I love my kids. They are the best thing I’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t trade the honor of being their mother for anything. But… some days I look at them from across the room and wonder if there’s hope for them as functional members of society.
My kids are teenagers, 14 and 16, which as near as I can tell is the age of straight-up crazy. Within the span of five minutes, I can go from brilliant to all the words coming out of my mouth being utter nonsense. This makes deciding when to dole out my best parenting advice complicated. If delivered at the wrong time, it will be met with eye rolls and a brick wall seeping with attitude. If I get it right, maybe society won’t have to question my parenting skills one day.
That advice-giving line between success and failure is so small that I’ve learned to approach this with caution — much like my dog when I offer him something other than standard dog food. He knows there’s probably a pill in that bread, but not seizing the moment means a missed opportunity that might involve peanut butter.
I’m not going to get all cocky with you and suggest I’m an expert, but… my process is legendary. I start by reading the room. Did I get a grunt or an actual response when I asked how their day went? When I casually mention an article I read or something that happened to me when I was their age, is it met with a sigh or mild engagement (don’t be foolish and expect full engagement unless you like walking around in a cloud of constant disappointment). If I’ve been offered more than a grunt to questions and an occasional glance from their phone, I usually start by pouring a glass of wine. This gives them the illusion that all is normal. We’re just two people sitting around shooting the breeze. Nothing to see here, teenager. This is where their lack of full engagement plays to my advantage. I can strike before they have time to run.
My daughter rarely falls for this trick because apparently she’s a hardened and savvy 16-year-old, but the boy… My sweet son who is still blinded by Mom’s love is easier prey. That’s why, when I employed this strategy with him the last time, I felt confident I had won the parenting lottery, and set him well on the way to a life of financial success, curing world hunger, and winning the Nobel Peace prize where his acceptance speech would be mostly about my invaluable influence.
I used phrases like, “Put yourself in a position where you always have options,” and, “Think about where you want to be in four years when you graduate so you can own your choices.” It was some of my finest work. My motivation was part I want to see you succeed in life and part you can’t live here after your graduate so get it together, but brilliant none the less. My husband looked over at me with pride and maybe a tear in his eye. (You weren’t there! You don’t know!) I left the conversation with a fist pump in the air and an arrogance that I was the best parent to ever live which I carried well in to the next day.
This is the part of the story where my son reminds me that kids are gifts, and by gifts, I mean givers of humility and crushed dreams. The next day, I walked into the house to the sounds of my son calling my name because he had something amazing to show me. He’d been researching all day, which in my mind meant he was looking at colleges. Maybe careers. Possibly my Mom of the Year trophy. Instead, it was something slightly less driven and more exactly what I should have expected. Here are his words, so you can also experience this moment.
Mom, I thought about what you said last night, and I took it to heart. What I really want to be is a successful gaming YouTube star. I’ve added all the things I need to make this happen to the Amazon cart, so you can get them for me for Christmas.