Short Shorts and Mothering Teens

Editor’s note: We are trying to keep our posts at The Power of Moms quite short (we know you’re busy!), but because we feel that this guest post from Sarah at Memories at Clover Lane offers great persepctives about raising teens, we decided to publish a longer version than is typical of what you’ll find on our site. Obviously, each mother of a teen will have a unique perspective and may parent differently than another, but as we’re here to help moms share ideas and learn from one another so that we can make the best decisions we possibly can as we raise our children.

Mothering teens.  Holey moley – you need a WHOLE different set of skills! It’s all so new and frustrating and scary and fun….just like when they hand you your first newborn, it’s so hard to describe to anyone that feeling.  I think in a way parenting starts all over again at the teen age.  It has been quite a learning experience for me and I have far to go. NOTHING, I’ll tell you, NOTHING humbles you like raising a teen.

Here’s a recent experience to demonstrate what I’m talking about.

I got this comment last week after I posted photos on my blog of our recent family vacation:

Do you sometimes think your daughter’s shorts are too short?

It made me laugh.  Actually the daughter in question, Abbey, was sitting at the computer when I read it and we both looked at each other and laughed together.

Because the answer is yes.  I do!  I  think my 15-year-old daughter’s shorts are too short.  I also sometimes think she sometimes wears too much make up.  I think she is so pretty and doesn’t need one drop of it, so any is “too much” for me. I don’t always love the tops she chooses to wear – the style these days is not really my taste (haven’t all mothers said this?).  I wish she wouldn’t get so stressed about school, and friend drama and sometimes I really wish she would not be so picky and particular on just about everything. And the only nail polish color I really like on girls that age is pink, and she likes yellow or blue or sometimes orange.

Abbey knows all this.  Sometimes we argue about it and sometimes we downright fight about it.  It’s hard. I wish she would listen to everything I have to say and do exactly what I tell her to do all the time. She did when she was little pretty much always.  We could go shopping and oooh and aaah over all the same stuff.  The matching tights, the cute colorful knit dresses.  Those red sparkly shoes-oh, I remember those! And the cute pink tennies. And the top with the little ballerina girl on the front. Sometimes she’d be obsessed with a particular clothing item and would insist on wearing it daily – but whatever it was, it was something I picked out and approved of and thought was pretty darn cute.  We got along great all the time.  Because her opinion and my opinion matched perfectly.

In junior high we started clashing about little things.  Maybe it was at what age she could get her ears pierced.  Or why I had to be so strict about how high the heels were that she wanted to buy for 8th grade graduation…”everyone else” was wearing those high ones, why couldn’t she?  Where we once got along almost perfectly, we started exchanging words that weren’t so pleasant.  We started getting angry at each other as she pushed and I pulled -as she exerted her opinion that was different from my opinion – yes, she had somehow developed her own, how the heck did that happen?

I held her back against the growing-up-too-fast pull as best as I could.  Oh, if only I could keep her in my world.  If only I would just say yes to everything she wanted because it was the same as what I wanted, it would all be so easy.  If only she would stay young forever.

Since then it’s been just like that…that push and pull.  We have both cried tears over the last 3 years….over how darn hard and different it has been.  Me shedding tears of doubt – Am I doing this right?  Am I being too strict?  Should I have stuck to my guns?  Why oh why can’t she just trust that I know what is best for her?  And her with tears of frustration, anger, and just plain old hurt feelings.

When it comes to raising teenagers I think there are three roads to take.  Two are easy…and so tempting because you, as the mother, can always be happy and there is little or no conflict, tears, drama.

One is the route where anything they want is fine with you.  The drinking, the boyfriends, the hotel rooms rented at prom.  Rules are a pain, and being popular is the name of the game.  There is never a fight because who wants to fight? “Yes,” is your answer, “sure go ahead honey, we’re best friends right?” You turn your head or laugh and say, “Teenagers will be teenagers, what can I do about it?”

The other end of the spectrum is just the opposite.  You keep total control.  You make all those decisions for them.  You require them to call you on their cell phones every hour because the big bad world out there is dangerous. You teach them that they can’t trust their own decisions and choices and that you have all the answers.  You criticize and brainwash and protect and hover and warn and do everything in your power to keep them under your wing constantly.  Things stay the same as they were when they were three, seven, nine – when it was easy.  Their only choice is your way or the highway.

I have seen both styles of parenting teens and I know in my heart – and from experience – that both have pretty good odds of producing disastrous results. The easy way, darn it, never seems to be the right way. Even so, it’s tempting.

See that place in the middle of those two extremes?  It’s tons of work.  It’s work every day, whether you are up for it or not.  You as a parent might be exhausted, sick, busy, or…you might just want to keep that good mood going and not rock the boat for once.  You know you must gauge when to move up or down in that middle ground. Constantly you wonder when to let go, when to be quiet, when to just listen, when to speak up.  Sure you’ve got a list that you will never ever budge on.  My kids know what those “no-budgers” are and they know WHY each thing is on the list.  My “no-budge” list starts with smoking and ends with tattoos and include lots of really, reallyimportant stuff in between.

But there are many things not on that list that start out one way, and end up another as teens progress, grow and struggle or soar – and as we parents progress and grow and struggle also.  Sometimes rules need to be adjusted as kids get older and as they present a case that makes good sense.  There needs to be a gradual letting go of the reins…a handing over (literally!) of the steering wheel of life.  Trust is broken and gained. Lessons are learned and tears are shed. Sometimes consequences need to be learned the hard way – but it’s tricky to know ahead of time when something’s going to be a good learning experience. Sometimes responsibility for decisions is given too soon, sometimes at the right time and sometimes late enough to cause major resentment.  It’s hard to hit that “perfect timing” thing every day.  The light bulb moments us moms savor can be few and far between. And sometimes those light bulb moments are moments when my teens have taught me as much or more as I have taught them!

Every day, I’m making decisions large and small on the spur of the moment, in the heat of the moment, in the light of day and the dark of night and it all renders me mentally exhausted – weighing the pros and cons, thinking and rethinking, trying to figure out what’s really important – it’s a learning process.  And then on top of it all, you learn that what works for one child certainly doesn’t work for another. Some some teens, the surefire way to get them to do a certain thing is to let it be known that we want the opposite of that thing.  For other teens the tiniest hint of criticism from us leads to a breakdown in communication for months and we must work to regain that relationship.  I’ve had one teen say to me, “You don’t have to be so careful about telling me what you think Mom!  You can trust me to make my own decision and also listen to yours and Dad’s opinion.  I want to hear what you have to say.”  And I’ve had another child say, “This is what I want.  I know it’s right for me even if it isn’t what you would chose.”   Keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure.  And scrambles your brain at the same time.

But if I’ve learned anything in the last few years of parenting teenagers it’s this.  My role is not to turn my back and go with the flow and hope for the best and it’s not to keep them young and dependent on me so they don’t really grow up. It’s to get them to the point where they can make healthy decisions -large and small – for themselves and do it confidently and well. It’s to accept that my children may want different things out of life than what I had wished for them or planned for them or think is best for them.  It’s to watch them develop their own styles and taste and opinions (which I have learned changes so quickly in these years) and try not to cringe to much when it’s not that super cute sun dress, the darling flats, the preppy shirt – or the friends, or the extracurricular activities – that I would have chosen.

So back to the short shorts.  You have to know the story behind those short shorts because it is the perfect explanation of my whole point of this complicated dance of teen/mother relationships.

I spent about 2 1/2 months this winter hardly able to parent my five children due to my sixth pregnancy. When I was slowly gaining my strength, I knew my priorities were to reconnect with my kids but also get my household back in order.  We did some bedroom and closet clean outs and Abbey (well, all of them!) had some major growth spurts this year.  They were in desperate need of summer clothes as we were heading towards a much-needed spring break at the beach.

Let me tell you a little bit about Abbey. She’s a 4.0 student, taking all honors classes, at a very academically competitive school.  (Well, 3.9 at this moment which freaks her out to no end.) She is on crew which requires 2 1/2 hours of practice every night but the weekends.  She also is on student council and volunteers with a program run by the Sisters of Notre Dame helping families cope with children with fetal-alcohol syndrome.  She babysits the children while their parents get counseling-not an easy thing to do after 7 hours of school. She makes sure she goes to Mass every Sunday, even if it means with her busy schedule that she goes by herself.

And what stressed her out to no end – in spite of that angelic, well-balanced, perfect picture I just painted of her – was that she had NO shorts for spring break.  She is after all, a 15-year-old girl.  Who loves fashion.  And who likes to feel confident in the way she looks.  Do you remember being 15?  I sure do.  Little things matter just as much as the big things and I needed to remember that.

So fast forward to one day before we were to leave for spring break at the beach…the only time her still-nauseated mother could leave her other four children to take her to the mall for the one hour between the end of school and the beginning of crew practice.

The mall is, to Abbey’s dismay, her mother’s most-hated destination on earth.  We had put it off for weeks and weeks and frankly, snapped at each other quite constantly over this shorts-dilemma: who has time when, and how the world doesn’t revolve around this important task at hand. And through it all, I was worrying over stretching myself thin and giving proper love and attention to all these children after being sick with this pregnancy for so long and then playing catch-up once I felt OK.  Abbey, I am sure, was feeling like, just for once, it would be nice to spend an afternoon shopping and getting some attention, but also those shorts – “I really really have no shorts!” Mix together my pregnancy hormones with teenage-girl hormones and then stand back and beware.

So we walk around an unfamiliar mall trying to find the two stores that carry a size that will fit her.  The stores with half-naked models on huge posters are as dark as a disco and just as loud and, to the dismay of my pregnant nose, are shooting cologne out of the heat ducts.  Like so thick you can actually see it. I think I might die.  I try to not to look at the ads of teenagers laying on each other with no shirts on and pants unzipped, because the last thing I need right now is to start on that “what is this world coming to” rant in my head that takes over my brain and makes me crabbier than heck.

Shorts. Just shorts.

We go back and forth between these two stores while she finds some options and I develop a raging cologne headache.  We try another store with longer shorts – but everything is too big.  We go back. She picks out a few on her own that she says fit well and I don’t make her show me – I am curled up in the comfy leather chair by the cash registers because I need desperately to sit my old pregnant self down. She doesn’t argue when I say, “I am not spending $35 for shorts that already have a fray in them.”  She puts that pair back. We are walking on eggshells.  We have argued extensively about shorts length (and fashion in general) over the last few years, searching high and low for a compromise that will please us both – me knowing full well that I am fighting a hard battle since the stores available to us size-wise and location-wise are on her side.  When I look back, I won’t say it’s easy, but I have been pleased with the end result of our clothing compromising capabilities. I think she would agree. Somehow it always works out but usually requires hours of shopping – something we didn’t have that day.

I have met my mall time quota and things can get scary after that, so I let Abbey make her own decision and she choose shorts that are shorter than I’d like.  She is 15.  She is a nice, good girl.  Her shorts are too short, yes they are.  She doesn’t think so.  I do.  She likes them and they aren’t as short as they could be. Most of the girls wear shorter shorts, which I know is about the worst excuse any mother can give.  You can judge me. You can send me the link to Land’s End Kids.  You can tell me I didn’t try hard enough and that I should have planned further in advance or had special shorts made for her. You can tell me she is destined to work at Hooters one day all because of that moment in the mall where I didn’t stand firm.  But I didn’t have it in me then.  Plus I was rebuilding a relationship and picking and choosing my battles.  I was keeping communication lines open, or attempting to.  I was trying not to puke.  I was walking that middle ground the best I could – like most moms of teens are doing every day of their lives as they try to figure out this whole new stage of parenting.

We bought the shorts and she thanked me.  We stopped for a quick bite before her crew practice and I took deep breaths of fresh air as I waited in the car for her to run in and order.  She was starving and had to row a 5K and beat her last time. I dropped her off at the river and came home and made dinner before soccer practices started for the boys.  She got home 2 hours later and did homework for 4 hours, then packed.

See, I love her, even in her short shorts.  I am so proud of her and all the decisions she has made so far.  It is painful for me to watch the struggles she goes through on a daily typical teenage day basis – the friend drama she tries to avoid, the dismay at an acne break-out that renders her feeling self-conscious, the pressure she puts on herself to excel.  Watching her brings back those years so quickly and God knows they weren’t easy, were they?  I want to fix everything for her, and make it all just the way I want it to be. I see her reaching up and out beyond her comfort level and starting to get excited about the choices she has in life because of her hard work. I know she still needs me, and I know we have years and lots more issues ahead of us to tackle.

And darn it all, I know she has outgrown those red sparkly shoes and I don’t necessarily get to pick out their replacement.  I also know that is exactly what is supposed to happen. I know we’ll be OK, short shorts and all.  But thanks for asking.

QUESTION:  What challenges have you come across as you have parented teens?

CHALLENGE:  Find  ways to have healthy discussions with your teens so that the lines of communication stay open. And always remember: you are the parent, not the peer!

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  1. Jeanette says

    I know I’m a little late in commenting, but I had to say “thank you” for this post! My husband and I are struggling to find that perfect balance in parenting our two teens (14 and 13), while also keeping up with our 10 yo and 7 yo. I have been thinking daily, even hourly, about how hard it is to let go enough and let them learn and grow on their own. I thought I pretty much had the parenting thing down until we hit the teens! Humbling indeed!

  2. Kelli says

    Thank you for sharing this. I have 3 teenage daughters, and 3 more girls who will be teenagers in the not too distant future. I can relate so well to this issue of clothing choices specifically and also to the more general issue of letting these amazing children take their own path.

  3. laura says

    thank you for sharing this timely perspective–we are battling this balance with short shorts right now

  4. Peg says

    I needed to read this, although I have two teenage sons I can soooo relate to the everyday struggles. The easy way, though tempting at times, is not best for them. Some days it would be so much nicer not to stand firm, but in the end not better for anyone.
    Now I feel less alone in this! Thanks!!!!
    P.s. your daughter is wonderful

  5. Jennifer says

    Thank you thank you! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels lost on this new parenting of a teenager role. Great words of advice and comfort.

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