My New Anthem For Parenting Teens
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.