My older son is going through a teen angst phase. One of his major complaints about life is that he feels he does not want to live with restraints placed by our government. He wants to be self-sufficient and living as an independent person free from restrictions placed on him by society. One was that he wants to be able to get a real job right now, something we thought was illegal per state law. (I will share more on that issue in a future blog post.)
During a conversation (on the eve of the fiscal cliff Congressional vote) he cited specific examples of his issues with our government and our politicians including our representatives in Congress. I was frustrated with his passionate feelings. Things are not as bad as he was making them out to be. I didn't want him to worry about the big issues in our federal government such as these. I just want him to do his math lessons, stay current with his chemistry class homework, to finish reading To Kill a Mockingbird, to enjoy his varsity sport, to laugh with friends, and to just enjoy life, since he has a pretty darned good home life situation going here.
I want my son to be able to feel gratitude for the good in his life and to be aware of all the good so that hopefully it will outnumber the problems, whether the problem is worrying about federal debt or being sick of listening to the music his little brother has on the car radio.
I feel strongly that people have a right to feel the emotions they are feeling. I do not agree that anyone should ever say things like "you should not feel angry". We have a right to feel anger if we are angry. It does no good to tell a person they are basically silly or stupid to let X issue get them angry. The same goes for fear, hurt feelings or any other emotion. Parents, spouses, and everyone should allow people to communicate their true emotions and they should have a safe place to discuss them, especially if the person is a very verbal person who releases stress and anxiety through processing the emotion by releasing it through talking. You may choose to write it out and tear up the paper or go for a sprinting run or whatever, but my son is helped by talking and being heard. And I am here to listen.
Then it hit me: my husband and I had raised an independent thinker with high verbal communication skills. And due to our parenting choices we have raised a fifteen year old who still opens up to tell his mother a lot of what he is thinking and struggling with.
It is also important to know that my husband and I follow current events and news. My husband reads and listens to talk radio two hours a day while commuting from work. Sometimes we have cable news on TV but honestly not as much now as previously due to the kid's increased time at sports practice and our need to drive them to and fro. We all have less time for watching TV. But we listen to news in the car sometimes and we talk politics at the dinner table. My kids know more than the average kid, who holds what position in government, what the hot topics of the day are, etc. My kids also hear news via friends on Facebook and Twitter. Why should I be surprised that my fifteen year old has political opinions?
To my mind, both of those are things that signal successful parenting. Both of those things are good for an individual to have going for them.
Mothering my teenage son is challenging. Some days I feel that I'm a dismal failure because my son struggles and grapples with ideas and is sensitive about problems in our social circle or in American culture. Those are signs of an independent thinker, and is that not what we wanted: a kid who could think critically, who could see the big picture, and who actually cares about big issues as well as possessing the ability to communicate his feelings about them?
So rather than thinking I've failed either thanks to our parenting style or specific choices we made or due to homeschooling, I think that we are on the right path. The path may be bumpy, but we're moving forward.