It might feel cathartic to complain about your difficult relationship with your teenager to your friends, but you can hurt your teen and further damage your relationship if they know you talk to your friends about your issues with them. Here’s why.
I have a confession to make. Sometimes I get mad at my kids. I’ll tell you another secret too. There have been times, particularly when my children were teenagers, that I was concerned about their behavior. But, even though one of my major motivators in starting this blog is to share my own experiences with other women so we can feel a little less alone, I don’t feel comfortable sharing stories about my kids.
I thought about this recently after reading a thought-provoking article on the New York Times. The article, Raising Teenagers: The Mother of All Problems by Rachel Cook, examined the divide between parents and their teen children that seem almost inevitable. It was beautifully written and filled with personal examples and stories from the author’s own family and from friends of both her and her children and these stories helped make the issue much more relatable.
Except, when I finished reading the article, I felt like I had participated in a terrible invasion of privacy. Would her daughter read this story and be angered by this description of her?
She makes a noise of exasperation, and her temper instantly rises, like mercury shooting up in a thermometer. At 16, my older daughter is in the fever of adolescence: Her temperature is nearly always high.
Will all the friends of the author’s teen read the article and pick it apart to figure out just who is meant to be represented in anecdotes that talk about dangerous drug use and draconian punishments? Will the parents who shared information about their children see their own stories in print and feel a little violated and judged, even if no one could possibly know who they are?
I know I would. In fact, I know exactly how I would feel. When I was a teen, my own mother used to share all her concerns about me with her prayer group every day on their prayer chain phone call. I’d walk into the den in the morning to hear her tell the whole world (as far as I was concerned) that she was worried about my late nights at my new job or, even more mortifying, asking everyone to pray for me because I’d just had my heart broken.
She never understood why I’d get upset. In her mind, these were issues of concern to her and, as such, could – and should – be shared with her group so they could pray for her.
And so, for a good five years, I told her nothing. We didn’t have conversations because I didn’t feel safe talking with her. And honestly, even after I became an adult, I never told her anything that I wasn’t ok with her whole circle of friends also knowing.
In any relationship, both people need to feel safe and supported in order to truly be close. Part of the drama of the teen years can be attributed to the fact that the parent and child need to work their way to a new relationship: one where the child is not simply an accessory in the parent’s life, but their own person, with their own thoughts, their own needs, their own right to privacy.
And so, while I’ll happily blog about my daughter’s reaction to a recipe I prepared, I’m very hesitant to share any details about how we sometimes butt heads. I’ll happily talk about my grown-up son’s plans for grad school (proud mom here!), but I’m not going to write any blog posts talking about issues that came up during his teenage years. Stories that include my children belong to my children and I will share them only with great sensitivity and their wholehearted permission.
I can’t discuss this issue without quoting Anne Lamott who famously said (as anyone with a Pinterest account knows):
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
But in this case, I think I’ll take my advice from E.L. Konigsburg, the author of one my favorite books as a kid, About the B’nai Bagels. That book contains some parenting advice I took to heart and remember to this day:
I’m more worried that if he finds that he can’t have that little corner of privacy at home, he’ll look somewhere else for it. Bumming around with bad kids or staying out all night, or trying to do something really secret and really bad.
I think we all need a little corner of privacy.