BY KELLY HINES, A GUEST BLOGGER WITH TRIAD MOMS ON MAIN
I lovingly refer to my oldest child as our “first pancake.” Every experience with her is new. I have no frame of reference and rely on instinct, advice from friends, and a good amount of guesswork. Much like the first pancake of the bunch, the result is often uneven and sometimes burned.
We stumbled through her infancy and toddlerhood, bleary-eyed with wonder and lack of sleep. We largely sailed through elementary school, hit a few minor hiccups in middle school, and barreled into high school. Suddenly, I’m like a mother to an infant again, filled with anxiety and doubt. At seventeen, my daughter is smart, well-rounded, and completely infuriating. So how do we keep from burning our first pancake? Here are a few things I’ve managed to figure out:
1 – Remember, I’m human. I’m embarrassed by the number of times I’ve flown off the handle at my teenager. There have been fights where I’ve dropped all the grown-up words (yes, that one. And that other one, too), thrown things, and acted like a complete lunatic. There have been times when my brain has been screaming at my mouth to shut up, as words that I instantly regret pour out. When the smoke clears, I have to remember that I’m a fallible being and it’s okay for my children to see me as such. It also gives me the opportunity to show them how to apologize and mean it.
2 – Remember, she’s human. One day, my kid came in from school, yelled at her siblings, answered my questions with grunts, and stormed off to her room. I badgered her about what was wrong and gave her grief about her behavior until finally, she turned to me and snapped “Can’t I just be in a bad mood?” Yes, she can. Sometimes, I forget that my kids are people, too, and sometimes, they’re less than their best selves. Just like me.
3 – Stay in my wheelhouse. There are things I do well: Helping with homework, managing time, keeping things tidy, cuddling, and healing broken hearts among them. There are things I do not do well: Car maintenance, talking about drugs, explaining offside, large events, and much more. When it comes to the things I don’t do well, I outsource. I have a husband who happens to be good at most of them, but I’m always willing to ask a grandparent, relative, friend, or neighbor to step in and help.
4 – Try again. This may be the best thing I’ve done with my teenager, and it helps de-escalate many situations. If I ask a question and she answers me like I’m the dumbest person on the planet, I keep my voice calm, look her right in the eyes and say, “Try again.” Sometimes I’ve said “try again” half a dozen times before she can manage to speak to me with kindness. The key is keeping my cool, and remembering I’m the grownup.
5 – I’m the grownup. Ultimately, it’s up to me to set the example. Sometimes I fall short (see #1), but my responsibility is to teach my child how to navigate life successfully. What I do and what I say (and how I say it) lay the foundations of her future. And while I fully support explaining the hows and whys of all things, I also think it’s okay to occasionally say, “Because I said so.” Because I’m the grownup.
6 – Have reasonable expectations. I’m forty-five years old. I have lived independently for twenty-seven years, in three different states, with a dozen different jobs and a boatload of life experience. My seventeen-year-old is not going to know that sometimes your check engine light comes on if you don’t close the gas cap all the way.
7 – Put myself in her shoes. About a month ago, my daughter was talking to me about an issue she was having with a friend. Out of nowhere, she burst into tears and said, “I’m not ready to leave home!!” I am so self-absorbed about how I feel about her going off to college, that I’ve never stopped to consider that she’s equally scared! The world is a big place for a young person, and it’s my responsibility to help orient her in the right direction.
8 – Remember, this is my job. It’s something I say to her frequently. When she thinks I’m nagging, or expecting too much, or showing her for the eight millionth time how to properly load the dishwasher, I remind her YOU ARE MY JOB. There is nothing in the world more important than doing it well.