Sunday, June 17, 2012

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

If I could have, I would have. And there are probably times I should have......

Disclaimer: This post contains my personal spiritual views. If things like this offend you, feel free to move along, li’l dogie. No arguments, no judgement, just my beliefs.

For the Parents/Guardians/Aunts/Uncles/Grandparents/Foster Parents of my (Former) Students…..

Just so you know, I’m writing this as a teacher, not a parent (although, yes, I am one). Parenting is hard; parenting teenagers is damn near impossible, and severely tested my patience, sanity and bank account. Was I the perfect parent? Hell no. I have done (or not done, depending….) everything on the list below, and made lots and lots and LOTS of mistakes. I’ve wanted to write this – or something like this – for a while. Like when I was teaching. And send it to all my parents, every year, day one, along with various syllabi and extraneous lists. But I was a single mom for much of my teaching career, and needed to follow my own advice below (Feed them).  I think you can agree that, if I had actually sent this to my parents, I would have been fired posthaste. 

So this is for the parents/guardians of my (former) students. If you fall into this category, you already know that I taught high school English. Something different every two or three years….except for seniors. Dunno why…just never taught ‘em.  If I had taught seniors, there would have been one year when I would have had several students all four years of high school. I'm glad they got to experience a different teacher (finally!) but it was interesting watching them grow and change over the years. If you’re just reading this for grins, well, now you know. This is important because there are things that happen in high school that don’t happen in elementary school (usually…although they do happen in middle school)….like pregnancy.

Love your daughters enough to put them on birth control. It doesn’t mean you are condoning sexual behavior; it means that, sometimes, the little darlings aren’t quite as innocent as you’d like to think…or as informed…or they make a one-time mistake. Like the 8th grader I had as a freshman who didn’t know she was pregnant until she was into her third trimester.  Really, people? Please don’t be an idiot and assume your child is not having sex and then use that as an excuse. You may be right, but do you really want the consequences if you’re wrong? (I actually put my daughter on birth control; however, she got pregnant anyway because she didn’t take her pills properly. I tried…..)

Sons need birth control too! Ah, yes, the condom-and-banana demonstration. Embarrassing for both of us, but important! Teach your boys how to use a condom -- they need to learn responsibility for their choices as well.

Build bridges, not walls. They’re obnoxious/annoying/angst-y at times (depending on the gender and/or time of the month), but they’re still your children. They may not act like it, but they need you and they want to spend time with you. Actually, they crave it. Don’t allow them to push you out of their lives…and, for cryin’ out loud, don’t push them out of yours. I know. You’re counting the days until they leave home…thrilled that there will be one fewer (or maybe the last) whiney  “What are we having for dinner tonight, Mom?” mouth to feed…less laundry….lower bills (this is a toss-up).  Still, this is your last opportunity to spend this kind of time with them. After high school, things change.  The relationship changes.  Stay connected – or re-connect, if need be – but don’t leave them on their own. The next one is a continuation of this one:

Praise them. Make sure that they know you are proud of them. Get involved in their activities. Be present in their lives. Go to their games, meets, plays, and concerts.  And stop griping! I know. He still hasn’t learned where the wet towels go (ie NOT on the floor), and she still takes way too long in the morning, but find something good to say to them every now and then (and do your best to mean it…..even if you have to dig really deep…..they can spot bullshit). They push the limits, but find ways to say yes anyway. Be creative. Talk to them….as in a conversation….you know, back and forth in a normal tone with a loving attitude….not a lecture or gripe session. It’s important.

Feed them. They probably gripe about the food at school, but make sure they get it. I know things may be tough at home, but your children need nourishment. I had kids who, jokingly, told me they were starving, and asked if they could have a couple of bucks for lunch (they forgot their money). But there were others, who quietly whispered that they hadn’t eaten in two or three days. Make sure your kid isn’t one of ’em.

Remember….they are just doing their job. A teenager’s job is to learn independence and separation so they can become responsible, productive members of society. In order to learn these things, they have to push the envelope. I know. It’s awful. But it’s their job. When my daughter was a baby, I was told that it was my job to become obsolete. I always remembered that and tried to honor it. Sometimes, in my attempt to become obsolete, I’d miss the dependence, miss my special place in her life, slip back into the days when she needed me. I didn’t do either one of us any favors. Just sayin’.

Get help. Teenagers are tough to deal with, no doubt about it. If you need help, get it. This is especially for those of you with substance abuse issues and anger issues. And God help you if I found out you laid a hand on one of my kids. But I know it happened. I heard things. I saw things. And when I found solid evidence, you bet your ass, I called CPS. Your abuse is killing your child….slowly….from the inside out. By the time it’s visible on the outside, it’s ingrained and will be difficult, although not impossible, to overcome. STOP. Please. If you want your child to have a snowball’s chance in hell, you must stop. Your actions weave their lives with threads of self-hatred and slash holes in their self-worth.  Trust me, I know this too....and too well. Get help. Somewhere.  Anywhere.

Teach them about God. Help them discover the peace and serenity that comes with reliance on a Higher Power. Of course, it doesn’t have to be “God.” It can be Buddha, the Great Spirit, The Universe, Nature….there are many faiths, many paths, but one God. Teach your child that God is a kind, loving Being….not a judgmental, punishing, shit-list keeper who’s waiting for him/her to screw up so He can hurt ‘em. And make sure they know that this Supreme Being loves them, all the time, no matter what. (And the same goes for you, too.)

Love them no matter what. They make mistakes. They drive you crazy. They do stupid shit. Just love them. And make sure they know that you do.

I loved your children. Some of them drove me crazy, but I loved ‘em anyway. Sometimes the ones who needed love the most, deserved it the least. I wrote them letters in class…about motivation….gratitude….balance….integrity….things they could use in their lives. And they wrote me back. We connected, and it was my favorite part of the job. Spend time with them. Learn about them. Listen. They have amazing insight and wisdom. Shhhhh…..listen.

Have you connected with teens? Have you gotten through the challenging exterior (attitude/dress/behavior) to the wise interior? What's your best advice for parents?

Have you been there?


  1. Good for you, Claire!  I'm going to pass this on to my daughter.  She's not a parent, but she is a CASA volunteer and has for the past 2+ years been the only "constant" in a young boy's life.  He's been neglected, abandoned, foster-homed and re-foster homed and re-re...well, you get the idea.  He's a challenge to her because of the rage he isn't able to express in ways that are socially acceptable.  He'll be a teenager this summer and she'll need all the advice she can get.  I am proud to say that she's already doing much of what you advise.

  2. you rock, as always, my dear friend!!!! :) This is an amazing post…and yes…I have teens now, and AM there…My step-daughter is 16 going on 30, and has decided to live with her mom. I raised her from six until about 2 months ago. I adore her…I really do…bitchy hormones and all. I am, out of the three parents she has, the driver ed Mom. She is amazing behind the wheel with me.

    My baby, T, is 17, going on 18 in September and is a senior in high school. He is low maintenance, and I adore him, too. He’s going to be leaving the nest sooner, rather than later, and while I will miss him? His independence is making me so very proud. :)

    Thank you for these blogs…it makes the rest of us feel like we’re not just out there by ourselves…

    Te quiero!


  3. Awwww...thanks. There will be another one (similar) at the end of the week. You are NOT alone! Ever. ;)

  4. It sounds like she's doing an awesome (but tough) job. Good for her -- no wonder you're proud!

  5. Nice post! A couple of things I personally would add:
    Teach your sons to use condoms - boys & girls should understand that contraception is BOTH their responsibility. "Make sure [your children] know that [YOU] love them, all the time, no matter what." Even if they do go ahead and make those stupid mistakes. 

  6. Excellent! Absolutely right (I even updated the post!).

  7. I don't have teenagers any more - my baby turns 21 next month, but my girls still call me regularly.  The most important thing, I think, is LISTEN to them.  It doesn't matter what they're wanting to babble about, appreciate that they're choosing you to babble TO.

    If you have something important to talk to your kids about, something emotionally tender for them, take them with you to run errands and talk about it as you do.  It's easier for them to discuss tender topics when they know they have the privacy of being the only one in the car with you, and that while they have your attention you're not watching the play of every emotion across their face and trying to figure out what their answer is before THEY figure it out.  (Or go for a walk with them and talk while you do, though that's a little less "captive audience" if you need that. heh)

    It isn't enough to know that you love them.  Let them know you love them.  Remind them, not only when it's easy to love them but when it's difficult to.  Return "I hate you" with "I love you anyway." Give them the security of knowing that even when they are least lovable, even when they do not love themselves, that you still love them.

    Give them what they need, give them some of what they want, but still tell them no.  Teens need boundaries to push against as much as butterflies need to push against the cocoon to be able to fly.  You have to love them enough to tell them no.  Not always, but enough that they know you WILL be the wall between them and the edge of the cliff they keep throwing themselves at.

    Talk to them about any topic.  Not necessarily private *details* but any *topic*.  If there is no topic off limits there is nothing they cannot bring to you.  That's important.  I regularly have "TMI" discussions with my girls, but we have some female health issues family history that makes those necessary.  They've asked some of the most off the wall questions, and some of their friends' parents have blushed and left the area at hearing some of the questions they've blurted out in semi-private, but they can ask.  If I don't know, I'll tell them, and we'll try to find out.  If I do know I'll tell them.  If they actually catch me off guard with a sensitive one they get "Wow. Umm.  Let me think for a minute..." while I collect myself.  Anything from sex to what does a salmon eat, from self harm to how do clouds form, it's fair game.

    Be a part of their lives.  You don't have to (and shouldn't) be the friend they hang out with all the time, but you do need to be there.  Spend your valuable time on them.  Support their interests, their activities.  Make their friends welcome at your home - there is no better way to be aware of the influences they're subject to than to have them in your home.  What games do they play? what do they read? what do they listen to? Educate yourself on the subject of your teen so you can more easily interact with them.  They want you to care enough to be there.

  8. Well said, Ayshela! I used the car as a venue for important talks -- like you said, a captive audience! Thanks for stopping by!


Yes! I've been there, Claire!