You may think that this quote was chosen specifically to address adolescence when in fact it is something that I have to remind my own damn self because I am still on this journey of massaging my identity as I continue to grow and change depending on the direction my life is headed. This is one of the biggest lessons I hope to impart on my daughters as they enter the thick of this next phase of growth.
In yesterday’s post, “On Adolescence: Part 2,” I touched upon the answers I give people when they question the bubble that I have built around my children. This bubble, more specifically, time with me and at home, has allowed me to give them something that they need from me that would have been harder if I didn’t have so much time with them.
In one of the parent sessions, a psychotherapist described adolescence as a time of change and transformation and that there is one thing that we parents should do during this time where they will have transitory emotions of grief over leaving behind childhood, sadness, euphoria, anxiety, frustration, angst, and rage.
We need to remain consistent.
There are things that my kids count on. They know the sun rises every day and that my husband and I will always support them on whatever path that life leads them down. I have wanted them to feel this in every cell of their body and to trust it completely.
We have a family manifesto that is displayed on our wall at the top of the stairs. I bought this wall decal almost 5 years ago when half my children couldn’t read. It greets them every morning and gives them comfort each night. I often remind them of it when they are going through their own challenges or are afraid.
So when I say “consistent,” I don’t mean that my husband and I are consistently right nor that we are consistently enforcing rules that are hard and fast. We aren’t even consistently calm or peaceful.
We are consistent in believing in these things that we consider essential for a home to function with 7 different people. We are consistent in being real (aka honest), making mistakes, saying sorry, giving second (and third and fourth…) chances, having fun (we always break tension with humour), giving hugs (yes even me!), forgiving, being really loud, being patient (over the long-term), and loving.
My kids and I often go on hikes. I often lead and point out fallen trees or large rocks that might be in the way. I hold back branches so it doesn’t swing in their face, and point out any dog poo so that they don’t step in it. Sometimes we are faced with two paths to get back on to the main trail. I always take the easier and more even path while some of my children choose the more challenging one. I walk ahead of them knowing that they will eventually be curious and brave enough to forge their own path, choosing a different route than me. But they can always find me on the main path moving forward.
As they move into adolescence, I notice that sometimes they don’t always hear me warn about the dog poo or they step on it because they have decided that I am too slow and want to rush ahead. They step in it, frustrated with themselves. I have been known to sometimes say “I told you so” although I am getting better at biting my tongue. Now I help them clean themselves up and keep moving. That’s my job. I am slightly ahead in years and in experience. They can choose to heed my warnings and I can be there to help clean up the mess. This I will consistently do for the rest of my life.
As they get older, my daughters watch me with a discerning eye just as I suspect my son will watch my husband and pull away from me. I know that I am no longer on a pedestal – their hero that doesn’t have any weaknesses and can slay any dragon. They have seen me make mistakes, in fact, they have called me on them. They have confronted me on the choices I have made. I have had to admit mistakes and that if I knew better, I would have done better. Sometimes they understand and sometimes they don’t. But I trust in the message that I consistently deliver: We make mistakes. We give second chances. We say sorry. We forgive. We LOVE. By showing them that I am constantly learning and that the journey into self doesn’t end, they take comfort that they don’t need to know everything. This is all a normal part of the human experience.
Over the last 6 months, my older ones have been very interested in my self-care practices, particularly in my Book of Hours. When I can be my true to myself by taking care of myself and listening to what I need, I give permission to them to be who they need to be.
Because they are with me so much, I have a little more leeway. They can see my many dimensions, my moods, and my whims. They have seen me cry. They have seen me rage. They have seen me get hurt. They have seen me not know the answer. But they also see that I always return to being their mother who loves who they are right now, a mother who trusts that they are on their own path, a mother who gives them the safety of boundaries so that they may push against them as hard as they can, and a mother who knows when to push just enough so that they know they can stand on their own two feet.
It doesn’t matter what they do or say, it is our job to NOT take it personal and to simply stay right there with them. It doesn’t mean to let them go and hope for the best. It also doesn’t mean to get up in their grill and hover. It means to be aware of the boundaries when they need to shift and to engage with an open and loving heart in this dance that is just as hard for them as it is for us. Our children will change in ways that we never imagined. They will break our hearts as they break free. They will come back and forth testing our promises to unconditionally love them. And that’s what I will continue to do – love them through it all.
Tomorrow I will share the most difficult part of mothering in adolescence that no one prepared me for…and offer some strategies that helped me along the way.
I have been getting amazing feedback on these posts on adolescence, even from my own children. If you have any questions, please send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below. I would be happy to address any concerns or questions in this series. My answers will largely reflect my own personal experiences and stories…I can only speak to what I have learned on my own journey which has been mothering my daughter in adolescence and mothering my other daughters who are on the cusp of it and who are knocking at its door.