Just Making This Parenting Thing Up As I Go

Not long ago I was in the car with my teenagers. I let them have control of the sound system sometimes. When that happens, they play mostly the same songs over and over again. Among all kinds of music, good and bad, they love Broadway soundtracks. Recently, they have been playing songs from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Wicked. And both my kids love songs from Dear Evan Hansen, probably because it is about high school kids.

If you have not heard of this musical, it is about “a high school senior with severe social anxiety, which inhibits his ability to connect with other people and make friends. After the death of one of his classmates, he fabricates a lie that inadvertently brings him closer to the classmate’s family, while also allowing him to gain his own sense of purpose.” There is this one song that my kids play often called “Anybody Have a Map?” The two mother characters in the musical sing it. One day, when we were listening to this song for the sixth time, I burst out, “Listen to the words of this song!  Just listen! This is pretty much what I am thinking a good portion of the time. Probably most other parents, too!”

I think there was some eye rolling in response. But it is true—for me, anyway. This song is perfect. In the chorus, the musical mothers sing:

Another stellar conversation for the scrapbook
Another stumble as I’m reaching for the right thing to say
I’m kinda coming up empty
I can’t find my way to you
Does anybody have a map?
Anybody maybe happen to know how the h*ll to do this?
I don’t know if you can tell
But this is me just pretending to know
So where’s the map?
I need a clue
‘Cause the scary truth is
I’m flyin’ blind
I’m making this up as I go.



OMG, these words hit home!

Seriously, I really am just making this parenting thing up as I go.

People tell me often that they think I have it all together, parenting wise. Of course they do. As a family we have publicly managed my transgender child’s transition. We do manage to make things work—pretty well, if can pat myself on the back here. But like everyone else, I do not Instagram a picture of myself with my head in my hands in the kitchen when I am frustrated by the twists and turns of life. There is a lot of Zen navigating going on. A lot of “I think this is the right response” and “let’s see what happens if we go this way.” 

To top it off, not only does everyone outside think you have it all together, but your kids think you should be able to handle anything. They can say anything or do anything and the magic parent black hole can absorb it all. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but…

I honestly thought the emotions thrown at me when my kids were young were manageable. I usually felt like I could deal. But as my kids have gotten older, maybe because of the scientifically documented self-centeredness of the teen years and the fact that their lives are more complicated, they throw stuff at me that is so much more. And they don’t get it that I am just winging it. On a regular basis I think, I could have managed that better.

My sweet high school freshman decided before Thanksgiving—barely into the school year—that he hates his high school. He said he should have applied for “school of choice” to the other school all of his friends from junior high went to and that it was all my fault that he was stuck. Of course, I could do nothing about it at the time except listen to him and tell him we would apply for school of choice for the next year. And this came up over and over again until the school of choice application came back as approved. (Thank God—because I could not have taken it much more.)

Not long ago he said, “I know you don’t want me to smoke, but would you be OK with vaping?” Say what? Really? What did he think I was going to say?!

My super smart, doesn’t-have-to-work-hard-at-school 17-year old is experiencing senior-itis in the worst way. She is failing English. She has to pass English to graduate. She knows this. It might be helpful if she goes to tutoring. She knows this. If she does not pass, she will have to go to summer school. She knows this. Colleges do require a copy of the final complete transcript showing she graduated. She knows this. Her favorite answers when we discuss this and many other things are “I know” and “OK.” I have grown to hate those words because apparently they are meaningless. What route do we follow so she understands this and follows through? I hope the one we have chosen.

I can’t leave out my daughter’s transition; there was absolutely no road map for that. Everyone says how amazing we have been about it all. Let me tell you, though, it has been a journey without a roadmap. The breakfast bar saw many bouts of my tears while we figured that all out. And until the adult version of my daughter comes to me and tells me we did OK, I won’t really know otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong—I love my kids. I think they are amazing. They are growing up to be kind, considerate, and hopefully productive adults (fingers crossed). But making it through the teen years is challenging, and we are not done yet. And I do believe they secretly think we know what we are doing all of the time, even if they do not always like our path. I would like to tell my future self to send back in time the Atlas to my kids’ lives that my kids seem to think exists. Wouldn’t that be nice?!

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