Parenting on Planet Mercury
by Lisa Miller
I have two entrenched parenting personas that are sometimes at odds with one another and can cause me to feel stuck when making parenting decisions.
The first is my compassionate, well-informed self--the one who reads all the blogs and books on adolescence. Here's what she has to say:
Being a teenager in today's fast-paced, YouTube, Apex Legends, Snapchat world is challenging! Their brains are literally being rewired to focus less well. My teens need scaffolding--their prefrontal cortexes aren't fully developed and they have poor executive function skills. It's unrealistic to think they can plan, prioritize, initiate, track, self-regulate, etc., etc., without some help from me. It's not that they don't want to do things--they can't do them. I must be their prosthetic frontal lobe. I must implement systems, routines, checklists, and all the things, to help them succeed. I have to be a soft place to land--because it's a cold, cruel, Instagram world out there--and never, ever, shame my children or make them feel less than.
This me is often too lenient.
Then, there is my old-school mommy self--the one who knows from personal experience that laissez-faire parenting begets out-of-control teens. She's like:
These kids are snowflakes! They have no persistence and grit! They don't know what it means to suffer and have no work ethic because their lives are too easy. They're entitled. They lack perspective. Sometimes they're shady. What they need are chores, a J-O-B, rules, and consequences--the kind of consequences that hurt so they will think twice before acting foolish again. They should be a little afraid of me--don't break my rules or you'll be sorry. I am enabling them, or worse, infantilizing them, by "supporting" them so much. My father's interminable refrain from my childhood about learning to roll with the punches seems an impossible goal with my own children. My kids pretty much do what they want when they want.
This me is often too harsh.
What's a vacillating mom to do?
I try to find the grey area between these two "me"s. This magical-unicorn me is loving, patient, communicative, and realistic; she sets reasonable boundaries and achievable expectations. She is even-tempered and even-handed and she doesn't capitulate. She knows when to pad the landing and when to hold the line. She understands the adolescent journey is fluid and circuitous, so she keeps her cool and her perspective. She has a sense of humor.
Sadly, I don't see her as often as I'd like.