It started when my son was just a baby. There I sat; bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived and somewhat stunned at the mountain of work I had just made for myself. Among all the comments about how darling he was and how I should cherish this time and how they grow up so fast was one I won’t ever forget:
“This isn’t even the hard part.”
That little gem of information came from my friends and family members who had older children, and the sound of those words reminded me of one of those horror movies where the girl walks downstairs in the dark with like a kitchen soup ladle in her hand to ward off the evil demonic presence below. The audience is screaming at her NOT to go down there, but she’s completely clueless and goes anyway. You know the rest.
When my precocious son entered the terrible two’s and three’s (yes, we had at least two blessed years of this), I thought to myself, “Ah, yes. They were right. That wasn’t the hard part. THIS is the hard part.” To which my sister and others who were so much more experienced than I replied, “Nope. Not yet.”
Seriously. Now I get it. And I’m not even sure if I’m completely there yet. But now when I see friends or acquaintances frustrated with their small children it’s almost like I feel the need to condescendingly pat them on the head and say, “There, there. Don’t stress yourself so much. This isn’t even the hard part.”
I am in the throes of the teenage years – and I don’t think we’ve even peaked yet. That will probably come in the months following him getting his driver’s license. But we’re close, I think. Wondering if he’s really at where he says he’s at? Check. Finding out that he’s not immune to peer influence? Check. Talking to those closest to you about how to handle the situation? Check. Googling what others have done? Check. Tears and more tears? Check. Sleepless nights? Check. Wondering if you’ve instilled enough values and morals in your son so he makes good choices and doesn’t completely screw up what could be an incredibly bright future? Check.
Ironically, the best advice that I have received on how to attempt to communicate with my teenager has been from my nephew, who has “been there, done that” and turned himself around to become quite a remarkable young man with a good head on his shoulders (though he’s still kinda searching, but hey, who isn’t?)
His mom (my sister), has gone to the ends of the earth and back for this kid and was in tougher places than I’ve been in over the years. She has loved unconditionally, agonized perpetually and most importantly, has never given up on him. That’s not to say that she didn’t let him sink or swim – which you have to do at some point for their own good. You can’t rescue them forever or they’ll never learn how to get themselves out of a jam. But that’s another blog.
While my sister has been instrumental in helping me through a time in my life that she remembers in hers like it was yesterday, here are some gems of advice from “the other side” - my 20-something year old nephew whose words, during the past couple of weeks, have made a great deal of difference in how I handled a tough teenage issue. He says:
“At his age, he is forming his beliefs and they are taking solid foundation but not necessarily a permanent one, so understand that while you may not agree, if you meet him with resistance and disappointment, it will revive the rebel child mentality. Meet him with understanding and a desire to educate with both factual and moral guidance."
So getting mad at him and putting the gauntlet down was not going to be an option, as much as I felt that it was the “right parenting choice.” I could rant and rave all I wanted, but all it was really going to do was make my son even less communicative with me and even more rebellious. Duly noted and it goes back to my philosophy that if you want to get someone to pick up what you’re puttin’ down, it’s all in the presentation.
“As much as you may or may not want to know what he’s doing, you want him to feel that you want to be involved without judgment. Otherwise you’ll be having reactive conversations rather than proactive ones."
A reactive versus a proactive conversation. When did he get so wise? He’s exactly right. Hopefully I’ve instilled in my son enough morals and values that his conscious is coming into play when he’s faced with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. My job right now is to continue to guide and educate; not make charts with stickers for every time he makes a good choice. However, I did offer this to him: “If you are EVER in a situation you want to get out of but don’t know how, CALL ME. I will be the bad guy that ‘makes’ you come home. I will get you out of there so you save face with your buddies. KNOW THIS.”
“The good news is, you’re at the heart of the beast. All your years of parenting have trained you for the next four. Soon he will be a functioning, responsible young adult but not before you go through a few more years of the hardest stuff yet. The best advice I can give is help; don’t control. Guide with hard love and trust your gut.”
So that’s it. The years up until now, as challenging as they have been, were simply training. So in essence, it’s been like getting ready for a marathon. I’ve been running a little farther each day – had setbacks and a few injuries along the way – all in preparation for this 26.2 mile race that will push me to my physical and mental limits and leave me exhausted but hopefully, incredibly proud and feeling like an accomplished parent with a son who hopefully feels the same way not far behind.
Until then, I’m still in training. Hard love. Tough love. I have tried to make that my mantra. I try so diligently to parent with a heart, yet with somewhat of an iron fist. OK, maybe more like aluminum. But I’ve said it over and over again - it is not my job to be his buddy. But I also don’t want to be his adversary. I want to be the one who, when asked about me later in life says, “My mom was tough on me. She had to be. But thank God she was. And she loved me fiercely.”
If that is in fact the outcome, “the hard part” – whenever that ultimately comes – will have been well worth it.