This morning my brilliant friend Jane had me over for breakfast. No, that’s not what makes her brilliant. Nor was it the impressive spread of eggs, fresh fruit and truly outrageous croissants. What makes Jane brilliant is that she knew the other invited parents needed community support. Why? Because each one had just dropped off a son or daughter at Freshman Orientation. What a great idea to bring parents together at the same tremulous moment their 14 year olds begin the last chapter of childhood!
I wasn’t there as a fellow freshman parent. Been there… twice. Four times if you want to count college. I was there as a parent who is 15 years ahead on the path. I’m happy and relatively sane which goes to show that my kids survived high school and so did I. I was asked to speak for a few minutes. Here’s the gist of what I said:
Be the kind of parent you wished you’d had in high school. Now’s your chance to act on all those mental notes from your teen years. C’mon, you know what I’m talking about. They all started with “If I ever have kids, I swear I will never ______.” Or “When I’m a parent I will let my kids ________ .” OK, maybe all those things you wished your parents had done or not done don’t seem like such great ideas now that you’ve got teens, but maybe there are a few items in the areas of trust, understanding and respect that you’d like to incorporate into your parenting skill-set. What are you waiting for?
Tune in with less talk and more empathy. Teens really appreciate being listened to. We all do. It’s a sign of caring and respect. When you consistently give it to them, you’re more likely to get it from them. They’re also more likely to be caring and respectful of other people as well.
Respect their privacy. You don’t need to know everything they’re thinking or feeling. They’re not 4 any more. Besides, the teen brain has dark, gunky corners. You probably don’t want to be privvy to all that’s in there. Nor do you need to be. Great parents are great because they respect boundaries with their teens while making it known through word, deed and attitude that they are (and always will be) on their kid’s side.
Use your parenting network to support each other. No teen (or parent) gets through high school without hitting some bumps. Hopefully your kid’s won’t be the life-altering variety. But whatever they are, parents do better managing crises in their families and showing true leadership when they’ve got other parents to talk to.
Keep your eye on the prize. Which is…? A healthy relationship with your adult children after they’ve graduated from high school, college and launched themselves into a truly independent life. That’s something you should be working on every day starting now. How do you know when you’ve achieved it? Your adult kids call you just to talk. Or to get your opinion. Or to share a win. Or a loss. They enjoy coming home and they willingly help out while they’re there. They have grown up. They’re on their own. They honor your parenting with the choices they make. And while they love and respect you, they do not need you. And knowing that makes you very happy.
I could have gone on, but my tea was getting cold.
If you like Jane’s idea why not talk it up with the parents in your circle? This kind of gathering works for parents of first day kindergartners, first day 6th graders… you get the idea.
So. Go. Talk amongst yourselves.