Early in my momma journey my mind went totally panicky. There I was, raising GIRLS!
Even the doctor’s office was apprehensive; they did three ultrasounds on my last girl, just to be sure. The very reality of three girls led many people to say things like “oh, wow. Just wait until they are teenagers.”
Yes, three girls.
Not only that, but they are incredibly close in age. In fact, right now they are 16, 15, and 13. 9. I added the point nine to be very clear about how close they are in age. Said another way, Rachel and Sarah are 2-1/2 years apart. With Emily in the middle!
Early on I knew that I had everything stacking against us. People are afraid of teenagers, teenage girls particularly, and since I am neither afraid of teenagers nor afraid of teenage girls I decided to give it a fighting chance. That and it has taken me a long time to grow up, so maybe I was feeling a little like a teenager myself at the beginning.
Let’s tear this up a bit. I was nineteen when I became pregnant with Rachel. I had spent my teenage years on the sofas and in the care of friends, rather than family. I knew few people who were married, few of my friends had a set of parents at home, and I wasn’t married either. As far as girls go, I was much closer to boy; my first THREE closest friends in my life were boys, I got along better with boys than girls, and I preferred hard work to ease. I had done my hair the same way since 7th grade, wore little makeup, and hated shopping. I was, practically, the LAST person in the world equipped to raise girls.
And yet, I love it. I love these girls, who they are becoming, and who I have become. I even know how to put makeup on now!
So, to encourage those would be could be mommas out there, those that are desperate for some sort of encouragement with their passel, or some humor, or something to argue about, here it is. Here is everything I know about raising these girls.
My first stop when pregnant, after I decided I could do this thing and told my fiancé, was buy a book. Not just any book, this was the late 90’s and I needed to know what to expect! And then I wasn’t convinced so I bought another book, of an unremarkable title, but I did like it better.
More stable, and full of caffeine from my lovely gig at a coffee shop, I went on through the pregnancy uneventful day after uneventful day, until I was just about ready to settle into the momma role when I dumped several coffees on a group of business people and their laptops. I survived, I think their laptops did too, but from that day I stuck to simpler things like vacuuming.
And then, Rachel was born. And I realized that those books, well, they didn’t help me much with this BABY! So I did what any normal mom would do, I cried. There were more books to my rescue, and thankfully the internet in its antique form. How desperately I needed those moms online forums! How critical AIM was to my survival!
I quickly became a follower of attachment parenting. It made the most sense to me, then and still now, and while I wasn’t a 100% die hard follower, I did embrace a number of things which I think helped us get to where we are today.
I found the encouragement I needed to breastfeed my girls, each as long as they were able. Sarah was the longest, as she was also my youngest… If I tell you I nursed her two years I would be lying; same with five. It was somewhere in there though, just to be honest. Rachel holds the record for briefest time due to becoming pregnant with Emily and some archaic medical advice. She survived her loss with no hard feelings, and is quite fine to this day!
I loved wearing my girls. I had a sling, a front pack, and a backpack – I think I only used all three at the same time once! You see, I didn’t have a driver’s license until I was 25. Yes, I really learned to drive with three car-seats in the car! Since I wasn’t the sort to sit about at home waiting for my husband to take me places, we did a lot of walking and taking the bus. Strollers were incredibly inconvenient and difficult to haul about. I have amazing memories of those years, and I really miss it. The sling was a staple for me until Sarah was four, at which time even using it to keep her on my hip became a bit much.
We also co-slept, at times for comfort and at times for my sanity. By the time the three were born, there wasn’t an extra drop of sleep in the house unless it was attached to a baby. I will never forget the days of trying to get them to take a nap – Sarah was probably 2, and they all shared a room. I remember lying across their bedroom door flat on the floor just begging for five minutes!
Moving past those formative years (for all of us) I also did some things that I was chastised about, or that I complained about then, but now know that they were a gift. The girl’s shared one bedroom until Rachel was 9; and they have shared off and on since (as a matter of fact, they share a room now.) Much can be said about their generation… but one thing can be said that I know is true, all teenagers everywhere act like we encourage them to. To be both fair and clear, the girls didn’t share a room so I could teach them to be kind to one another, which is good because it hasn’t worked! They do share a room, and did so then, because we have never had four bedrooms, and because we have always had a houseguest of one sort or another – usually a family member or close friend in need of a home. This is something I hope we were able to instill in them, an overall loving and compassionate heart. Depth of character is worth far more than being ultra kind to your sister every day, all the time (which I think will work itself out anyway!)
I wasn’t involved in women’s stuff, children’s stuff, or anything that we weren’t part of together. I did try a number of times, when the girls were tiny. But in the end, between my incredible insecurities and their absolute loathing of all things “care” – we spent a lot of time as a single little hurricane of girl. This cost me dearly, as friends couldn’t understand, as I couldn’t understand, as the church couldn’t understand, as family couldn’t understand. But, as is so often said, in hindsight, it was good.
Have I overlooked anything?
Hmm. Well, not that I can remember!
So, here we are with a house full of teenage girls, with teenage hormones and all the chaos that brings. Here is my advice, taken directly from our day to day life, and not proven to work as my oldest has yet to move out.
Rule One – know your children. I was incredibly blessed to get to know each one as a unique person, as they are uniquely different. They respond, react, and behave very different from one another. If I tried to parent them identically I would be completely undone.
Rule Two – sleep. Oh yes, being tired is the common cause for their psychotic episodes - see rule one for help identifying other triggers. Encourage them to sleep when they seem to need it. Naps are cheap. And take them yourself, as often as you are able. A clean house isn’t worth your exhaustion.
Rule Three – Keep a hidden stash of chocolate. Lots of it. Chocolate, surprisingly, works as well as sleep. Dole it out like you give treats to pets. Pop it into their lunchbox, surprise them with brownies. Brownie mix works great as a Christmas gift! As a perk, if you share with them, they share with you.
Rule Four – DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY. I was privileged to have a couple teenage girls in our home when these three were tiny. Their impact was so helpful! They were crazed, and crazy, and none of it could possibly be my fault! I realized, hey – wait a minute – ALL teenagers can be like this, and it is often just directed at whomever (or whatever) is in view. So don’t take things too personally. They don’t hate you, even when they say it. This will pass, and the less personally you take it, the faster and better it will be.
Rule Five – keep being the parent. I’ve learned to say bummer a lot. I don’t bother with the word no very often; it is an overused and actually inaccurate word. Usually they know a “no” when it is before them. They may ask some hilarious question, or demand something ridiculous… They will try; they would be fools not to. Shoot, I still try, and yes, I guess I’m still foolish!
Rule Six – let them own their mistakes and pain. Oh, did one fail today, on a test perhaps, or in character? I will be really blunt and tell you that pointing their weakness out as anything other than being human will get you nowhere. They know when they have screwed up, and your dissection of it will create a bigger rift than necessary today. There will surely be a day to talk about it, and you may have to talk consequences right away, but don’t dissect in the moment. For the love of God, please hear my words. Teenagers, especially those about 13-16, are very attune to your words. And many already think they are one step shy of being a horrible rotten failure. That is all part of being a teenager. This is another area where I use the word bummer a lot. Usually it goes something like, oh, how did you do on that test today? … Oh, you failed? Bummer, it must suck to have to retake it. Or maybe… Is there anything you need from me that you haven’t told me? Tutoring? No? Okay then. I hope it works out better for you next time! Let me know if you need anything from me. Be a truth giver, not a critic.
Rule Seven – keep talking. This looks contrary to what I just said, but here me out. The only way you will have a next time to talk with your kids is if you talk with them all the time. If you don’t take the time with them, they won’t take the time with you. (Sound familiar to any other relationships?) Talk life, love, faith, hope, college, dreams, boys, sex, drugs, alcohol, gardens, seeds, pets, plants, friends, enemies, tv, music, games, books, anime, YouTube, food, cooking, parties, clothing… the list is long and could be longer. Be yourself, be authentic, be real, and keep talking.
Rule Eight – teach them to fly. By being real and authentic, you are showing them what life is. Practice your faith, rather than just exercising it. Do your best to love your spouse and work on that relationship to the best of your ability. Give generously, if you are a giver. Love freely, if you are a lover. Dance, sing, cry, smile… do all of these things and more with your whole self.
Rule Nine – let them go. Give them room to fly on their own. My house is full of my girl’s art, our kitchen is easily shared, and my time is generally theirs. Rachel goes to an awesome school in another district; she really wanted to go so we worked together to make it happen. Emily has spoken often of her desire to be a doctor, and so we have been praying and seeking and she just made the decision to join the military. Sarah is sunshine, and just this year I happened upon a cool college program that sounded like a fit for her; it was so fun to share that with her and dream together! We started dreaming when they were each in the sixth grade, and it has been a fun adventure!
Rule Ten – make them do their own laundry. Oh mom, I know you are not really too busy to do it for them, but DON’T. They can do quite fine at 9 years old, and you are helping them prepare for LIFE. Trust me. Who cares if they shrink their favorite shirt because THEY forgot to take it out of the dryer? Who cares if they turn their undies pink? Contrary to all of your friends (and theirs!) it really isn’t a reflection of who you are and how you manage a house. Bummer is really helpful with laundry.. and you can un-shrink a wool sweater (just do it as a surprise, it makes things fun!) Did I mention it’s good for them, and for you?
Remnants…. There are things that can’t fit so nicely so I will just tack them here. Silly things, like prepare ahead of time to always have extra deodorant, feminine products, makeup, shampoo, and razors. Keep a small kit for yourself tucked away, because you may discover a desperate need at an awkward moment. Stay young and keep light. Laugh. Dance. Sing. Teach them to drive, it is quite fun! Budget together. Pray together. Shop together. Gift together. Travel together. Eat together. Mourn together.
Above all, love them as best you can, and know that they are being shaped into the women this world needs. Women of faith, of character, of hope.