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 on … but 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.
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.