Saturday, April 7, 2012

Parenting Through Adolescence

Newsflash: Parenting gets harder as the kids get older.

Those of you with kids grown and gone already know this.

Those of you in your first year of parenting may be sobbing right now, thinking that it can't possibly be harder than it is right now. It is harder in a different way. Trust me: eventually, the kid will go to sleep. You should nap when they do. I'm just sayin'.

Parenting The Child as she enters the middle years brings me right up against all of my faults as a human being. I have lots of experience with adolescents, so this age does not scare me in the way that it scares some.

What an adolescent does is peel back layers of insecurities and failings in their parents. This is their job, and they do it well. Not always intentionally; I am not talking about the extreme cases (of which I was one) when kids really struggle with this transition to adulthood.

I am talking about watching your kid go out into the world with the lessons you have taught them thus far and seeing how they hold up. For The Child, she is starting to confront body image issues head-on. Daily, she is assaulted with images and text proclaiming her fat or otherwise inadequate. Not her specifically - just anyone who is larger than a size 0, not blond and not 16.

I don't tend to post pictures of The Child on the Internet, but I can say that she is beautiful. She is strong and tall and leanly muscled from years of softball and general joyful running and play and tree climbing. Her parents are tall, and she will be, too. She has huge feet and is sometimes awkward.

Already her friends say they are fat, and they wear makeup.

Will she be strong enough to resist judging herself? I hope so. I hope we have parented her well enough thus far. Hard to tell until it's time to tell. This results in insecurity on my part. Have I taught her well? Does she believe in herself?

She told me yesterday that I was no longer allowed to hold her hand in public. I asked her if I could still hold it in private. She said yes, with a little smile and glance that indicated she was just humoring me for a little while longer. Then last night, feeling a little sick, she asked if she could snuggle on the couch, and we spent the next hour under a blanket, watching bad TV and breathing together.

Parenting an adolescent means giving them tools enough so that when they ask to let go of your hand you can. It means keeping your heart and arms open to them, even when they are prickly, so they can crawl back home when the world is too much. Have I done it well enough? Am I humble enough?

We will see.

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