They’re big, full of life, curious, fearless, and they watch your every move with inquisitive eyes. Life with teens can be unpredictable, exciting, frustrating, and awe inspiring – all in one day.
There was a time when the thought of having a teenager, especially a girl, put me into a panic. How was I going to parent a teen? It didn’t seem like that long ago since I was hanging out with my E-town friends at Friday night football games.
Decorating the ladies room at our school district education building is a poster that reads-Be The Wall, the teen brain is still developing into the early twenties. Be the wall. What did it mean exactly? Did I agree?
It was the word “wall” that intrigued me. Wall (n) 1. A vertical structure or partition that serves to enclose or separate. My initial reaction was that I was not to be a wall -enclosing my children from the world, they need freedom to learn and explore. How could they become independent adults without freedom? Shouldn’t I trust that after almost seventeen years of parenting, my daughter could live life as an adult making her own decisions?
The answer to that question is, no. I marveled at my daughter’s report card-all A’s in pre-calculus, I had trouble in Algebra II. Amazing. Two months later I’m screaming “Go, go, faster!” gripping the handles of the car door, watching a speeding truck heading right for me. Finally safe, my pounding heart slows and I hear “The light was green; I didn’t know you had to yield to make a left turn.” This same mind that can solve complex equations has no idea how to live life as an independent adult and it is my job to be a wall. I like to think of it as a wall in a maze. My children follow their own path and I am the guide beside them, ready to stop them if they make a wrong turn, protecting them, watching over them and most importantly giving them a sense of security.
Occasionally, new parents will ask my advice on raising young children. I have always kept my advice to two things. First, trust yourself as a parent and listen to the voice within. Second, make your “no” be “no.” Many times I was faced with a screaming child angry because they couldn’t have what they wanted. Embarrassed, I would question myself-why did I say no, is it really that big of a deal, why not give in? I knew the crying would magically stop if I did. But, toddlers need to feel safe and if they continuously get what they want simply because they threw a fit, they will continue throwing fits until someone shows them their boundary and thus shows them they are safe. Once they know where the wall is, they will accept it and life will be much easier. Some toddlers throw passionate fits and test their boundaries more often than others but I can say with certainty that when they understand that your no is no, the distinction between parent and child is made and it helps when they grow tall enough to look you in the eye – or tower over you.
Once, I dealt with questions like, should I let my child have the candy next to the grocery check out. Now, alone in the grocery store, my cell rings “Can I drive my friends around the neighborhood?” Be the wall.
My panic over having teens has turned to joy. The happiest part of my day is when I sit down with my children and simply talk about what’s going on in their lives. I listen, offer perspective and am amazed that the two people in front of me were once tiny babies in my arms. I am still the wall, the one who must insist on good grades and driving curfews but I get to watch as they venture through the maze, excited and eager to explore life. That newness reminds me that no matter how old I am, I too must look at life as they do – fearless, full of opportunity and wonder.