Parenting The Teen That She Is Not
There is nothing like it. Parenting a teenager. It’s the grey area between independence and dependence. It’s the reality of the upcoming “letting go” phase that all your friends, teachers, counselors, and family members talk about, and it gets annoying. It becomes loud noise, and then white noise in the background that makes me want to take a nap. And then, suddenly, it just happens.
My daughter never changed in her character, personality, talents, and growing pains. Since a toddler, she remained centered, confident, aware, courageous, balanced. She didn’t sway from her center through the eleven times moving home to home. She never lost her cool during her first days of new schools, which by the way included 8th grade. Winning trophies was never her priority. Reaching “the top” never drove her to fight or work harder. Life was under her terms. She’s calm, observes carefully and engages in a steady pace. Why on earth would I have wanted more, expected more, and hoped for more when this incredible human being became a teen?
Most of us do it. I have engaged with parents raising teens through the most vulnerable and exciting time of a family’s life — college planning. It’s been 20 years on the other side of the desk where I have listened, facilitated, advocated, moderated, and educated. I have seen it all. Dominating parents, attachment parents, protective parents, insecure and fearful parents, disconnected parents. I have taken mental notes to never say or do certain things raising my teen. I have also collected notes that feed inspiration and motivation to teens. All these notes, tips, and hints, I should have been set raising my own. And still, I wasn’t set.
College admissions is just a process. It’s paperwork and choices. It should never take over the emotional health of a family unit. That’s silly. Yet, the planning and baggage of this time frame barges in like a tidal wave, and it has nothing to do with the paperwork.
When it was time to support my daughter through her college planning, I changed. I wanted her to fight for her options, to work harder in her classes, to engage in her community more than ever before (even though community service was never her thing). Yet, she stayed still. She observed me. She listened. She stayed on her course. I tried every strategy that I learned from other parents to convince her that this was it; it’s time to make that last ditch effort to get the best opportunities in her future. I huffed and puffed until I face planted. This human being would not succumb to her panicked mother. She would teach me something about the human condition.
There’s nothing like learning to be so still with your child that everything is in slow motion. I sense every sound, motion, and movement. Through my daughter’s sense of being, that has not changed since she was a toddler, I joined her. I quieted myself. I meditated. I began to see and embrace everything that she is. She’s going places, and these places will not include me manipulating how she gets there. She will not accept my panic. She will continue to listen to her own voice.
Her college process became just that — me listening to her plans, sharing suggestions only with her permission, and supporting her through the paperwork. She submitted eight applications and was accepted to six (half with scholarships) by January of her senior year. Discussions about colleges were minimal and scheduled. She had childhood to take care of and I had limited time to experience my child living with me. I wanted to be consumed by her presence, celebrating every moment she invited me in. Turns out that she invites me in quite often these days. Turns out that both of us are in this phase of letting go.
Through college admissions, I have come to understand how hard it is to raise a teen, to fight against your parental instincts to take over in the name of protecting and defending. Bella and I agreed to do a weekly podcast called Angst that captures this very moment in our lives, engaging in unrehearsed conversation between a mom and her teen. We are thinking, wondering, questioning, and celebrating.