I am delighted to report I survived a week in Iowa house-sitting, cat-sitting and playing interim guardian for my teenage niece while my sister was away on a work trip this week.
It was busy, busy, busy. She had school and Driver’s Ed and Softball so there was lots of running around and maintaining the household for me. I also worked all week so this was the closest I have ever seen motherhood. It seems exhausting.
Having no kids myself, I certainly learned a lot about why I’m okay with that at this stage in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love my niece and kids are great. But I also salute all parents because my small glimpses in your world are enough for me to believe parenthood deserves it’s own award show, Golden Globes style.
Number 1 rule to parenting a teenager: There are no rules.
At times, it felt like the hunger games. There was room for sharp instincts, strategy, taking leadership, negotiations, winning and occasionally surrender.
I texted my sister a couple times at the beginning of the week, mere hours after her departure and said, I don’t know how you do it but bless you.
My sister is an outstanding mom and my niece is certainly not a terror. She is incredibly intelligent but outside the terrible two’s, the second toughest age range for dependents is from pre-teen to 21ish. I wish that were a joke. My niece like many other adolescents around the world just entered high school and mentally exist in a world I no longer relate to.
I used to be there though. I can only remember short clips from my teenage years but I’m sure my mom can recall exactly what I was like — the good, the bad and the ugly.
Today is different though than when I (or my sisters and probably you too) were growing up. We like to try holding kids to the same standards of living we have but it is tough because they live in a world we never had. There are some pieces that seem familiar and other’s we just don’t know how to begin because we don’t know where to start.
Today’s teenagers are living in the influence of home like we did but also with a sphere of entertainment/the internet like never before: social media, completely adult sexualized network tv, mixed messages at every turn, music with great beats but often poor messages and the list goes on.
When we see some of those influences play out despite how we teach coach, train at home, we might find ourselves asking, WHERE do they learn this stuff?
Sure it’s easy to say to teenagers, “Be strong and mature enough to rise above the influence.” I wish it were so easy. Even adults can’t do it.
Some adults spend a lot of time trying to keep up with basically “grown teenagers” like people keep up with the Kardashians. They want the stunning house, gorgeous car, the kind of life people aren’t embarrassed to spotlight on social media feeds.
I am pressured all the time to get married even by people who struggle in their own marriages. There is a sense of looking beside ourselves to the next person to compare or compete instead of looking ahead at our own journey.
Maybe our worlds are not so different, my niece and I. But that’s no excuse to forsake the basic foundational values we share. In our family we do not get so caught up in the gears of the world that we lose our character. We do not govern our home by how Stacey (or whomever) does things in their house.
The first 24 hours of being home with my niece was an adjustment period for us both. Then I set expectations, explained them and proudly watched her rise to meet them for the rest of the week.
She does listen. It is always a pleasant surprise.
For example, one morning she decided to snooze the alarm a few too many times. She had not fixed her lunch the night before like I asked. She stayed up much of the night on the phone with breaks for homework I think. She rushed to get ready. She was frazzled so I made her lunch. I was not going to take her all the way to school and the bus would come in 5 minutes so I compromised. I drove her to the stop but said no more. I was not sure if she heard.
I gave a gentle reminder later, accompanied by her eyerolls but i wasn’t going to repeat myself over and over. And I meant it. I believe in kids needing to learn a lesson the hard way sometimes (within reason of course).
So maybe you lose out on something you want because you did not do what was asked of you or you miss the bus because you did not make your lunch. You have been warned that sometimes actions have consequences.
I see it as important because it is an opportunity to learn a lesson. Kids usually want to be grown until they have to be responsible then they either get it together or fall apart when the expectation is made clear by an adult.
Every day for the rest of the week, she made her lunch the night before, got dressed and out the door in time for the bus.
Another evening she was asked to clean the cat litter box before leaving for school the next day. She waited until the last minute and was asked if she had finished. She had not and was not happy about it. But even though she was dressed all cute for school, makeup done, not in the mood, she did it. Literally shocking. And it was not in exchange for something she wanted either even though she did have something in mind that she wanted originally.
My mom taught us a very important lesson growing up — you can’t always get what you want. I think kids today need to learn that too. We should not all get trophys whether we win or lose but we also can’t stop playing because we may not win all the time.
Both Growing up and Parenting in today’s world is challenging for a lot of reasons. Sometimes we have to step up and do things we don’t want to so we can gain the freedom to do the stuff we do want to.
There are lessons for all of us to learn. We can learn from kids. They can learn from us. They do learn from us.
Kudos to my sister for giving her all to raise her daughter. Another special thanks to my family who are also instrumental in helping my niece continue growing into a wonderful young lady.
A standing ovation to all the single parent households and all the couples/families out there figuring it out, making it work and doing the best you can. Keep going forward.
May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor