I had kids late for a Southern woman (which I'm not, since I'm a transplant), so most of my friends around here have teenagers. And many of those teenagers are girls. Oh, the suffering! There are a couple things I've noticed:
- All the moms did a good job. They loved their children. They were involved. They made sure the child had a good moral foundation. They met the friends.
- All the mothers blame themselves for their daughter's misbehaviors.
- The daughters come back around--usually by age 25, but often before.
Here are some of the things the moms do when things are going well. They have shown me a great example and I hope that I do as well when I cross this bridge:
- They control their emotions. When it descends into a screaming match, the relationship looks more like two peers than a parent-child relationship. Actually, someone is in charge. It's the kid. And while the daughter claims to want to be in charge, that's generally B.S. She wants freedom, yes, but she doesn't want too much responsibility. Mom has to stay in control, otherwise no one has it.
- They keep their humor. Drinking and drugs help. Actually, no they don't. Sometimes the mood just gets too heavy and most of it is just comedic, not tragic. The happy, centered moms find the humor.
- They keep perspective. When a child says they hate you and can't wait to leave and knows all the soft spots and exploits them, it's difficult to keep perspective. It seems like this will go on forever. But it won't. One way or another, this will be over. At the very least, the kid will move out in a huff.
- They seek support. This seems to be a time where friends and familial support is crucial. Most people wouldn't go on a wilderness trek alone. Going through the teenage wasteland alone seems foolish, too. I'm watching and learning and I know exactly who I'll call when the time comes. One bonus to having kids later is that my friends will be done with it and enjoying grandkids (if their daughters have started speaking to them again). They can laugh at me and give me advice.
- They trust themselves and their daughters (within reason). Fundamentally, parents are terrified because of what they did at that age and because they fear they screwed up their kids and their kids will repeat their own mistakes. That might happen, and really, if a kid is hell-bent to destruction, there isn't much a parent can do to stop it. Most of the time, though, the mom did a good job and the daughter is a good kid.
- They aren't idiots. A friend of mine said that she hid a baby monitor in her teenage daughter's room. Her daughter never could figure out how her mom knew everything. Another friend installed software on her daughter's computer so she knew where her daughter was and what she was doing. Is it sneaky? Yes. Did the mothers have the information they needed to head off disasters? Yes. You can't parent and be a moron. If it is in your house, it's not off limits. Now this must tempered with wisdom. There is a fine line between concern and complete psychopathology. I have seen more than my share of narcissistic, manipulative, crazy parents who violated boundaries, and just generally made their kids lives hell. I'm not talking about that. It's called sense, though and it means paying attention.
- They take care of themselves. They are exercising and eating right and indulging in interests and doing what they love, thereby setting an example for their daughter. Their daughter is paying attention. A tired, crabby, overwhelmed mother models tired, crabby, unthinking coping mechanisms. Children, even teens reflect back what they see. In fact, one of the amusing things (from the outside), is hearing moms complain about their daughters. I have yet to see behavior from the daughter that isn't a perfect, if exaggerated, reflection of the mom's behavior. Yes, this terrifies me.
If nothing else, a woman I know said this about parenting teenagers, "This too shall pass."