They are them. Simple as that.
Why bring this up now? Well, my older daughter just turned 20 yesterday and––while there is no melancholy at all, believe it or not––it did inspire me to reflect on the job I have taken so very seriously for all these years.
|Stefanie at 20|
What kind of mother am I? Given that both my daughters are almost grown (the younger one will be 17 in two weeks), I can say with all confidence that I am thrilled with how they turned out. But I am hard-pressed––and this is NOT me being a martyr––to take much of the credit (see above).
Sure, I think I did a pretty good job. But then, as we all do, I committed to the life-lessons I thought were important and worthy and didn’t commit to the ones I thought were incidental and mundane. Clearly, we will all disagree on which is what. My husband and I certainly sometimes did. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say we always worked it out.
|Stefanie at 14|
For right or wrong, I’m pretty lenient. Not compared to a lot of parents, but on the sliding scale. Take Stefanie, my now 20-year-old. She is a burgeoning fashion designer. She has always been artistic. When she was a young teen of 14, she decided she wanted to dye her hair pink and pierce her upper lip. I balked. There was no health risk in flamboyant hair and a harmless piercing, so why was I balking?
|Stefanie at 14|
Then I realized, I was worried about what people would think. And then I realized I didn’t want my kids to ever EVER make their choices based on what other people thought. Sure, they should understand that people might indeed judge them, but they shouldn't live their lives making choices out of fear. That epiphany shifted my whole parenting mindset.
|Stefanie at 15|
When Stefanie was rocking this look above, she remembers walking past an older couple and the woman whispering (loudly) to the man: “She looks like she could kill someone and not even care.” My daughter: sweet, peace-loving, fashion-curious, 105 lb-soaking-wet Stefanie.
|Stefanie at 16|
|Stefanie at 16|
|Stefanie at 17|
|Stefanie at 17|
I also let my kids stay out late. We live in a big city and I grew up in one. The city has taught me one thing: bad things happen at any time of day. So I don’t have a problem with late nights per se. Within reason, of course. Not on a school night. And I must know where they are and that they are with friends. They text or phone with updates. Otherwise, I am a believer in adventures, in exploring, in engaging in the social circle.
I also support their friendships with boys. I know they’ll like who they like and if we give them too hard a time about it, then that critical door would just bang shut between us. I hate “the door” and do everything I can to keep it open, even if I sometimes only manage to keep it slightly ajar.
I’m not preaching to try and convert anyone to this style of parenting. I know what worked for us won’t necessarily work for the next kid (see above) … or their parents. My choices might have been radically different had my children been any different. The trust they’ve received from us is trust they’ve earned.
I don’t regret the fundamental choices I’ve made—maybe I will after they go to therapy––although I do have a roster of dark parenting moments that I deeply regret (clutching my 9-year-old’s hand in angry desperation when she refused to eat her sandwich because it was “gross” during a social brunch for which we paid too much money––when money felt very precarious––and seething at her through gritted teeth to “eat the fucking sandwich.” If you know me at all, you know a) how out-of-character that “fuck” was, particularly directed at my precious––and very young––daughter, and b) I am not given to clutching arms and seething through gritted teeth. It was a dark day that I will never forget. My daughter? Says she has no idea what I’m talking about.)
What do I think I did well? I listened. I listen still. Again, not a martyr––I do it for me as much as I hope it benefits them. Nothing like a long car ride on the way to a soccer game or after a party to hear the best, the worst, the funniest, the strangest, the scariest, the most hopeful parts of their lives. What kind of kids are they? The very best.
Deb: Oh dear God, don’t we all have those moments as parents? The moments of which you are not proud. I still cringe at the memory of my 12-year-old boy asking me gingerly if he could walk to school with his friends … instead of ME and his friends. Yes, folks, he was 12. Go ahead. Say it. Yes, I deserve your scorn.
And of course my attempt to make learning about sex an open, honest, and healthy discussion between a boy and his parents ended with my darling son cautioning me that he did not need to know quite that much information. Or the time he went to school and attached to his Thomas the Tank Engine sweater courtesy of static cling was my black thong, which the boy told his little friends was “Mummy’s eye patch.” And, ahh yes, the time I was at wits’ ends with him over schoolwork not done, and I pulled the car over, put it in park, turned around and screamed at the boy, “Well, I think it’s time to BUCK UP, ME BUCKOOOOOO!!!” So unaccustomed was I to reprimanding this easygoing child that the phrase just popped up from the old Disney pirate movie section of my brain and out of my mouth. OH, what I would not have given for it to have simply been “Fuck”!!!
And for the record, Barb is a great mom who has a similar general parenting style to mine. Let them be who they will be and allow them their rebellion if it doesn’t hurt them or others. Worked for me and clearly for Barb. We are the proud mistake-makers of three lovely human beings.