Tuesday, June 14, 2016

My First Year of (Parenting) High School

My high schooler cleaned out his freshman year binder. Much of what he learned is in this stack of papers. Much of what I learned is in this blog post.

High school can be a memorable part of a person’s life. However, it’s so long ago in my own history, I only have fleeting flashbacks of lockers, exams, and my electric blue prom dress with silver shoes. Until last summer, it took a chance hearing of OMD’s “If You Leave” (or really any song from the Pretty In Pink soundtrack, or Breakfast Club’s, or Ferris Bueller’s) to take me back more vividly. But as I was prepping for my own son’s freshman year in high school it was an odd thing to suddenly recall those years in refreshed detail. It was also mind-boggling to have reached this milestone with my oldest child. Now the year is behind us, and I learned a lot.  

Lesson 1) I’m not in control.
I want to make sure my high schooler is hard-working, serving, organized, balanced, well-adjusted, healthy, popular enough but not too popular, strong, confident, virtuous, kind, humble, astute, aware, and active. The problem is, I can’t force those traits. I had much more input in toddlerhood, for example - but even then, most of it was out of my hands. And high school is very unlike toddlerhood (news flash!) as my child functions more and more independently. As a high school parent, I’ll do well to accept this, and quickly. I’m trying to relax and affirm the kid I have. 

We’ve established some standards over the years, and hopefully they will serve my son and those around him — and I can guide him, carefully — but I can’t dictate anymore. Like I said, I probably never could, but it sure seemed more like it when I spoon-fed his vegetables and held his hand on walks.

Lesson 2) I shouldn’t try to re-live my own high school years.
There might be a very very very tiny part of me buried deep down (or not so deep down) that thought I was going back to high school. I recognized this is by analyzing my feelings and behavior on “freshman back to school night.” I may have done one or more of the following that evening: 

  1. wore my trendy shoes rather than my sensible ones 
  2. flossed
  3. felt shocked when I realized the other parents looked “old”
  4. experienced vivid flashbacks during class presentations
  5. casually told the track coach I thought I could make Varsity

I have to work hard once and for all to accept what I did and didn’t accomplish in high school and move into these high school parenting years with confidence and breeziness so that I can help my kid be confident and breezy. My most valuable mantra: “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME.”

Lesson 3) Friends with high-schoolers are vital.
I can’t overstate how important my friends are. Friends at all stages of life, parents or not, no matter their age, have been a joy and support. But having friends with kids in high school has kept me sane. I’ve benefited from the sharing of resources, ideas, and therapy. Note: by “therapy,” I don’t mean endless criticism of our kids, but rather having someone to talk to about the highs and lows of daily life with a teenager.

Lesson 4) Control the fear. 
With an older child, certain dangers in the world appear magnified. For example, with my son behind the wheel of our car with his driver’s permit, I’m suddenly more aware of all the idiots on the road and the many ways you can die in a motor vehicle. 

It’s necessary to discern which fears to ignore and which to heed. Experience and personality seem to contribute to teen parent fears. For instance: one of my friends allowed her daughter to walk home from school but refused to allow her to ride in a car with a teen driver while my other friend was happy to allow his daughter to ride in teen-driven cars but NO WAY would allow her to walk home from school for fear of sexual predators. 

In addition to reading scripture, self-help books, and seeking professional counseling (all have helped), I have chosen to be brave. I recognize that I’m not in control (see Lesson 1); I pray a lot; and I talk to those friends with high schoolers to get feedback on what is reasonable and what is paranoid anxiety.

Lesson 5) Be there.
When it comes to time with my older kid(s), quantity beats quality. Even car rides and weekend afternoons sitting around on the couch become opportunities for conversation. I’ve had to be willing, as much as possible, to have my kids’ friends over to our house whenever they ask (within reason, this isn’t a hostel) and to be the driver to and from school and social activities. Some of the most revealing, important, and even humorous moments of this year have taken place in our car. Not being face to face removes conversational pressure, and a van full of high schoolers guarantees fascinating topics.

Parenting a high schooler has been educational, and I look forward to many lessons ahead. But I got this! I think I'm doing okay. I may be even more successful as a parent than I was as an actual high school student. And that's saying a lot, because I ROCKED that electric blue prom dress.
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