Hypergraffiti

Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Definitely Not a Mommy-Blog

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One of the problems I face as I approach the ten-year anniversary of this blog is that the more time goes by, the less sure I am about what my blog really is. Is it a writer’s blog about writing? Well, sometimes, but definitely not all the time. Is it a place for me to work through ideas and post about my views on political and religious issues? Sometimes. Is it a place where I write about my daily life and keep in touch with a far-flung community of friends and readers? It started out that way in 2006, but in the years since, most of that activity has migrated to Facebook, and blogging doesn’t serve quite the same social function it used to. It almost feels like if you’re going to post Facebook statuses about what you did today, you should save blogging for when you have something important to say.

I can tell you what this blog isn’t, that’s for darned sure. It’s definitely not a mommy-blog.

When I started blogging regularly, my kids were eight and six. And a lot of what I wrote about daily life ended up being about parenting. I never thought of myself as a “mommy blogger” because I also wrote about writing, and about faith, and about TV characters I had crushes onbut I did write a lot about parenting because that was my life and my focus at that time. In fact, my blog was one of several that got studied in a mildly infamous academic study of Canadian “mommy blogs,” so I guess at least some people thought that was what the blog was about.
kidspix

These days, I find I hardly ever blog about parenting. Those same two kids are now almost sixteen and (just as of this last week) eighteen. That’s right: my oldest child is an adult in the eyes of the law. Wow. Just … wow.

Even today, when the heyday of parenting blogs (and perhaps blogs in general) is several years past, you can still find a lot of people blogging about their day-to-day experience taking care of babies, or wrangling toddlers, or raising pre-schoolers or elementary-schoolers.

There aren’t a lot of “mommy blogs” (or daddy blogs) by the parents of teenagers. I wonder why that is?

When your kids are little, it’s so easy to write about the fun moments, the silly things they say, the days you want to remember — but also the frustrating times, the lessons you learn as a parent from the bad days. When they get older, there are still fun moments, still hard days, still lessons learned — but as the kids get older, I think most of us parent-writers are more keenly aware that our kids are not just extensions of ourselves, not just lenses through which we reflect on our own experience. They are their own people, with their own right to privacy. And even as the crazy stress of raising toddlers and preschoolers eases up (how wonderful it is to leave the house for work in the morning knowing that these near-adults will get themselves up and ready for school, and one can even drive there!), the struggles we face — because there are always struggles — are deeper and harder to resolve.

You can tangle with a tantrumming toddler for an afternoon and cuddle that same toddler, tired, at bedtime — and after they’re asleep, blog about what that whole hard day taught you. The struggle to help a teenager emerge into adulthood, and to stand back and not help when your help is not needed, takes months or years instead of hours. And it may be a long time before any of us figures out what we’ve learned from it.

So maybe those are some of the reasons we don’t blog so much.

Don’t get me wrong: I love having teenagers. As a high-school teacher and longtime church youth leader, I’ve always been more comfortable around teens than around little kids, and there are so many things about this time of life — my kids’ blossoming personalities, their growing independence — that I love.

But here’s the thing; it’s no longer a simple system where I tell them what to do, they disobey, I discipline, they learn, I learn. Instead, I tell them what to do, and sometimes they say things like, “I don’t want to do that. I want to do this instead. And since I’m sixteen, or eighteen, or whatever … I’m just going to go do the thing. That you don’t want me to do.”

That taunt our kids liked to fling out when they were really angry at six or eight years old: “YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!!!!” was quite literally untrue then. But now, it pretty much IS true. There’s not a lot you can make a seventeen-year-old do, if he or she doesn’t want to.

It’s not that the parents of teens have no leverage at all. We still have economic leverage: they mostly live in our houses, eat our food, sometimes drive our cars, and may be relying on us to pay for their post-secondary education. I used to be amazed at parents of young adults who continued to bankroll their offspring while those offspring were doing things the parents heartily disapproved of. Now that my own kids are closer to that age, I still believe there are times when a parent has to say, “I can’t stop you from doing this, but I can certainly stop paying your phone and internet bill while you’re doing it.” But I also think a lot of the job of parenting older teens and young adults is the process of making very difficult decisions about when and where you’re going to draw those kinds of lines.

Because the thing is — and of course I always knew this in theory, but it’s different to live through it — your teenagers and young adults are making their own choices now, and they are going to make choices you don’t agree with or approve of. This is not like a toddler choosing to put their hand on the hot stove, where there’s a clear right and wrong. These are the kinds of situations where you have to step back and say, “Am I opposed to this because this is clearly wrong for my kid — or just because they’re not living their life the way I want? And what am I going to do about it?”

Let me be clear: my kids are both good kids. They haven’t given me a minute’s serious trouble so far — and as a teacher of at-risk youth and young adults, believe me, I know what serious trouble looks like. But here’s the thing: even good kids are going to make choices you don’t agree with.  Off the top of my head, based on the experiences of my students, my friends’ kids, my kids’ friends, and even a few things my own kids have done, here’s a very short list (there are lots more things I could add) of Things Your Older Teenager May Do That You Might Not Approve of:

  • date someone you don’t like
  • break up with someone you DO like
  • have sex with that person they’re dating that you don’t like (or with the one you do like)
  • have unprotected sex with the person they’re dating, subsequently presenting you with a grandchild you are in no way prepared for
  • choose a college major you think will not prepare them for the working world in any way
  • refuse to go to college at all
  • drop out of high school four months before earning a diploma
  • drink beer
  • smoke cigarettes
  • smoke weed
  • stop attending the church/faith community in which you raised them
  • start attending a church/faith community you not only disapprove of, but think is full of loonies
  • come out as gay, lesbian or bisexual
  • inform you that the gender you’ve assumed they were from birth is not, in fact, the gender they identify with
  • join the armed forces
  • join a travelling circus

Here’s the thing I can 100% guarantee: if you’re a parent, you read through that list and as you looked at some of the items you thought, “Why is that even on the list? I have no problem with my kid doing that!” And you looked at other items and thought, “That is a deal-breaker! If my kid were doing that I’d move heaven and earth to stop them!!”

Another thing I can guarantee? No two parents are going to parse that list in the same way. We all have different values, and thus, different deal-breakers.

But here’s the tough part: Look at that list and pick out the things that you, personally, disapprove of. The things you really don’t want your kid doing. Add a few of your own if you want. Then look at your new list and ask yourself: which of these are really deal-breakers? And which ones are places where you have to step back and say, “Hey, I think this is wrong, but this kid is nearly an adult now and they have to make their own mistakes and learn the hard lessons on their own. And I need to take a step back.”

When you cross those things off the list, what’s left? A few things, probably, that you know you absolutely cannot live with, probably because in your mind, they seriously endanger your child’s health, safety, or eternal soul. And then you have to ask yourself the next question: “What am I willing to do to try to pressure my teenager not to do this thing?” At this age, sure, we can persuade and encourage and offer guidance, but we can’t force. The only real leverage we have is economic, and if you choose to cut the purse strings or use the old “My house, my rules” yardstick — well, it might work, but you also may end up with a young adult who chooses to move out and maybe even cut ties with you. How far are you willing to go in enforcing your standards on those deal-breakers?

I’m not asking these questions in some kind of wise-advice-giver way, like this is going to turn out to be a self-help article where I give you useful tips. I’m putting this out there to say: this is what my parenting life is like right now, with an almost-sixteen-year-old and an eighteen-year-old. Two good kids who are moving into living lives of their own. And if you have kids in that age group, I’m willing to bet there are elements of this in your life too. I think you’re probably spending hours — maybe late-night hours when it’s hard to sleep — agonizing over the choices they’re making, or are about to make, and how little control you have anymore. And while I personally would never want to go back to the days when I tried to walk across the living room with one toddler clinging to each leg, I have to admit that sometimes, those days were simpler. The dilemmas were frustrating, but easier to resolve. Easier to say, at the end of the day, “Here’s what we’ve learned.”

I don’t know what I’ve learned yet about parenting teenagers, except that it’s beautiful, and rewarding, and hard, and scary. And that’s probably why this is not a mommy blog anymore, if it ever was. But to all my fellow moms and dads who are getting young adults ready to launch into the world — we may not have time or energy or courage to blog or post on Facebook or even share over coffee about all the challenges we face.  We no longer have playgroups and Mommy’n’Me get-togethers to commiserate about how tough it is. But we are truly in this together, muddling through, trying to make the right choices. We still need that support and we still need each other.

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8 thoughts on “Definitely Not a Mommy-Blog

  1. Thank you for a thought-provoking and inspiring piece! I relate.

  2. What you write resonates with me. My children are 17, 15, 13 and 9. I spend a lot of time encouraging them to make informed choices, to think about the kind of person they want to be and the sort of people they want to spend time with. I have one child on the autism spectrum, and we have faced some moderate struggles with communication, but neither she nor I have yet stopped trying to muddle through her adolescence together. I think we’re on the right track, but I agree with you that it takes a long time to realize all of the fruits of this labour of love.

  3. Good post Trudy. I note you didn’t put “choose to collect VINYL record albums” on your list–maybe that cuts too close to the bone! 🙂 We often comment how much we enjoy how Chris and Emma are growing into interesting, engaged, and engaging young adults as they contribute more to family conversations.

    • LOL … there should be another list, besides “Things I absolutely don’t want my kid doing,” and “Things I disapprove of but I know the have to make their own decisions.” The third list would be headed, “Things I cannot fathom, but whatever” and collecting vinyl would be on that list!!

      Thanks for the kind words about my kids. There are many good things about how they are growing up and I try to focus on those!!

  4. My kids are younger than yours, but I’ve been noticing lately how their impact on the way I socialize has changed. When they were younger, I socialized a lot more out of necessity (my necessity and that of all the other moms I knew with children the same age) – if we were at home on our own too long, we’d go stir crazy, so I had all kinds of weekly playdates set up as much for me as for them. Now that’s no longer needed and it’s not quite feasible – my friends’ children are not necessarily going to be my children’s friends. The other thing I’ve noticed is that I no longer have a huge body of shared experience with anyone who has kids the same age as mine. Our issues are different now – my kids don’t like to be involved in many extracurricular activities, so I don’t have stories to swap about the stresses of ferrying them from one team sport to another, for instance. When my kids were babies, one pleasant surprise was that I suddenly shared an incredibly fertile patch of common ground with virtually any other mom – we could trade birth stories, we would never run out of conversational material. That was a new experience for me – I’d always felt that there was a relatively small percentage of the general population with whom I could actually get along. And now, 12 years in, it’s going back to the way it was before: the mere fact that we have children the same age is no longer a guarantee of easy conversation with another mom; we may have entirely different personalities, and in that case our kids will likely have entirely different personalities, so the common ground is harder to find. I think that can apply to the blogging world as well – when my children were younger I was more desperate for connection with other mothers than I am now, and I could also find that connection much more easily – virtually any blog by a mom of kids the same age as mine would provide endless moments of sympathy and recognition. With older kids, that’s no longer the case.

    • Very true, bea — when my kids were small I felt I had a lot in common with moms of same-aged kids with whom I otherwise had NOTHING in common with and would never have felt comfortable with unless we had our children to talk about. While I don’t at all mind that those days are over, I do think it’s important to establish some kind of support network among the people you actually do have something in common with, who are going through or have been through similar parenting experiences. But, as you say, it’s more difficult with older kids because the experiences are more individual to the particular kid you happen to have.

  5. I went through almost everything on your list. And my son went to jail. And left me with his three kids. BUT, now he’s been sober for 6 years, is an in-demand plumber, put his family and marriage back together, speaks at conferences about his story, rides a fancy Harley with the Sober Rider Motorcycle Club in Seattle, and cheers for the Seahawks. Wait…that motorcycle might be on my list.

    I’m going to say this. I am happy for him that he is moving on and it looks like he’s crested the mountain top and has created a safe life for himself and his three beautiful kids. That’s what is most important to me. However, my life won’t be what I wanted for myself and I can’t pretend that it’s as easy to heal at this time of life as it is when you are young and it’s all before you.

    It’s a pickle.

    • Oh wow Jennifer B … you have really been through what we all fear as the worst (or next-to-worst) that could happen. And yet … you and your son both came out on the other side. Not without battle scars, I’m sure. This thumbnail version of your story makes me want to salute and applaud your courage, and wish you many many worry-free years to come (do we ever get worry-free years, once we’ve had kids?)

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