This week my youngest child turns 13 and I now am the proud mother of two teenagers. Contrary to what I expected from the media and from lore, I am not experiencing managing two moody, brooding kids. It's me that needs to be put in check, not them. What a shock it was to learn this. Let me explain.
When my children were born the parenting guru of the day was Dr Sears. The parenting style came from the book his wife Martha and he wrote called Attachment Parenting. Together they raised 8 children and advocated for a collection of seven practices they call the Baby Bs: “birth bonding, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, bedding close to the baby, belief in the baby’s cry, balance and boundaries, and beware of baby trainers.” Reflecting on that list, with two teenagers on my hand I am far from the Baby B’s.
So much of what the Sears’ advocate naturally falls away once the baby grows. It’s pretty easy to un-attach from co sleeping, breastfeeding and wearing your baby. Can you imagine that with a teenager? (squirm-city!). In so many of the more subtle ways I find myself trying to learn the fine art of “un attachment” parenting that is as fundamental to raising teens as bonding is with your newborn. Taking stock, I realized that in some ways I am doing a great job, letting the kids take risks and allowing them more independence and freedom, but in other ways that are tied to their emotional well being, I fear I am falling short.
Here’s an example. My eldest is doing all school at home and I find myself privy to everything that’s going on. He is very responsible about his work, and yet everyday I ask him his plan for homework, assignments and check in about communication he needs to have with his teachers. While he is very patient with me, I know it is annoying to have me up in his grill all of the time; honestly I annoy myself while I am doing it. So much so that I finally had to ask myself why. What do I hope to accomplish by being so involved? What is really going on here? Am I worried about him getting into college? Do I think he will fail? So what if he gets a bad grade and feels bad about it?
None of these possibilities are very realistic (except the poor grades, which happens to everyone). The truth is that instead of “saving him” I am really trying to save myself; Save myself from disappointment and from my own discomfort when he has hard feelings. And this isn’t fair because my selfishness is actually depriving him the opportunity to build his own tool kit of grit and resilience and the ability to handle all kinds of emotions and experiences. All the while I’m sending him the message that I don’t trust that he can handle his schoolwork on his own, or get through difficult times. Not very nurturing and not what I want for my kids.
My teenagers need agency and ownership of their lives, so that they can learn to navigate their ups and downs. It is not my job to keep them in emotional bubble-wrap. It’s not good for them or for me. I need to learn to be a foundational presence, waiting in the wings, to cheer them on, pick them up when they are down and support them no matter what. I can be their rock, steady and sure when they are stuck, upset and adrift. This is the greatest gift that I can give them; the opportunity to gain the confidence to handle whatever comes, so that they can take risks, comforted knowing that I will be here for them no matter the outcome. Ultimately this is about me letting go of my own fear while building confidence in my own emotional resolve. Like so much of parenting it’s about looking within to shift MY perspective and change MY approach with them.
I am not sure what ever happened to the Sears’, or if new parents still embrace the 7 Baby Bs. I do find myself wondering how they “unattached” from their 8 children once they became teenagers . And if it worked well maybe they could help us out and write volume 2 “Un Attachment Parenting the 7 Teen’s Ts”. I know that I could use some guidance on how to gently, compassionately unattach from my kids and watch their story unfold as they experience their life.
Jenny Michaelson is a PCI,
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