Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
The advice from local parents? Hold on loosely, but don’t let go
By Pamme Boutselis
Remember the people who sat next to you when you were pregnant and told you how difficult labor and delivery would be? You thought you shook them. But those same people (or those remarkably like them) started popping up when you were at the park, or maybe the supermarket, and usually around the same time as your precocious preschooler decided to throw a hissy fit or exert a little bit too much independence.
Those people may be your own parents or seemingly well-meaning friends, but the message is usually the same: “You think this is bad now? Just wait until she’s a teenager.”
That simple statement is enough to start a steady stream of trepidation and worry. Sure, the terrible twos are tough, but what’s going to happen when your princess is 15? You envision chubby toddler cheeks and smiles morphing into sneers of disdain and eye rolls. Doors slamming, disrespect, curfews broken, failing grades, you name it, you’ve worked up a total worst-case scenario based on a few terrifying words. Well, fear not. It doesn’t have to be that way.
While every age offers its shares of challenges, each year of your child’s life also has its own unique rewards. Think it is fun to cuddle with your five-year old and read together? Imagine the pleasure you’ll get when your son starts reading the same books as you and can’t wait to discuss the plot and characters, chapter by chapter, with you. The teen years are when a parent starts to see payoffs in the hard work put in throughout the years. It’s also a time when the usual rules start to be questioned by your kids as they begin to broaden their experiences and pull away ever so slightly as they head into adulthood. While every family dynamic and experience differs, the commonality is this: It all happens much too quickly.
So how do we as parents keep our kids close but give them enough space to grow and offer them enough faith to trust in themselves and us? Perhaps we have to have a little bit of faith in ourselves as well and realize the foundation we’ve laid since birth provides a solid starting point as our children navigate through their teen years. While we can’t always walk side-by-side with them or hold their hands as we once did walking them into kindergarten or first grade, we’re still there to guide them, to offer support and advice, to cheer them on and to set limits. Sometimes it means stepping back and letting them find their way, even if we are already sure of what the outcome may be.
Pamela Mariano of Pepperell, Mass., is the mother of two sons in their early 20s and an 18-year old. Mariano’s experience has led to her believe that if parents have the courage to let their children fail and make mistakes, they will learn to problem solve.
“They will be allowed to learn coping skills as well as time management,” said Mariano. “Making things right for your children all of the time doesn’t give them the opportunity to grow and be self-sufficient.”
She said it takes a lot of patience and sometimes the power of prayer as well to make it through some of the more difficult experiences. Maintaining good two-way communication is vital and as Mariano points out, finding the right time to talk as well.
Nicole and Scott Martin of Lowell, Mass., have two sons. Their oldest, Joshua, is now 14.
“I feel you must talk to your teen about realities, and about surrounding themselves with good friends,” said Martin. “You always have to keep an open dialogue with your teen but also stand your ground when you need to.”
She credits her husband, Scott with sharing his own experiences as a kid with their sons and how he learned from his own mistakes with the hope they won’t repeat those same experiences.
Deanna Reagan of Raymond remembered what she went through growing up and realized she had to trust her two kids, Tim, 25, and Ashley, 24, to do the right thing.
“I also hoped that I had instilled in them the difference between right and wrong,” said Reagan. “I honestly feel that trusting them was, by far, the best thing I could have done for them.”
She thinks they are still close because she does not judge, which allows them to feel that they can talk to her about anything. Reagan always made a point of wishing her children good night as teens and told them she loved them before they went to bed.
Robin Deschene of Litchfield has three children, two sons who are in their 20s and daughter Amy, 19. She said her theory is like the old 38 Special song, “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go.” She believes teenagers are happy when there are rules that must be followed.
“Curfews and no drinking rules are just a couple of the safety nets that give our kids an escape route from uncomfortable situations,” Deschene said. “When teens have a prepared answer to give their friends, they can make wiser choices.”
She always encouraged her kids to get involved in school activities such as band and sports and enjoyed volunteering for those activities because it showed her kids she cared about the activities they were involved in.
“They also liked knowing I was somewhere in the background if they needed me,” Deschene said. “A parent must realize that they really are just in the background. No teenager wants a parent meddling in their circle of friends.”
It was important for the Deschenes to sit down to dinner together as many nights as possible, which she feels helps teens realize that their family is strong and there for them to fall back on if need be.
“Teens are like toddlers learning to walk, venturing out on their own and then running back into the warmth and love that is home,” she said. “Their walks eventually get longer and longer but if you have held on loosely, they always come back home to tell you of their adventures.”
David and Rachel Lessard saw the implications of what can happen when parents are too strict or over-controlling with their children and didn’t want to raise their sons Alex, 20, and Andrew, 23, that way.
“In many cases, it’s these children who are the ones that end up rebelling against their parents by acting out in extreme, and often harmful, ways as they get older,” said David Lessard. “As these children get into their teenage years, it’s as if they feel that they have to make up for lost time because they never had the opportunity to experience things on their own and learn from their mistakes.”
The Lessards always gave their boys room to grow and be their own person.
“We felt comfortable doing this because we raised them with lots of love and good moral values from day one,” Lessard said. “In addition, we created an environment in which they knew they could share anything with us without fear of ridicule or condemnation. This way, they knew they could always come to us for advice when it is needed.”
Lessard said their boys could sense they trusted them to make correct choices, but because they knew they were so loved that even if they messed up, they would still be loved and everyone would learn from the experience.
With two daughters, Casey, 17, and Brianna, 18, easing out their way out of the teen years, Renee Charette of Litchfield understands that the girls aren’t necessarily as close as they once were with her at present but remembers going through the same thing at that age.
“It wasn’t until I was older, in my mid-20s I think, that I became friends with my parents once again,” Charette said.
Still, the girls do come home from work or a friend’s house and chat about the latest happenings, but Charette said it’s when they want to share and that’s fine with her. She and her husband, Glen have certain expectations of their daughters regarding rules and chores.
“They know them and they live up to them. They let us know where they’re going and if plans change, they text or call,” Charette said. “Sometimes I get the eye roll, but hey. . .I’m the Mom.””
She has encouraged her girls to try new things throughout their teen years; to get involved with clubs, sports and after-school activities to expose them to lots of different people and keep them busy. As they became more involved, they starting planning and preparing for related functions and Charette stepped back even further.
“I let them take charge of their decisions and be in control of their responsibilities, become more independent and I stopped doing so much for them,” Charette said. “Frankly, I was amazed at how quickly they started taking charge!”
Pamme Boutselis is a MarCom consultant and a freelance writer. The mom of four grown kids, she now deals with the challenges of raising two insubordinate dachshunds. Follow her on Twitter @pammeb