As my now seventeen-year-old daughter moved from childhood into her tweens and teens, I attended a handful of parenting workshops. These were offered, free of charge, by her elementary, middle and high schools. The PTO would invite a speaker and all the concerned moms (and a couple of dads) would dutifully attend "How to Raise a Resilient Child." Or "Helping Your Student Handle Middle School Stress." Or "Don't Panic, It's Just Puberty."
One thing we heard over and over was that we were — in essence — heading back into the "Terrible Twos." Becoming a teen and becoming a toddler had much in common. So we were advised to lock dangerous substances away, teen-proof the house as we once child-proofed it. And, most important, set firm rules and stand our ground.
The problem was — and has been — that I'm not very good at it.
When my daughter was about eighteen months old, her wonderful pediatrician explained what was in store.
"First of all," he told me, "The 'Terrible Twos' is a misnomer. It lasts longer than a year. It's more like the 'Terrible One-and-a-Half to Threes.' She'll be testing her boundaries all the time." His advice? "Only say 'No' when you mean it. If that means that you say 'Yes' 99% of the time, that's okay. Just make sure that when you do say 'No,' you follow through."
That's what I've done. As advised, I've followed through on the "No's," but they've been few and far between. In my defense, it's been very easy to say "Yes." My daughter was a remarkably well-behaved little girl. She was good-natured and compliant. There was really never any reason for so-called "Tough Love." She rarely asked for anything inappropriate and I simply said "Yes."
Sadly, what was a successful strategy for my toddler has proven to be an enormous stressor where my teen is concerned.
These days, my daughter tends to make announcements rather than asking for permission. Eight months into her driver's license (Lord help me!), she's mobile and independent. I was never really big on curfews anyway. We agreed that I'd stop micromanaging her homework and studies this year. And, like most kids in suburban America, she's wired and connected pretty much 24/7.
You can understand her utter shock, her sheer incomprehension, when she can't do what she wants with whom she wants, where and when she wants.
But, sometimes I have to say "No."
Before you call Social Services, let me assure you (and myself) that in the grand scheme of teenage things, my daughter is a very good girl. She doesn't drink or do drugs or endanger herself in other ways. I do think she drives a bit too fast, but she (and my husband) claim that I drive too slow.
I should be grateful — and, truly, I am — that we haven't fought over the really big stuff. Still this year has been difficult. The push-me/pull-you of her growing independence (and her age-related incomprehension of the concept of consequences) has been really tough.
What she doesn't (or won't) understand is that as her mother, I do have to step in sometimes. Its my job. And it's no fun for me, let me tell you. This includes making her go to bed when she's overtired or catching a cold. It includes at least a semblance of moderating the use of electronics. It includes assuring that her grades stay at the excellent level they've always been.
Would it be nicer to take the easy road, never say "no," never disagree?
That's not my job. My job is to help her succeed and become the best possible version of herself. Really.
Sometimes my job sucks. Really.
Right now, I'm being punished for the one percent of the time that I actually say and mean "No." Someday, maybe, I'll get credit for the other 99%.
For a Christmas surprise, my daughter wrapped her PSAT scores and placed them under our tree for me. She achieved absolutely respectable scores across the board, but one of her lowest marks was part of the Critical Reading section, specifically "Determining the meaning of words."
Apparently they must have asked her to define the word "No."
You see, we're having some trouble with that one.
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