In the course of any given day, I know I make hundreds and hundreds of parenting choices. Some are mistakes. The majority are adequate. And a few rare ones are golden. Most of my parenting choices, however, seem to matter very little if measured in days. The accumulated effect of all those daily choices is what makes a baby into a kid and a kid into an adult.
People seem to be chocked full of parenting advice for babies and young children, but by the time they get to be teens, many families I know are running for the nearest counselor. My 14 year old daughter Ella has school-mates and friends who are contending with depression, angry outbursts towards parents and teachers, running away, and even inflicting physical harm on themselves by cutting. Many suffer from eating disorders. She looks around her school at her peers and is often confused by these behaviors and attitudes. She will ask her friends “Why don’t you talk to your mom about it?” to which her friends will reply “I can’t talk to her about anything. She hates me.”
My heart aches to hear about the loneliness that these children endure and how disconnected they feel from their parents. I pull all three of my girls close to me and reassure them that no mother hates her daughters and that I am blessed to have the relationship with them that I do. I know it did not happen by chance, though; the small, everyday choices that I have made for years have created these trusting, open, honest relationships with these beautiful, confident, joyful people. As their mother, of course I can observe their triumphs and failings and see the path that got us to here…but when a parent who I admire can see the light in my child as well…well, that is a special gift.
Recently, Ella has been the recipient of more than a few compliments. Several of her teachers have commented on how she fits in everywhere, is friends with everyone, and is kind and generous to every person she comes into contact with. She wins science fairs, starts drama clubs, authors petitions, speaks out against unfairness, protects the environment, stands up for those less fortunate…and does it all while rocking her bright pink punk hair-do. One teacher offered a trade—she will take Ella home with her to enjoy her company, and I can take a troubled child and turn her around with the love at my house. But the compliment that meant the most to me came from fellow AP momma, Courtney, after our monthly discussion group:
By the way, Justine, I had a wonderful time at the parenting group yesterday. Thanks for hosting. I wanted to let you know also how amazed I was with the wholesome, loving, considerate nature of your family. What a team! You are sooooo blessed, and I know that it takes a lot of work to raise and create that kind of a family–so good job to you! Having taught middle school aged kids for several years, I must say that Ella is such a gem! A huge helper too! (You could totally rent her out, and I would be the first to take you up on the offer….) Really, she has such a sweet, genuine, compassionate spirit. She is also so uniquely her own….It takes years for a person to develop such traits, and she’s already mastered them! I had some rough years during that time getting along with my mother, and I see you two together and it just makes me bubble over with new enthusiasm for the possibility of such love between adolescent child and parent..I appreciate the example. Any advice you ever want to send my way will always be graciously accepted. So, I am impressed and thankful to you for being such a shining light on the ideas of family. You have been called to serve women and families (and the world) and I hope you know you are doing such a fantastic job.
Thank you, Courtney, for that lovely validation of AP. It’s nice to see that it does pay off in the form of well adjusted, delightful human beings! I can’t wait for your little one to show you how the respectful and loving relationship you have with him now will allow him to reach his fullest potential, too.