I became a better parent the moment I stopped blaming myself for my children’s choices and realized that it was not all about me. I also became a better parent when I stopped watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
It used to be easy to fix a bad day
I have a 15, 16 and 17-year-old. Yikes. Life used to consist of Pokemon cards and water balloon fights. A bad day could be fixed with a trip to the ice cream shop and if life was really bad, rainbow sprinkles usually made it all better. A hug and time at the beach and we were ready to move on.
Things got harder when my kids became teens
I used to find myself anticipating the phone ringing, this would happen on Monday mornings after the kids had been out and about in the community being teenagers. I often expected and received calls to let me know they saw my teens doing (fill in the blank with some developmentally age appropriate, terrifying teen behavior).
For example: “I saw Johnny (not real name) at the football game on Friday night. He was hanging out with a group of kids behind the stadium. I just thought you should know.” I would pretend to be thankful that there was a village looking out for my child. I would say all of the appropriate things a caring mom should say. In other words, I faked it.
I would find my feelings of shame, guilt ,embarrassment and anger rising. The feelings took hold before I hung up the phone, even before I asked my child how the football game was. I was consumed with how I looked as a parent.
I was worried about how my teen’s behavior reflected on me
Don’t my kids know I am a preschool teacher? How would I be viewed now that little Johnny was seen hanging out with a group of kids-I mean it was behind the stadium of all places. I was convinced that everyone knew I was the mom of the kid who hung out behind the stadium. How embarrassing (insert sarcastic tone here).
Mind you, it did not matter that there was an entire group of kids. I would be laser-focused on my own kid and the nerve he had to hang out behind the stadium with people. I was convinced that his brother and sister would now have no friends because of his actions. He would be shunned socially and so would our family. I would envision a life of isolation and I was certain that if a kid hung out behind the stadium, for sure, he would not be getting in to a good college.
My god, what kind of a mother am I? Have I taught him nothing?
I have told my kids that nothing good ever happens outside of a 7-11, but I forgot to tell them about hanging out behind the stadium. #Momfail #notperfect.
I spent many Monday mornings feeling like a total failure. I have a history of addiction in my family and always felt that I would make sure my own children knew the dangers and steer clear of EVERYTHING that could lead to that kind of life. Like hanging out behind the stadium.
When you grow up with alcoholism, appearances are everything
When you grow up in an alcoholic family, appearances are everything. Wear the right clothes, drive the right car…attend all the right functions, be seen in all of the right places (For the record; 7-11 and behind the stadium are not considered the right places). For god’s sake do not be caught in the wrong place-then somebody might suspect something is wrong.
I was consumed by thoughts about how my child’s choice to hang out with friends behind the stadium highlighted my bad parenting and I was unable to clearly see how BAD my parenting really was. My parenting style was focused on me and how I looked to other parents. This obsession to be perfect prevented me from connecting with my kids and their experiences.
When Johnny walked in the door I fired off, “I heard that you were behind the stadium on Friday night hanging out! Do you want to tell me what you were doing there mister?” “Ummmm, Ya mom, we were waiting for a friend who was getting dropped off a little late and he asked us to wait for him so he did not have to walk into the football stadium alone…”
It was in that moment that I realized I cared more about my own reputation than my relationship with my teen. Something had to change and fast. I now let others know:
This is the mom I am now
I am the mom of a teen who hung out behind the stadium.
I am the mom of a teen who took someone’s Halloween candy.
I am the mom of a teen who snuck out of the house.
I am the mom of a teen who ditched school.
I am the mom of a teen who does not turn in every homework assignment.
I am the mom of a teen who sneaks into golf courses to fish the ponds.
I am the mom of a teen who makes good choices and bad choices.
I am the mom of 3 teens, of whom I am proud because they are kind, good people, and when I am not so caught up in my own BS, I can see clearly that they will be ok, even if they do hang out behind the stadium.
Why write this now?
I have 2 children applying to college this year. They have to dig deep to write about something meaningful and life changing. I see them struggle to make their life look ideal/perfect…I want them to know I am proud of all of their mistakes, even though at the time they were made we may have all been very uncomfortable.
I have my share of mistakes, and I have kept them hidden. That has not been helpful to anyone.
Celebrate failure! That is where the growth happens.
Jill Soloway Johnson is an early childhood educator who lives in Southern California with her husband and 3 teenagers ages 16, 17 and 18 as well as an extremely autonomous autodidactic dachshund. She loves finding the humor in parenting life, as the alternative fills her with even more terror than negotiating the emotional and transportation demands of 3 young adults. Nature is her bag. Follow her on Instagram.
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