Category Archives: Adolescence

“Almost” college

We’re almost there!  My oldest child graduates from high school next month and will be off to college in August.  Part of me can’t believe it’s happening, but another part of me is right there, ready to help her pack.  She has had SO many ups and downs over the past 5 years or so that in some ways it feels like it’s taken us forever to get here.  But here we are.

The college process was rough.  My daughter only ever wanted to go to one place.  My husband and I made her apply to a few colleges to be safe, but for her there was no real competition.  Her heart and mind were set.  It was not a school we would have chosen for her, that’s for sure.  It’s a campus in a city, which puts it completely out of our suburban comfort zone.  She and my husband were at odds the whole time, sometimes loudly.  There were many many tears, most of them were mine to be honest.  She dug in her heels and he dug in his, and I was feeling really stuck in the middle.   (I will honestly say that the last two years, with her starting to drive and “go out,” and deciding on college, have been the hardest on my marriage – but that’s another post – maybe.)

In the end, money was the biggest issue.  The financial aid process is truly awful.  We got some financial aid from the expensive schools, but not enough, and we got NO financial aid from the cheaper state schools.  Awful.  We knew what we could afford, and what she wanted was more than we could afford.  So she worked.  And worked.  And worked.  For the past year she has held down a more than part-time job – some weeks working 13 days straight, some weeks working up to 30 hours in addition to school.  Whenever her bosses text to ask if she can fill in for someone who is sick, she is there.  Whenever they ask if she can stay late, she does.  She hardly ever goes out with friends, and when she does it’s not to shop or go to concerts – they hang out at each other’s houses or go to a diner.  The end result is that my daughter saved up enough money this year to pay the difference between what we could afford and what it was going to cost, all the while taking two AP classes and making honor roll twice (once she missed it by getting a C+, and last marking period we don’t know yet).  Her work ethic puts me to shame, and I’m in awe, and so proud.

So she’s going to her dream school.  Next year we hope and pray she can be a Resident Assistant so her room will be paid for.  Then we can breathe easier.  But for now, I’m just trying to ride her wave of happiness, and praying this school is everything she hopes it will be.

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So, it’s been a while…

It’s amazing to me that it’s been more than a year since I posted anything here.  It’s not for lack of material believe me, but it’s mostly because 1) I started working full-time, and 2) as my kids are getting older and their issues more complex I feel less free to share their personal stuff online.

There are a few things I want to share though, and I should probably take them one at a time, so I think I’ll start with my 15 year old daughter’s transition to high school.

It’s hard to even type “15” – partly because of the normal parental feelings of time flying by so quickly (I definitely feel that way about my other two children), but also because developmentally her age is a little more ambiguous.  In some ways she’s very 15, into clothes and shopping, doing her nails, wanting to grow her hair long, shaving her legs etc…  but in other ways, mostly regarding social awareness/cues, including sex (thank God! although I know that’s coming), she’s much younger.

I was so nervous about her going to the high school.  Our high school has kids from four different towns, so not only was she going to go to a new building, but she was going to be thrown in with a large population 75% of whom she would not know, and who would not know her.  I was nervous about the size of the building and her getting lost (since she has inclusion for gym and art, and she does not have a 1-on-1 aide).

Luckily, thanks to the support of her teachers and class aides, a program she was a part of that paired special ed kids with typical kids, and her own incredible hard work, the transition was practically seamless.

This has been a year of real social growth for her, not that confidence has ever really been a problem (if anything, she’s over-confident because she doesn’t realize her deficits, but that’s a post for another time).  She’s joined the Spanish Club (despite knowing almost NO Spanish!), the Sign Language Club, the Gay-Straight Alliance (of which her older sister is president, so we’ve had a few rough moments), and is part of the program I mentioned above which pairs special ed & typical kids for activities.  A social butterfly!

We’ve only hit a few bumps.  The most concerning one was about a month into the school year she got confused and thought the school day was over.   She called me from her cell phone, wondering where I was and why I wasn’t picking her up.  We went over her schedule on the phone so she could figure out where she was supposed to be then I called the guidance office so they could double check with the teacher to make sure she had gotten there.

All in all it’s been a great first year of high school for her!

co-parenting

My husband and I have been married for almost 22 years.  In this time we have known great highs and devastating lows.  We have known times of peace and times of anxiety and tension.  I think, by far, the greatest time of tension that we have experienced as a couple have been the past few years parenting our now 17 year old daughter.

Parenting an older adolescent is a whole different universe than parenting an infant, or toddler or young child.  The issues then are very much centered around physical safety:  baby-proofing, making sure they don’t run out in the street, or wander away from you at the mall.  Parenting an older teenager is about safety too, but the game is utterly different.  Instead of baby-proofing, you wonder if the group they’re with will be drinking or doing drugs.  Instead of keeping them from running in the street, you’re praying they don’t get an accident while they’re out with the car.  Instead of wandering away in a crowd, you’re terrified they (or someone they’re with) will do something incredibly stupid or dangerous (or both).

And instead of tucking them in at night, you’re worried about them picking the kind of major in college that will enable them to get a decent job.  Instead of tucking them in at night, you’re trying to prepare them to be without you.  To fly solo.  It’s about finding the balance between holding on too tight so that they’re unprepared, and letting go too quickly or at the “wrong” time so they crash.

I’m spending a lot of time feeling afraid.  But I think I’m coping better than my husband, who is just plain terrified.  Because of my childhood, I tend to err on the side of freedom, while he errs on the side of control.  As a result, we’ve had some pretty interesting disagreements and discussions over the past year or so.  As I said, there are times when the tension is THICK – times when I think he’s suffocating her, and he thinks I’m irresponsible.

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I never expected to be fighting over differing parenting styles.  It’s been a bit of a shock and very disconcerting.  And of course the “truth,” the “right” way to go, is somewhere in between.  But there’s no formula for figuring out where that happy middle is.  It all feels like such a roll of the dice – which only adds to my fear and his terror.

I find myself sometimes wishing I didn’t have to co-parent.  It would be so much easier if I didn’t need to consult my husband or compromise or admit when I’m wrong.  But I know that’s just fantasizing to relieve the tension.  I know single parents.  And I know single parenting has its own tensions and fears and is HARD.   I knew parenting would be hard, but I had no idea HOW hard, and no idea the toll it could take on a relationship.  When divorce statistics are thrown around, you always hear about money being a source of stress, but I wonder how much having an adolescent figures into divorce rates?  Not that we’re going that route BELIEVE ME – I LOVE my husband, and like I said, my fantasy of being a solo parent is just that – a fantasy to escape the hard work of dialogue, understanding, and compromise. “Opposites attract” sounds nice, but the reality of it can be… complicated.

I never thought about parenting styles when I had children.  And I guess you cannot possibly know what kind of parent you will be to your adolescents until you get there.  It’s not something I think people generally talk about when they’re falling in love and think about having children together.  I know my husband and I certainly didn’t talk about how we would handle our hypothetical teenage daughter wanting to drive an hour to a hypothetical concert with her friends.  And I know that how I act in the reality is often different than I ever imagined it.

My daughter has been in therapy since the spring, and I think her therapist is excellent.  One of the reasons I feel this way is because she’s spending time with all three of us: my daughter alone, my daughter and I, my daughter and my husband, and my husband and myself.  She’s guiding us through some of our confusion and fear and tension in parenting.  I don’t think we’ll be able to work our fears away (I don’t think that’s possible for anyone who takes parenting seriously), but hopefully we’ll cope with them a little better, and also be able to work through some of the tension in our parenting styles. Less tension between the two of us around the last years our daughter is home would be a good thing.

Anyone else out there go through this?

 

push and pull

I’ve been pretty silent here on the blog lately because I’m having problems deciding what is appropriate to share.  Quite honestly, right now, I’m having more issues navigating life with my 16 year old “typical” daughter than I am with my 13 year old autistic daughter or 9 year old son.  And because my oldest is 16, the issues I’m dealing with are a lot more complicated than potty training or sleeping through the night.  I would have no problems sharing that kind of information here.  But the issues I’m trying to cope with are more interpersonal – my relationship with my daughter, her relationship with me – issues of independence and control.

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write.  Believe me, there have been moments recently where I’ve wanted to lay down a blazing rant, but even in my anger and frustration I still want to protect my daughter’s privacy.  She didn’t ask to have her life chronicled in a blog.  I’m also fully aware that even as I stand tall in self-righteous indignation, I am only seeing my side of the story – or there are times when I can see her side, but think it’s completely ridiculous, or see her side and feel badly for her as a teenager wanting to be older.  I know what it’s like to want to be free from parental control and rules.

One of the HUGE differences between my daughter and me is that I grew up in an abusive home, and actual rebelling was NOT a realistic option for me.  I was brought up not able to openly question or disagree with my parents, especially my father.  Indeed, I grew up with a lot of fear.  I didn’t want that for my children.  The result?  My daughter feels perfectly comfortable disagreeing with and questioning me to my face (and my husband’s face too while we’re at it).  I love that and am SO uncomfortable with it at the same time.

She has always been this way, but since she turned sixteen back in October, there has been a more dramatic shift.  She somehow thinks that sixteen is a license to absolute freedom and autonomy.  Well, not in my house.  I never (to my knowledge) gave her any impression that once she turned sixteen she would be free to do whatever she pleased with whomever she pleased.  So there has been considerable pulling and pushing in the past few months as she has tested the limits.  For example, she can be angry, argue and even yell at me, but on New Year’s Eve she started hurling personal attacks at me, and THAT was unacceptable.  She got grounded for the first time in her life.

I recognize the need to give her more freedom as she shows us that she can handle it.  She gets very good grades and overall has a good head on her shoulders.  But like any normal teenager, her capacity to sense danger is limited if non-existent.  I’m afraid every time she goes out the door and gets in a car with friends (many of her friends are in the next grade up and have their driver’s licenses already – she is still learning).  Isn’t the fact I let her drive in a car with friends to the mall (or so she says) proof that I’m not an overbearing mother?

But the fear is almost overwhelming.  I’m afraid every time she goes to a friend’s house, every time she gets in a car and drives off…  I have set certain rules for those things that I think are reasonable.  But kids will sometimes be kids and work around those rules or lie outright.  I know she doesn’t tell me everything, and I don’t expect that she will.  I can only hope the lies she tells me (or the things she doesn’t tell me) aren’t ones that will endanger her safety.  Perhaps that is my biggest fear.  And there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.

I think my job is to balance my fear with her freedom.  There are times when I have to “suck it up” and let her go, to stifle that voice inside of me that’s screaming “NO!  Don’t you leave this house!”  But there are also times when I need to pay attention to that voice, trust it, and let that voice come out.  But dang it, there’s no rhyme or reason for when to listen to that voice and when stifle it.  Flying by the seat of your pants IS NOT EASY OR FUN.

I had high blood pressure before this.  I think I may need to “up” the dosage on my medication.  I’ve got two and a half years before she graduates from high school.  Then, when she’s living on her own, I’m sure I’ll enter a new kind of hell.  Pray for me please!

Sweet Sixteen

Last week my family experienced a significant milestone.  My oldest child turned

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In some ways it seems impossible that I could have a sixteen year old.  This is ridiculous of course since I’m just shy of 50.  In reality I could be a grandmother – but we won’t talk about that!  In other ways it also seems impossible that my daughter could be sixteen because, I mean, wasn’t she just starting kindergarten?

It’s a tradition in our household to torture our children with their birth videos and baby pictures and birth stories on their birthdays, and this special birthday was no exception.  I often tease my daughter that she was the only one of my three that kept me up in labor all night long, (she was born at 7am, while my other two were born at night and in the afternoon), and that it was a sign of things to come.  I have indeed lost a lot of sleep over her, especially in her last middle school years and sometimes still as I worry about how she will fare going out into the big bad world sooner now rather than later.

She had such a terrible awful time of it in 7th and 8th grade – actually it was pretty horrifying how badly she felt about herself.  It’s her story to tell if she ever wants to go into the gory details, but from a parent’s perspective there’s no almost no worse feeling than watching your child go through a dark period, knowing there’s nothing you can do to take it away, praying that they don’t succumb to the lies depression or the bullies at school tell them.  Lots of lost sleep, sometimes just watching her sleep, doing my best to WILL her to feel better.  In addition to all this parental worrying, we also had her in therapy.  You don’t just try to will or pray the bad away.  She was over her head, we were over our heads, we needed HELP.  And we got it.  It’s not always easy, I get that.  The financial burden of therapy is huge.  But the pain of a dead child – that’s “huge-er.”

Thankfully her first year of high school was an immense improvement, continuing now into her sophomore year.  She is in quite a few clubs, has many good friends and her grades are just fine (except for Geometry – she’s working on it…).  She works out and trains in mixed martial arts and wrestling (the professional kind, which is what she wants to do for a career – God help us!)   While wanting a very public career, she’s a bit of an introvert in her personal life – like me, needs a lot of “alone” time, so she doesn’t go out a lot – sometimes, but not often.  A sign of this was her sweet sixteen party.  My husband and I were willing to do whatever she wanted, but it was her choice to just have a few friends over for pizza and ice cream, to hang out and laugh and invite them to sleep over if they wished.

In many ways, the personal issues she’s had – along with having pastors for parents and the church work we do with the poor, AND having a younger sister with autism – have made her wise beyond her years.  She is a deep thinker.  She has questioned and stretched her faith in ways I have rarely seen in a teenager.  She is a boundary pusher.  She is unafraid to voice her opinion, even if it’s not popular.  She has a profound  sense of justice and right and wrong – and is passionate about sticking up for the underdog, probably because she feels she IS one.  Don’t get me wrong, she still has plenty of “typical teenage” moments where she shocks me with her self-centeredness and impatience and immaturity – but that’s part of adolescence I think, to vacillate between maturity and childishness.

I worry a lot for her.  I worry about her career choice mostly.  Entertainment is a risky business.  Sports entertainment is not only risky financially – it’s risky physically.  The potential for serious bodily harm is real.  And the potential for being taken advantage of in a field that’s not well regulated and where women aren’t as respected as they could/should be is also high.  I worry a lot about that.  But I’m NOT worried about the kind of person she is and will become.  Whatever profession she chooses, or whatever profession chooses her, I have confidence that she will be the same person she is now, only stronger.  I don’t always agree with her.  I don’t always understand her.  But I am always in awe of her.

the apple who falls far from the tree

As I write this my teenage daughter is being flipped by a man who is the size of a professional football player, until it’s her turn to flip him – and I sit and watch.  We are at wrestling school, PROFESSIONAL wrestling school.  Please pray for me.

that's my girl, being thrown around while I watch.

that’s my girl, being thrown around while I watch.

My daughter will be sixteen in a few short months and has wanted to be a professional wrestler since she was about twelve.  At first my husband and I thought it was a passing phase.  Then we hoped it was a passing phase.  Now, after almost four years of this being her single focus, and after three months now of attending a wrestling school and it being her joy, we’re praying it’s a passing phase.  But also:

  • Praying that if it’s not a passing phase, that she has a good enough head on her shoulders to make the best connections in the business that will help her be successful.
  • Praying that if she’s not monetarily successful at wresting her “plan B” (aka day job) is one that will provide her security, happiness and enough success so that she can wrestle on the side (as most of the people at this school/training center do).
  • Praying that she isn’t taken advantage of in a business that has no real governing body and that she stay strong in a business that, in the opinion of her father and me, isn’t very respectful of women.

That’s a lot to be praying for.  A lot to worry about.

However, in this midst of all this praying and worrying there ARE some things for which I am thankful.

  • She did a lot of research before presenting to my husband and me where she wanted to train. She found a place with a good reputation and a fair fee.  It’s an hour away, which is a sacrifice for the rest of us, but so far it’s worked with only a fair amount of complaining by her siblings.
  • The people at this school/training center are really wonderful.  I would say “sweet” but that might ruin their reputation.  Outside the ring they are respectful and friendly.  There is only one other female at the center right now, and my daughter is the only minor that attends regularly, so she works with almost all adult men.  Might sound scary at first (and it was!), but these men treat her like their little sister or daughter.  In fact, one of the more gruff senior wrestlers, who often gives the guys a hard time told her, “I have a daughter your age.  If ANYONE gives you trouble you tell me and I’ll flatten them.”  He’s not the only one who’s said something like this to her either. Now, I’m not a fan of violence, but I’ll take it. These men have become very protective of her, and I’m grateful for that.
  • Before starting at this center she was really rebelling against my husband and me whenever we talked about her going to college.  Since she started training she has completely changed her tune.  The owner and head trainer told our daughter at her opening interview that it was a REQUIREMENT of attending his program that she get good grades in school and have a college plan.  He has made a good case to her about how college will equip her well even if she’s able to wrestle full-time and gets to the WWE. He made the case to her about having a good “plan B” as well.  She wouldn’t listen to her father and me when we said this, but she listens to her trainer. Thank God for him!
  • She’s not only thinking of what to do besides wrestling, she’s thinking about what she would like to do when her wrestling career is over.  And all those ideas swirling in her head are different, but involve helping the poor and politically oppressed, being a voice for the voiceless and an advocate for the powerless – which is just more proof of what an awesome person she is and is becoming.

So, my husband and I still might be praying she chooses a more secure conventional occupation, but we’re perhaps not quite as AFRAID as we have been.

In this whole process I’ve come to a few realizations, and this for me is the most important:  one of the hardest parts of parenthood is letting go.  Not just the “growing up” part of letting go – what I mean is letting go of the natural expectation of our kids to be just like us (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree).  Sometimes this natural expectation plays out:  an artistic dad has an artistic daughter, an numbers mom has a numbers son, a lawyer begets a lawyer etc… Because of this natural and often unconscious expectation we’re shocked if our children choose paths for their lives that are out of step with ours.  The accountant with a child who wants to be a mechanic, the peace loving hippies who have a child who joins the military,  the “outdoorsy” hunting fishing dad whose son becomes a drag queen (don’t laugh, that’s a real life example from a guy I knew in high school!).

But we need to realize that our children are not supposed to be carbon copies of us.  They are their own people, and it is our job as parents to help them discover who that is.  Sure, it’s our job to guide, but not to stifle or suppress them into being who WE want them to be – IT’S THEIR LIFE NOT OURS. Many times, however, this is easier said than done.

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I am so incredibly proud of my daughter no matter what she does with her career life (unless of course she turns to a life of crime or profits from exploiting others!).  What we DO and who we ARE, while closely related, are NOT the same thing.  One can be highly educated and incredibly monetarily successful and also be a jerk.  I’m confident that will not be an issue for her – she is already too concerned with justice and “right and wrong” for that to happen – and I’d like to think in that  way at least, the apple hasn’t  fallen far from the tree…

the minefield

Parenting is NOT for the faint of heart.  Problem is there’s no way to know that until you’re “in it.”  Sure, parents may warn you beforehand, but you think, “I will be different.  My children will be great because I’m going to ace parenthood.”  You already know what you’ll do differently from your parents, or you’ll do everything exactly as they did – depending on your family history.

You survive the sleep deprivation of infancy.  Your child survives the physical dangers that tempt toddlers.  And you feel a wonderful sense of pride as you send them off on their first day of kindergarten.  Life hums along and you confidently think as God did when looking at creation, “Yes.  This is good.”

But then something happens.  You’ve “got” this parenting thing, you’ve hit your stride – and the next moment you realize you’re in the middle of a minefield and you have no idea if the next step you make will set off a BOMB.  You have no idea how to move your feet – in what direction or how far.  Each step you make could have far-reaching and serious consequences.  How did this happen?  How did you end up here?  It’s called…

A D O L E S C E N C E

Edvard Munch, the scream

Edvard Munch, The Scream

Adolescence is a minefield.  You tell yourself you’ll do things better than your parents – and you WILL. BUT… you and your teenager will find other roadblocks in your way instead.  Ones you could never have anticipated.  You’ll find yourself replaying scenes from your own adolescence.  You’ll be amazed at the buttons your teenager is able to push, and how you fall for it without even realizing. And the hormones and developmentally exploding brain!  Sometimes all I have to do is look at my daughter the wrong way and a bomb goes off!  Say “no” to a request one night and I get a shrug and a grumble. Say “no” to a similar request on another night and the roof comes off the house and she hates me.  One moment your child is the most generous, kind human on the planet, and the next acting like the most selfish, thoughtless human being in history.

Career goals start to come into play.  You might end up looking at your child and saying, “Who are you and what have you done with my baby?” or “How could this child be MINE?”  You have expectations of college and your son aspires to be a heavy metal drummer. You see a lawyer before you, but your daughter wants to be a mechanic.  Or conversely, you wish you had a liberal daughter who would want to be a heavy metal drummer and she wants to be a lawyer for the Republican party!  How far do you let them go in following a dream, especially if it’s risky (like the drummer) while trying to prepare them in case the dream fails (which in their eyes it could never, because adolescence).  And can you prepare them at all, because of course you’re the last person in the world they want to listen to!

If their other parent is involved in their life, it’s a minefield you have to maneuver with your co-parent as well. When the kids are small decisions are fairly easy – keeping your child physically safe, how much tv, how much processed food, when should bedtime be etc…  But when your child hits adolescence, you may find your parenting styles differ.  (And no matter how much you’ve talked about parenting styles and philosophies before, when you’re “in it,” it’s a different thing.)  Your different childhoods may clash. Your different views of the world may clash.  Things like gender expectations, how boys and girls are treated, the kind of freedom you want (or don’t want) to give your son or daughter.

There are decisions to make like:

  • “when does she get to go to a mixed gender party?”
  • “How late can he stay out?”
  • “How old does she have to be before I DON’T have to know everyone she’s going to the movies with?”
  • “When do we let him drive with friends?”
  • “How often do we check the parent’s page on the school website to see his grades?  Every day?  Once a week?  At progress report time?”

Many times you have to make up your mind or set the rule on the spur of the moment, because they’ll fling a situation at you that you hadn’t thought about, and you don’t have time to say, “let me track down dad/mom and discuss it with them first.”  And woe to you if it’s a decision your co-parent disagrees with! And then, if you stick by your guns, but have a standing agreement with your co-parent that you don’t “put down” the other parent in front of the child, you find yourself defending an opinion to your child that you don’t hold yourself!  My husband and I have had fights before.  Heck, we’ve been married for twenty years, we’ve had LOTS.  But the disagreements we’ve had over parenting styles and decisions now that our oldest is fifteen are HARD. Really hard.

A minefield I tell you!!!

I have no words of wisdom.  No advice on how to get through it, because I’m still IN it.  Pray for me – and I’ll pray for you.