I don’t know how to raise teenagers, and this realization is scaring the hell out of me.
The day we brought McKenna home from the hospital, I remember laying down in bed that night and suddenly being almost paralyzed with fear at the thought of the monumental task before The General and me. Being pregnant? No problem. I could handle that. Childbirth? Perhaps there’d be some discomfort, but between nine months of research, stories from those who’d gone through it before me, and the comfort level I had with the medical team surrounding me I wasn’t that worried. Caring for an infant? It couldn’t be that difficult - feed, change, love, repeat. But in one small instant, I suddenly realized that this newborn was going to grow up, and it was our job to make sure she would become a productive, contributing member of society. We were the ones responsible for making sure she entered the world as a good person with solid morals and ethics, a person who would make good decisions when faced with all the opportunity to do just the opposite.
I can vividly remember the panic wash over me. Turning away from the bassinet where McKenna peacefully slept on her first night at home, I looked at The General and said, “I am thinking about all of the things that we did growing up that we probably shouldn’t have. We were good kids but we did some dumb things, and the thought of this baby doing any of those same things makes me want to throw up”. He downplayed my anxiety and when I announced to him that I could take care of a baby, could teach a toddler right from wrong, could influence and encourage a child toward what is right, but I had no idea how to raise someone to be a good person he casually mentioned, “Well, we turned out to be good people so I think we’ll be alright”. At that moment, coupled with the crippling exhaustion that accompanies becoming parents, he helped calm my fears enough to allow me to fall into a deep sleep.
Fast forward almost eleven years and now I find myself on the doorstep of the part of parenting that I have been dreading since that warm July night. I think we’ve done okay raising our girls so far whether that be because of our parenting skills or in spite of them. They use good manners (usually), are kind to others (with the exception of an occasional sibling spat), are helpful (sometimes independently but mostly when demanded), and understand right versus wrong (except for the arguments they sometimes try to engage in when they are so clearly wrong especially when it comes to spelling). I know they are good kids. People tell me that often, but I can see it for myself every single day and I couldn’t be more proud of them.
But, life is about to get a lot more complicated. Girl drama, hormones, peer pressure . . . it’s all kicking up already and just like when I went through it myself 25 year ago I don’t know how to deal. My initial reaction immediately reminds me of my mom’s response when I told her I was pregnant. I apologize if you’ve heard this story already, but it’s a classic and only now I am really starting to get where she was coming from that November night in our kitchen. As I pictured making the announcement to my mom and dad that they were going to be grandparents for the first time, I pictured screams of joy, tears, maybe a little jumping up and down. Big reaction is what I always envisioned. Instead they both stood in stunned silence, eyes wide with mouths slightly agape. I said it again, “I’m pregnant,” and I think maybe my dad finally spoke a quiet “Oh”. My mom, severely disappointing me with her lack of hysterics, broke her silence by clasping her hands to her chest and stating, “I think I feel urpy”. Urpy. Like, as in “I think I might throw up”. This was nothing like what I had pictured. They were obviously very excited once the shock wore off, and once she regained the power of speech my mom tried to explain her initial response. She said that of course she was excited to be a grandma but her brain immediately went to all those moments of motherhood that are less than glamourous, all the moments when you feel beaten and alone and frustrated and hurt and protective to the point of insanity at your child’s pain. She said that reliving those moments as a mom with me and then imagining her child living through those tough moments made her feel a little sick. I didn’t understand it then, but I think I’m starting to get it now.
I’m feeling a little urpy myself at the thought of what is soon to come. In the last few weeks I will glance up and see McKenna turn the corner and I find myself sort of shocked at how grown up she looks. Emotional and physical changes are happening fast, and it’s moved me to tears more than once in the last week. We had a long talk just a few days ago about something that happened between her and two friends that left her feeling hurt and confused, and her raw emotions over the incident was enough to break my heart. There have been other conversations that have taken place between the two of us that had me crawling in my skin and stifling nervous giggles over the content, conversations I have been rehearsing for months (maybe even years) but still felt SUPER awkward actually delivering. Talking with parents of kids around the same age, I am literally ill at some of what I’ve heard her peers discussing and participating in. I think The General and I have sort of unofficially without actually discussing this have started to open up the floodgates a little bit and have become a bit more “free” with our topics of conversation (e.g., we took a quiz as a family about poop and pee that led to the discussion of some very technical terms and processes); after years of carefully monitoring what we say around them, open up the topics to a wider variety feels very odd. The General even said it’s time to start breaking out the R rated movies on family movie night. I’m not sure I’m ready for the conversations THAT may spark.
Fully realizing how irrational this is, I started making claims that homeschooling and putting them in a bubble or locking them in the crawlspace for the next 18 years were options we should seriously look into. It’s really the only methods I know for shielding them from the world they are about to be exposed to. The General wisely talked me down off this ledge explaining to me that we can’t let our kids remain naive forever, that doing so will only hurt them more in the long run. He even went so far as to use country music against me explaining that the only way the girls will ever grow up to like that kind of music is if we allow them the space and freedom to go down some back country roads on a summer night to get drunk with a bunch of their friends. It’s how they’ll relate to the music that I’m trying to force them to love. I mean, seriously! How do I argue with that kind of logic when I have lived it myself? I admit he’s right (sort of) and that part of raising kids is to let them make their own mistakes so that they can learn from them. But still, the thought of my sweet, innocent, trusting McKenna being faced with issues like boyfriend/girlfriend swapping at the roller rink on Friday nights and other more, shall we say, “experimental” behaviors in more private settings? Ugh, it makes me feel physically sick to my stomach. Fifth grade appears to be the age when everyone starts “dating,” and the rumors of what goes down in sixth grade is APPALLING. Even though right now she shows absolutely NO interest in boys outside of innocent friendships (which is, of course, a totally different story with her sister, by the way), I know it’s coming sooner rather than later and as the kids say I just can’t even. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of things that are causing me daily stress and anxiety. Drugs, drinking, driving, peer relationships, letting them out in their surroundings on their own without parental supervision . . . it’s all about to move into a realm that feels like I’m losing control. Maybe that’s the root of the fear?
How do I teach her independence? How do I teach her to respect herself enough to not let someone take advantage of her? How do I teach her that saying “no” when everyone else is saying “yes” makes you stronger? How do I teach her about being safe? How do I teach her that it’s okay to remove yourself from a situation when everything in her body is screaming “RUN”? How do I teach her to let people in while simultaneously guarding her heart from being hurt? How do I teach her self-worth so that she doesn’t try to find it from someone else? How do I get her to understand and appreciate her body for what it is and what it can do without getting caught up in society’s ideals and expectations? How do I teach her that sometimes people aren’t always what they seem? How do I teach her to trust herself more than anyone else? How do I teach her that no matter how uncool I seem, I’ve lived a lot of what she’s about to experience first hand and might just have some decent insight on how to make it out alive and relatively unscathed? How do I get her to understand that no matter what choices she makes I will always have her back and be there for her to either celebrate the victories or help her pick up the pieces after the losses?
How do I learn to let go so that she can figure all of this out on her own?
It can be a big, bad world out there, and for as hard as we’ve worked to expose her to (mostly) only the good in life it feels like a giant leap to let her explore everything that’s waiting for her. I know she can’t stay isolated and protected forever, but man is it hard to think about as the time to shift control from us to her draws closer and closer. I guess for now I’ll just stick to what I know and what has worked so far and make adjustments along the way. What I do know for sure is that I’ll try my hardest to keep the lines of communication open and never, EVER let her walk to or from Fedderson’s with a group of friends after a school dance because nothing good ever comes from that. I guess I’ll just follow my parents’ lead.
Because after all . . . I think I turned out okay.