The choices we make. Every day. Modeling graciousness. Prioritizing connection over control. Placing relationship before “teaching.”
We had a four day weekend at our house–my daughter’s school is on an atypical schedule. So four days of not getting up early (yay.) Today was back to routine–6:15 a.m., allowing an hour and 45 minutes before we have to leave at 8. Yes. We have decided–mostly, my daughter has decided–that that’s how much time we need to do what needs to be done without rushing or stress. So that’s what we do. (Rule #1: Set yourself up for success, not for failure.)
She got in the shower. I went and laid back down for a few minutes (ahh), wishing I could go back to sleep (no dice), hearing the judgmental voices of others in my head that have said to me “She’s 16–you really don’t need to get up–she can do all of this herself.” They’re right. I don’t dispute that. Getting up with her is a choice that I make.
Then I hear it: “MOMMY!” It doesn’t sound like panic or cry for help, as if she has fallen or hurt herself or is frightened, just that she clearly needs something. She can’t hear me respond with the shower going, so I have to get up and go to the bathroom and crack the door to let her know that I’m responding. I do that. Tiredly.
This is the first point of decision. How to feel. Which “tapes” I allow to play in my head. Which road I’m going to walk down. What I am going to prioritize. It’s a multiple choice quiz. Don’t get me wrong–I still hear all of it, all of the choices and voices. There are the negative ones (yes, I hear them, just like you do.):
a) “I do too much for her. She’s never going to be able to take care of herself.”
b) “Why can’t she think ahead?”
c) “This isn’t my job, and by doing it for her, I’m not teaching her responsibility.”
d) “dammit, I just laid back down. I’m so tired, why do I get up with her in the first place? She’s 16!”
e) “I’ve done a piss poor job of teaching her organizational skills.”
f) “She expects everyone to wait on her hand and foot. She’s spoiled.”
g) “I bet no other parent of a 16-year-old is doing this at 6:20 in the morning. They’re all sitting downstairs having a relaxing cup of coffee.”
h) “I’m enabling. That’s just like me.”
i) “Get it yourself!”
j) “I’m not your servant. I don’t appreciate being taken for granted.”
And then there are the other ones:
k) “How big a deal is it to get her a hair tie?”
l) “Yeah, it was nice to lay back down, but basically, I’m up already, what difference doe sit make?”
m) “If I were in the shower and realized I forgot something, I’d want someone to help me without resentment.”
n) “Model graciousness.”
o) “In a couple of years, she won’t even be here, and I’ll miss her. I’m happy to be her mom and help her out.”
p) “We are kind to one another. We help one another. I love this kid. Sure.”
q) “Of course.”
r) “The relationship is more important than a hair tie.”
s) “Does this happen every day? Or every once in a while?”
Yeah, that’s a lot of choices. I know. Mindfulness is a bitch. Who has the time for all that nonsense, to review so many choices before 6:30 in the morning? Well…I’ve been around the block. I’ve been doing this mindful parenting thing for a while now. The process of answering the multiple choice questions is really fast these days. Probably no more than 2 seconds, that’s how long it takes me to review all of those voices, shut off the ones I don’t choose, and focus on the ones that I do. It gets faster–a LOT faster–the more you practice. I promise.
We both know what she means–sorry that she got me up, sorry that she didn’t take care of this herself, sorry that she didn’t plan well, sorry that she didn’t think it through before she got in the shower, sorry that she asks things of me that she can do for herself–she is acknowledging that this is her responsibility, not mine.
This is the second point of decision. What to say. Again–just like you–I hear all the choices:
a) “You’re welcome”
c) “Could you please try to make a habit of taking an extra in so you don’t need to ask?”
d) “Uh-huh” accompanied by a loud, deep, quasi-exasperated sigh.
e) “I had just laid back down!”
f) “You’re welcome. You know, this is really not the sort of thing I should be doing for you.”
g) “I’m not doing it next time. Figure out a solution. This is your job to prepare.”
Or the one I chose, which I guess would be “h)” (how very apropos–h for humor, our saving grace and one of my most frequent go-to’s):
“It’s okay. I won’t be speaking to you for the rest of the day due to this extraordinarily inappropriate imposition on my time and energy, but it’s fine.”
Yeah. That’s what I actually said, as I was leaving the bathroom. With a smile on my face (a smile, as we all know, can also be heard in a voice) because, well, humor and playful sarcasm and kidding around with my girl make me smile.
As I closed the door, I heard her laugh. And then:
“I love you. Thanks again.”
Does it get better than that with a teenager?
I think not.
And it sets the emotional tone for the rest of the morning…and often, for the whole day.
Yes. I still hear all the things you hear.
I hear the warnings that tell me that I’m doing too much or that I’m spoiling her or that she won’t have enough independent self-care skills to manage in college and she’ll be one of those kids who needs someone to hold her hand that college deans are writing nasty books about. I hear the self-criticism that says that I’m doing a crappy job, it’s my job to teach her this and that, she’s too dependent, I’ve never pushed her enough, I’m not preparing her for real life. I hear all of it. Just like you.
And then I talk back to it. Because it’s bullsh*t. And lacking in perspective.
She is extraordinarily capable. And independent. And responsible. And determined. And ambitious. And mature. And conscientious. And trustworthy. She’ll be fine on her own. She’ll figure it out. And at this moment on this day she is in the shower and she needs a hair tie. And I’m available. And I would want someone to help me, and not lecture me afterwards. Not everything has to be a lesson. Some things can just be life.
I know what it’s like to be caught up. I’ve done that too. Many times. It created a life filled with struggle, filled with anger and dissatisfaction and resentment–and frankly, a life filled with a great deal more resistance and attitude.
I choose relationship.
I choose connection.
I choose courtesy.
I choose respect.
I choose cooperation.
I choose trust.
I choose to behave the way that I would hope she would behave–to act from a place of generosity
(Which pays off in a big way when I find myself in the bathroom with an empty roll of toilet paper, I might add. Do YOU really want to hear “well, you should have planned ahead” coming from the other room? No? Me neither. I call out. She interrupts what she’s doing and comes happily to help, with no grousing or admonitions. Isn’t this as it should be?)
I reject judgment (whenever I can manage it.)
I reject resentment (which gets easier every time.)
I reject guilt and self-criticism–not everything is a commentary on our parenting or their character.
I reject the notion that every interaction must be a “teachable moment.”
I reject the idea that parents and teenagers must be adversaries.
I reject anxiety about what I have or have not “taught her.” There is nothing more important to teach than love, compassion, and generosity. The rest will fall into place. Or she’ll figure it out. She’s more than capable.
They’re people. Just like us. Except when they’re not just like us. That has to be okay, too.
It’s all a choice. Every moment. Every interaction. Every day.
We can choose ease. We can choose acceptance. We can choose generosity. We can choose not to take ourselves and our jobs as parents so damn seriously.
And the beauty of it is that every morning–and afternoon, and evening–we get to make these choices again. Every moment a new opportunity. If we listened to the judgmental voices yesterday, we can refuse today. If we listened to the discouraging voices five minutes ago, we can regroup and choose differently now, a mere five minutes later.
We get to choose a peaceful path. Every day. Does it get any better than that?