By Kelly Hines
I lovingly refer to my oldest child as our ‘first pancake’. Every experience with her is new. I have no frame of reference and rely on instinct, advice from friends, and a good amount of guesswork. Much like the first pancake of the bunch, the result is often uneven and sometimes burned.
We stumbled through her infancy and toddlerhood bleary eyed with wonder and lack of sleep. We largely sailed through elementary school, hit a few minor hiccups in middle school, and barreled into high school. Suddenly, I’m like a mother to an infant again, filled with anxiety and doubt. At seventeen, my daughter is smart, well rounded, and completely infuriating. So how do we keep from burning our first pancake? Here are a few things I’ve managed to figure out:
1 – Remember I’m human. I’m embarrassed by the number of times I’ve flown off the handle at my teenager. There have been fights where I’ve dropped all the grown up words (yes, that one. And that other one, too), thrown things, and acted like a complete lunatic. There have been times when my brain has been screaming at my mouth to shut up, as words that I instantly regret pour out. When the smoke clears, I have to remember that I’m a fallible being and it’s okay for my children to see me as such. It also gives me the opportunity to show them how to apologize and mean it.
2 – Remember she’s human. One day, my kid came in from school, yelled at her siblings, answered my questions with grunts, and stormed off to her room. I badgered her about what was wrong and gave her grief about her behavior until finally, she turned to me and snapped ‘Can’t I just be in a bad mood?’. Yes, she can. Sometimes I forget that my kids are people too, and sometimes they’re less than their best selves. Just like me.
3 – Stay in my wheelhouse. There are things I do well: Helping with homework, managing time, keeping things tidy, cuddling, and healing broken hearts among them. There are things I do not do well: Car maintenance, talking about drugs, explaining offside, large events, and much more. When it comes to the things I don’t do well, I outsource. I have a husband who happens to be good at most of them, but I’m always willing to ask a grandparent, relative, friend, or neighbor to step in and help.
4 – Try again. This may be the best thing I’ve done with my teenager, and it helps de-escalate many situations. If I ask a question and she answers me like I’m the dumbest person on the planet, I keep my voice calm, look her right in the eyes and say, “Try again”. Sometimes I’ve said “try again” half a dozen times before she can manage to speak to me with kindness. The key is keeping my cool, and remembering I’m the grownup.
5 – I’m the grownup. Ultimately, it’s up to me to set the example. Sometimes I fall short (see #1), but my responsibility is to teach my child how to navigate life successfully. What I do and what I say (and how I say it) lay the foundations of her future. And while I fully support explaining the hows and whys of all things, I also think it’s okay to occasionally say ‘because I said so’. Because I’m the grownup.
6 -Have reasonable expectations. I’m forty-five years old. I have lived independently for twenty-seven years, in three different states, with a dozen different jobs and a boatload of life experience. My seventeen year old is not going to know that sometimes your check engine light comes on if you don’t close the gas cap all the way.
7 – Put myself in her shoes. About a month ago, my daughter was talking to me about an issue she was having with a friend. Out of nowhere, she burst into tears and said ‘I’m not ready to leave home!’. I am so self absorbed about how I feel about her going off to college, that I’ve never stopped to consider that she’s equally scared! The world is a big place for a young person, and it’s my responsibility to help orient her in the right direction.
8 – Remember this is my job. It’s something I say to her frequently. When she thinks I’m nagging, or expecting too much, or showing her for the eight millionth time how to properly load the dishwasher, I remind her YOU ARE MY JOB. There is nothing in the world more important than doing it well.