A conversation I had when I was nineteen is to this day one of conversations that left a significant impression on me. It was with a friend from school who I hadn’t seen for about a year. We happened to bump into each other at a night club, grabbed the nearest, quietest table, and sat down to have a good old catch up!
As the conversation progressed, we covered all bases – what have you been up to? What are you studying? Do you have a job? How is the love life? How is the sex life?
WHAT? WAIT! Sex life?
I somewhat embarrassedly admitted that I had nothing to contribute on that point. She was horrified. 19 and still a virgin!? Seriously?? She laughed and laughed and teased me while I shyly shrunk in my chair, but then she went very quiet and said “Wow. You know what, I am actually so jealous Nat. I had sex for the first time when I was 14. I have been everywhere, tried everything. I am 18 and I have nothing left to look forward to. You still have your whole life ahead of you. For me, life is boring.”
I was horrified! Here I was, on the cusp of life, my wings finally spreading, with so very much to look forward to and loving life, and she was bored.
It made me so sad. But it also made such an impact on me that I realised I was never going to allow my kids to feel that way. I would make sure they had loads to look forward to when they got out of school. In that instant, I was so very grateful to my parents for being strict. I was never allowed anything just because my friends had it or were doing it. It drove me stark raving mad at times, and I really did get furious with them, as corroborated by my teenage diary entries, but I did have a long childhood. I didn’t grow up too quickly. At the time, of course, “They just didn’t understand!” and they were “so old fashioned!” and it was all just “sooooo unfair!” But then, in that one moment, with the greatest clarity, I was suddenly one very grateful girl.
Fast forward a few years, and now I am a mom of three. And one of those three is currently a very sullen looking teenager who is mad at me too. He doesn’t keep a diary, of course, but I have no doubt some mean mom meme has made its way onto a Snapchat stream compliments of me. He wants to take alcohol, “nothing too alcoholic mom! It’s like juice,” to a party this weekend. He is 17 (going on 22, Heaven help me!), but our rule is no drinking before 18, you know, like the law. How conservative of us! And so my answer is no.
Fear not, fellow parents, I am not naïve enough to know that it isn’t going to happen just because I said no, so our slightly adapted condition is if you do drink, no spirits, do not mix, and always tell us – honesty first, always. Also, we will always pick you up from parties where alcohol may be available and absolutely no sleep overs if there is drinking. Know that we don’t condone it, so no, we will not buy a bottle of Cosmic Candy or brutal fruit to take with, but we are not foolish enough to think that he will be a stand-up saint in the face of his friends.
Drinking and experimenting, that will probably happen. Taking it – that is a firm no.
The scowl is impressive, and the length of time it is being held, inspiring.
Does he not know that saying yes would be a hell of a lot easier?? No is exhausting. I want to say yes. I want to be a cool mom, like my 19-year-old friend’s mom was. She was always taking everyone to clubs, and she would always cover for anyone whose parent didn’t know where they were. I want to be the fun mom, that hangs out with the kids, like my friend’s mom was. I want to say yes to everything they want.
But I want them to enjoy their childhood. And more than that, I want what lies ahead to be exciting. I do not want my kids to feel bored at nineteen. Adulthood should hold some anticipation.
Some of my particularly mean rules as they have grown up included no screens during the week, no more than one sleepover a weekend, no cell phone until they turned 13, no Coke until they were 13 either – and even then, not at night. No vapes/ smoking. Restricted online settings. No secret passwords on their phones. Etc. etc. etc.
They are apparently not allowed so many things that ALL their friends are allowed. *eye roll eye roll*
But you know what, I am ok with that. They are my responsibility – their friends aren’t.
It sucks to say no. It really does. Especially in front of their friends. Or in front of their friends’ permissive parents. But one day, they will have so very much to look forward to. One day they will be allowed to play R rated games. They will drink Coke, probably with vodka, and they will be able to take a beer or two to a party.
And more importantly, one day they will be thankful that I was THAT mother.
Am I afraid that they will they go off the rails when they are allowed to do things, possibly, but didn’t we all in some way? Isn’t that what freedom and finding out who you are is all about? Hell, some adults are still trying to figure that out. But ultimately (and research proves this), they will come back to the value system you have instilled in them, and they will learn their lessons, sometimes the hard way, but they will learn them when they are ready to. Not at fourteen. Or before they should. And once they have learnt those lessons, they will make their own choices and become adults with their own minds, ideas, and values. But if you watch closely, those values you instilled, your values, will be there somewhere.
So parents, be the ambassadors of their childhood. Don’t bow to peer pressure just because other parents are allowing them to do certain things. You are their guides. You are their guardians. And you are responsible for being the parent and ensuring they have a proper childhood.
Sometimes it really does suck to say no, but if you can look down the road a little, and remember my bored nineteen-year-old friend, it will be so very worth it. I promise