The Fall From Perfection and Other Lessons in Raising Teenagers

7 years ago

I’m off the pedestal. Way off. I used to be revered. Constant hugs. Daily avowals of my wonderfulness. Long ago I even used to complain about the number of times my children would say “Mommy” during any given hour. (I once counted over 100 “mommys” before I stopped counting.) Now, I am the butt of jokes. The central character in the “remember when she...” stories, the ones usually filled with ridicule and generalized scorn. It’s gotten so bad that my children have even started calling me by my first name.

“What happened to mommy?” I asked them incredulously.

“She died around the time you threw the glass of water against the wall,” my seventeen- year-old-with-the-memory-of-an-elephant said.

“But I explained that having your father gone on a two week business trip when I had three young children, two with the flu, and my own work deadline was slightly more than I could handle.”

“And the time you abandoned us on the curb?”

“That was years ago. And anyway, it was difficult to drive with the three of you fighting in the back seat. I was worried for your safety!”

“Excuses. Excuses,” all three of my children say in a chorus.

Okay. So here’s the deal. I know there are perfectly-patient, ever-kind mothers out there. At least I have been told there are. According to my three teenaged children, I’m not one of them. When they mock me, they say I am only getting what I deserve. Perhaps they’re right. This draconian march down from on high probably began long ago when my angels were mere toddlers and my own exhaustion, frustration, and overall personal failings, resulted in a momentary lapse of my usual perfection. I’d yell. Some might call it screaming. I occasionally threw things. I even spanked. (Step back, Social Services; it was noteworthy because of its rarity.) The look in those long-lashed brown eyes when I did those things haunts me to this day.

I wish I could claim those lapses of model behavior are all in the past. Sadly, they aren't. My girlfriend called recently because she was upset her kids had heard her swearing at her husband. (He’d promised to do the laundry and decided golfing was more important; seemed like a justifiable swearing moment to me.) I started complaining to her about the latest shenanigans of my mother when I realized my own daughter was in the room listening to every word. Ponder the message she must have gained from that conversation, a lesson I can never take back.

The truth is, our children see us in our most humble humanity more often than not. I saw a news report the other night indicating that Michael Jackson’s children, Paris and Prince, watched as paramedics performed CPR on their drugged-up and soon-to-be dead father. The majority of children in our society, thankfully, will not be forced to witness their parents’ demise in such a tragic manner, but they are highly likely to witness their parents behaving in less than honorable ways. It got me thinking about all of the daily violations our children experience on their path from innocence to adulthood; the myriad of ways we parents are far less than the role models we aspire to be.

I could spend hours berating myself for my own lapses in good judgment, but I have come to realize there is a fine line between pushing for perfection and being the best parent you can be. The challenge is that this changes over time. I see in many of the parents in my community a desperate effort to maintain their positionality, a refusal to come off that pedestal. This may have worked when our children were younger, but in their teenage years, perfect is not what my children need me to be. They need me to acknowledge when I make a mistake. They need me to explain myself when my actions are less than optimal. They need to see me change. This is why they are busy teasing me now. They want to know if I can take it. They want to see me laugh at my failings.

A wise woman once told me the future starts today. It’s true I can’t rewind and get a do-over, but I can begin modeling a different kind of behavior. I can show them how to handle stress effectively. I can show them how to apologize when we make mistakes. I can show them how good intentions are only meaningful when backed by corresponding actions. And, I can show them how to laugh at our own foolish behavior. In the meantime, I must come to terms with the fact that they no longer call me mommy, but I already told them I draw the line at Lisen.

Other bloggers weigh in: Lisa Morrow reminds us of those mirror moments when our children reveal our own behaviors and how we can use them to change ourselves and our parenting styles. Karen Smith says that “to know thy daughter is to know thyself.” Terre Grable has advice on five major parenting pitfalls of raising teenagers. Sadly, I think I have fallen into all of the pits.

Has your child seen or heard you do something of which you are less than proud. How did you handle it?

Gloria Steinem once said, "The first problem for all of us, women and men, is not to learn but to unlearn." I am working on unlearning each and every day. How about you? Lisen

Gloria Steinem once said, "The first problem for all of us, women and men, is not to learn but to unlearn." I am working on unlearning each and every day. How about you? Lisen

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