It Wasn't What I Expected
Last week G fell out of bed and I was scared and felt alone and was whiney.
A day later I found out that L, my teenager, has been lying. About everything. She’s not the kid I thought she was. AT ALL. And it’s taking longer to get over it then G’s tumble.
I know, you’re all shocked. A 15-year-old who lies? My kid must be the worst kid on the planet because 15-year-olds never lie and I must be one fucked-up Mother to have one who does.
And she’s been engaging in dangerous behavior. I know…repeat last paragraph.
But here’s the weird thing. I’m actually relieved. And I don’t know why. I don’t know what this feeling of relief is about. I know she feels it too. I think our reasons are different, though. I’m not sure what mine is about, but I’ll tell you what I think in a minute.
Hers, I’m pretty sure is about finally not having to hide and keep secrets and lie. I think hers is about the feeling of knowing you’re doing wrong, but once you’ve said yes once, not knowing how to get out of that cycle. Not knowing how to say, Hey, this isn’t what I really want. Because when you’re 15 you think all your choices are permanent and you don’t know that you can say, hey I changed my mind. Or Hey, I made a mistake. I’m just learning that lesson now, so I can’t really expect her to have it down pat.
Having your parents find out about your lies gives you a great out with previous said behavior and people you were engaging in said behavior with. Honestly, though, I don’t know if that’s why she’s relieved. I think she must have been scared. I think she must have been unhappy. Having your Mom and Dad swoop in and say, That’s It! This is over!!! Can be some kind of a relief. And after we gave her a chance to come clean and after we talked for almost three hours and after she cried, finally, she slept. And I think she slept well, which is unusual for her.
I think my relief might be about knowing. Before we found out her life was a bit of a mystery to us. And I will fully accept and own my naiveté. She’s been such a good kid. She’s been an amazingly smart, friendly, well-behaved wonderful kid that we just believed everything she told us. There wasn’t any evidence to not believe her, except there was. She’s been dating an older boy for almost a year. It was naive to believe some of that wasn’t going to rub off on her. We certainly weren’t scrupulous about checking up on her. In short, we weren’t good parents. We did not serve our child well.
But there’s another part. This kid has been so perfect. So perfectly perfect. The more A’s she brought home, the more I worried about her. Cause the more she did well, the more I knew she was winding up tighter and tighter. She was so deep in her perfectionism. So, while I’m not happy about how she did it, I am happy that she showed me she really is just a kid. She’s exploring and figuring out who she is and not as set in her control-driven mind as she used to be. And so, while I don’t want her to continue in these behaviors, I have a starting place now. Cause when she would never miss a day of school and would panic if she thought she was getting an A-, I couldn’t do a lot. But now, I can parent. Now I can help her.
My job is to guide this precious, perfect being into adulthood. It’s not my planto teach her to be a mini-me, God forbid. And despite what she thinks I have tried to honor her individuality. I have also been clear that her decisions are her own. I know there are a lot of parents out there who think that’s bullshit. There are parents who would say, well look where that got her. A lot of parents are only interested in raising kids who adhere to their parents beliefs, values and rules.
Me, not so much. I believe she’s here to teach me as much as I’m here to teach her. She was so perfect, in the beginning, and I blemished her by being more human than she was early on. That may sound hokey to you, but I am as lucky and blessed to have her in my life as anything. I believe my job is to raise her to be a happy, productive member of this society and however that works out is fine by me.
So, when I found out all this upsetting information about her I thought long and hard about who I wanted to be. Did I want to be a raving mad women? Did I want to model compassion and mindfulness? Which behaviors did I want her to copy, with her friends, with her own kids, with her co-workers? Did I really want my hyper-critical voice bouncing around in her head for the next fifteen years or until she finds a great therapist?
And while she’s floored that we’re not mad and I think maybe she thinks she got off easy she will, in time, come to understand and appreciate even more the way we handled this. She certainly lost privileges, not as a punishment, but because more than any other part of my job I need to keep her safe. And she was not safe. Because she’s a kid and because she thinks she’s immortal, she thought she was safe. We all can look back at our lives and think about those teen-aged years and think, Thank God-I could be dead.
And I’ll tell you some of mine. I hitch-hiked….once. I drank. I was sexually active young. I lied to my parents and sneaked around. I cut school…although sometimes it was to catch up on homework, but nonetheless I lied to my parents, teachers and peers.
And here’s the thing. I was a good kid. I came across as a really good kid AND I WAS a good kid. Despite all that other stuff, I was also on the basketball team. I was c0-editor of my high school newspaper, the oldest student published newspaper in the country. I worked on the yearbook and the literary magazine. I didn’t have a boyfriend till senior year. I went to a great college.
So, I’m not an angel, but I wasn’t the worst kid out there. And she hasn’t been an angel, but she’s not the worst kid out there. I was just a kid doing a kid things and she’s just a kid doing kid things. And no matter how scary I think kid things are, they really are just kid things.
And when I thought about who I wanted to be as I dealt with this difficult situation and my wayward daughter that’s what I focused on. I focused on the fact that she was just a kid and she’s just doing kid things and that she’s only wayward. She’s not evil, she’s not a sinner. She’s a bit misguided. And at the end of the day being misguided and making mistakes now when she’s 15 is her job. Literally. I believe this is her job. I don’t care about A’s. I don’t care about honor roll. It’s nice and it’s good, but this is a kid who is always going to do well. I’m more worried about her spiritual growth.
And I’m more worried about my spiritual growth. So I thought about what would serve me well. Cause I can’t be a ranting and raving parent and expect to raise balanced, happy kids. If I want to be different than my parents, different than what most parents out there do, then I have to make different choices.
And that’s what I told her. This is a kid who wants to be different than the average Kansas kid. She wants a life that’s special and different and regardless of what I think about those desires, those are her desires and I need to honor them. So I told her, if she wants to do things differently than the average Kansas kid, she has to make different choices than the average Kansas kid.
I could have yelled and shamed her. I could have told her she was bad and I was ashamed or disappointed. Not only is that not who I want to be, not the kind of parent I want to be, but it would have done some serious damage. With this kid, with this serious, smart and sensitive kid it would have pushed her farther away from me and further into herself. She’s enough in her own brain already. She’s already convinced of several untruths about herself. She doesn’t see the amazing human I see. And she certainly can’t see her future as clearly as I can.
So we’re tip-toeing through this. We’re picking our way through this mine field of hurt feelings, expectations and fear. I’m trying to figure out how to stay on my side of the street and still be a good, effective parent. She’s trying to figure out how to be vulnerable and she’s dabbling in honesty and she’s thinking hard about who she wants to be. Cause she doesn’t know and how am I supposed to have any expectations cause hell, I don’ know who I want to be yet.
So, as with so many things my sweet, first born baby and I have done, we’re figuring it out together. We didn’t know how to do it 16 years ago and we don’t know any better today. I know, even if she doesn’t, that we don’t have to know. It always works out. It may not work out the way that we thought it would, but we’re always okay.
And if that’s all I can teach her, that’s a pretty good lesson.