A New Parenting Dilemma...
I have two teenagers. 15 (16 in two weeks) and 17 (18 in a few months). Parenting them has been hard. My son more than my daughter. But all of it hard. Anyone with kids understands this. You worry, fret, anguish over their choices: who their friends are, what they do with their time, what is really going on online, are they telling you the truth, can you handle the truth, what are they ingesting and how often...the list is endless. In today’s world, there are a million things to worry about. Every. Single. Day.
My son is back in treatment (well, he was until he went AWOL on Tuesday). It was one final push to see if he can find anything within himself he deems worth saving. I didn’t see it working (and I was right, dammit), but as with all parenting, hope is your greatest asset and usually your own demise.
My daughter has been doing ok. I say ok because until the other day, I didn’t really know the level of issue I was dealing with. She is struggling and help resistant. Embarrassingly, I didn’t know how much she was struggling.
My son has told me that I need to stop getting them outside help. Therapists, doctors, treatment centers. He says they all make him feel “thrown away” when nothing could be further from the truth. I didn’t send him away the first time or even the 400th time he showed signs of being in distress. I took action, many, many actions before I reached that very hard decision to send him away to treatment. If only he knew the number of sleepless nights I spent. If only he knew the time I spent researching other options. If only he knew how much that decision to send him away, each time, hurt me. Crushed me really.
So my son saying to me the other night that what he and his sister needed was for me to just be a friend came as a slap in the face. I am not sure exactly what he means and he wasn’t really able to articulate it. It was something like I am just supposed to listen to them talk about their problems and then act like a friend...which seems to mean do nothing, but listen. No matter what they tell me. I am supposed to just sit there and listen to him or her and no matter what level of craziness they spew, I am to take no action, no therapy, no treatment, no nothing. He actually said, “let us live our lives, while you are there for us.”
I don’t even know what that means. I think it means to pay all their bills, provide them a place to live (rent free of course) and shut the hell up about the choices they make. It is my job to support (in all the ways) and their job to figure it out. I would like to find that deal myself...someone to pay all my bills, have groceries magically appear in the fridge, be driven everywhere I want to go and no questions asked about what I am doing and with whom...wait, I already got this...when I was their age!
Except none of that really is friendship. I mean a true friend tells you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it. A true friend is there for you no matter what but doesn’t just cosign your bullshit. True friends do way more than listen.
But even if it were possible for me to detach myself to the friend level (which to be clear I do not possess that level of detachment) I would be putting myself and them in harm’s way because the law does not recognize some other sort of parenting level. I have legal and moral obligations. To provide a safe home for them, to get them to school daily, to ensure their health, safety and well being are being cared for and attended to...and if you have ever raised a teen, then you know that what they think is good for them rarely matches up with what you think is good for them.
So I can listen. I can attempt to set aside all my prejudice and mom’ing. But there is no way that I can just be a friend without leaving my legal and moral obligations to languish to the point of being called out for neglect.
I understand the sentiment that they want to figure out their lives on their own. As a fiercely independent actor, I get this on levels that they don’t even yet comprehend. I get that. But I cannot just take a hands off approach and allow the hedonism of youth to reign their lives...not without a fight. But I am so tired of fighting!
I am spent. Letting them just do what they want to do, would be easier. So much fucking easier. But that isn’t parenting. That is something else. I am not even sure what that is...but it isn’t parenting. And from where I am currently living, sounds way better actually.
I have not reached any of the parenting decisions I have come to easily. They are all hard and I have spent lots and lots of time anguishing over them, each of them. Considering all the possible permutations, all the ways that it could go better or worse. I have done everything I can to try to provide a stable, secure environment for both of them. And I have tried to be level headed and calm. Often not reaching that goal but always running an inventory of my own conduct in the background. And making adjustments and apologies when I fail to live up to my own expectations of myself.
I can’t be a friend to my kids. Maybe that day will come where we are more on a friendly basis, but now when they are still minors is not the time. I can just see the look on the judge’s face, when I explain that I allowed my addicted, troubled teen to tell me that what he really needed was a friend and I bought that. I pray that I never have to look a judge in the face about either of my children. That is not what I want for them. Like ever. But I am not in charge of their lives. I am in this weird ass place where I am still responsible for them but what they think is best for them and what I think is best for them is in constant conflict.
So many parents must feel like I do. That it would be so much easier to just give in, let them do what they want. Conflict ended, relationship improved. But that is not the job of a parent. Parenting is doing the hard things at every turn for the right reason. Parenting is telling your kid, “I love you but I cannot allow you stay here and do that.” Or “I love you and you cannot treat yourself and your family in this manner and if this behavior continues, then you are not going to be able to stay here, you will have to go to a place where they can help you see that how you are living is not working since all my efforts have failed...” Parenting sucks, often.
I have done my best to be kind, friendly, supportive, patient, non-reactive. But I cannot allow my children to drink, vape, smoke pot, stay out all night, or up all night, eating junk food and drinking gobs and gobs of caffeine. Not attend school or get a job. That is what they want. It has been a long time since I was a teen but I remember thinking that it was all about the party, and doing what I wanted. It was all about the fun and the drama. And I remember all too well how much I thought my parents didn’t get it...like at all.
But then I grew up and matured. And saw that my prior thinking was flawed and misguided and destructive. I couldn’t see it then. All my behavior was wrapped up under the label of “fun” and so of course, I didn’t see anything wrong with the way I was behaving...until the way I was living almost killed me.
I do not want this for my kids. I do not. But what am I to do? Turn a blind eye and tell them good luck? I can’t do that. I care too much about them and their well being. I would rather have them alive and hate me from some other path then the one they are currently traveling. I would rather have them alive and well, mad at me for being their parent, their mother than I would want to participate in their self destruction. I may not be able to change it, but I am going to keep trying. Setting hard boundaries and holding them accountable so that all of us have a chance at a better life.
I cannot pick up the title of friend and run with that. And even if I could I wouldn’t because while I would love to be their friend and spend time with them, I am not friend. I am this other thing, called mother. And that is a title that I cannot ever abdicate. One that I will never lose. One that I take seriously and as hard as it is, I still remain committed to doing the deal. Showing up as best as I can and tell them, “no, you can’t do that.” Or “yes I am going to call that other person’s parent to find out what is going on, really.”
Parenting is tricky business. How to keep the lines of communication open while not allowing your children or teens to run roughshod over you. It is fine, delicate line and I have found that it feels more like a tightrope than a line. Dire consequences await us all for our poor choices.
I do not want to lose my kids. I want them to sober up and be good. And I have to get them what I think they need in order to there. And it is hard and draining and exhausting and thankless, often. Far, far too often.
But abdicating parent for a better liked title of friend isn’t possible. Not in my life. Not in my head. Not in my actions. I hope we can remain friendly. I really do. I hope the lines of communication stay open and cordial. But I know my task, even if I don’t like it all that much. My job is to be their mother. To tell them no, to mete out consequences when they screw up and to be available to them as much as humanely possible to the degree they will let me. And to do that over and over again, one day at time, praying always, that today might be the day that are capable of seeing that mother is the only role I am ever going to be able to truly engage with them on. Mother must come first lest we all suffer. Friend, that word must be reserved for someone much less intimately acquainted.
So mother it is. Friend relegated to some other person, on some other day. Not me. I can only be their mother. It is my role and while it is often hard and thankless, it is the role that I chose and one that has changed me more than any other role I have ever had. And probably more than a role it is a vocation. Something I love and sometimes despise. But I wouldn't change it, not for a second. Being their mom has been the best thing I have ever done (besides getting sober). And even though it is hard right now, I wouldn't go back and change a thing. I will keep showing up as mother even though I know friend would get way more positive engagement. And while that is tempting, I am settled on this mother thing. It is who I am and I pray that one day they will get the chance to see that mother or parent is the hardest job you will ever love and hate at the same time. Please, God, let them live long enough to find this out for themselves. And for God's sake, not at 16. Let them find out when they are old enough to actually do a decent job at parenting...I am pretty sure that age might be 55. I will let you know when I get there. Today, I am just going to show up and do my best...again, still.