In her essay, Adolescence (from her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith), Anne Lamott discusses a difficult time in her experience as a parent. I love this essay because she is excruciatingly honest and quite funny. One comment she made that struck home with me is that she likes to talk with parents whose kids are older than hers because they are more honest. This is so true.
Once your child has come through a particularly difficult stage without hurting anyone you feel comfortable breathing again. You can admit that they actually said or did X, Y, or Z because you are no longer as worried that you are raising a homicidal maniac. But when our children are in difficult stages, we tend to talk in euphemisms.
“I worry about Junior’s motivation level.”
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Translation: Junior is doing very badly in school and could care less.
“Junior can be a slob.”
Translation: For some reason Junior is boycotting showering and I can’t get him near a car wash to take matters into my own hands.
“Junior can be disrespectful.”
Translation: Junior called me every name in the book.
“Junior needs to learn to control her temper better.”
Translation: Junior threw a tantrum that would make a two-year old proud.
There are lots of reasons to put a positive spin on life with kids during difficult phases. First, absolute honesty makes your kids look really bad which by extension makes you look or at least feel really bad. Second, others tend to offer you really helpful (not) advice like, “You can’t let them do that!” or “When I was young my parents would have slapped me for saying or doing something like that!” Nice to know, but neither really provides me with a viable action plan.
In my latest reading of Lamott’s essay I noticed she mentioned a parenting book which helped her deal with her teen son. Well, to the library I scurried. I have read many, many, many parenting books. This book, Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?, is the best. I will be buying my own copy. Written by Anthony E. Wolf, a clinical psychologist, the book is billed as a parent’s guide to the new teenager. It is the first parenting book that made me laugh out loud multiple times.
This book is very straight-forward and down-to-earth. (So be prepared for real-life, salty teen language.) Wolf gives insight into what is going on in teens’ heads and why we as parents often react as we do. While he does give some action points (especially in the area of arguments and homework), most of the book discusses why teens behave as they do. When you understand the why’s reacting to teens as a parent in a positive, pro-active way is much easier.
It has only been about ten days since I finished reading the book, but I am already seeing success. My blood pressure feels lower now when I deal with my teens. I have tried some suggestions and they have worked. Others (dealing with academics) I am saving for the start of a new school year. So I recommend this book highly. You will probably have one of two reactions: “Thank goodness my kids aren’t the only ones behaving like this!” or “Jeez, my kids are saints and I didn’t realize it!” Either way, you will feel better about life with your teen.
And if you read Wolfe’s book, I will admit, there are some exact quotes from my kids in there. But I am not telling you which ones. We’ll have to wait until they are older and I can breathe again for that much parental honesty!