My son is a teen. Therefore, he has an answer for everything. It usually begins with the word “but,” and it’s usually in response to some suggestion I’ve made that will make whatever he’s doing easier. A suggestion he will tell me is impractical, impossible, or inconvenient.
The amount of circular logic he’ll use to reject common sense amazes me. I want to stop him from talking and ask, “You don’t really believe that load of hooey you’re giving me, do you?” But I don’t, because I know this is just part of the process. He’s finding his own way.
Still, it’s difficult to be dismissed so easily. I spent so many years being the answer to everything. Hungry? Cookies coming right up. Hurt your knee? In the boo-boo bunny bag.. Having trouble with story problems? I’m all over that puppy. It was reassuring as a parent to know that I could make his world better. It’s my job, right?
To make matters worse, before I was a mother, I was in the fixing business. Companies hire consultants to swoop in and make problems go away. We were machines designed to systematically crush obstacles with process. I was good at it. They even called me the wizard.
When my son comes to me with a problem, my instinct is to dissect it, turn it over, break it into components, put it in a Gantt chart and assign responsibilities. All he wants me to do, however, is listen, so I bite my lip and sit on my hands. It’s all I can do not to draw him a map. Then he could avoid this well-worn mistake and make a new, novel one instead. But if he did, he wouldn’t learn from it. Sometimes you’ve got to fail in order to grow, and I’d rather have him figure out how to deal with it now. So I’ll offer advice when he asks for it, and only occasionally when he doesn’t. I try to save the unsolicited advice for really special occasions. Frankly, I’m not too good at receiving it myself. Just ask my mother.
So instead of holding my son’s hand while he crosses the street, I let him go on his own. If he’s about to walk into a tar pit, I’ll calmly say “You might want to consider where you’re going“, and he’ll probably walk right in without looking back. When he comes back, he’ll complain about the muck on his clothes, and leave them on the floor of his room. It takes everything I have not to say I told you so, but in exchange for my silence he does his own laundry.
After my last unsuccessful attempt to counsel my son, I called my mother and apologized. I was exactly the same way at his age–probably worse (see the above note regarding my inability to receive unsolicited advice). I can only hope my son is a faster learner than I am.
I told her, “You are so much smarter now than you were when I was a teenager.”
“Funny,” she said. “I was thinking exactly the same thing about you.”
Words by J. B. Everett