You know, kids, I wish every mom
and dad would make a speech to their
teenagers and say kids, be free,
be whatever you are, do whatever you
want to do, just so long as you don’t hurt anybody.
“My Conviction,” Soundtrack from Hair
I couldn’t sleep last night–and, for me, that’s saying something. Sleep is one of my favorite hobbies, and I’m quite good at it, if I do say so myself. But for an hour-and-a-half before bed last night I had what amounted to an unsettling conversation with someone who is currently experiencing the challenges associated with parenting teenagers. I will not pretend that 21 years as a classroom teacher has in any way prepared me or anointed me as an expert in this arena–teaching teenagers is vastly different from parenting them. I accede that fact. But this post is not a “how-to” tract by any means. It is a promise I need to make to my sons today and one I will need to pull out ten years from now when we are facing the challenges that can only be brought to the table by an adolescent (times three).
The gist of the conversation I had last night involved the parent expressing deep frustration that the values he and his wife had “inculcated” in their children were suddenly and mysteriously gone–that the children they raised were not the children who currently resided in their home. I expressed understanding; and because this individual was willing to let me play the proverbial devil’s advocate (to his credit) I was also able to challenge him on a number of notions. And while some of the rebellion his children are presenting would not be issues for Don or for me, I understand inherently that Oscar, Edgar, and August will without a doubt be able to mix up their own concoction seasoned just right for THEIR parents.
So, here is my promise here on 19 March 2011–as you are six, five, and twenty-one months old today: Your father and I love you unconditionally. There is not a single manifestation of teenage rebellion that you can present that will alter our love for you. We will continue to raise you to be critical assessors of the world you live in, to feel pride in your original thought, to stand up with dignity for your convictions–to be the fullest expression of yourselves. We ask not that you mirror our lives but to forge your own while maintaining the highest standards for yourself–physically, emotionally, and however you define spiritually. If we believe you are in danger of hurting yourself or others, we will tell you; other than that, live your lives, find your joy, and love and be yourselves. We are here and are eager to watch you decide how you will grow.
Oh, and one more thing . . . please remind your parents of this note in about seven or eight years. Something tells me we may need a refresher . . .