Long gone is the era, of my life, when successful maternity consists of balancing a baby on my hip while counting out coins at a market stall. Today, I can no more define my significance by my homemaker chaos than I can by chasing chickens or by fashioning corn husk dolls.
Though I can not and do not to desire to live in a pre-industrial age, I do, sometimes, wish for its stereotypical simplicity. When I find myself confounded by the conflict between my teenage children’s tendency to cling viscously to my views and their simultaneous need to hurl all that is dear to me into the cosmic abyss, I dream of milking cows and of pulling carrots.
I wonder, even a loud, that if I were busied with getting the geese out of the corn and with wringing the cloths by hand, whether or not my children would still vacillate between treating me as their hero, their teacher and their best source of warm fuzzies, and their greatest foil, the source of all of their “mistaken” ideas, and the greatest trial they endure. As is, I have to make due with snatching handfuls of herbs from my windows and with chasing the geckos off of my sun porch for distraction.
It’s not that I miss the opportunity to shear and to comb, to spin and to weave, as it is that I resent that my children regard me as a safe dumping ground for their daily garbage. Perhaps, if they were busied with hoeing and with seeding, they would have fewer resources left to spew at me.
Farming aside, interpersonal communication that spins on complaints and that fails to validate the importance of its audience, rots. Sure, I’m flattered that my offspring regularly offer me the underhanded compliment of my worth as that worth is integral to their consistently and predictably disposing their refuge on my head. Yet, I’m no one’s landfill. On the contrary, because my kids need to see a model of integrity, I must refuse to be okay with that behavior. My teens can let loose with their accounts of the horrors of their experienced mundanities, but they must do so courteously.
Sometimes, though, the miracles to whom I gave birth can not elevate themselves beyond their respective developmental stages. At such times, I help them by setting limits.
For instance, except for actual crises, with “crisis” liberally defined, they are not to interrupt my work or my completion of household chores. They can whine in their rooms. My kids have learned that if Mama claims it’s time to leave her be, she’s serious about offering consequences. Granting mom esteem, even for a painfully long half of an hour, almost always beats losing phone or computer privileges.
In balance, my teens are welcome to talk with me while they help me with tasks or to “schedule” meetings with me if they feel they need longer spans of my attention. My booking agent offers hours around the clock and throughout the week.
The kids, reluctantly, usually toe the line. They accept, begrudgingly, that I do and will make room to talk with them about grades, friends, money, and other adolescent essentials, and that if given the chance to plan such discourse, will give them my undivided best.
Nonetheless, even such good gate keeping does not stymie all of their outbursts. Part of being an adolescent is feeling anger, fear and frustration. Part of feeling angry, afraid and frustrated is wanting to receive an immediate remedy.
Although I could chart the correlation between the kids’ incident-relevant anxiety and the volume of their howl, such quantification is moot. Sometimes it is I who has to remove herself from the situation, not the instigators.
At times, when the emotional temperatures rise, I hide in prayer houses or in libraries with the hope that such surrounds will prevent me from biting back. Insights on this matter, both typical, academic ones, and atypical, anecdotal ones, have become well integrated into my family’s psyche. My sons and daughters don’t really want to enmesh; they’re too busy, as teens, trying to establish their individual identities.
Sometimes, such strategies don’t work. Then, to prevent myself from escalating alongside of the children, I resort to other tactics. I breathe slowly. I speak softly and unhurriedly. I invite my would-be combatants to do the same.
There are those infrequent occasions, too, when all of the aforementioned schemes fail. At such times I ask for intervention. That intercession usually means getting Dear Old Dad to lower the tensions. Alternatively, I ask friends or even professionals for help. There’s no shame in not being able to solve a problem. There’s an onus, however, in letting a problem fester.
Once tensions have abated, the roots of adolescent hostilities can be explored and addressed. If people other than my children are culpable, they can be confronted, or accepted. If my kids are culpable, they need to amend their situations. In our home, apologies necessarily include: the identification of the problematic behavior, an explanation of why such a behavior is toxic, and the generation of ideas for alternative responses to the next similarly evocative situation.
One nice thing about making the kids responsible for their upsets is that when they are focused on problem-solving, they move away from raw emotion. Another nice thing about releasing the solution to the parties involved is that such a plan enables the kids to advance from a disempowered state to an empowered one.
None of the above ideas works in all situations of voiced teenage angst. Sometimes, none of the above ideas works at all. I believe, however, that some of the above ideas work some of the time and that, as such, the above ideas constitute a treasury of parental responses worth maintaining.
After all, it’s normal to have feelings, especially to have heightened ones during hormonal swings. As women who have gone through pregnancy and childbirth, we can empathize with our crew’s endocrinatic ups and downs. As their mothers, we want to understand and to help them.
Next time your gawky kid, the one who towers above you, or your savvy child, the one whose fashion sense wildly differs from your own, opens his or her yap, in a rude way, to complain, because you are the epitome of their security, make your response mindful. We don’t want to teach our young men and women to stymie their feelings, or to stop conveying their knowledge of their discovered fears, hurts and frustrations.
We do need to teach them, however, that such articulations have a means and a mode and that when let loose without constraint can be damaging. By all means, validate your children, but if you have to grab a cup of coffee, take a bubble bath or consult an expert before or after, please do so.