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My New Anthem For Parenting Teens

Feb25

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With the runaway popularity of Disney’s latest hit, Frozen, it is now impossible to turn on the radio or television or even venture over to Facebook without hearing some rendition of the song “Let It Go.” Although I have mixed feelings about Disney (and haven’t seen the movie), I admit it: I love the song. Okay, if you must know, my favorite version is the Demi Lovato one. And yes, I will belt it out in the car if I’m alone, or maybe even just a little louder if I have an easily embarrassed teenager or two with me.

If the wise self-appointed Internet experts are to be believed, “Let It Go” is about being true to yourself… or it’s about giving up trying to control something you can’t… or it’s a musical manifestation of the homosexual agenda. (I’m not linking to the folks who’re touting that last one. Please don your tinfoil hats before you Google, though.) I tend to feel like it’s a good mix of those first two things; to me, the song speaks to giving up on perfection or relying on others to guide you, and instead focuses on the power inherent in finding your own way, mistakes and all. I hear “Let It Go” and I hear the struggle and triumph of a flawed human not just accepting herself, but accepting that there’s no such thing as perfect.

The tune is catchy, of course, and Idina Menzel and Demi Lovato (and that little girl on YouTube who sings it with tribal backup) have incredible voices, obviously, but I don’t think that’s why this song has become a mainstream sensation. I think “Let It Go” is an anthem of acceptance that speaks to everyone. In the end, isn’t every human flawed, but hoping to somehow “get it right,” anyway? I’m reminded of the Marianne Williamson quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Every fellow parent of teenagers I know cracks the occasional joke about how “I only have X years until graduation left to turn them into functioning humans!” I do it myself, more often than I’d like to admit. And the worst part is that it’s that kind of ha-ha “I’m laughing but on the inside I’m panicking” sort of joke, because it seems impossible that the same children who cannot see globs of toothpaste in the sink or remember to turn in their homework should be able to live on their own in just a few short years. Even those of us who left toothpaste in the sink and forgot to turn in our homework and later lived on our own and survived have forgotten that this is the natural progression of things.

My additional joke is that I’m a reluctant helicopter mom. I try not to, I really do. But with special needs in the mix, the reality is that there are some things I need to do for my kids even though they “should” (oh, how I hate that word) be able to do it on their own, because their needs are such that this is just how it is for now, even if their neurotypical peers don’t require the same assistance. Sure, I try to encourage independence everywhere I can; we talk about cooperation, we work on organizational tricks to help them help themselves, but… still. I’m here to catch them, more often than not. And although every parent will struggle to some degree with the balance between helping and enabling as kids get into the teen years, I feel like our path is a little steeper, because it can be hard to know what’s disability and what’s normal teenager.

“Let It Go” is becoming my anthem, not for myself, personally, but in my naturally-given-to-fixing mothering of complicated teenagers. Failure isn’t the end of the world. In fact, some would argue that a certain amount of failure is healthy and good—it builds not only character, but resilience. The older my kids get, the more I have to be willing to let them fail… and then I have to resist picking up the pieces, too. My job is to let it go, acknowledge their feelings, and then let them figure out how to move on and solve the problem, themselves. They’re powerful all on their own, as scary as that may be to them (and me).

Last night my daughter neglected to complete a task she should’ve tended to before bed. When I mentioned this, she said, “Well you didn’t remind me.”

There was a time when I would’ve apologized, and either explicitly or implicitly sort of given her a pass. Instead, I just looked at her for a moment before saying (in a neutral voice), “That’s not my job. It’s your job to figure out when you can do it and get it done.” She didn’t like that response very much, but at this age and stage, it’s the truth, and we both know it. She will get it done or she won’t; instead of haranguing her, I have to let it go. (And before anyone asks, yep, be prepared for some failures, and let those go, too. Did my gifted honors student fail an easy class last semester and then try to blame it on everyone else? She sure did. Too bad, so sad. Turns out that failure is an option, and she can choose to fail and choose to deal with the fallout, too. There were consequences, but everyone lived. I like to think a lesson was learned.)

Last week, my son had his first sizable report to write since returning to public school, and he showed me a rough draft that had a myriad of issues. My immediate inclination was to sit down with him and work through it, line by line, the way we used to do when we were homeschooling. Instead, I limited myself to a few brief comments (“Pretend I know nothing about this and you need to explain it to me,” I told him, “because right now I feel like you’re explaining it to people who already know, and so I’m seeing a few gaps in the information”) and emailed his teacher for quick clarification on the goal of the assignment. This, for me, was a compromise in over-meddling and letting it go, but one that worked; the teacher sent me something to give to my son, and as soon as he got it, he kind of did the forehead slap and a, “Oh! I forgot about that part!” and then he went back to work. What he showed me later was much improved, and I resisted the urge to nitpick. “You worked really hard on this without getting frustrated,” I told him, “I hope you feel really proud of yourself. That’s huge!” He smiled, and put his report in his bag. I don’t know if it’s an A paper or not, but you know what? It doesn’t matter.

Let it go, let it go / Can’t hold it back anymore…. If my teens don’t have most of the life skills they need by now, I’m not going to do them any favors by taking them by the hand and leading them through the hard stuff. I’ll be here when they fall down, but first I have to let them go and give them those chances to fly or fall. It’s hard to do, and sometimes excruciating to watch. I find that having a catchy tune to hum seems to help a little.

About the author

Mir Kamin

http://wouldashoulda.com/
Mir Kamin began writing about her life online nearly a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she's become one of those people who talks to her dog in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she's continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she's bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.


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17 Responses to “My New Anthem For Parenting Teens”

  1. Fabs Feb 25 at 3:26 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for this reminder, I needed it!

  2. Cheryl S. Feb 26 at 10:23 am Reply Reply

    I’m going to need this in a few years. . ..

  3. Jo Feb 26 at 10:46 am Reply Reply

    Oh! This really, really hits home with me today. It has been a struggle lately with my son who has ADHD. Who am I kidding, it’s always been a struggle. Right now it just feels worse. I actually called my friend the other day and asked which was better, losing my sanity or my son failing 8th grade.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin Feb 26 at 10:52 am Reply Reply

      I feel like we had actually reached a point where everything was about “protecting” those supposed “future options” rather than letting the kids feel the consequences of their actions, y’know? I can’t say for sure that this new system is the “right” way, but I comfort myself by thinking that either they learn and straighten out and have good stories to tell in college essays/interviews, or they truly don’t belong in programs where flawless records are required.

      • Shelly in Austin Feb 27 at 10:30 am Reply Reply

        This seems exactlly right to me. My son, only 9, is dyslexic and we struggle with homework daily. But as he gets older, I know I have to let go, let the work be his, let the mistakes by his and be owned by him. He has to be able to succeed on his own. Of course, “future options” are important but, as you say, only if they “truly belong in those programs.” Not because mom and dad helped get everything right and now here you are on your on and can’t do it.

  4. Sheryl Feb 26 at 11:01 am Reply Reply

    Teens are a jumble. My daughter can drive a car (aka a lethal weapon), but had to have me prepare her baked potato last night, because  “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Um, there’s really no wrong way to smear butter, and smash it with a fork.

  5. js Feb 26 at 11:48 am Reply Reply

    This feels like a slap, right to the face. It’s like you read my mind. I kind of hate this song, though, and not just to be rude and argumentative. I feel like it’s mocking me. For me, it’s the sound of all those people who judge my parenting, who think somehow her ADHD and epilepsy are either my fault or my problem, who think I’m simply babying her instead of trying to overcome actual obstacles. Yes, I sound crazy, bitter and harsh. I’m just so frustrated that all the work she had to do just to remember things, be “normal”, finish a “simple” worksheet will never be recognized. I need to change my attitude, I know, but I just can’t let it go quite yet.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin Feb 26 at 12:00 pm Reply Reply

      I feel you, I really, really do. For me there was definitely a step before this, one that involved shrugging off any judgment from folks who really don’t get the challenges my kids face. But then I sometimes realize that stuff I used to have to do for them maybe I don’t…? Or at least that the challenge now is to ratchet it back a bit, and let them test the waters on their own. I think we all fear failure so much that sometimes it becomes counterproductive.

      Now, you wouldn’t stop tending to the real medical needs of your daughter’s epilepsy, no more than I would just stop giving my kids their meds and say “Up to you!” Some stuff is non-negotiable. But I’m working on the stuff that might be less non-negotiable than I originally thought, that’s all. No judgment, though. My hat’s off to every parent doing their best.

  6. suburbancorrespondent Feb 26 at 1:57 pm Reply Reply

    ““That’s not my job. It’s your job to figure out when you can do it and get it done.” Oh, you go, girl! No matter what their issues, this idea of taking responsibility is central to a teen’s being able to grow up (and move beyond said issues, too). We don’t do them any favors by letting them blame their unhappiness/failures/difficulties on us.

  7. “I feel like our path is a little steeper, because it can be hard to know what’s disability and what’s normal teenager.”

    THIS. Just. . .yes. It seems like with everything that happens, I have to wonder “Is this part of his multiple diagnosis and to be expected, is this normal teenage junk that would happen even if he was NT, or is this something else that I need to be worried about?” 

    I think about the fact that 18 is just a little over four years away, and the hill seems very steep indeed.

  8. mar Feb 26 at 2:19 pm Reply Reply

    My (mostly) neurotypical kid (diagnosed as possible Aspie), sees the world in only one way – black and white. And will argue with you until the cows come home – he sees only one solution to the problem – ever. We are in the home stretch (senior year!), and we’re talking colleges, money, etc – and I’m trying to have him manage it himself, but he is in serious danger of not going to college in the fall if he doesn’t do what he needs to for financing, etc. So here I am – he’s 18 next month – do I let him screw this up or ??? Oy – younger kids, it’s all physical (make them breakfast, wipe their noses, etc.) – older kids – it’s all mental – and more exhausting!!

  9. Jean Feb 26 at 3:21 pm Reply Reply

    “because it can be hard to know what’s disability and what’s normal teenager”….this line speaks to me so much. My son isn’t quite 10 but as he begins to hit adolescence and pre-puberty, I am always trying to figure out is “normal or disability”. Thank you for this.

  10. KSM Feb 26 at 7:13 pm Reply Reply

    I just can’t believe you like the Demi Lovato version better!!!!  Good luck with the teenage years, though.  As someone who was one  not so long ago, those were a struggle.

  11. Suzanne Feb 27 at 6:02 pm Reply Reply

    I am in the same boat with my 14 year-old. It’s tough to find the balance between helping too much and letting an already fragile, anxious kid fail. I take that into consideration and realize that 18 is not a magic number where he is supposed to be able to do everything other kids can do. So I will continue to help a little more and “let it go” a little slower because that is what feels right for us.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin Feb 27 at 6:15 pm Reply Reply

      Sounds perfect, Suzanne! The right balance will be different for everyone, I’m sure.

  12. Angela Mar 04 at 4:18 pm Reply Reply

    That’s great, I’m so glad to hear parents say things like this, before it’s too late. My brother is about to be 32, and my parents STILL continue to support (enable) him because they think he can’t do it. The reality is that he’s been playing them since he was about 13, and he knows he’ll never HAVE to do anything for himself because they always will. If you’re a lazy slacker, why would you throw the crutch away? He has an ex-wife, a fiance and three kids, by the way. If he was forced to sink or swim, he’d swim, of course, but he’s never had to. I’ve attempted to explaing this to them several times, but to no avail, they refuse to see. Talk about having to let it go!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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