Sunday, November 21, 2010


"Night Light" by Lorenz Odom

Raising teenagers is such a hard thing. They want to be out with their friends at all hours, they're always sure everyone else is having the time of their lives and they're missing out, and they are deeply capable of shutting down their spidey sense when a situation turns dicey. They assume they are invulnerable, they will find their way, and thank God, mostly they do. But my heart can barely take it. I worry. What's new?

Last night, my daughter wanted to go to a party with her friends, including one who I think of as particularly level headed. When she and my daughter are together I believe they watch out for one another, make sure nothing goes so far they can't bring it back. Well, the details were kind of sketchy last night, a Beacon party at somebody's house, a fundraiser for a summer service trip, they didn't know whose house exactly but they rattled off the litany of their friends who would be there. I know and love all these kids, but I don't for a minute think the presence of many good friends at a party means the situation won't be dicey. I kind of wanted to say no (my daughter says I always want to say no, and that might be so), but I didn't. I trusted her to use her judgement, to call us if things began to unfold in unsafe ways.

Well, the party was wall-to-wall people, it got busted up by cops, they had to run out of there, but she didn't call us. At around 11 p.m. I sent her a text asking how things were there. No answer. I called her phone. No answer. I called her friend's mom to ask if she'd heard from her daughter and that's when I found out they weren't at the party anymore. I started calling my daughter's phone insistently and eventually she called me back. Their friend who just got his driver's license had come to get them and they were just riding around in the car, being together, having fun. I didn't like how aimless that sounded but I was willing to go with it provided I liked the answer to my other question. Who's in the car? She named them. Nice kids, but there were seven of them. In an SUV that holds five. That's when I said come home now. She argued and argued. Her dad and I didn't budge. She came home with her face screwed into an expression of holy pissed off-ness. No doubt her friend was angry, too, but she was her usual lovely self and scrupulously polite about the whole thing. Her mom picked her up soon after.

I knew I should wait before trying to talk to my daughter, but I was mightily pissed off, too. And frustrated at the degree to which she has no idea of all the ways things could have gone so wrong in every part of the evening.

But she was fine. Her friend who was driving even came upstairs to our apartment when he dropped the girls home so he could tell us good night and possibly mitigate things. He's a great kid and I thanked him for going to get the girls and refrained from lecturing him about having seven teenagers in the car. With my daughter and her friend now back in my home, his car would once again have a legal number of passengers. Our gift to him.

My daughter did the "You never let me" script which made me furious, given that all I ever do is let her. More than I really want to and more than I sometimes should if you want to know the truth. I let her and I trust her, and usually her judgment is impeccable (as far as I can tell). But when she doesn't show good judgment, when she puts herself in harm's way, as she did by running out of the party last night and then not calling us, instead waiting around on a late night street corner in an unfamiliar neighborhood for her friend to pick her up so she could pile into a car already full of shrieking teenagers, and then she comes home all pissy instead of strategically apologetic, then I have to reevaluate things.

It is such a crapshoot, getting our children through the teen years in one relatively whole piece. I recently read an essay by a mother who decided when her teenager was a fractious 14-year-old to just take her hand off the wheel, to surrender and make peace with all the dire possibilities, rape, drugs, kidnapping, heartbreak, disease, death—all of it. She let go and she gave in and she prayed and prayed, and her daughter made it to eighteen and into college, a little bruised but alive, and now they have begun to mend their relationship.

Is that really what this adolescent passage requires? Because while I don't judge that mother, while her approach sounds to me at this moment like the promise of relief, like powerful faith even, I don't know if I am capable of doing what she did. I think my heart might seize and stop long before we made it through to the other side. I worry so.


  1. Raising teens is the hardest, hardest thing ever. I am SO grateful I got my four through those years. Some were easier than others. Not to say that any of them got through it without any fear or worry or panic on my part.
    I don't know what the answer is- it's always such a fine line between trust and knowing what CAN happen. And they push the envelope constantly. They have no idea what they put us through but someday, they will. And then they will go through it on the other side and they will understand why we acted the way we did.
    Oh honey. I know.

  2. I LOVED reading this. I am hungry for essays stories and recountings on raising teens, and there are so few in the blog world. I can't imagine a scenerio where I would 'take my hand off the wheel' with a fourteen year old. My Ian is 14. If we had done that with Dakota- now 16- I think he'd be living somewhere else, or in jail, dropped out of school or SOMETHING, instead of doing so good, as he is now.

  3. It seems difficult at every step along this journey. There are som many moments (hurdles) to overcome. There is a loving parent of one of my kindergartners who expressed how hard it is to let her daughter out into the big world of school. And, like your daughter, this child is surrounded by good, caring people. But it is the 'other' people and frightful possibilities that bring angst. It is incredibly difficult to let them go - I think I would struggle with this as well - but from my perspective as an educator I also see that the children who have clear boundaries and limits are the ones who thrive. Those without beg for it. It manifests in their outbursts and even in their words, if you listen. Keep on doing what you are doing. One day your beautiful daughter will thank you.

  4. oh, I so so hear you.
    Just keep on .

    There is no easy answer . I wish there was. We have had many hours of this teen life.

    Grace and patience and new every morning. And red wine and tylenol and laughter .

  5. it is sooooo hard and it takes an enormous amount of faith, hope and charity - not to mention patience to get through it!

    but it's good to hang tight and do what you do - set limits and be involved and show concern. they might be pissing now, but later they will be soooo grateful!


  6. Ms. Moon, in solidarity, thank you. I know you know, and that helps.

    Maggie May, I am as hungry as you are. You're right. There is very little out there that tells the truth about raising teens. it's a roller coaster, that's for sure.

    Gary, it is so frustrating being a teenager. Parents just don't understand. I remember my mother saying to me when I was my daughter's age, "May you live long enough to understand." Well I have. And I do. I wish the same for my girl. Thanks for the thoughtful and encouraging words. Yes, every step of the journey is hard, but the joys walk the path too. There is some grace in that. Thanks for being here.

  7. Oy, I actually remember this night and you totally did the right thing. I don't know how my parents survived me and I don't know how you and Raddy (and Isabella) do this every day. And as an older sister I am much more of a narc than you guys....I wouldn't let them do half the things you guys do so you should consider yourselves kind and reasonable parents :-)