I am a mother of teens: a driving teen, and a driving me crazy teen. Actually they are both great, and both completely teenagery without reservation.
I think back to my teenage years: what I knew, what I thought I knew, what I felt and what I believed. I was a teen, like most other teens: I was a beautiful mess.
Parenting a teen is weird. Parenting is just weird. It’s water-slides one minute, and discipline the next. It’s constant energy, atoms of love spliced with atoms of fear.
Recently my oldest told me that he wasn’t going to college. “Say what?!?” I thought silently, while trying to keep my face from betraying me. I grew up in a household where a college degree was a stated expectation. Since I was 6 years old, I knew I would go to college. No other options were ever imagined.
It wasn’t because my family was full of PhD’s. It was because my family had worked tirelessly without the benefit of a secondary education. It was because my mom wanted more for me – expected “more” for me. I was the first person in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. I now hold a master’s degree.
So when my son said that college was not for him, I just stopped. I froze. And I told him it was his decision. A part of me hoped he would “come around.” A part of me knows it’s his life, his choices, and maybe even his mistake to make. Time will tell.
But you should know that I can be a control freak. I have been known to hover over my kids. I have been accused of coddling more than once. And of course, I have dreams for my kids, or at least I thought I did.
But I am learning to let go. To realize that there are many paths to success and to happiness – to loosen the reigns. I still offer and enforce consequences, but then I let go, and let my kids choose their way.
It is so freeing…for ME.
It allows me to have time to breathe, energy to think, and spirit left over to do life. And even have a little joy in the process. I love my kids with all my heart, but when people say, “My kids are my life,” I wonder if something is wrong with me, because I wonder what their life will be like if their kids fail at meeting their expectations. I wonder if I don’t care enough because I am okay with them making some mistakes.
I don’t think I am a great mom, but I know that I am at least a good mom. But in some ways, I feel like I already have my semi-retirement papers in hand. I know that I will never stop being their mom, but I also know that they that they have their own minds. And I have realized that their successes are not mine to claim; nor are their failures.
I still lose sleep over them, and my husband and I pray for them often. Their spiritual and mental health are important to us. Their education and social adjustment are central concerns. I cook for them (when they don’t eat 3 Hot Pockets seven minutes before dinner) and I still fix my son’s hair when he tries to cut it himself, and I hug them before bed time. Hell, I even pack their lunches. But I do it all because I want to, not because I am trying to force my agenda on them. Not because my own mental health depends on their success.
And I have learned the best way to parent my children well is to take care of myself first, and to take care of my marriage next. This is hard for me, but I give it all I’ve got. Because in 5 years, it’s just us, and our dogs and a 1999 RV that we’ve name Rick James. With any luck we will have a high-end-pinkies-up plastic martini set from a flea market, a great banana pudding recipe, and a road-trip planned for anywhere.
In the meantime there is me: little me, doing my squats, walking my dogs, working, cleaning, “wifing”, hiking, painting, (quitting) learning to crochet, downloading language apps that I never use, and holding my skin back on my face once a week to remember what it looks like to be 28.
I realize I still have dreams for my children: I dream that they will be kind their girlfriends or wives, I pray that they will sometimes say yes when friends ask for help moving, I long for them to have self-love, I hope that they will travel and fall in love, and I want for them to never grow tired of knowledge, honesty and compassion. I picture them all over the world, hiking in the mountains, walking their dogs on beaches and eating sushi on an island we can barely pronounce.
But mostly I dream for them to have their own dreams and for them to have the courage to pursue them. And I pray that they sometimes come visit their mama, who will fearlessly be pursuing her own.