My daughter turns 16 tomorrow. If you’ve ever been around a 16-year old – especially a 16-year old girl – then I don’t have to tell you about “attitude” and the perceived “rights” that accompany turning 16. For those who don’t know, the best I can tell you is that there’s something magical about turning 16 that makes the individual feel all grown up and answerable only to themselves and their own rules. Stand in the way of that, and you better be a strong individual or they’ll run you right over.
The other day my daughter didn’t return home from school at the time that I’d come to expect her. In retrospect, I realize that part of the problem was my own. I understood that she was expected to come straight home after school, but she didn’t have the same understanding. My bad. On this particular day, she didn’t have a ride home from school, so she and her boyfriend decided to take a full-hour walk to go pick up the car he shared with his mother so that he could drive her home. She had texted me explaining that she’d be “a little late,” and that she had to “walk” to a particular elementary school to pick up his car, but I hadn’t realized how far they were planning to walk, and so I just assumed (you know what happens when you ass-u-me, right?) that she’d be home maybe 15 or 20 minutes late. That was apparently a big assumption.
When the time that I expected her to arrive home came and went, I began to get concerned. When I finally got her to respond to my texts, it finally became clear to me that I could expect her to arrive home nearly 90 minutes later than her normal time. I was not pleased!
When she finally arrived home, I sat down and had a little chat with her and clarified what my expectations were. Now she was not pleased.
“I’m 16 years old!” she cried. “I should be able to come and go whenever I want!”
That was bad enough, but she didn’t stop there! “I shouldn’t have to tell you where I’m going. I shouldn’t have to clear it with you when I’m coming home! You’re gonna have to quit hovering over me! In two years – just two short years – I’m going off to college. What are you going to do then when you can’t regulate my hours?”
“It’s a common courtesy,” I explained. “When I don’t plan to be home when you and your dad expect me, I call to let you know. And, while you did let me know you’d be late, you not only didn’t give me the opportunity to say ‘no,’ but you didn’t make it clear to me how late I was going to expect you. I was worried.”
This didn’t phase her much at all, and the two of us continued to go ’round and ’round on this topic for some time (as only a mother and daughter can do) until we finally called a truce and I gave her an ultimatum: “You will be home by 3:45 or you are to ride the bus. If you are later than 3:45, then there will be privileges taken away. End of discussion.”
Neither of us won this battle, but in the spirit of good parenting, I was determined to win the war.
Several days later I had a meeting that ran late and caused me to cut it pretty close to being home in time to meet Amber when she returned from school. As I raced against the clock to get home, I realized I wasn’t going to make it home in time. For a moment I considered calling her and letting her know I wouldn’t make it, and then I had another thought: “It’s time for creative parenting.” Bwaahhhaaaa!
About two miles from my house – and about three minutes after I expected Amber to get home – my phone rang.
“Hello, Sweetheart! ” I answered as if I had no idea why she was calling.
“Mom! Where are you?” Amber asked, clearly worried.
“What do you mean ‘out?'” she asked.
“I’m out. What’s the big deal?”
“Ummm…the ‘big deal’ is that I’m standing here in front of the house, the doors are locked and I can’t get in,” she said.
“Oh,” I said. “That must really suck.”
“MOM! Where are you and when are you coming home?”
“Oh…I dunno. I’m just out. Why do you need to know?”
“Because I expected you to be home and you’re not here and I can’t get in the house!” she practically yelled at me.
“Oh! Wow! Gosh! That really sucks!”
“MOM! Why didn’t you tell me you weren’t going to be home? Did you leave a key for me somewhere?” she asked.
“No. I’ll be home soon.”
“When is that???” she asked.
“Look, Amber. You told me just the other night that you’re 16 now and you don’t have to tell me where you’re going or when you’re coming home. I’m 41. Don’t you think that if you can follow those rules at 16, I ought to be able to follow them at 41?”
“Mom! That’s not fair!” she cried.
“Well, it is what it is. I gotta run…you interrupted me in the middle of having a good time. I’ll talk to you later.” I said and hung up.
Moments later I arrived at my driveway to find Amber standing there staring at her phone as if she couldn’t believe I wasn’t home to shower her with hugs and chocolate chip cookies. Her friend Chase – who had heard both ends of the conversation since Amber insists upon keeping her phone on speaker – was laughing hard enough to split stitches.
As I got out of the car I heard Amber say “That was so mean!” at the same time that Chase said “That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard! That was hilarious!”
As parents, sometimes we can talk until we’re blue in the face and we still don’t get our points across. Sometimes reciprocity is the only approach that works. At least I’m hoping it worked. I’ll let you know…