Tag Archives: parenting teen girls

Coaching on Coercion

I read that essay on Aziz Ansari and “Grace.” I related to Grace since I have experienced a similar situation a few times in my day. I never thought I had been assaulted, but I definitely felt like I had experienced something incredibly unpleasant and really wrong. I’ll say this, none of the situations I found my way out of featured a dude who apologized after the fact.

Yeah, been there, done that.

And then I developed some skills. I learned how to avoid those situations whenever possible. I paid attention to my spidey sense. I learned to gracefully and ungracefully extricate myself from situations that made me uncomfortable. I learned to find my own voice about consent.

Sadly, I didn’t get to this place until I was probably in my early 30s.

I have tried to normalize conversations about sex and relationships with Hope. I’m certainly not encouraging her to go out and get her swerve on, but I want her to feel confident about herself, her body and her ability to make good decisions about all of this.

Since last summer we’ve spent more time talking about sexual misconduct and the #MeToo movement. We talk about assault. We talk about catcalling. We talk about harassment. I try to be frank and direct with Hope, but I’m also sensitive about what kinds of things might be triggering. I bring it up in the car since that seems to be the super safe space for us. A lot of what we’ve discussed are pretty clear cut cases of sexual misconduct. After mulling over the messy case of “Grace” and Ansari, I realized that even though I’ve spent a lot of time talking about consent with Hope, I hadn’t coached my daughter about something more subtle and insidious in sexual relationships—persistent coercion.

You like the guy/gal. You’re hanging out. Things get a little hot and heavy. You don’t feel as comfortable as you did 3 minutes ago. You kind of put your hands up and push back, but things get a little more insistent. You break away, but your partner tries to soothe your fears; maybe says they just dig you so much; they are really, really into you and don’t you dig them too? You do, and you might even say that you want things to slow down a bit. You might even say no verbally. Your partner goes back to the pursuit, a little stronger, a little bolder; whispering how into you they are and how this feels so right. You don’t think it feels totally right, but you dig the person and don’t want to wreck the flow. You might even feel like you still have control of this situation, but maybe losing that control kinda quickly.

You consent to do a few things; they do a few things and everything continues to escalate. Both of you are breathless. But it doesn’t feel so right so you try to slow things down again, but the pursuit, gentle as it may be, continues. You also still really dig this person and you begin to wonder what will happen if you really stopped everything right now. Will the budding relationship end? Will it get violent? You don’t think they will *really* hurt you will they? Will you seem like a tease after what you’ve done already? What will happen now? Can you even stop this right now after you did what you did? Was that consent for *everything?* And how do you stop or slow down things again without a making this a big deal? The cycle goes on and on until you are just worn down and you just give in and ‘consent’ to activities that you really don’t want to do. Afterwards you feel like crap, but your partner might not even notice, not because they are a rapist but because their twisted concept of consent means y’all are both cool with what just went down.

Yeah, that scenario. Is it assault? Not really. Did you consent? Worn down is a better characterization. Do you have regrets? Forever yes. Do you continue seeing that person? Maybe, maybe not.

I recently asked Hope had she heard about the Ansari/Grace story. She’s heard a little, so we did a recap and I asked her what she thought about it. We batted that around a bit, and then I got a bit more specific—“What if you were Grace? What would you have done and when?” And because it can’t just be a gendered lesson, “What if you were Ansari? What would you have done and when?” Everyone should learn about giving and getting consent. We talked about how to extricate ourselves from situations that don’t make us feel good. We talked about more than just regular safety concerns; we discussed the need to feel good emotionally about our decisions and choices. We talked about that middle ground that seems to exist between enthusiastic consent and reluctant consent.

This was probably one of our more delicate conversations about sex. I shared about some of my experiences and how old I was when they happened so that Hope would understand that I was older and still not as sure of myself as I thought at the time. I shared about how I felt after a particular situation, and noted that that relationship didn’t go far after that. I never demonized my partners, but I also didn’t portray them as the knights in shining armor that a 16 year old girl probably would either. We were and are just regular folks making some not great decisions at a point in our lives. I talked about what I wished I had done differently.

For her part, Hope shared the goings on of a date she had last year and how she handled herself. I was glad she felt comfortable enough to share with me. #thrilled I was so proud of her, and coached her on how to identify coercion and things to say and do in the future to be clear about her expectations and her ability to give or withhold consent.

Sure, we’ll still talk about just good decision making regarding sex, but I’m realizing that it’s this grayish area that I will continue to talk to my daughter about. When she becomes active, I want her to feel confident in her choices and to have skills to react to unwanted pressure. I want Hope to be in control of her whole life, including the sexual life that she eventually chooses.

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Thoughts on a Bad Night

I’ve started my fall travel-palooza. I’m only on my second leg, and I am very, very anxious about the rest of the trips.

I’m already exhausted and feeling overextended. I’m stressed, dehydrated and high or sluggish on carbs. I thought I would treat myself to a manicure and a massage at the airport a couple of days ago before my red eye, but by the time I got to my connecting airport everything—EVERYTHING—in my terminal was shut up tight. Closed. I couldn’t even get a diet coke. I folded myself up in my seat and tried to sleep.

I caught 90 minutes of shut eye at home that next morning, and then what feels like my never ending day got back on the road. I ran errands, bought food, filled prescriptions, bathed the dog, did the laundry, herded Hope to her band competition and back to fetch her at 11pm at night, tidied Hope’s room and prepped my room for the nanny. I grabbed a few—and I mean a few—winks of sleep before it was time to get up, finish packing, walk Yappy, and catch my Lyft to the airport.

But, I went left around that 11pm pick up. Actually, I didn’t go left, I went crazy.

My beautiful teen daughter is rather…messy. I was not allowed to be too messy; my room as a teen was tiny. There wasn’t much space to be messy. Hope has a decent sized room, and well, I hear that general messiness has come to be accepted as a typical teen quality.

I reject this, but apparently that doesn’t matter because at the level of my house, the data show that it is true.

Hope is a bit of a mess. I try really, really, really hard to be understanding. I swear to the Holy Homeboy that I do try to understand. I honestly believe that our messiness can be indicative of our emotional state—heck I call my front hall closet the magic closet. I swear, the lion, the witch, the wardrobe and all of Disney could possibly be in there, but I digress.

Hope’s room…Lawd.

When I’m home and can stay on top of her, she can stay on top of the room. I don’t expect it to be eat off the floor clean, but some level that hangs around “kind of tidy” is what I’d like to shoot for. That’s achievable when I’m home. Even still, I find that I have to roll through once a week with a trash bag and thin things out. I throwaway obvious trash and put personal care products away. I make her bed, pick up her laundry and put it in the hamper (literally INCHES away). I try not to go through “her” stuff too much, just align the corners of the piles. Then I hit everything with some sprays of Febreze and run the oil diffuser. I rarely comment on what I find, and she doesn’t get in trouble unless I find something really, really, really serious.

Well yesterday I had to do the trashcan routine, and Er Mah GAWD! For a kid who has a bug phobia, she has no problem creating environments where bugs would simply love to take up residence. I did what I normally do, but with the schedule and my lack of sleep, I ruminated on all the crap I had to clean up. I didn’t take into consideration that she might be stressed when I’m away and that it might contribute to the mess. I went straight tunnel vision with righteous fury that had hours to build.

And by the time I fetched her I was trying to keep a lid on my fury. I knew it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to spend our few minutes together bickering. I knew both of us were tired.

But I just couldn’t let it go, and not letting it go was like lighting a match to dynamite. I totally blew and I totally blew it.

Before I knew it, I was yelling and saying horrible things, things I knew hurt. I was a crazy mess, and embarrassingly, I admit that Hope was more mature than I was. And even as I saw her face, I could feel my heart cracking because I was conscious enough to know I was being a total and complete asshole.

This was not mothering. This was not who I wanted to be. I was a total mess.

And so I apologized.

Yeah, after I got in one more verbal lick. Seriously, I was so stupid. But I genuinely regret those moments. I worry about how they affected her. I worry that I’ve pushed her away. I worry that I’ve irrevocably damaged us. I worry that she won’t forgive me. I worry that I’ve dredged up old emotions that we’ve worked so hard to reconcile.

I feel like I failed in the most epic way. I know we’ll survive, but I worry that this will be a big setback. I worry that I have broken so much trust.

I wish I had been able to keep it together.

I worry that this is only the beginning of my travel season and that the challenges will only escalate as will my fatigue.

I flew to my next destination this morning. Before I left I hand-wrote my daughter a letter of apology. I gave no excuses. I didn’t dig in about cleaning her room. I didn’t ask for forgiveness. I just said I’m so sorry that I said the awful things I said, that I made her feel bad, that I let my anger, frustration and fatigue get the better of me. I asked for grace as we press through my travel season.

I asked the nanny to take care and to check in to make sure she was ok. I let them go do a little retail therapy, and I gave her some space.

I’m hoping that we’ll be able to right our ship when I get home in a few days. Unfortunately, I’ll be off again to another city by week’s end. But I’m hopeful that my resilient daughter will bounce back. I hope that we won’t be too damaged by this event. I hope that I can learn how to keep my mouth shut and how to let the dumb stuff go.

I didn’t ask for forgiveness, but I hope to God that she does indeed forgive me.

My current worst fear is that she won’t.


I Used to be an ESTJ

Since I’ve been home recovering from my head injury, Hope and I have had a chance to spend some time together. Oddly, we haven’t gotten on each other’s nerves too much. We’ve enjoyed resting and lounging; of course, this is what Hope has been doing all summer, but I digress. I have a great kid.

Last week we threw on some sweats and hit the neighborhood IHOP while the housekeepers got the house together (how is it that I feel like I’m intruding in my own house when they are there???). Over pancakes and bacon, Hope and I got to talking about personality types. Hope mentioned that they did a Myers-Briggs test in school last year. Intrigued, I inquired what letters she got. Of course, my daughter and her short attention span and poor memory couldn’t remember.

Curious I did a quick Google search on my phone and pulled up a test for her to take over breakfast. She read the questions, occasionally asking me to clarify the questions for her. I mused over her answers, thinking for at least half of them that I wouldn’t answer the way she did based on how I observed how she moved through the world. She turned out to be an I/ESTP. She presents differently to me.

Um, way, way, way, way, way, way differently to me, but um, ok…if that’s how she sees herself.

I definitely pegged the Introvert/Extrovert borderline, but the rest of it was like no, these descriptions don’t describe my kid at all. I am intrigued by the way Hope sees herself. While I’m not totally going to change my parenting style based on a free version of the Myers-Briggs I found on the internet over breakfast, it does make me think about trying to see Hope as she sees herself.

Artistic, independent, adaptable, practical, self-directed and energetic. This sounds like a great kid too. I hope that one day everyone can see her this way, including and especially me.

After reading her results and chatting about them, I reset the test and started taking it myself. I know that we can change over time. I have been an ESTJ (Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging) for as long as I can remember, and none of these indicators were even close to the borderlines all the previous times I’ve taken the test—both formally and informally. I hadn’t taken one of these tests since I became a mom, so, since we were chatting about our personalities, I jumped on the test train.

Low and behold, I have changed. The only thing that stayed the say was my tendency for extroversion. Every other indicator was firmly hugging the borderline. Apparently, I have become more Intuitive, more Feeling, and more Perceiving since I became a mom. Who is *this* chick???

I guess that’s a good thing, right? As I told Hope, none of these letters are particularly good or bad; they just are.

Still, I am fascinated by the changes. I suppose motherhood required me to develop and flex these aspects of my personality. I’d like to think that I’m more forward thinking as I dream about Hope’s future, and I certainly have added consideration of feelings along with my data in decision-making. I’ve had to let some of my judginess go and be more flexible and adaptable in this phase of my life.

So, I guess it all makes sense, but much like I thought I saw differently than she sees herself, what I thought I knew about myself turns out to be different than the possible reality.

It’s odd because there was some pride I’d long taken in being an ESTJ. I don’t know why; maybe it was how definitive the scoring suggested these letters represented me. As I mentioned earlier, I know that personalities can change over time, but um, that was *other* people…not me. Is it odd that my initial reaction was feeling a little grief and loss—I mean, here was another indicator of how motherhood has changed me and even though I traded in my cute Mini Cooper 18 months ago in favor of a “family” car, I’m still not-so-secretly mad about that. Did I really have to “lose” my STJ too?

I’m mildly comforted by the fact that my scores at least hug the borderline; maybe I’m still an ESTJ at work and just different at home.

Of course, I am glad that my personality has shifted to meet the need I have in my life now. Hope certainly benefits from me being less rules-oriented (Oh, we have rules though) and more emotionally in tune with things.

So here we are; Hope sees herself as radically different than I see her, and I have changed from the me I used to know.

This isn’t bad, but I can’t help pondering these pieces of information well past the bacon and pancakes. It’s interesting and I wonder what new surprises about our personalities will reveal in time.

Has your personality changed since becoming a parent?


Blank Stares & Nods

Hope doesn’t like confrontation. I’m guessing she comes by that quite honestly. Unfortunately, life has a lot of opportunities for confrontation.

I am pretty comfortable with confrontation, but during these three years, I’ve had to learn how to manage my ease with confrontation in order to meet Hope’s needs and to not scare her off from conversations that must be had.

I have greatly improved how I initiate these chats, how to tell when I need to abort the mission and navigate how to keep it going long enough to have something close to the desired impact. And what is the desired impact?

Well…who knows. It’s complicated, and to be honest, sometimes I get so flipping frustrated.

I often chat with Grammy to better understand how she parented me when I was Hope’s age. Oh, I know that it’s entirely different, but I just want a baseline—I’m also checking to see if I’m just crazy.

I also chat with Sister K, who has a son close in age to Hope. We often talk about how our children practice the “Blank Stare.”

The Blank Stare is apparently some sort of protective mechanism that teens use when parents are providing correctional confrontation. Kids actually seem to go mute and just stare blankly as you discuss the issue, ask questions and await responses.

My mom assures me that my sisters and I did not practice the Blank Stare; we immediately started talking, apologizing and doing/saying whatever was necessary to reduce anticipated consequences (my peeps were firm believers that a hard head makes for a sore bottom). But Hope and her modern-day colleagues seem to prefer to hold their tongues and just retreat into a Stare mode.

Hope does have a whole set of behaviors that surround the Blank Stare; it’s not the only thing in her unresponsive bag of tricks.

Initially, she’s defensive; Hope is likely to try to offer some rationale to explain her position; when that proves unsuccessful she descends into what I call Mime phase.

The Mime phase is when Hope’s voice volume lowers with each word until she’s just mouthing inaudible words. At first, I thought that she was trying to make me crazy by thinking my hearing was going out.

 

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Nah, she seriously just turns the volume down on herself.

That’s when we hit the Blank Stare. It’s epic really, much respect. It’s as though Hope is encased in some imaginary, sound proof box that apparently requires no resistance. It’s almost as though she is focused on sending me soundwave messages to join her in the box. She’s nearly doll-like. I know she can hear me and see me, but there is zero response. She blinks, she *might* cock her head to the side, but really, she just stares, making direct eye contact.

 

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As a resistance mechanism, it drives me batty. I have to fight back all the rage. I cannot stand the Blank Stare.

But it doesn’t stop there, from the Stare we fall into the Nod.

 

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She pulled this avoidance technique during a meeting with her counselor, teachers, tutor and me last fall–a whole room of folks discussing her 504 and her school performance. I’m sure it was overwhelming, but OMG. 

The Nod is Hope’s peak avoidance schtick; it’s all downhill from this point on. It was so impressive that the guidance counselor asked if she could be doing drugs. I was horrified, and apparently so was Hope since she snapped out after the inquiry.

The Nod is reserved for Hope’s most uncomfortable moments.  I don’t see it too often anymore, thank goodness, but it’s there.

Sometimes, there’s so much drama with Hope.

I do find some comfort in knowing that some of this foolishness is completely normal. I am aware that some of it isn’t normal, and I just have to deal and wait her out. I really spend a lot of time breathing through my own emotional responses and thinking about ways that I can offer confrontation, correction, and consequences in ways that don’t make Hope feel bad about herself and in ways that avoid this continuum of, ahem, artistic avoidant responses.

I’m hoping for a day when more engaging interactions tip the scales, but from the looks of the Blank Stare and the Nods lately, it’s going to be a while.


Life with a Teen Girl

I tapped on her door at 6:30am, opened the door, flicked on the light.

“Good morning, time to get up. It’s housekeeper day.”

Indecipherable grumbles.

An hour later, Hope emerges, pops her meds, grabs her lunch, and puts her water bottle in the backpack.

“Is your room housekeeper ready?”

I know some folks think “cleaning” before the housekeeper comes is ridiculous, but really, there’s some stuff that you need to do to maximize their usefulness. I’m not paying them to deal with Hurricane Hope’s room. The floor needs to be clear and the tops of the desk and dresser need to be reasonably tidy. If we leave sheets out, the housekeepers will change our linens. All dishes need to be in the kitchen, and personal stuff in the bathroom needs to be put away.

Hope put down her stuff and headed to her room where she spent 10 minutes tidying up while grumbling. This meant she missed the bus.

All preventable, but whatever.

I head out to the office; Hope texts me:

Then she got on the wrong bus, because the world is petty.

She was fine by the time I got home and moody again 90 minutes later.

OMG. What is it with teenagers?

Is it the water? Is it just the rite of passage? Is it just the misery of middle teen years? Hormones? Bitchiness? WTH? And it just doesn’t stop. Every time I tap on her door, I wonder what version of Hope will answer.

The day after the housekeeper drama, she drags in the morning and once again misses the bus. I run into her on my way to the gym. She reveals that she missed the bus, lost her bus pass for the public bus and apparently doesn’t spend her own money on the public bus.

I continue to head to the gym for my workout because this is just so ridiculous and so routine I have a case of the “cannot-right-nows.” When I return Hope is still home, still supposedly looking for her pass.

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Check it: she still has a $5 Walmart gift card in her wallet from 3 years ago, but she can’t keep the bus pass that is essentially her ticket to independence and freedom. Yeah, you can unpack all the, “maybe she doesn’t really want independence and freedom” hooey, but on the real, I cannot-right-now. I just can’t.

I implement consequences for not keeping up with her stuff, which will stay in place until she either finds her pass or acquires another one. I bark, “Get in the car,” and cart her off to school

And that’s it; no more rides to school unless I’m truly feeling benevolent. There is zero reason she can’t catch the bus. Yes, yes, inattentive, blah, blah, blah. I’m over it.  She can ride that bike I just bought her with her new lock and helmet.

Have a good day, Miss.

 

 


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