I have three teens now, and here we are, skating away. Feel like I’ve been catapulted here on some kind of time warp. One day I was reading The Little Me and the Great Me to my boy, helping with cooking and wood carving projects, letting him pick up reading at his own pace, now I’m introducing him to caffeine so he can stay awake long enough to keep up on assignments. His second year in public school, high school, smart, reflective, a thinker, but now he goes around tired all the time, trying to keep up with homework without quitting competitive swimming, and doesn’t read anything any more unless it’s assigned. By a teacher, that is (not including me). In delegating academics to public school, I have apparently given up all authority in that realm. Never formally–it just happened. How quickly institutionalization can take place. Still, I’m confident it’s not permanent. I leave around a copy of The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn, just in case.
Eldest son used to like to discuss ideas, share experiences, see what Mom and Dad think, now there’s no time. He’s overwhelmed–everything is so fast and shallow. Same with daughter #1, except she’s a faster reader, which helps. With her apparent success comes a greater obsession for checking her grades online. It will take a summer vacation to bring these two back to themselves, and their home community. Will that even be enough, especially for my son, who has to figure out his Running Start classes and post secondary options already? Look at that–I said “has to.” I’m not part of the solution, not much, really. I’m still scrambling to keep up with what’s happening, offering perspectives and suggestions that might be useful, helping them keep their hand in somewhat on running the home (life skills 101), doing the driving, for a while longer.
I had so much more to instill–beyond automatic please & thank you, personal hygiene and saying good night before turning in. I was too disorganized, too inconsistent. Not enough time on the most meaningful aspects of learning. I wish I’d been able to sustain that sense of proactive parenting I had in the earlier seasons. Now they need those resources–all three are in a season of individuation. You know, when their biological clock tells them their parents are irritating and overly oppressive, and the parental biological clock says the kids are ungrateful and wanting to have their dependence, so why don’t they get on with it already, instead of leaving their laundry and dishes about and hoping someone made supper. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been fired from my job, but have to stay on anyway, only to get fired again, and so on. And they’re not cute any more. Just glimpses of glory now and then. My youngest tries to compensate by being extra lovable.
That questioning, that testing and trying things out at home, I accept as a necessary part of growing up–I really do. But my hope is that they will come to know what battles are truly worth fighting, where to stand their ground and on what principles, and also when to humble themselves, be patient, gracious and teachable, and submit to legitimate authority. And, of course, clean up after themselves.
I keep thinking about how pre-modern societies readied their young much earlier to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. How difficult that seems to be now when there’s so much complexity to work through. In those very old days, critical thinking sufficient to the day was achieved through observing and working alongside parents and community members to acquire food, shelter, and clothing, mate and raise young, and navigate relationships in the larger community as well as in the spiritual realm. Now we are expected to prepare our children for multiple, evolving, sometimes unprecedented and as yet theoretical futures. How can there be any time for instruction in those same old basic skills of obtaining food, shelter, clothing, fruitful relationships and religious traditions? As a society many of us are still foisting off menial tasks on the servant class, production on Asian factory workers, socialization on “multicultural” (values all over the board) groups of age peers led by a few overtaxed adults, and religious instruction (also in age groups) on professional clergy with access to packaged curriculum. And of course, we are not encouraged to handle any of the academic side on our children’s behalf. It’s down to “Know where your kids are,” (with a wide array of handy GPS tracking apps). I don’t accept that children should be turned into adults that are merely a product of the general state of society.
Yet I remember my teenage years, and what my parents must have gone through with me, and my siblings two years on either side and beyond. Things were changing rapidly then, too. They wanted to shop at the local grocery store, I was all for the cheaper new superstore. They were living off the land, making bread and growing leafy greens, I wished I could move into town, asked for iceberg lettuce and white bread. And how snotty I was about it! How they must have despaired! Like my Dad wrote in a recent piece, we balked at weeding the garden, and quit, but we did learn a lot along the way, and we returned to the values that seemed most enduring, and became avid gardeners and enlightened shoppers and voters. So I figure, parents have to keep telling, keep inviting, keep teaching, and keep with their most deeply-held values despite the friction it may create. We must keep learning from our kids, love them a lot, and wait.