I’m less than 6 weeks from sending my oldest child off to his first day of high school.
(I just threw up a little in my mouth.)
This painful fact has had me thinking a lot about the very fast transition we made in Junior High. I thought the first years of a child’s life represented the fastest growth period – and it might – physically. But emotionally? It has got to be the 7th and 8th grade years.
The roughest transition to me was one no one warned me about and I could find no good guidelines for; it was the transition from Parents Making THE Plans to Kids Making THE Plans.
You know how it is when a slumber party happens. Or a playdate. Usually one parent calls another to invite them over. Or maybe an invitation is handed out at school, written by the host parent but mailed through the child’s backpack. As a kid gets older sometimes he/she will make plans with a friend at recess but when the kids come home, one of the parents actually calls the other parent to say, “So, did you really want my child to come live with you? My son assures me that you told your son that.” Usually the kids have exaggerated their version of the activity a little bit so the parents step in and finalize the little details. You know, like playing at each other’s house instead of at Disney World.
However, sometime in the 7th grade, parents start being removed from the equation. This was a very tough transition for me that I pushed away for a very long time. LilZ and I had a lot of embarrassing to him/satisfying to me issues where I called a parent to confirm the details he had come home with. It was simple stuff like, “LilZ asked to come over to your house for a little while, is that okay with you?” Just the kind of thing that I wanted to confirm with the parent before dropping my kid off at their house, especially if I didn’t even know the person.
Eventually the embarrassment to LilZ became too much and we started trying out the training wheels of Tween Made Plans. Birthday parties no longer came with invitations. Parents no longer did the planning, much less the inviting. Eventually the Teen Planned House Visits turned into Teen Planned Outings. You know, meeting at the movies. Or Bridge Street. Or the Mall. These outings where the teens meet up to hang out and cause certain amounts of trouble to nearby adults. (I can say that because I was part of several loud and obnoxious giggling groups of teenagers at the $1 Movie Theater in high school.) We have transitioned to those type of outings and for sure – no parents are involved in the planning of those events.
Essentially you go from Mom to Chauffeur/Personal Assistant. I am no longer consulted regarding plans or even involved in the details of the plans. In the end, LilZ and I have settled on our own system that allows him to do stuff with his friends but also allows me some sort of sanity. I thought I’d share my lessons/tips with you so that they might ease your own transition. You may want more restriction and your child may want more flexibility – in the end you’ll find your own system. I’m just sharing what works for us.
Insist upon knowing the plans before your teenager leaves and require a notification if plans are changed during the outing
If you do not make this rule, then the plans will change as the outing progresses. Trust me. It happens ALL THE TIME AND IT DRIVES ME CRAZY. If you thought you were dropping them off to see Up and Cindy’s Mom was going to pick up after the movie? What will happen is that Up will be sold out and then some kid will want to go to Barnes & Noble to get coffee. Cindy’s Mom will be called and she’ll approve a later pickup time at a different location but you’ll probably only be notified when you call and say, “Where are you?” 10 minutes after your teen should have arrived home. Remember this important fact: All Teenagers Are Self-Absorbed And Inconsiderate. They may also be sweet and sensitive and smart and responsible. But still? Self-Absorbed. Don’t take it personally they just live in their own heads not quite realizing that the rest of us are not here to serve them. LilZ must call me before plans change. I have given him permission to badmouth me while making these calls. “He guys, I just have to call my overprotective and annoying Mom to let her know our plans have changed because she thinks I’m four still.” This is okay by me as long as he CALLS.
Require at least a couple hours of warning before announcing plans
You may not have small children when yours is a teen, but you probably have a life outside of your teen. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s an exercise routine. Whatever it is, you can’t just jump in a car and drive your child to someone’s house at the drop of a hat. They need to be reminded of that fact. You do not spend your days waiting to serve your teenager. We have had many of those conversations that involve me overusing the word “respect” to try to convey why this rule is so important. “You have to respect the fact that there are more people in this family than you.” “You have to show a little respect to your parents and acknowledge that they’re more than just bus drivers.” “You have to respect my schedule and know that sometimes I have more important things to do. You know, like watch So You Think You Can Dance.”
Get your teenager’s friends’ cell phone numbers
Again, I’ve given him permission to badmouth me about this rule, but I have more of his friends’ cell numbers in my contact list than I do my own. Usually when I need to use this rule I text instead of call, “is E there? can u tell him 2 call me?” They all have my number programmed in their cell phones so it comes up something like, “E’s Annoying Mom.” Doesn’t matter. It allows me a line of communication to my child when something happens and I can’t make the pickup location or time. You would not believe how many times a child’s phone battery dies, or they forget their phone. You will use those friends’ numbers more than you would ever dream. Just accept the fact that they’re all rolling their eyes at you as you’re calling them.
Sharing the driving responsibilities
LilZ’s friends all have Moms who are very nice/good about driving certain legs of the outings. I took advantage of that for a long time because I don’t like being out late and because I’m scared of teenagers. (What? Aren’t you?) I have forced myself to get over this and now insist upon helping out whenever I can. This has many positive side effects. 1) You know where your kids’ friends live. 2) You get leverage in case there are times you can’t help out. 3) You get to know your teenager’s friends. This is the most important part. It allows you to put faces to names and become a more active part of your child’s life. Now, some of LilZ’s friends have Moms who they all love and embrace when they see them. I’m very jealous of those Moms. I’m not that Mom and I think it’s partly because I’m probably still one of the more strict parents. However, they at least know who I am and talk to me when they see me. This is important.
Learn to compromise
I know that at some point in time, my child will be driving. (There’s that throw up again.) Then he’ll be left to his own decision making and I just simply have to trust that. However, we’re not there yet. In the last two years we’ve inched more toward that point through compromise, but I still have a year and half to be all the way there. As your child creeps toward the same terrifying age of 16, you’ll do the same. I used to pick LilZ up right when a movie was over. “No lallygagging for you young Man!” Then, eventually, I gave him time after the movie to hang out with his friends at the theater. Now? I’m allowing them to walk across the parking lot to Target or Barnes & Noble. That was a huge step for me. Those are the type of steps we have to be willing to make as our children get older but TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. I have held LilZ back longer than many of his friend’s parents simply because I wasn’t comfortable with those transitions yet. I’ve learned that while it causes my son to bitch about me behind my back, it’s still necessary that I make those transitions when I’m comfortable. We’re still their parents, we are still in charge.
You are allowed to CHANGE YOUR MIND
Just because you approve something one time doesn’t mean you have to approve it every time. Sometimes we decide to grant them a bit of freedom but maybe, after seeing it in action, decide they aren’t ready yet. And maybe that we’re not ready yet. You can always backtrack. ALWAYS. Your teenager will try to tell you that’s not fair (Mine did.) to which you throw out the line all of our parent’s used on us. “Who said life was fair?”
And the circle of life is complete.
Bonus BRILLIANT Tip Provided By Cursing Mama In The Comments Section
When he asks to go to someones house for a party (I consider a party to be more than 3 kids) we ask if a parent will be there – and take him at his word. THEN we call the parent (sneaky, I know) thank them for hosting said group of kids – they are a brave & wonderful breed of parent – and ask if we can supply some snacks or soda or something because we are not brave & wonderful. So far we haven’t run into a parent that didn’t know about the party and we also haven’t run into a single one that turned down our offer to send something along.