Your teenage years are a time for figuring out what you believe in and who you are. It’s a time to rebel against authority and ask a lot of questions. Later, in your twenties, you learn how to pay bills, manage the workplace, follow a spiritual path, and try to set boundaries with your family, friends, and lovers. Naturally, we also bump up against our own limitations and do things that are silly, careless, and downright dangerous. At least I did. That is, before I had to grow up and fast.
I was 15 when I got pregnant, so I was both the responsible parent and the rebellious child depending on the moment. First I would read Winnie-the-Pooh to my son at bedtime to tuck him in. Then I’d stay up all night trying to finish a term paper I should have finished sooner if I hadn’t been having so much fun still being young. I lived on a wing and a prayer (and learned how to rob Peter to pay Paul), all while making sure my son got his homework done, washed behind his ears, and was polite to strangers.
I think all of us can remember struggling with how to get it all done as first-time mothers. And yet I was still a child myself while trying to do so. I imagine many of you were, too. I did my best, but I made some doozies. Some that I now cringe at, others that I can easily laugh off. I have, on occasion, bounced that check, had a drink too many, or not met an obligation that I had promised to meet. And my son got to see the consequences of it all.
Please understand that I was serious about being the best mom I could be. You’ve probably never met a 16-year-old who had read as many child-rearing books. But I was still learning how to be an adult myself. We hope that by the time we’re parents we will be beyond that stage and have already learned from our mistakes. But my son got to see some serious stumbles.
Part of how I dealt was by being transparent. “Nope, mom’s not perfect. I’m learning, too, and I’m at a time in my life where it’s normal to try and figure things out. Please bear with me, m’ijo, since I have a long way to go.” It was a conversation that repeated itself more than once in our household. As I owned up to my foibles I urged him not to make the same ones I did.
While I was consumed with growing pains of my own, I had to figure what I wanted to convey to my child in real time. Since we all know that children learn more from example, rather than listening to what we say, I became his role model—positive or not. It’s our responsibility to mature into thoughtful and responsible adults who can also accept their mistakes. We’re certainly not perfect by the time we all become parents, but with a few guiding principles under our belts, we can only try our best.
I’d like to think the good outweighed the bad. After all, my son is now a college graduate. But I still know I’ll do things differently—and better—the next time.