If you’re a parent of a teenager, reassure yourself that this is the hardest thing you will ever do. At the moment, this is the most positivity I can offer. Be prepared, like a good scout, because people without children, and parents with younger children, will be very quick to judge you (just as you were very quick to label and blame those parents of teens for their children’s lousy behaviours when you weren’t even a parent yet).
Parents of adult children will look at you with a knowing smile tinged with sympathy, and give you the “It’s a difficult time, but they are so worth it in the end” line. This can make you feel much worse than you realize because when you’re in the teenage trenches, thinking that your child is worth it is the furthest thing from your mind! You are torn between sending them to boarding school or locking them in their rooms until they turn 25! So when someone cheerily points out that “Children are worth it!” , you feel guilt ON TOP of feeling like a crummy parent. THEN they finish you off with “But I’m so glad it’s you and not me!!” and run in the opposite direction to their post-teenager lives. Crushing, I tell you.
Last summer, I thought I’d tackle the difficulties I felt at parenting a teen by making a scrapbook of my kids with pictures from birth until they were about 3 or 4 years old. I wanted to remind myself that my little girl was at one time a sweet, funny and very imaginative child who loved her mother, and that one day she will be that way again. The scrapbook turned out real nice, the kids thought it was great, and I take it out every now and again to travel back to a happy time. But the scrapbook wasn’t enough. Summer came, Fall took over, and parental despair set in with Winter’s cold breath.
Mr. C. gave me a digital photoframe for Christmas; once I figured out how to use it, I loaded it up with over 400 pictures that I had on my laptop. These were pictures from the time I separated almost seven years ago up until now. I put the frame on my desk at work, because I spend so much of my day there, and it’s like watching a movie of our lives. Having the pictures come up randomly is even better, because I can see how much my kids have grown, and how happy we were even in those harder years of adapting to the separation.
There’s a calming effect seeing pictures of my daughter at seven juxtaposed with her when she was twelve, and it gives me hope and reasssurance that it’s going to be ok. We’ll weather the stormy seas of Ocean Adolescence and we’ll dock someday on Grown-Up Island. Those pictures are proof to me that she is a funny girl, making faces for the camera, posing with a museum stuffed skunk & holding her nose; she is a thoughtful girl, reading a book, caring for her hamster; she is an imaginative child, setting up make-believe restaurants in the dining room nook & serving up real meals; she’s a loving person as she hugs me during a walk in the park at Thanksgiving. There she is, laughing and smiling with her brother on his birthday. Here she goes, walking around Ottawa with Mr. C. on one of our first trips as a new family.
It’s a real struggle to stay balanced and focused on parenting your child once they morph into a Gremlin. My tendency is that I take on all of the bad and blame myself. Which is not balanced. It’s a sick guilt-twist where I’m making it all about me as a parent, taking the focus off of my daughter, her behaviour, and discerning what she really needs. Being a good parent demands that you step up to the plate and make those very hard decisions that will make Cruella deVille seem sweet and wonderful by comparison. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I see how my loving persistence pays off, other times I’m just too darn tired to fight and I let this-that-and-the-other-thing slide without doing anything about it. I now stand in solidarity with other parents of teens, and I am no longer trigger-happy and pointing the judgment gun at them (parenting is really the most humbling human experience). Because it’s really not about me.
It’s about how I see my child. What G needs from me during these awful, awkward teenage years are my eyes on her. I mean this literally and figuratively. When she has these spaz moments and I think there must be an alien who’s inhabiting her body, I take a deep breath, go to work, turn on my photoframe, and I wait. My workday unfolds amid the slideshow of my family, who mean the most to me than anything else I can think of. Pictures scroll by…. I remember that Fall picnic at the lake, or that first-day-of-school outfit with the fluffy white angora bunny on the sweater, that Christmas party at daycare when she was three, or our first SuperBowl party she put together in honour of Mr. C. I shine on all the emotions attached to those images. My digital frame state of mind lets me reach into my heart and find the compassion to comfort her when she’ll need me to. I forgive her the angry words that she spit out in a fit of rage, and I figure out a way to bring it up later in a way that she’ll know I’ve forgiven her and that I love her despite all that.
Because when I feel that my child is a brat, it’s hard to see my child. I only see my self, my hurt feelings, my repressed anger, my failures, my self-pity. Putting myself in a digital frame state of mind during the workday gives me the reflective time I need to respond to her in ways that she needs me to when the workday is over. The pictures act on my subconscious; they bring the outside into my soul and work their magic on my heart, so that I reflect back to her what I’ve seen throughout the day. Which is not my anger or my hurt. What I’ve seen in my digital frame state of mind is my child’s essence and what she needs from me.
The day will come too soon where she will need me less.
The Digital Frame State of Mind: no chemical dependency, and cheaper than the Guilt Trip Special.