How to handle the “what ifs” that keep parents up at night
It is not easy to be a parent of a teen in today’s world. There are so many dangers, distractions, and poor choices easily available for our kids to make. It could drive a parent crazy trying to protect their kid from all of that!
The fact of the matter is, we cannot do that. Like it or not, our kids live in a world where they have access to choices that can be life altering – substances, sex, driving under the influence, addictions to video games, cyber bullying, poor choices in friends – just to name a few. What is a parent to do?
All those scary scenarios used to terrify me. All the “what ifs” kept me up at night. So how did I handle all these worries?
With my oldest I simply tried to create enough rules and “phone check ins” when he was out to keep him safe. Of course, it did not work. The harder I tried to protect him from himself, the more chances he took. It was a nightmare!
After a few months of hell, we realized we had to do something different. We started to have family meetings and together we all came up with our family principles – honesty, integrity, and respect. Dad and I stopped trying to control our oldest, but kept our expectations high. We had a lot of bumps in the road, but eventually we got to a place where things were better.
With his brothers, we did a better job of talking about the issues facing them and communicating our principles and expectations. We had many family discussions about being safe and doing the right thing. It was not easy, but we all got through it.
Then my daughter came of age. No one had prepared me for the absolute terror I would have as she began to date and go out with friends. Would she be OK? Would guys take advantage of her? I was worried all over again!
One day, when she was 16, my daughter asked me, “Mom, I want to go to my friend’s house in Boston for New Year’s Eve. Can I go?” Her friend was older, and I knew she would be going to parties. I suspected there would be drinking and that she would be around some older boys. I was afraid to say yes. But after talking it over with her dad, we told her she could go, as long as she kept our family principles in mind. She promised to do just that.
What happened was that she did some things that she regretted, nothing earth-shattering (luckily) but enough that she did not feel good about it. About a week later she sat down and told me the whole story. “What are you going to do about this?” I asked. “What do you think your consequence should be for not following our principles?”
It ended up being a great thing. She picked a tough consequence for herself and had several conversations about her decision-making. It was a great lesson for us all.
What I realized was that just like her brothers, my daughter knew how to do the right thing. She had internalized our family principles. Again, we had discussions about how she felt, the pressures facing her and how to do “the right thing.” When inevitably she made mistakes, we had faith that she would make it right, she would figure it out. As she got older, I had to learn to keep my mouth shut when she made choices that I did not agree with. I didn’t need to tell her how I felt anyway – she knew! All our kids read our hearts and know exactly what we think.
Khalil Gibran says about parenting:
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
When I let go of trying to control my kids, they took hold of their lives. Ultimately, our kids need to make those conscience-based decisions themselves. The hope is that the principles we have established in our family now will be part of our children’s adult lives in the future. Or they may come up with different principles! But they will live their lives through principles, which was my goal for all those conversations.
The hard work we do today will pay off down the road. We need to sew those seeds!