During March Break, most parents worry about the mischief their unsupervised teenaged children will get into.
Maybe they should be more concerned about the reverse: Maybe more dreaded than teens being home alone, what about those times when you would normally be home when they are in school, but now they're home, too?
“I come into the TV room to sit in the lounger chair to watch CNN, like I always do, and there's Clayton in my chair playing video games.”
It's the hidden hazard of March Break: Your teen is around more. Constantly underfoot. His messiness and carelessness and inconsiderateness right in your face. Whether you work or not, whether you've taken the week off or you're coming home to an even larger disaster zone than usual, the day-to-day irritants of having them around are more present because they are more present.
“I go back into the kitchen to eat the tuna salad sandwich that I just made for myself and it's gone. Elena, did you eat my tuna sandwich?”
“Yeah. What's the problem? I thought you wouldn't mind. It was just sitting there.”
It's the headache of living with a teenager, only amplified.
“I asked Cynthia to turn off the light when she left the family room, but she didn't, so I had to do it. And then she comes back into the room to get her can of soda, turns the light on, gets her soda, leaves the room and leaves the light on all over again.”
They have so many flaws, so many negative aspects to their personalities – all of which drive you nuts – very much on display. How do you make it through the week?
Fortunately, there are certain facts that can help supply some useful psychological distance from them – whether during March Break or over the course of their adolescence.
One consoling and absolutely true fact: Adolescence ends. And your teen really will change. She'll be nicer to you. She'll act in a far more mature manner. It is a phenomenon that parents often describe as akin to a miracle. And not only will she change, but she already possesses many of those good traits. You just don't get to see them often.
“What a polite, considerate girl your Cynthia is.”
Reminding yourself of the above is a big deal because it means that when they are acting like immature jerks, you don't have to react to every jerky thing that they do as a mandatory teaching moment.
It is not your responsibility as a good citizen and good parent to correct all character flaws as they are displayed by your teenager so many times over the course of a given day. Every impossible obnoxiousness does not require something of you. It just feels that way.
If you do need to say something – if you do choose to intervene – you definitely want to make it as swift as possible. Fast in, fast out. Short. Simple. And end.
Hence, after Cynthia has again not turned off the light when leaving the family room, all that is required is: “Cynthia.”
“I need you to remember to turn out the lights when you leave a room. The money that we waste on electricity adds up.”
“It does not add up, Mom. You fuss too much about money.”
But Cynthia's mother has said all that she needs to say. The extra back and forth between parent and teenager where we are trying to get through to them so rarely has any positive usefulness.
The other option is simply moving on. Don't make that comment you're dying to make.
For March Break, you could give yourself a break. Make this pledge: “At least for this week I don't have to work on changing their abominable character traits.”
It makes having them around so much easier. And don't forget, soon they will be back in school. You hope.
Monday morning: “Why aren't you at school?”
“It was so cool being at home with you, I decided to drop out of school so I can be here all the time. Can you fix me an omelette?”
Anthony E. Wolf is a clinical psychologist and the author of six parenting books, including Get out of my life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager.
Source: Toronto Globe and Mail