, Bridget, and Scott. Twenty-four, twenty-three, and twenty.  Soon to be 25, 23, and 21.

So yes, they have all been teenagers.  And they are all still alive.  And I am still alive.  And my husband is still alive.  We are all living in the same house, except for when Scott ventures forth to go away to college.  The girls went away to college, too.  But, they have graduated and are back at home.  Andrea works.  Bridget worked.  Then her health issues acted up and she had to stay home for a while.  She starts back to work again in a couple of weeks.  Yay!

And since I am still alive after having raised three teenagers, and since they are all still living at home in relative peace with their father and I, I thought I'd talk a little about how to go about surviving the teenage years.  Maybe I am full of crap, but here goes.

Yesterday, I read another mom's blog post about the rules she and her husband have come up with for their children regarding devices.  You know, stuff like iPhones and iPads and iPods and TV and computers.  She and her hubby devised a very long and very thorough set of rules for their children regarding these things.  It was quite admirable.  It also made my head spin and my stomach ache.  Although, those symptoms were -- perhaps -- brought about by my menopausal state.  I am unsure.

But, I started thinking about teenagers and rules.  I never made any rules, either when my kids were young or when they were teens.  By this I mean that I never had any formal set of rules that I wrote down in a long list.  Why?  Because I am lazy.  And I could never have kept them straight.  And do you know what happens when the mom can't keep the rules straight?  I'll tell you.

This is what happens:
     1.  Child A:  Can I do such and such?
     2.  Mom:  Sure.
     3.  Child B:  But that's against the rules you wrote down and posted on the fridge.  See?  Rule VII, Subrule C, Addendum iii.
     4.  Mom:  Oh, yeah.  So you can't do that, Child A.
     5.  Child A:  That's SO UNFAIR!  I HATE YOU CHILD B!!!
     6.  Mom:  Is it time for a beer yet?

Firstly then, in talking about living with teens, I say, "Dispense with the rule lists."  You can never be thorough enough to cover all contingencies.  And if you are thorough enough to cover all contingencies, you will not be able to keep track of them in your head, especially when the menopausal hormones kick in, which they often do at right about the same time your children turn into teenagers.

What to do?  To me, the simplest, most straight-forward thing to do actually starts when your kids are quite small.  Be with them.  Talk with them.   Have fun times with them.  Get to know them.  Let them know you are a reasonable person.  Let them see you being reasonable.  Let them see you recover your reasonableness after you have lost it.  After all, you will lose it from time to time.  Apologize, recover, and move on.   And do NOT, under ANY circumstances, take ANY shit from them whatsoever.  This is quite important.  You are the parent.  You have the say-so.  Have confidence in yourself in this area.  Yes, be warm and nurturing.  But, for God's sake, stand up and claim your parental power.  Do not be afraid of your children.

Last week, I read an anecdote.  Someone was in a Starbucks when he (she?) overheard a child of about 7 years old say to his parent, "If they don't have my coffee cake, I am going to lose my shit."  EXCUSE ME?  There is no possible way any of my kids would have ever gotten away with saying something like that.  Either to me or to anybody else.  That child would have been immediately whisked home with no coffee cake.  Once home, it would have been made quite clear to that child that nothing like that was ever going to happen again.  I'm not saying that physical punishment would have to be involved.  But, there would have been a sitting down of that child and my eyes would have been about two inches from his and things would have been quite no-nonsense.

And do you know why?  Kids who are seven years old say stupid things -- things they usually hear from other kids or other adults (or even their own parents).  It is easy to say, "He is just seven."  It is easy to let it go.  It takes much less energy and effort to let it go.  But, if you let it go when your child is seven, what kind of experience are you going to have with that child when he/she is a teen?

I do not mean to get on my high horse here and act like I am some kind of superior parent.  I am not.  I have failed mightily many times.  I will continue to fail.  But, I have learned some stuff from my failures and from looking around me.  And one of the things I have learned is that, often, we parents get intimidated by our children.  Why?  We want them to be happy.  We want them to be well-adjusted and confident and successful.  We don't like it when they cry and have temper tantrums and get mad at us.  I understand all that.  But, I believe we can claim our parental authority and care about our children's self-esteem at the same time.  It is a balancing act, and we will occasionally (or more than occasionally) lose our balance.  But, we should strive for it.

In my next post, I will speak more specifically about teenagers and relating to them, with the understanding that the foundation for this relationship has been laid before your children turn into teenagers, because you have expected them to be honest, decent little people who treat others (including their own parents) with honesty and decency.

I see here that I have kind of strayed off of the specific topic of rules and rule lists, so I guess I can just summarize it this way:
     *If your core idea is that you want your children to grow up to be people of moral integrity, just keep that in mind when you interact with them.  Keep that in mind as you observe how they behave toward you and toward others.  Everything grows organically from that.  If that is your core, you don't need rule lists.  Your children will understand where you are coming from as you travel with them and guide them through the hills and the valleys of their growing up. *      

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