Face your fears so your teen can face you when things go wrong.
Parenting is scary. Just when you think you have the baby and toddler stuff sorted, suddenly they’re 14 years old and you’re up that creek again. Still no paddle.
You hope that they hear your persistent bleating about the bad stuff out there. You hope that they use the information you give them to make choices that will keep them safe. Maybe you tell yourself that my child would never (insert-nasty-here). And maybe you try not to think about what would happen if they DID. Because they do, sometimes. Even the most sensible people make stupid decisions at times. We all do. Sometimes those bad judgement calls leave you unscathed; sometimes they don’t.
In your panic to make sure they’re well-informed, you monologue them into a coma and all they hear is blah blah blah. The eyes glaze over and they tune out, because they’ve heard it all before, or think they have. The bleating becomes ever more shrill and suddenly you find yourself barking out stinkers like “If I ever catch you…” and then you’ve lost them. So you freak out some more.
Having been there and done that, I realised something had to change. So, I took a deep breath and made a list of the scariest issues. Everything is there, from HIV to drugs, from suicide attempts to drunken driving. Even the most unlikely scenarios that my child would never…
I went through the list and asked myself “What then?” What if this did happen? What would I say? What would I do? What would be my first step? And I began to calm down.
I realised that having a plan always makes it feel better, even if it’s only theoretical. Of course, I’ve always been a sucker for a good list. Obviously, until you’re actually there, you don’t know how you’d react. It might be very different in real life. But at least, if faced with something frightening and traumatic, when nobody would likely be thinking clearly, we’d have something to hold on to.
Next step is to share the list with the offspring. Seeing it all in black and white might be a wake up call. And it’s a good icebreaker for those difficult conversations, if you haven’t had them yet.
Reading my list of parental nightmares, I realised what scares me the most is my children feeling like they couldn’t come to me for help. Feeling alone and lost and believing I wouldn’t be there for them. That’s the one that keeps me awake at night.
The one lecture that I really want to stick is this: that I am always there. And no matter how scary or shocking a problem, no matter how angry, afraid or disappointed I might be, I will always be there and there is nothing can’t be handled together.
If they forget everything else I’ve ever told them, I hope they remember this one.
Tracy Engelbrecht is a writer and recovering teenage mother. She has two children and secretly loves Hannah Montana but don't tell anyone.Have you had the "difficult" conversations with your children yet? What did you say - and how did it go?