By Patsy G. Lovell
When our second daughter, Kathleen, was 13, she was as lively as any young teenager could be. One night, she excitedly asked permission to buy a leather miniskirt, one like all the other girls in her class were wearing.
As she described the benefits, I could tell she was expecting a negative response. Nonetheless, she acted surprised when I said no. Kathleen then launched into great detail about how she would be the only one in the class without a leather miniskirt. I reminded her that my answer was no and explained my reasons.
“Well, I think you’re wrong!” she retorted.
“Wrong or right, I’ve made the decision. The answer is no. ”
Kathleen stomped off, but quickly turned on her heels. “I just want to explain why this is so important to me. ” I nodded.
“If I don’t have this miniskirt, I’II be left out, and all my friends won’t like me.”
“The answer is no,” I quietly repeated.
She puffed up like a balloon and played her final card. “I thought you loved me,” she wailed.
“I do. But the answer is still no.”
With that, she “whumped” – a noise made only by an angry junior high kid trying to get her way. She ran upstairs and slammed her bedroom door.
Even though I had won the battle, I felt I was losing the war. I went to the living room and sat down. My husband was working late; I was the only parent “on duty.” Then one of those unexplainable things happened: An inner voice said to me, Hold fast!
It dawned on me that Kathleen and I were not locked in a battle over a miniskirt but rather a battle of wills. A mother versus her 13-year-old daughter. Holdfast meant I needed to prevail even though I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking or my stomach from churning.
The whumping noise from Kathleen’s bedroom started once more, and sure enough, she appeared on the stairwell. This time, she was breathing fire.
“I thought you taught us that we have rights!” she screamed.
“You do have rights. The answer is still no.”
She wound up again, but I cut her off. “Kathleen, I have made my
decision. I will not change my mind, and if you say another word about
this, you will be severely punished. Now go to bed!”
She still had a few words left, but she held them in check. She loped off to bed, still seething.
I sat on the couch, shaking and upset. None of the children had everpushed me so far. I leafed through a book, too wound up to go to bed. Just when I thought our skirmishes were over, the sound of whumping came gain. Kathleen came down the stairs.
“Well,” she announced, “I’m just going to tell you one more time…”
I met her at the bottom step, planted my hands on my hips and looked her in the eyes. “Do not answer,” I said. “Do not say yes or no. Do not say anything. Do not say `Yes, ma’am’ or `No, ma’am.’ Turn around and go to, bed. And do not make a single sound!”
She slowly turned and trudged upstairs without a word. I dropped into the couch, thoroughly exhausted. For several minutes I stared into space and wondered what my blood pressure count was. Then I heard her door open. Kathleen, her nose and eyes red from crying, walked down the stairs in pajamas. Curlers were in her hair. She held out her hands to me.
“Oh, Mom, I’m sorry.”
We hugged as she said through her tears, “I was so scared!” ”
“Scared of what?”
“I was scared that you were going to let me win!” she sniffed.
You were scared that I was going to let you win? I was perplexed for a moment. Then I realized that my daughter had wanted me to win!
I had held fast, and she was convinced I had done what a mother needed to do. Her simple words gave me the reassurance I needed.
Children love their parents, but they cannot handle being equal with them. Deep down, they do not see themselves as grown up. In fact, they will, if they can get away with it, bring a parent down to their level, so that all the family seems like a group of kids.
Deep down, teens know they need guidance and leadership. Parents, it’s up to us to give it to them.
(Patsy Lovell is a middle school teacher in Hazel Green, Ala.)
(The above information was published by FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, October, 1993)
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