The Big Stuff

I realized something recently.  Hope’s epic disaster moments are easier for me to handle than the more routine dumb stuff teens do.

She doesn’t clean her room for a week, and I lose my ever-loving mind.  It is one of my biggest pet peeves.

She’s finds herself talking to an internet predator and insists on lying about it in the face of damning evidence, and I can find oceans of patience.  #iamthepacific

Maybe the latter moments just matter so much more that I deep down know that I have to keep it together.

I actually realized this months ago, but this week’s internet episode brought it into focus for both of us.

I’ve wondered why the day to day, routine stuff gets under my skin so much.  They are more pet peeves and indicators of basic levels of respect, I suppose.  The day to day stuff just infuriates me so.

Staying up later than bedtime. Not getting at least half of the chores done. Privileged expectations about getting material things (amazing how quickly kids can get there). The messy bedroom.

These are the kind of things that drive me nuts. No matter how much effort I expend to chill in some of these areas, they simply make me snap.

But the big stuff? It’s like I can stand outside of myself watching the scene unfold and go, “Keep your wits about you. You totally got this!  Werk, girl, werk!”

This week’s internet fiasco was uncovered during a random device check (more about the Constitution of ABM in a later post). And there it was, in all its hot mess, terrifying glory.

“So who is XX?”

“Hmm, what?   A friend.”

Friend, my arse.

Higher level investigative questioning initiates. Answers are shady as hell and full of poorly constructed lies.  I’m scrolling through and targeting specific texts for more in-depth analysis.  Inside I am shaking because I know what I’ve stumbled on to. I’m angry, but I’m more scared than angry. I manage not to yell.

“So you don’t know him.  And do you think this violates the primary rule of this whole device thing?”

“Uhm…” Mad and still lying.  How is she mad??? My inner mom has pulled out duct tape and is desperately trying to hold me together.

I commence to start threatening texting the suspect and wipe her devices’ hard drives after searching everything.

And then I just dropped the conversation to give her some time to wrestle with her demons.  Later, over Costco pizza and hot dogs, we talk about the hows, whys, and her social and emotional struggles. I got the whole frightening story over a picnic table at Costco and kept it cool. #lawdicant #holdmebackholyhomeboy

I saw my young teenager, and I heard Hope explaining her desperate need to be accepted and cared about by her peers. The thirst is real. I saw and heard how hard it was for her. I saw her drop the mask and the lies and just be vulnerable. I was able to tell her that I saw her and I heard her. We talked about what it meant to be vulnerable and to be discerning and how to develop skills of the latter so she was less of the former.

Because she doesn’t have a “good girlfriend” to tell her that her butt looks bad in those jeans or that she needs to change social tactics, we created agreed upon scenarios when I will code switch and play that role until she develops a friend relationship that can fill that need. She hasn’t called me by my given name in 18 months; now, if she calls me by that name, that’s my cue to code switch.

We role played some social situations, right there at that picnic table in Costco. She told me she was only a 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 5 on a happy scale. I got her to tell me some stuff that would get her to at least a 3, maybe a 4.  We got goals, folks, we got goals.

And we still have so much work to do.

By the time we went for froyo, we were in an amazingly good place.  I rarely severely punish in these moments.  The punishment consequences just wouldn’t get her where I need her to evolve to, so they are an exercise in futility.  She apologizes profusely for more than a week, more because she still harbors a fear of being rejected by me because she does dumb stuff and is thus dumb rather than because she actually did the dumb stuff. Wiping the hard drives and locking down everything is a more productive approach for us right now.

I probably bought myself some currency for future yelling about the mayhem that is Hope’s room or how she notoriously runs late for breakfast during the school week. I really hope so, since right this moment I’m trying to get her to get that room together before we go out for the day and I’m about to lose it (again).

I wish I could handle the routine stuff as well as I handle the big stuff, but I think that the big stuff will simply matter more in the long run.


About AdoptiveBlackMom

I'm a single Black professional woman living in the DC area. I adopted my now adult daughter in 2014, and this blog chronicles my journey. Feel free to contact me at, on Facebook at Adoptive Black Mom, and on Twitter @adoptiveblkmom. ©, 2013-2022. All rights reserved. (Don't copy my ish without credit!) View all posts by AdoptiveBlackMom

14 responses to “The Big Stuff

  • TAO

    Scary happenings – glad you found the right way to deal with it. I think you’re getting the mom thing down amazingly quick. This –> ” harbors a fear of being rejected by me ” – you understand it exists, that I think is huge and so many parents just don’t…

    (Hanging my head) – My dad would come pick up the clothes on the floor in my room…but having always lived with the rules of everything has a place and when you’re done using it you put it away, and we clean now instead of tomorrow – I wouldn’t have considered ever making a mess anywhere else in the house. Even today, when I’m at mom’s – I jump up to do the dishes the minute we are done, make everything spotless, everything put away in it’s place – yet I’m not that fussy at home, but yet, it’s automatic at mom’s…

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      I’m not even a neat freak! I just like it tidy, not spotless. I need your unmentionables to be unseen and trash to be disposed! I tidy my room at my mom’s house too! 😉

      Hope apologizes all the time, and it’s unnecessary. I know it’s rooted in fear, and I know it’s just going to take time.

  • My Perfect Breakdown

    I am so proud of you for how you handled this!! You are becoming such an inspiration to me as I know one day I too may face these things.

  • Belladonna Took

    You are amazing! I absolutely love the creative way you approached this. And I agree – punishment would have been counter-productive for a situation like this. It’s about teaching – she really needs to understand *why* this is important, and that goes way beyond “because I said so, and if you don’t I will hurt you”. Go you!

    And the messy bedroom and other Stupid Kid Shit? Argh. Good luck with all that!

  • thebeautifulopportunity

    For me, the big things are novelties that make me pause and wonder what in the children’s history may be leading to epically bad decision making. When I connect poor behavior to previous abuse, neglect, or other difficult circumstances, my sympathy and empathy well up inside me. I think “poor baby, let me help fix this legacy of pain and dysfunction.

    The little things, like picking your nose, drive me batty, because I rarely think “oh this child’s mom was never home or too high or too depressed to bother teaching social niceties like don’t pick your nose.” I just think “GROSS!” or “really, keeping your finger out of your nose is so simple, so basic, you ought to be able to do that much.”

    The lack of empathy or sympathy makes me more likely to externally respond with irritation. So when I find myself getting irked – and I find myself in one of my better moments – I stop and ask myself “if I grew up the way this child grew up, what would make me act in this very annoying way?”

    So, for Hope’s dirty bedroom, I’d ask myself questions like:

    How important was keeping a clean bedroom for Hope in her previous home? Was a greater priority put on keeping herself safe, fed, or finding attention?

    Did bad things happen in bedrooms that might make bedrooms a trigger for her?

    Does she know that a dirty room is a way to push my buttons? Is she doing this to create emotional distance from me? Is this her way to get my attention (any attention, even negative attention, may feel better than feeling invisible)?

    Is this just normal kid behavior? If yes, can I be happy that she’s being developmentally appropriate, when in so many other areas this is not the case? Is this annoying, but normal behavior a sign that she is healing and acting like a “typical” child, rather than acting out of fear, anger or hurt?

    If I could find a reason that Hope doesn’t keep her room clean, I’d be able to make the emotional connection that flip my irritation into a kinder, gentler emotion.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      It’s interesting how we all read things, right? I can hold it together for the big stuff, but even if the room situation is all you’ve listed AND normal teen stuff (and it is a blend), it is one of my few mountains. It’s a total trigger. I tried to dig deep and let it go, and it ended up in a dramatic boiling point (see Mountains and Parking Lots). It’s something we are both working on, but both of our therapists have encouraged me to just not pretend that it’s not a trigger and to stop feeling guilty about it. There are times when you can intellectually know things and still just not manage your emotional reaction. We’re working on it. 🙂

  • momto3sugars

    My friend got a DUI in college, her mom remained cool, calm, and collected. She was supportive, bought her a bike to ride for a year and never fussed. (My friend realized her stupidity!!! She didn’t need a beat down.) My same friend and I were at her house (we were still in college) and accidentally spilled potato chip crumbs and her mom flipped her lid! Ha ha! I find myself doing this same kinds of things often! When our backs are against the wall we are tough and strong and calm, when it’s the small stuff we crack! Motherhood! Isn’t it weird!

  • lyra211

    The code switching thing is awesome. What great insight, to realize that she needs that best girlfriend and you can be that for her… but just for now, until she finds one her own age, and just when she asks (with a secret signal, no less!). That’s some serious judo-parenting, right there. 🙂

  • TheChroniclesofaNonBellyMama

    It’s the repetition of the small minor stuff that causes us to flip the script, but when it comes to these huge potentially life altering changes, I think it’s important to address them the same way that you did. Kids sometimes don’t always understand the severity of some of the big mistakes that they made. When we lose it on them for those, they see it as “just like when I didn’t make my bed/do the dishes/take out the garbage”. I think when we are more calm and collected, they actually listen to us, and understand that this is serious, and more complex than getting yelled at for not making the bed. It’s the same with Mary. If i have to clean toothpaste out of the sink one more freaking time!!! But trying to leave school because she saw a car that looked like her Aunts and thinking she saw her mom, warrants a different reaction about dangerous situations. Good on you for that…

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      Ha, I totally wigged when I saw an empty bag of chips on the floor. I swear it’s like I’m Bruce Banner or something–“Don’t make me angry, you won’t like me when I’m angry!!!”

      You’re right they do require different reactions. I just wish I could get the day to day stuff under control more. Actually the control issue I think it the underlying current of all of it. I’m a massive control freak and Hope drives me nuts because I can’t control like 80% of what’s happening. Grrr! 🙂

  • Meredith at My Pink Champagne Life

    This post is great! You described my parenting style too: I do great with the big things and come undone at the small lol. Like the poster above said “If I have to clean toothpaste out of the sink one more freaking time…!” You did really great things: you affirmed her while teaching her lessons about safety while letting her know there’s nothing she can do that will make you not love her. Awesome job!

  • Valarie Johnson

    Wow, so scary. I agree that punishing wouldn’t do any good because she wasn’t intentionally being “bad” – she made a mistake and once you pointed out how stupid it was, she probably felt REALLY stupid. Thank God you check her phone randomly! This is the reason I will “invade” my teen’s privacy when the time comes. I’ll ignore silly flirty messages and “ugh my mom is being the worst again” but I need to make sure they are safe. I’m impressed with your idea to code-switch to being a girl friend. Let us know if that temporarily fills Hope’s need or if it backfires…you are the test subject lol!

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