Being 18 is tough. I see it all over facebook. My daughter, her friends, their friends…there is so much angst, The Cure would have a field day. And of course, as parents, we think we know what’s best. At the very least, we have a wiser perspective; we’ve lived longer, we’re more experienced, we’ve already made all these mistakes.
As mothers especially, we have seen love come and go. The unimportant ones, we simply forget about. It’s the important ones, the ones that make us think, “shoulda, coulda, woulda,” that we hold as cautionary tales. Some of us, like me, even write them down, with the intention of showing them to our far future children. Eventually, we hold out these tear stained pages as an offering: “Look,” they say, “I’ve been there. I know how this story ends. Listen to my hard earned wisdom. I was once where you are right now. I made this choice. It was the wrong one. You should make the other one.” Sometimes, if we’re one of the lucky ones, our pages are a little different: “I’ve been there. I know how this story ends. Listen to my hard earned wisdom. I was once where you are right now. I made this choice. It was the right one. You should make it, too.”
It’s our fault, really. We spend 18 years of their lives telling them that once they turn 18, they’ll be able to make their own decisions, do what they want, be what they want, go where they want. Really, the part we forget to say is, “as long as it’s what I want for you.”
The thing of it is, we do know what we’re talking about (mostly). We know what makes a good mate (for us), we know what makes a good job (for us), we know what is dangerous, scary, right, wrong…for us. But what if they want something different in their mate? Ron is the best husband ever, but he does not like to go out, go places, do things, watch tv, go to movies. For me, I know that the things that he does do are a million times more important than the things that he doesn’t. Aubrey may or may not find those same qualities important. I hope that I have taught her to value faithfulness, respect, loyalty, over just, “Damn, he’s sexy.” I remember at her age, sense of humor was the dealbreaker trait. Without a sense of humor, it was over before it began. She may have a different dealbreaker trait.
Certain things should be dealbreakers without question. If they want you just for sex, it’s over. If they are stupid, if they are liars, if they are disrespectful, if they are abusive (or even show the slightest potential to become abusive), if they are possessive and jealous, if they use illegal substances, and if they are married or dating someone, those should be dealbreakers no matter who you are. The problem is at 18, one lacks the experience and wisdom to determine if a person has some of these qualities…although hopefully one can tell if someone is married or in a relationship.
The flip side is, they have to make some pretty stupid mistakes in order to gain that experience and wisdom. Hopefully they don’t do something life-wrecking along the way, like get pregnant, get married, be beaten and abused, become addicted to an illegal substance. Really, that is the best we can hope for. We can talk, and talk, and talk, and hopefully they absorb some of it, but sometimes it feels like the view into Homer Simpson’s brain. Marge is talking to him, and while he nods his head and agrees, all he’s thinking about are doughnuts and beer.
Even for girls, at 18, their frontal lobe (the part of the brain that controls judgement) is like jello. For an 18 year old boy, his frontal lobe is almost liquified. We set them loose at a time in their lives when they are overwhelming biologically stupid.
They tend to forget that we’ve raised them, so we know a little bit about them, such as the things they find interesting. We can point out classes, and plead for them to take them. We can point out boyfriends and plead for them to date them. We can show them job opportunities and plead for them to apply. However, what they want is to be someone different. Someone we don’t know. They want to be their own person, not the one they think we created.
So yes, a lot of times they will do the exact opposite of what we want, merely because we want it. Here’s the bit they don’t get…sometimes they want it too, but just won’t do it out of pure spite. It’s called individuation, and it’s a necessary, biological, and psychological part of growing up.
All we can do is step back and be there to catch them when they fall; and they WILL fall. That’s the whole “experience” part of it. Sometimes they just have to touch the stove to see if it is hot. That’s partly because of their biological stupidity, and mostly because they are positive we are wrong, for no other reason than that we are older than they are.
They have their own plan. It’s not our plan. The more we try to save them from their biological stupidity, the more they will think about doughnuts and beer. The best we can do is wait until they hit 22 ( for girls) or 25 ( for guys), and hope they become reasonable, rational human beings. Yes, they will screw stuff up beyond repair. Good relationships will end, job opportunities will be lost, and they’ll change majors three times before they graduate…if they graduate.
Have a little faith that you did your job as good as you could. Trust that they are learning from these mistakes. Believe that for the most part, they are doing the right thing; they are…. for them. We are not them. They are not us. And that is a good thing.
” Who cares if you disagree? You are not me. Who made you king of anything? So you dare tell me who to be? Who died and made you king of anything? All my life, I’ve tried to make everybody happy while I just hurt and hide, waiting for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide.”