This is by far going to be the hardest blog entry I’ve ever written, mostly because it feels vulnerable in ways I can’t describe. But I also know that when something begging to be put into words has the rumblings of shame, and makes me feel completely exposed, I am likely voicing exactly what I should be. It is that gut wrenching sensation of allowing people into my private world and life, a sacred space, my heart sitting in my throat, that tells me I am writing what needs to be said.
My life as a parent has been a shitshow as of late, and I’ve been feeling like a pretty epic failure where my teenagers are concerned. I have to say out loud that parenting can be the most thankless, bullshit undertaking when it is bad. It can suck in the most draining and awful ways. There are days that I absolutely hate being responsible for the lives of others, but I am slowly learning to be okay with that feeling of discontent, even though society seems to project a never-ending image of parenting associated with fulfillment, which just isn’t true. Some days, sure, there is a lot of joy, and what can seem like an endless bounty of love. But a lot of time is spent reminding people not to be assholes, and that can slurp the life force out of anyone in five seconds flat.
I can’t really pinpoint where it began, but I know the basic elements that have created a backward slide, where my older children and I have been at odds now for weeks: divorce, issues of abandonment, and a healthy dose of illegal substances mixed in for good measure. It’s like living the nightmare you fret about and fear as a parent: what if one day my kids lose themselves so completely that I can no longer effectively support them, and I must let them tough it out alone?
For me, that day came last weekend, after a banner week where my son was suspended for sexual harassment, my kids decided to start ditching school, and they just decided that they didn’t need or want boundaries or rules at home. This was on the heels of them already being grounded from the previous weekend for just not coming home when expected, nor communicating where they were at the time. It has caused me an enormous amount of anxiety stress, and misery, and while I understand that this is an age when children push for freedom as they face a segue into adulthood, it is a very different thing when you know your kids are into things that could have legal consequences while they suffer from the disease of, ‘it will never happen to me’.
Everything came to a climax when my kids just decided not to come home last Friday, and didn’t communicate all day Saturday until they came home and realized they were locked out, when I was at a formal event with a friend. They contacted an adult friend of mine who picked them up and got in touch with me, but I told him they needed to figure it out on their own, as I had been asking them to find their keys for over a week now. He was insistent that I do something, and I finally agreed they could come pick up my key, if he would bring it back. I understand he was frustrated and wanted to help, but after he brought them and left, then texted me that he left my key at the house with them, I was furious. It wasn’t up to him to decide how I parent my children, or what consequences they should or shouldn’t have to deal with, and I felt wholly unsupported in that moment. I really felt they should have dealt with the consequences on their own in that situation, and they learned nothing.
Feeling anxious and pissed, I had to bow out of the event and venture home. Once there, I unleashed and told my kids that I was finished with providing logistical and emotional support, because they were consistently taking advantage of me, and I was done. This meant they would be provided shelter, food and other basic needs, but I would not be showing up for them in anywhere near the same capacity they were used to. They presented their typical arguments of how they had done nothing wrong, and how other parents would be okay with their shitty behavior (I don’t know who those parents are, but I feel like we need to meet and hash some shit out, because this is NOT OKAY). They also consistently blame me for their poor communication because I have confiscated my son’s phone and turned off service for both of them as they haven’t been following my rules, and I am the one footing the bill. Yet it’s amazing how when phones are working, but if the battery dies, they find a friend’s phone to use and get in touch. I don’t buy into selective communication. I was just over the endless parade of excuses, so I left to cool off. I decided that evening that I would draw up a contract regarding the behavior I expected, and they would be required to sign it if they wanted to stay under my roof, which felt extreme, but necessary.
The next day, my younger son came across his older brother’s paraphernalia in his room, and it was the straw that truly broke my back. I had found out my kids had been into substances months ago, when they willingly told me in a lighthearted conversation, which they now say they regret, because I was, and still am, disappointed. As dancers, their bodies are a vessel for their work, and to me, vaping and smoking pot only serve to desecrate their own personal temples. I also have been incredibly transparent about whatever substances I have tried in the past, in the hopes that they would be smarter than me and not waste their time with such nonsense. However, I also didn’t get into such things until I was a legal adult, and the concept of responsibility has been one that they are not grasping well. Over the past month, I had been steadily finding paraphernalia in all forms left throughout my house, and we had continuous arguments about my insistence that they stop using in my house, and that their friends were no longer welcome, as my kids were allowing them to do whatever they wanted in my home when I wasn’t there. My favorite arguments are the ones when they tried to convince me to return said items to their friends, because, ‘they cost money and were expensive’. If it wasn’t so surreal, it would almost be funny that they even have the gall to suggest such ridiculousness. At the end of the day, though, with two younger children under our roof, tolerating such behavior is completely out of the question, because they deserve to feel safe in our home too.
By midweek, things were incredibly toxic between us, and I sat in a meeting with my daughter, her counselor and her guidance counselor, watching my daughter stare at me with empty disdain. The basic gist from her was that she saw nothing in her behavior that was negative, since it is ‘harmless’ and that she planned to continue to use. She told me that she initially began smoking to self-medicate due to feeling abandoned by her stepfather, but now it was just something she was choosing to do for fun, despite taking an anti-depressant where she had been warned by her psychiatrist that it is was akin to double dosing and could have intense side effects. There was a moment when my daughter asked me point blank if I thought she was an addict, and despite wanting to scream out “YES”, I sat mumbling, “I don’t know”. After she stormed out for a second time, one of the counselors asked me why I didn’t tell her how I truly felt, and I responded that I was nervous she would leave and be angry, to which she replied that I should let her do exactly that. They also encouraged me to do what I need to do as a parent, period. Internally, hearing that, something inside me broke and unwound, and it infused me with a sense of sorely needed strength. It was validating to hear someone say that I could, and should, stand my ground.
Prior to the meeting, I wrote up the contract that they would be required to sign to continue living with me: a basic outline of having a curfew, expectations for communication, rules regarding guests, a list of chores they would be responsible for, etc. Aside from instituting a formal curfew, there was nothing in the contract that I already hadn’t been asking them to live by for months. My daughter initially refused, then seemed open, with some prodding, to negotiating the curfew and a couple of other points. I felt like maybe common ground could be found.
Then, I discovered my son didn’t show up for school for the third time in the past week, and when I went home, he was sitting in bed, blaming me for him not having an alarm because I took his phone. He refused to get dressed so I could take him to school. So, on advice from one of the school administrators, I called the police after I left to do a wellness check, just so he would understand that I was THAT serious. The result was that he and his sister decided to skip their afternoon dance classes to get popsicles since he was upset, which my daughter mockingly told me she would do again in a heartbeat. So, it wasn’t a great surprise when they told me that evening they had decided that they didn’t want to sign the contract, and would be moving out to live with friends, after insisting that I was crazy and that they no longer wanted to deal with me.
It hit me in the heart, their coldness and determination to run away from me. But I know for myself, after exiting a marriage where I felt emotionally unsafe for years, that my tolerance for being taking advantage of, and used, is zero. I also know that much of what may be coming from their mouths may not be themselves talking in their truest form, and recognizing that my kids are lost right now has given me the courage to determine that this is what is best for all of us.
When I became pregnant with the them, it wasn’t planned. Although I had plotted having six kids when I was a young girl (3 boys and 3 girls), by the time I was in my mid-twenties, I just wasn’t feeling the call to motherhood. I had been told that I would likely have difficulty with fertility due to the shape of my uterus, and was prepared to be childless. And then I became a mother, and was thrown into the thick of the most chaotic and challenging existence I’ve ever known.
I almost died giving birth to them, my blood pressure dropped precipitously during surgery, and I blacked out after I saw them carried from my body. I woke up in the elevator in the worst pain of my life, and I all I could think about was if they were okay. They were in the small NICU, and I was told I couldn’t hold them for five days. It was excruciating, that separation, and I remember being so taken with how these small creatures that I never met suddenly ruled my existence and heart. They also saved my life, when I was battling severe postpartum depression, and the only thing that kept me jumping off our balcony one night was the sound of my daughter crying out for me as I was swinging my leg over the banister. I have loved them fiercely for both surviving, and saving me at a moment in time when no one else could.
As frustrated and sad as I am with their behavior, the care and concern doesn’t ever dissipate. My younger kids, who are struggling with understanding all that has transpired, asked me if I still loved them. We had a long conversation about how you can love someone endlessly but not agree with their choices and behavior. As a good friend, who has been a rock for me during this entire whirlwind, told me: it’s your job to love your kids, but you don’t have to like them. I also found myself initially uncomfortable with the fact that in their absence, I am feeling a profound sense of comfort, and (do I dare say it out loud) peace. It doesn’t feel right to not want your kids around, but when it feels like an endless war zone of stress and anger, it’s not doing anyone any favors to be in each other’s company. No one deserves to live like they are under siege constantly.
I think it would be life changing if we could all be more vulnerable as parents, and drop the façade of ‘perfect’ parenting. Let’s acknowledge that parenting can be miserable, lonely, and exhausting. It is not for the faint of heart, and many of us, if we are being real, had no idea what the hell we were getting into when we rose to meet that pathway. More than anything, if you can do one thing to help another parent out today, don’t fucking judge them. No one raising people to become independent adults deserves that kind of scrutiny, because I promise you that what they are enduring is so mind-blowingly difficult and painful at times that it feels like you are eating your own heart over and over and over again. And it is horrifically bitter and raw.
I see and hear my kids crying out now via their actions and choices, and I feel that they are both in terrific emotional pain. I want to be there for them, but they have made it clear that I am not welcome in that space, and I must be okay with them, as near adults, figuring out how to navigate some of this on their own, no matter how much I would prefer they lean on me for support. They aren’t mere children anymore, and eventually they will be 100% responsible for the consequences of their actions, as much as it may pain me to watch them suffer. I, alone, can’t magically erase their suffering, as they, too, must put in the work and make choices that will allow for healing. As we can’t see eye to eye on behavior that I feel is detrimental to their goals and health, and the well-being of their siblings, then I will have to be satisfied with allowing them to figure it out, which has been one of the most difficult decisions of my life. It is my hope that they know how much I love them, and that letting them go their own way, eventually, will help them find their way back home.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...