Bad parenting . . . no one said it would be easy

              Young Mother Sewing , Mary Cassatt, 1900

            Young Mother Sewing, Mary Cassatt, 1900

Over the break we had a bit of a . . . um . . . situation. More of a 'moment.' A moment wherein I found myself flustered, and frustrated, and honestly with no idea of my correct parenting move. At the time I thought a polling of Nest & Launch readers might help me out of my predicament, but, sadly, parenting choices rarely wait long enough for proper discussion, polling, and consensus gathering.

Here's the low down. And, by the way, this is a real-life, actually-happened scenario. Names have not been changed to protect the 'innocent' (and by innocent, I mean me):

Our family had a planned activity scheduled for a Friday night. Yes, it was a church activity. But our whole family was going (even Madison, who was home from college). And it had been planned some time in advance. Did you get that? It was planned. In advance.

Two or three days before the activity Becca received an invitation from a good friend to a birthday celebration. I don't know why I was initially flummoxed. As I type this I see I should have been very matter-of-fact: "Sorry babe, we have family plans." But I wasn't. I was sort of wishy-washy. I encouraged Becca to see if her friend could change the date. I hemmed and hawed. And as a result, Friday morning rolled around and I still hadn't "handled" the situation. In passing I mentioned the conflict to Sterling, who off-handedly said Becca should make her own decision, and then he headed out the door for work.

Oh, yeah. She's 16. She should make her own decision. And that made my part easy. I wouldn't have to disappoint my baby girl. I wouldn't have to lay down the hammer, so to speak. So I told Becca she could decide.

Becca is a wiser-than-average teenager. When I offered her the choose-your-own-adventure option she replied, "Well, that means I really don't have a choice."

And me? Being the open and progressive parent that I often fancy myself? I explained, "Of course you do. You can choose. But you'll also have to live with the consequences. Maybe those consequences are that I'll be very disappointed. I guess you'd have to be prepared to deal with that."

So. She contemplated her choice for approximately three minutes and then announced, "Okay. I've decided. I'm going to the party."


And even though I thought I wanted her to make her own choice, I suddenly realized that I didn't.

So I did what any red-blooded, teen-ravaged parent would do. I applied guilt. I laid it on really nice and thick.

Nope. She still chose the party.

So I thought some more . . . until I worked myself into a near frenzy wherein I announced (in the heat of passion) that she had somehow NOT made her choice in an adult manner (I can't remember my exact reasoning now -- but it was ridiculous). And then I said something along the lines of, "WHEN YOU ARE 18 AND LIVING ON YOUR OWN YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN CHOICES, BUT FOR RIGHT NOW I'M GOING TO HELP YOU MAKE THE RIGHT ONES."

And then Becca, feeling the injustice of the entire planet fall upon her head, retreated to her room in tears.

I stood there on the cold kitchen tile, alone, surveying the bacon grease hardening in the skillet, and reflected back over my EXTREMELY POOR PARENTING DECISIONS. What I'd wanted was an easy-way out, and instead, I'd backed myself into a very tiny, poorly-lit, cobweb-filled, stinky-cheese-smelling CORNER.

Has this ever happened to you? Please. Someone. Commiserate with me for heaven's sake.

So, I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I ATE CHOCOLATE.

Just kidding. What I really did was apologize. I told Becca that I was so, so sorry. That I had made a terrible parenting decision and then tried to fix that by making her the bad guy. I told her that I had not clearly thought through the "make your own choice" series of events, that I was not prepared to let her make that choice, and that I was, again, very sorry I'd put her in that position. I then explained that despite having already parented two teen girls, I was really a neophyte, who needed lots of help, love, and carbs. I told her that my philosophy is to keep pointing her in the right direction, guiding her choices, and that I would (eventually) step back and cheer her on in whatever she chose. And then I said lots of other hopefully funny and comforting things to let her know that I would only make a complete fool of myself over someone I loved utterly and completely.

And you know what? She gracefully accepted my apology, wiped her eyes, and cheerfully went on with her day. We arranged for her to join the party after our family activity and peace was restored to the kingdom.

And that, my friends, is a cautionary tale. Don't hand out free agency unless you can BACK IT UP. Also, don't be a wimp.