I have three teenagers who think they are full-on adults and know all the things. While I wish this were true — since it might make my life easier — this isn’t the case. If you have teenagers, I know ya feel me right now. I’m sending you peace and light during this difficult time.
It’s my job to keep them grounded and remind them they are still growing, evolving beings who don’t have all the answers. And since I’ve been kicking around these parts for almost 30 years longer than they have (and I pay the mortgage), they still need some ground rules to keep them in check. I’m constantly reminding my teenagers of the following:
1. You will do chores.
We are a family. We are a team. We all live here and use the toilet paper and accumulate trash. We all use the driveway and enjoy a lawn free of dog poo. This means we all dig in and help out. Many hands make light work and when you are using your hands solely for your devices and eating hoards of cereal, this ship doesn’t run smoothly.
Most teenagers don’t jump at the chance to fold their own laundry or take out the trash so I remind them often. And by that I mean at least once a day. Does it get old? Yes, but there’s no way they are going to leave these four walls and not know how to clean the bathroom or iron a damn shirt.
2. You will treat your teachers with respect.
You don’t have to like every teacher you have. And yes, you may butt heads with a few. This is normal and happens to all teachers and students. But just because you don’t get along, it’s not a free pass to dole out disrespect.
You are one of many kids. Your teachers are here to help you discover who you want to be. This is their job and they work hard. Show up, do your work, and don’t make their life harder by being disregardful to them. If you have a conflict, handle it with them outside of class in a mature way. And if you need assistance with this, ask for it because there are always other adults who want to help you figure tough situations out.
3. You will treat your living space with respect.
I don’t expect your room to look like the cover of a Martha Stewart magazine. I don’t mind clutter and some clothes on the floor. I know you think making your bed is a waste of time.
However, that’s about where my compassion ends. You will not punch holes in the wall if you are upset without coming up with the money or time to repair it. You will not clog the toilet and leave it for someone else to deal with. And for the love of all things holy, if you dirty a dish, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — let it end up under the sofa or in your room where it can turn into something so smelly I’m sure there are one-thousand dead cats in the walls.
4. You will not expect me to hand things to you.
If you want something extra, like an expensive pair of sneakers or a new bike, and you don’t have the patience to put it on your Christmas or birthday list, you gotta help me out. Start saving or ask what you can do around the house to earn it. There are three of you and this isn’t the land of Ask And You Shall Receive.
5. You will use your manners.
I expect to hear words like “please” and “thank you” when you talk to anyone — even your annoying brother. If someone is behind you, hold the door open for them. I don’t care how much you love mashed taters, if we are at the table and you want to hog the last bit after you’ve already had two helpings, you need to make sure no one else wants any before you dive in.
We don’t need to pull out the chairs for each other, but manners go along way. I know the farting, pooping, butt-hole jokes are hella funny, but let’s refrain when we are eating, in public, or when your grandparents are over, mmmk?
6. You will be mindful and considerate.
If your sister is having a bad day, leave her the hell alone. If I’m hobbling around sick, ask me what you can do to help. If you sprayed pee all over the seat, clean it up.
Be aware. You aren’t the only one in the universe and your actions (even the small ones) affect other people. Everyone has feelings, and people do take things personally whether you think they will or not. Remember that when you feel like lashing out or wiping your ass with the last square of toilet paper and don’t feel like replacing it.
7. If you break my trust, you will have to earn it back.
If you break a rule, you are going to have to go back to the end of the line and start building my trust again. This is how it works. There are no get-out-of- jail-free cards sitting in the junk drawer for me to hand you. I was a teenager once and know if there’s not a proper consequence, the behavior will keep happening.
You want to be able to hang with your squad, drive around, and have a job? Pass your classes, be where you say you’re going to be, answer my texts, come home on time, and don’t walk into my house thinking you can lie to my face and I won’t find out about it. Oh, I will. And you will be the one who feels the wrath. Just you.
8. You will be responsible for fixing your wrongs.
If you screw up, you have to make it right. We all make mistakes and we can all be forgiven. You never have to worry about me holding a grudge against you for something you did. You do have to take it upon yourself to correct a wrong behavior though. I can play the supporting actress and help you, but the heavy lifting will be up to you.
9. I expect you to be honest.
If I ask you why you are late coming home, just tell me. If you are struggling with something, don’t shrug it off; just tell me. If I’m doing something that’s bothering you, just tell me. We have an open door policy here. You don’t want your mother lying to you about things. That would make you feel unsafe and break our trust. Then, you’d stop coming to me and our relationship would take a nose-dive, right?
I need the same from you.
10. You will listen to me, especially when I tell you I love you.
If I’m talking to you, I expect you to remove the damn ear buds and listen. I want to share my life with you. Yes, I know how tight your schedule is, but I have some stuff to say and I don’t want to waste my breath.
Sometimes I need to remind you about things. Boring, I know, but necessary. I like to check in with you and see how you are doing. I also enjoy sharing stories with you about when you were young. Humor me. Listen to me the way you want to be listened to when you need to talk. And when I tell you how much I love you, know I mean it with every inch of my soul.
11. You will remember I am always here.
I don’t care what the issue is — if you think I treat your sister better, or my consequence wasn’t fair, or you are in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same — I’m here. You can come to me. I am always available to you for support and will give advice, just listen, or take you out for a burger if that’s what you need.
If you need a ride home because you and your friends were drinking, call me. If you’re being threatened at school, tell me. If you need help with a job application, I can be of assistance. If you are trying to french braid your hair and it’s not turning out right, come to me and I’ll do my best.
12. You will eat dinner with the family.
I don’t get much time with you. There are nights I make a nice meal. There are times we eat pizza round the kitchen island. You all know I love to sit around the television in our pajamas and have tacos. We will do it together, always. I don’t ask for much so you can do this for me. I don’t make you stay in on a Friday night when you’d rather be with friends. A family dinner (most nights) isn’t a big ask and you’ll do it without complaint.
13. Remember I am learning as I go and I’m doing my best.
Most of all, I want you to know that I know I’m not perfect. In fact, some days I feel like I suck. I’m still learning as I go. You all change so much it’s hard to keep up. I am, and always will, do my best even on the days I feel like I’m running on fumes. You are all the loves of my life and I will never not bring my best for you. There are times when that’s me throwing down a microwave lasagna after spending the day in my bathrobe, but if you can always remember it’s my best and have a little bit of compassion for me. We are going to be alright.
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