The Heirs know this. They ask things I would never have even hinted at with my own parents. That’s because my parents loved, loved, loved saying “no,” just for the sheer joy of it. But because of my aversion to the negative, the Heirs always push the envelope, just to watch me squirm.
This is particularly true of Heir 1, currently anticipating the independence that will come with being away at college in a little over a year. It doesn’t help that a lot of his friends’ parents are just happy to get their teenager out of the house for as long as possible so they can restock the pantry and hear themselves think. So I am constantly besieged with the phrase, “So-‘n’-so’s parents are letting him go.”
My house is always full of them. In my mind I call them The Lost Boys, kids who seem to have no rules or curfews and seem to be asking you, or some adult, to “stop me before I hurt myself.”
They’re no longer “cute” like they were as children and their precociousness has turned to surliness. In some cases they are remnants of a marriage gone wrong and barriers to new relationships. They constantly challenge the status quo and you have to be ready with a better answer than, “…because I said so,” because that’s never a respectful answer.
They don’t want or need you to be their friend or act their age. They need you to be the one constant in their suddenly changing world. They need you to roll with the punches they dole out to you because you are safe and the rest of the world will punch back.
A lot of parents seem to take this stage personally, quit parenting and just focus on damage control. Some maintain a façade of familial perfection forcing abhorrent behavior underground where the neighbors pretend not to see it.
They will say something shocking and then look at you out of the corner of their eye. Are you going to call me on it?
Yes. I’m not going to have the vapors, though, if that was what they were hoping for. But I’m not going to pretend I didn’t hear it or offer a half-hearted whine as though I find them annoying. I tell them they’ve crossed the line and they are almost relieved to know where the line is and that you care enough about what they say to point it out.
But the Lost Boys do make it even more difficult to say “no” to the Heirs. While the Lost Boys can come and go as they please, the Heirs have to be home by a certain time and are required to check in. The Lost Boys can slink into bed reeking of alcohol and various burnt substances. The Heirs have to make it past Dirtman, who I think is even more aware and worried about what can confront a 17-year-old left to his own devices.
None of this is fun. We hate being the killjoys, fun-loving couple that we are. We hate being perceived as “old-fashioned.” That’s a label for our parents, not for us.
And, frankly, we’re feeling our own itching for independence. We’ve been working on these kids for a long time, and parenting is a bit of a sacrifice (or should be, if you’re doing it right). There is nothing I’d like better than to not have to worry about them anymore, not have to examine my own agenda when I have to give permission for something; not have to try to explain every single answer I give down to the tiniest minutiae; not having to find the precise balance between permissiveness and regulation that will yield responsible, fearless, yet living adults; to not have to be The Bad Guy.
They say you never stop parenting and every age has its challenges. And, believe it or not, even this age has it’s moments of pure joy. Once, Heir 1 actually said this to me: “Ya know, you were right.”