Parenting by text-message…
I haven’t been up so much at night with a youngster since I had infants in the house–but I’m honored to be called upon. Our teenager broke up with his girlfriend yesterday after six months together (which rightly translates to Very Serious Relationship in high-school-world). He stayed over at a friend’s house last night but couldn’t sleep, so the text messages started ringing in at the wee hours. (Funny thing–I’m a sound sleeper and a groggy waker, but a wail from the baby monitor always snapped me straight to alertness. Evidently I’m still wired to react to kid-distress-calls, because his text-tone evoked the same response.) I try make a point not to offer advice unsolicited–I’m all too aware that people often just want a sympathetic listener. And Kiddo has learned this about me, so he responded to my first (supportively noncommittal) reply with, “btw, I’m looking for some advice here.” Well, then–game on. It’s still a dicey business, though, this advice-giving, with plenty of pitfalls to avoid.
I don’t want to TELL him what to do, only to help him see more clearly what he wants, and what options/possibilities are in front of him.
I don’t want to stray into platitudes (“lots of fish in the sea”–“you’re still young”) because those condescending reactions ignore the reality of how he feels right now. HE knows he’s young, HE knows the school is full of girls–and right now HE is dealing with his confused (but strong) feelings for this one.
I don’t want to “bash” the girlfriend, especially since it’s not unlikely they’ll bounce off each other a few more painful times before they move on. She’s a very cute, sometimes-sweet little thing, and I understand both his attraction and the difficulty of letting go of a First Big Relationship. He and I have already had some conversations about their relationship, and his own frustrations run parallel with my concerns about her controlling/jealous tendencies. “Concerns” may be too heavy a word just yet, since they’re several years shy of marriageable age and he’s not presently in danger of a permanent commitment. But…
As he’s growing up and finding his way, I DO want him to be considering what he wants and needs in a relationship, and I’m hoping he’ll allow himself the opportunity of some other experiences. “Keep your eyes open,” I offered. “Hang out with some other girls too.” When he wrote about possibly working things out with her, “Know what you want, hear what she needs–see what common ground there may be to make changes that might allow things to work between you.” Make no mistake, changes WILL be needed for things to work–a “break” from each other’s company may provide much-needed perspective, but won’t solve the issues that led them to the break in the first place.
What I would wish for him (a relationship like his dad’s and mine, which I see as full of respect and affection and humor) may or may not be precisely what he has in mind for himself. He might prefer… Well I don’t know what else–but HE needs to know. Or be figuring it out. And (here’s the really tough part) hold out for it. Or at least keep his eyes open for it.
Here’s the challenging balance in all this–sharing my thoughts and observations (about him, about Girlfriend, about their interactions) while maintaining enough nonjudgmental impartiality that he continues to feel comfortable talking. Not all of my opinions have a place in this conversation because it’s not my life we’re talking about. I think he does know that this isn’t the girl I’d pick out for him, if the picking were mine to do. I also think he knows that we’ll continue to welcome her for as long as he chooses to bring her around. I don’t think he knows how much I get my “Mama Bear” up when she treats him inconsiderately–but he doesn’t need me huffing and puffing over his shoulder. This journey, this learning experience, is HIS. And at the end of the day (or the middle of the night) that’s the letting-go lesson that I need to keep in mind. Just as we handed over the car-keys last year and moved to the passenger seat (from which we still offer occasional observations), it’s coming time to turn over the life-keys to him as well. Sure, we get to ride alongside him for a few years yet, but it’s time for him to get confident driving.
With that, the Wicked Stepma is signing off. I need a nap!