“It is my life. My body.”
The words are spit across the expanse of my kitchen, daring me to respond in kind.
I want to. I really, really want to. But I know that a philosophical discussion about the age of responsibility for one’s mortal shell is not really what’s at stake here.
Independence is. Control. Autonomy. Recognition.
Such is the life of parenting a teenager. Parenting any child, really. I deal with this with Little Man, when we battle over bedtime or getting homework done. He doesn’t fling the same statements, but the sentiment is there. He wants to make his own choices and assert his own personhood. Parenting is all about helping a child learn how to balance the immediate desire with the long term consequences. They don’t see all the angles, and it’s a parent’s job to not just state what the answer is, but to lay out the steps and results. It’s teaching them to balance all of the dichotomies of life in a wise way and independently make good choices.
And sometimes what you know clashes with their perspective, and you find yourself in a battle.
But with a teenager, often these battles seem a little more…life and death. It’s not choosing to take an F on a homework assignment or getting enough sleep at night. It’s about making decisions that might damage their bodies. It’s about being in places that could result in consequences that last a lifetime. It’s about creating a trajectory that could end in heartache.
But Sunshine is right. It is her life. It is her body.
So where does my worry end and my trust begin?
Sometimes when I’m talking to Sunshine, I get flashbacks to another kitchen, another standoff, to a time where I’m the one yelling about my life and my business and you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do and when-I-turn-eighteen-I’m-out-of-here. I dig in my heels and say I can date who I like and act as I like and you can’t stop me.
Sometimes I wish I could remember the exact words my parents said to me. I’d really like to dust them off and give them another spin from the other side.
But I know the gist of it. They let me walk my path. In my senior year of high school, I turned 18 and I did indeed date that boy who was far too old for me…and more importantly, far too incompatible for me. I dated him for a full year—I do spite and perseverance well—but wouldn’t you know, about a month into my college career, it was over.
And what I remember from that time, and many others like it, was that there was never an I-told-you-so from my parents. Sometimes a “well, I’m really not *too* surprised” or a “perhaps next time you could…” squeaked out. But that was never the agenda. Instead, there was sympathy and sadness over the broken. A quiet picking up of the pieces and a promise for help with a fresh start.
I think all along my parents were my contingency plan.
For all the shouts about wanting my own life and how out of touch they were, there was always the knowledge that they were never going anywhere. I could run as hard and as fast as I wanted, but I knew I could always return. I was allowed to fall. I was allowed to figure it out, and then come back to empathy and open arms.
The older I get, the more amazed I am at the grace my parents had for me. They bit their tongues and held back words and released their own agendas so that I could grow. They shared their wisdom and trusted that my deaf ears would someday hear. They put aside their own preferences so that mine could run their course. They valued their relationship with me more than anything else, and they made sure I knew that.
They didn’t always do it right, and they didn’t always respond with patience, but their love for me was never in question. No matter how embarrassed I was at my failures or how hard it was for me to confess my errors in judgment, I knew that there would always be kindness and care for my well-being. Mistakes were never recorded in the permanent record of our relationship. Sin was never left unforgiven. Love was never withheld.
This has not been Sunshine’s experience. People she trusted have left. Her choices were held against her. The ones who should have loved unconditionally didn’t. It’s no wonder that she tells me that if I don’t like her choice I don’t have to ever talk to her again.
Oh my dear, that would be like refusing to breathe the air.
This isn’t just a battle. This is a shifting of perspective. This is teaching someone not only how to make good choices, but how to trust that a mother-friend will still be there when you don’t.
I want to show Sunshine that this is how it is now. I want to let go of myself so that she can become the best version of herself. I want to be able to speak my mind and then let her make her own choices, for good or bad. And when she falls, I want to be her contingency plan.
That will only happen if I show her. It will only happen if I tell her I disagree, and then love her with the same dedication I have when we are not in conflict. It will only happen if I make the relationship more important than the battle.
I have no idea what I am doing. And I’m really scared for her. But I can only hope that I am showing her that no matter what she decides, I will always be here. That her behavior does not dictate my decision to love her. That no matter how far away from me she goes, I will be the place she can come to for her return.
And so I accept her decisions about her body and her life. I quietly put aside my own fears and worries and put her future in the hands of the One who is always with her even when I am not. I cannot always protect her. I cannot always make sure she does the right thing. But I can always love her.
I want that to be the thing she remembers.