When a Parent Makes a Teenager’s Life Unnecessarily Difficult

“Mum, can I wear jeans?” my teenage daughter Felicity looks at me with pleading eyes. She must know what I’m going to say. I‘ve said it so many times before: “Jeans are unfeminine. You’re a girl. You should wear a skirt.”
When Felicity was a little younger, clothes weren’t an issue. She had dresses and pants and jeans, and she wore whatever suited the occasion. I didn’t think too much about it. Then we moved house and I made some new friends. They introduced me to some new ideas.
Girls are different to boys. They should look like girls and act like girls.
Yes, girls are different to boys. I agree. I listened some more and observed. Other mothers were dressing their girls in skirts and dresses. Some weren’t allowing their girls to participate in boyish activities like soccer. I really liked these women. I wanted to belong to their group. I wanted them to like me in return, to approve of me and to accept my family. So I adopted their way of doing things.
So Felicity wasn’t allowed to wear jeans or join in with soccer games with the boys. Instead she stood on the sidelines, yearning to kick the ball with all the other kids.
Occasionally Felicity would defy me. She’d sneak off when I wasn’t watching and play soccer anyway.
“Hey, your daughter Felicity is a powerful kicker!” someone would later tell me, not realising his words would get her into trouble.
“What were you doing playing soccer?” I’d angrily ask my daughter.
Soccer? Jeans? Did it really matter if Felicity pulled on a pair of jeans and kicked a ball with the boys? 
I have to admit jeans and soccer weren’t the real issue, though I pretended they were.  I only adopted the standards of the other mothers in order to be accepted into the group. I bowed to adult peer pressure, instead of listening to my own child, and making decisions more appropriate for my own family.
If I’d encouraged Felicity to participate in sporting activities she enjoyed, would this have prevented her inactive lifestyle of later years? If I hadn’t had constant battles with her over her clothes would she have felt better about her appearance? Would she never have written the following words?
“I also took my rising desire to prove myself as individual, to have different looks and hobbies and interests to my mum’s, as a very bad thing. I felt guilty about wanting to be different, so I would take any criticism of my appearance or interests very badly.”

Would I have made the life of my child, who was suffering from undiagnosed mental illness just a little bit easier? Maybe a healthy child would have felt resentment because of my rules. It seems my child ended up feeling bad.
I don’t really think it matters whether a teenager is ‘normal’ or special needs, we should avoid battling with them over unimportant things. What were those words of a recent Mass reading? 
“Parents do not lead your children to resentment.”
Perhaps we should be prepared to trust and accept, rather than constantly control our young people. We should value their own opinions and who they are. They don’t have to be just like us. And they certainly don’t have to conform to the ideas of our friends.
These days I try not to let adult peer pressure affect what is best for my family. But I admit, it’s not always easy. I wonder why. Why are we so influenced by the opinions of others?
btw, every family has their own opinions about such things as dress. I can accept that. This isn’t meant to be an argument for unisex dressing. Nor is it a criticism of my friends’ ideas. I just used this issue as an example because it is one of the things Felicity and I battled over.
If you’re interested in this topic though, you might like to read The Jeans-Wearing Rule and I Am a Skirt Girl
Next time… Are you willing to share my memories of losing a daughter to the enclosed life? 
I have a few lighter post ideas in mind too. I could write a story about Disney princesses and teenage daughters… or a young adult son, a father and muscles…  or even a mother, a daughter and some extra hard laps of running. I hope you’ll stick around.
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Comments

  1. Reply

    I completely cringe when I think of some or the advice I took from other mothers, particularly with my first child, just to be accepted. I went against my instincts, thinking I must have been wrong and that others "knew better". It's hard becoming a parent for the first time and although we do our best there are many things that change over time. I'm following your recent posts with great interest, keep them coming 🙂

    1. Reply

      Kelly,

      I cringe too! We all have a need to belong, and it does take time to adjust to parenting and gain confidence so we're not affected by other's opinions. Then just as we gain confidence with our babies they turn into toddlers, and then 'preschoolers', and then 'schoolers'… and eventually teenagers. I guess we never stop learning! At least our later children should have an easier life than the first!

      Thank you so much for your encouragement!

  2. Reply

    I love reading your blogs Sue. Below is what I can't seem to articulate on my own, but so true.

    Thomas a Kempis said: " All perfection in this life is attended by some imperfection and all our farseeing is not without obscurity."

    "Today I pray for the wisdom to build a better tomorrow on the mistakes and experiences of yesterday."
    ~ Author unknown

    1. Reply

      Michelle,

      The quotes are perfect! Thank you so much for sharing them. They are very encouraging We never learn without making mistakes. I suppose we just stay still.

      Thank you for reading my blogs. It is lovely to know you enjoy them and kind of you to tell me.

      God bless!

  3. "I don’t really think it matters whether a teenager is ‘normal’ or special needs, we should avoid battling with them over unimportant things." Absolutely! Sometimes, for me, the pressure doesn't even come directly from other people but from what I perceive them to be thinking.

    It is my second child who gives me the most "practice" on this. J(8) came into this world with a VERY strong desire to control his own life which, combined with challenges with emotional regulation (caused by his SPD) makes him – to be completely honest – incredibly embarrassing to be around in public sometimes! {smile}

    My ongoing work is to find the balance between not battling him over the unimportant things and guiding him towards a happy and fulfilling life.

    I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy my online friendships so much – not because I am pretending to be someone I'm not, but because this is a space that helps me clarify my values without the muddle of trying to deal with my son around other people!

    Sometimes I find myself daydreaming about how lovely it would be like to meet some of my online friends in real life, and then I remember J(8) and I think "Oh my WORD! They would never want to be friends with me if they met him!" I imagine people thinking, "Those peaceful parenting, unschooling ways obviously haven't worked on THAT CHILD!" and I would spend all my time trying to get J(8) to apologise for being rude to people.

    Writing it down like that has brought tears to my eyes when i realise that is pretty much what my real life is like, which is so very sad because I LOVE this exuberant, out-of-the-box little boy with all my heart and I wouldn't have him any other way. I took him out of school as he turned five because I could see that school was going to try and squash him into a non-Jasper shape. But it would seem that *I* still have some work to do on allowing him to thrive as his true self.

    You've got me thinking, perhaps I should start a new blog where I share some of this. Thank you for inspiring me and making me think, once again, Sue. God bless you.

    1. Reply

      Lucinda,

      It is so good to know we are getting the opportunity to share some of the behind-the-scenes things!

      What other people are thinking… oh this causes us so much anxiety at times! In many ways your son sounds a lot like my eldest son. Duncan has never been diagnosed with anything in particular (I never sought any help) but he is 'different'. When he was much younger he'd never do anything the 'right' way. I'd take him to birthday parties and he wouldn't play the games. Instead he'd do his own thing, quite happy but not joining in. All the other mothers would look at me with pity. Maybe they were judging me. Couldn't I control my child? Sometimes I wanted to cry. I remember saying to Duncan, "Couldn't you do things my way just once. Couldn't you be nice to me?"

      Lucinda, I wrote a blog post about that if you're interested:

      https://www.storiesofanunschoolingfamily.com/2011/09/its-quite-ok-to-be-different.html

      Of course Jack in the story is Duncan.

      Since I wrote the post, Duncan has completed 3/4 of his Masters of Teaching degree. It hasn't been an easy time in some ways. He is too honest in his opinions and quick to let people know he's not happy. eg When they did a unit on the family and they were talking about what exactly a family is these days, Duncan got most impatient with the immoral stand the lecturers were taking. He wears his heart on his sleeve and finds it difficult just to stay quiet, do the work and move on. But when he did his first practical… wow! He did so well, a born teacher. Duncan relates so well to the kids. He had a 6th grade class, the hardest class to control and they loved him. He might be reserved with adults but he gets on wonderfully with children. So will Duncan find his place in the world? I am praying and hoping so very much!

      Apologising for being rude? I'm still suggesting to Duncan that his comments might sometimes appear rude to other people. He gets most upset when he realises he unintentionally hurt someone. Still working on stuff with him!

      Oh Lucinda, I relate to your words so much. Loving our children, wanting them to be who they are because they are special just the way they are, but also worried how they're going to fit in with the world. Would that sum it up?

      Oh do start a new blog! I'd be so interested as I'm sure many people would be. I bet there are more 'different' kids out there than we realise sometimes. It can be very lonely parenting a child who doesn't fit the norm. Maybe other parents would come out of the woodwork and share their experiences too.

      God bless you too!

    • Fliq
    • January 8, 2014
    Reply

    I didn't realise you might also have been desiring to fit in, Mum! Oh dear! I have to admit, I wear few skirts these days. My excuse is that I always try to dress appropriately for an occasion, so I will always be in modest, flattering and comfy clothing, and that I have replaced my skirts with dresses.

    My big complaint with skirts and dresses is, funnily enough, comfort. I am a big girl, it is very hot here, and walking in a dress or skirt will cause my thighs to rub together. There's been many times where I have finished a day in a suitable skirt, only to find out, by the end, that I am raw and bleeding. So much so, I have permanent scars there!

    I still find, going shopping for clothes, that I look for clothing based on "would Mum approve?" And though sometimes it has led me to feel a little constrained in what I wear, I do feel I have been saved from some terrible clothing mishaps over the years! Thank you!

    1. Reply

      Felicity,

      I guess there's a lot we didn't realise was going on in each other's lives. Never mind. We are finding out now!'

      I really don't mind pants and jeans, though my preference is for more feminine clothing. I sometimes ask the other girls if they'd like jeans but they have decided for themselves they are not jeans girls.They say they are not comfortable. And dresses are not comfortable for you! Nothing is ever the same for everyone.

      "would Mum approve?" I don't know whether to be pleased or feel guilty my voice is present in your head when you are choosing clothes!

      btw, I love this photo of you and Immy. I think you are both very beautiful.

      Look, we are halfway through the story and we are surviving! Thank you so much. I think a lot of people are grateful for your generosity in allowing me to tell your story.

      Love you!

    • Gina
    • January 9, 2014
    Reply

    So much good insight in this post! I also find myself doing things out of adult peer pressure. I think the way we homeschool can also come from adult peer pressure. That is why it is important, in my opinion, to stick to reading books and blogs that inspire us and not make us feel like we are doing things the wrong way. I love your comment about concentrating on the important things. I agree! It is hard sometimes to explain to relatives why I do not make a big deal about certain things – it is because there are more important things to enforce. It can be overwhelming to a child and a parent to micromanage everything.

    1. Reply

      Gina,

      I think you are so right: we need to find like-minded people and books, to keep us encouraged. That's why I like groups such as the Catholic unschooling ones. Everyone is very friendly and understanding and supportive. Sometimes when I'm roaming the blogosphere I come across posts which criticise unschoolers. I don't need to read such posts so I leave quickly!

      I've been thinking about control, how we all, to some extent, control other people's lives. Yes, we don't need to micromanage our children's lives. Maybe they just need guiding in the important areas. I wonder if I can write down properly what I'm trying to say. I'll have a go another time!

  4. Reply

    Thank you, Sue – I always appreciate your honesty in posting and this post is excellent. I succumb to adult peer pressure too and this leaves my daughter very frustrated. I'm not sure why I do, I think it's because I hate being judged and found lacking. Folks around here have such strong opinions and I tend to be rather wishy-washy (but I'm working on it). Your daughter sounds wonderful!

    1. Reply

      Mary,

      I feel sad I sometimes put outsiders ahead of my children. I want to please those who aren't really very important, rather than listen carefully to those whom I love. Yes, our children get frustrated. Adult peer pressure must be very powerful! Wishy-washy? Maybe if your opinions are wishy-washy then the issues aren't that important and not worth making a fuss over. It seems to work that way with me!

      Thank you for your kind words about my daughter. It is so good to see you out and about the blogosphere once more!

  5. Reply

    Sue,
    You could write about taking out the garbage and I'd read.
    I may not always comment, but I always click over…….The title got me. I'm thinking of how we ( Paul and I) may be making Kev's life unnecessarily difficult, bc he is certainly a challenging individual to live with.
    Definitely need to read anything you are offering. Your blog is fuel for the soul.
    Light, heavy posts. doesn't matter.
    Hey, I'm writing about Doctor Who cakes and pet turtles lately, for heaven's sake. It's all fluff with me…I need to really be pushed to think! So thank you, friend.

    Love how your dd is commenting and you're having an exchange with her here!~
    Be well!
    Love ya lots
    C

    1. Reply

      Chris,

      Write about taking out the garbage? haha! Watch out. I might just do that and then you'd have to think up an appropriate comment! You really are very kind!

      Teenagers can be very challenging to live with! They can also be a lot of fun. I always enjoy reading about what Kev's doing. He sounds like a wonderful young man.

      So glad you don't mind my heavy posts amongst the lighter ones. This series seems to be going on and on…

      OOh! I could do with some fluffy posts to make me smile. It's been too serious around here lately. I think we all need our spirits uplifting sometimes and I always feel good after a visit to your blog.

      My 12 year old has just discovered Dr Who. The older kids are taking great delight in showing her all the older episodes, so it's been non-stop Doctor Who in our house for the last few weeks. I will be over later to look at your cake!

      Love you too and thank you so much for stopping by!

  6. Reply

    Two years ago, I realized that I was also being affected by adult peer pressure. I realized I was doing more and more "schooling" and less and less living and learning. Relatively few parents home school, and all the Catholic ones I knew essentially followed a classical curriculum. It was a subtle pressure, but I was pretty annoyed with myself when I recognized it. (I blogged about it here: http://zoomtimes.blogspot.com/2011/05/navel-gazing.html )

    That's what ended up leading me to your blog! I decided that the problem was that I was constantly hearing one view of home schooling, and that I knew that wasn't the view God wanted me to have. I needed to start listening to views that would support me in my path. I started googling "Catholic Unschoolers" and I read Suzie Andres book. Funnily, I started reading your blog because I thought you WERE Suzie Andres. But I kept reading because you are Sue Elvis! 🙂

    1. Reply

      Wendy,

      Thank you for the link to your post. It was very interesting! Co-ops seem to be common in the US. I am not entirely sure what belonging to one involves, but I'm guessing you have to do some shared learning. We don't have co-ops here but some families meet on a regular basic for shared activities. I've never felt comfortable getting involved. Probably I am too much of a loner and like to do things our way. I've never met any homeschoolers locally who homeschool like we do. If I did, it might be nice to meet up and discuss things.

      Like you, I meet unschoolers online. I had to smile at your comment about thinking I was Suzie Andres!! No, I could never fill her shoes. I knew Suzie before I started this blog and you will find some long comments written by her on my earlier posts. She was (and still is) very encouraging as far as my blog goes. I know she has been asked to create her own blog but Suzie tells me she just isn't a blogger. She doesn't even have the Internet connected at home so isn't online as much as I am. I told Suzie she could share my blog. I am quite happy to tell everyone about Suzie's books whenever the opportunity arises. I just put the words 'Suzie Andres blog' into the Google search engine and my blog came up number one in the results! Maybe that's how you landed here. I am so glad you didn't disappear once my real identity was established!

    2. Reply

      Wendy,

      Even I might be able to cope with only half a day of co-op once a week! Still plenty of time to indulge our own interests.

      Oh yes, it should be easy to share something we are passionate about! I love sharing my interests. I guess that's why we blog about homeschooling and share with the world. Could it be some of the parents aren't sure the kids would be interested in their areas of expertise? I have always found that passion is inspiring and even if I don't think I'm interested in something at the beginning, I might have changed my mind by the end. Kids are the same, I'm sure.

      Maybe some parents use curricula because they don't want to teach. They want it all set out for them. It does look easier on the face of it, but so tedious. I don't think I'd last long if I wasn't interested to the point of feeling excited about learning. Most of my 'teaching' is actually just sharing passions or learning alongside my kids, not teaching in the traditional sense.

      It's lovely to chat!

    3. Reply

      I did like the co-op, it met for half a day once a week, and the parents theoretically took turns teaching. It was nice for the kids to see friends, and especially to do some group games and sports, but it was never what I'd hoped it would be. I wanted the other parents to share what they loved so that my kids would get excited about new things. It was utterly baffling to me to find that most of the other home schoolers didn't like to teach, and didn't seem to have an area of personal interest. Many of them got or hired someone else to teach for them!

      When I asked one dear friend to teach about what she was interested in, she said, "What? Makeup and magazines?" Well there were two things I was not putting much interest in with my kids- that's good! I suggested that she talk about color theory, face shapes, fashion, or maybe help the kids put together a magazine. She gave me a really strange look and kind of laughed it off. I just couldn't (still can't) understand how home schooling could work if you didn't like teaching your kids. Is it a side effect of following a curriculum? I don't know, but nearly all those parents burned out trying to push their kids through a curriculum and now have their kids in school. 🙁

      I like the shared activities approach. That's more what we are doing now. Our current co-op is really Children's Adoration, with scripture study and games. It's fun, low stress, and those of us who like to teach do the next Sunday's scripture with the kids.

    • Amy
    • January 12, 2014
    Reply

    Sue-Suzie Elvis-Andres: YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I love reading your blog, too.

    My own oldest son is rather like your Duncan. He just moved back in with us, probably and hopefully for just a short time, because he left the Coast Guard after being in for 7 years. We, esp. my husband, were so so relieved that he was in the military, managing….but now he's out, and dh is fretting over this son's interviewing skills (doesn't seem to have any). He has a place in this world to make his mark, but what it is remains to be discovered. It is going on two months since his discharge was completed. He took weeks to get his affairs in order and packed up. Then he took a twelve day trip to get here. And now, well he's been here for 3 weeks. I do feel a teeny bit worried myself.

    1. Reply

      Amy,

      Thank you for reading my blog even though I'm not Suzie!!

      I wonder how Duncan will go with interviews too. He once got lost on the way to an interview and was late. Of course he didn't get the job but couldn't really understand why. He'd have been understanding if someone had arrived late, so what was the problem? Yes, it's a worry! But I don't want to worry my son by showing him I'm worrying, if that makes sense! Maybe his confidence will be squashed and he won't attempt certain things because he knows I think he might have trouble succeeding.

      Perhaps your son just needs a bit of a break. I guess it's a big change being out of the Coast Guard. Could he just need some quiet time to rest and reflect? I hope the next stage of his life becomes apparent soon!

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