Whoever said that parenting is a marathon and not a 5k did not experience my most recent week. In most cases, our parenting “sprints” come to us sporadically.
I frequently seem to be jogging along, assuming that things are going fairly smoothly when I am blindsided. I am hit with the news that someone is failing a class, broke up with their boyfriend, just realized the significance of the “check engine” light, or the friend drama is at an all-time high.
Because these issues rarely occur all at once, even with two teens, I feel equipped to handle them. I can stop, breathe, and regroup to respond calmly. I can bring my parent “A game” to the party. However, when parents are slammed with multiple issues, our mettle is truly tested, and our own “check engine light” starts flashing.
Last week one daughter wanted a tattoo, the other birth control
Last week I was approached by my teen daughter about birth control. As in, “can we talk about this very important life decision that will require a parent who is calm and very emotionally engaged”? Wow. Deep breath. Regroup. Stay calm.
Later that same day, my older daughter informed me that she was getting a tattoo. She respectfully let me know that this was her decision and she was calling to inform me of it. It was explained to me that I should not try to talk her out of this. Wow. More deep breaths. Check engine light flashing.
Desperately trying to stay calm.
I have always known that these big decisions might be on the horizon somewhere between early adolescence and adulthood. While not all teens and young adults are exploring sex and tattoos, they are considering and making choices that will have a lifelong impact.
As I was hit with this parenting tornado last week, I fondly recalled the “big” decisions I had walked through with my children in the past. Overnight camp or day camp? Which friends to invite to a small slumber party and which friends to exclude? Should I repaint my bedroom? AP or grade level Chemistry? Somehow, my children made seemingly tough choices along the way and survived.
As my teens get older, the decisions they have to make get more challenging
At these ages, however, the stakes are bigger and the decisions more significant. My daughters are choosing which college to attend and what to major in.
My oldest daughter is no longer living in my home. She is setting her own “curfew” and managing all aspects of her daily life. She is paying bills and making her own doctor’s appointments. Soon, she will be choosing internships and graduate schools. And, down the road, maybe a life partner. These choices are nowhere close to “how should I cut my bangs” choices.
Like most parents, I have tried my best to share my values and beliefs with my children when they have been at a crossroads. I have tried to acknowledge and validate their feelings along the way and appreciate the weight of their world.
I have often had an “I can tell this is very important to you” discussion with my children. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I have always succeeded in remaining calm. When faced with the knowledge that my younger daughter provided a free-of-charge ear piercing to her older sister, I can assure you that my emotions were high.
Also, like most parents, I have walked the fine line of allowing self-expression and personal choices to occur while also holding some boundaries. In hindsight, I have missed the mark on this many times. Replaying my decisions is my brain’s favorite nighttime activity.
I’m glad my teens chose to talk to me about their big decisions
In reality, I like to think parents who faced birth control and tattoo discussions last week (or discussions of that magnitude) are the lucky ones. The ones who have done their best to provide an environment of openness and trust where children feel safe in sharing their biggest decisions.
These are the parenting moments where I can cash in my chips. I can look back on the times when I was calm and responded to a crisis without judgment or panic. I can assure myself that my children are coming to me with these choices because they feel safe and value my opinion.
Last week, I was allowed to stop, breathe, and say, “Ok. Let’s talk about that” with both of my daughters. While a large part of me wanted to run from the discussion and hide under the covers, most of me realized that this was a beautiful and priceless opportunity.
I won’t say how these discussions ended or what was decided regarding the tattoo or the birth control. I will say that I survived this parenting sprint and seem to be back on a “marathon” track. The days following these discussions brought less challenging choices, such as scheduling an appointment for a bang cut and considering paint samples for my daughter’s bedroom.
Check engine light off for now.
The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist.
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