Tuesday, July 1, 2008

How My Teenagers Spent Their Summer Vacation

We just returned from a good ol’ fashioned family vacation. Me, my husband, two teenagers, ten days away. It was wonderful, we didn’t get on each other’s nerves (mainly because we were witnesses to a spectacular family meltdown at the Grand Canyon – the kind where we really thought someone might actually be killed, especially as there was a handy giant hole in the ground nearby, just perfect for shoving annoying family members into), and now that we’re home, I’m finding that I’m somewhat of a heroine among my friends.

“How did you do it?” they whisper, notepads out, ready to jot down ideas. “How did you manage to get them to agree to it?”

By them, they mean – the teenagers. My 19 and 17 year-olds. Because it’s a well-documented fact that teenagers wish to spend as little time as possible with their families, isn’t it?

Actually – it isn’t.

Our brilliant method of “getting” our teenagers to agree to a vacation was the assumptive close. As in, “We’re going on vacation in June; here are the dates, mark your calendars.” No discussion, no pleading, no bargaining.

It’s a parenting method that’s always worked well for us, but I see other parents struggle with it. Especially once they get into the teen years.

I have always scratched my head at the parents who excuse bad behavior – even before it’s begun – by saying, “Well, what can we do? They’re teenagers, you know!”

I’ve heard this said as an excuse for broken curfews, dented cars, speeding tickets, drunken parties, cell phone bills in excess of $500, failed grades, ruined holiday plans, obnoxious behavior in general. I’ve heard this said in anticipation of the same, too – parents who nervously prepare themselves to be the recipients of such behavior. Thus, I believe, granting their teenagers permission to behave as giant a$$holes.

I know it’s a scary prospect, parenting teenagers. We all have fresh memories of our own teen years, of course. And we’re a different generation; we want to be friends with our kids, not the myopic authority figures we remember our parents to be.

And some of that is fine. I look back at my teenage years and I realize, now, that my father just did not have a clue as to what a typical teenager was like. He’d had to help support his family from the age of twelve, you see. He never had time to be a teenager himself. But I did, and I remember my frustrations with him, so I do think I’m a little more understanding.

But that doesn’t mean I excuse my children from a responsible, respectful life. It doesn’t mean I grant them permission to ignore all the rules just because “they’re teenagers, you know!”

I think some of this is based in fear – fear of what they’ll do, fear of being the bad parent, fear of losing control. So it’s easier to absolve them – absolve ourselves – of responsibility in advance.

But the truth is, teenagers crave direction and guidance and – gasp! – rules. Every time I hear a teenager grumble, with an eye roll and a toss of the hair, “My mom said I have to be home by midnight,” I also detect a little whisper of relief. Because being home by midnight means less decisions that teenager has to make – decisions that teenager probably doesn’t want to make, even though he doth protest too much.

The young adult years are scary. They’re full of decisions to make, questions to ask, boundaries to test. We’re doing our kids a favor by not giving them free reign over their lives, at least in part, where it matters most – at home.

So instead of asking my teenagers permission to include them in our lives – something too many parents do – we just assume that they will. And because we’ve always assumed this, the funny thing is – they do. With no questions asked, no cell phones thrown in frustration.

And I think it bodes well for our future, as they truly do leave the nest. We assume they’ll come back, and particularly, we assume we’ll always make time for each other in the summer for some kind of vacation. They know this, we know this.

So it is written, so it is done.

And that’s my miraculous way of “getting” my kids to spend their summer vacation with us.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Yay, Mom! We "assume" lots of things, and do as you did, just sort of "announce it." And it does work.

So glad the vacation went well. Now, will we ever hear more about that family meltdown you observed? Sounds like a great topic for another post.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

Oy - that meltdown! And of course it took place at a spot where there were very few American tourists, and lots of Europeans, and the family in question was, naturally, American.

Anyway, it was lots of shouting, lots of running away, lots of arms raised in anger - though no actual beatings, thank goodness! - lots of screaming of "I hate you," "Can't you just let it go," and "Oh, God, why me?" by various family members. At first we thought it was a family pretending to fight, it was so over-the-top. But then we realized this was no pretend fighting. And that there was a handy dandy giant hole in the ground just ten feet away. We honestly thought someone might shove someone else into it.

It was the kind of meltdown that caused my own family to be extraordinarily careful with each other for the next couple of days.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Yeesh, it makes me a little squeamish just reading about it.

Carrie K. said...

Great, great post, Melanie.

Daisy said...

Parenting teens has its own techniques. Compromise on the battle, win the war. don't worry about having the last word, as long as you have the lasting word.

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver said...

Oh, Melanie! Good for you! You are SOOO right about this. It's amazing how many people just pass the buck on the responsibility. I'm always (pleasantly) surprised at how often you do realize that these kids are craving boundaries. They're pushing the limit, sure. It's in their genetic make-up to do so. But they're also looking to you to say "when".

Alvin said...

Wow, it's amazing. I too like to go for family vacation trips.