Dear Teens: Even When I’m Mad, I’m Not Giving Up On You

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I threw a mini temper tantrum the other day. My son thought it would be a good idea to leave a small plate of steak in his room for three days. Steak. In his room at room temperature. Just sitting there.

I’d told him not to bring it up to his room because I had a feeling maggots would be blossoming from the plate of juicy meat I’d cooked to perfection. Not to mention, had it been stored in the refrigerator I could have enjoyed the leftovers.

I was right.

That was just a gateway to me going off the handle about the how he’s been slacking on his chores. I’m tired of having to tell him the trash is overflowing and he needs to take it out — after he gently sets his fruit cup container on top of the trash pile, balancing it just so.

After I blew out all my steam, I followed it up with my usual, “I’m sorry I yelled, but I really need you to pay more attention and please never leave steak in your room again. Also, I love you very much.”

Growing up, if my dad was mad, he gave my family the silent treatment after he yelled. He stayed mad for days. Once you did something, like get bad grades, he’d hold it over your head. My junior year of high school, my standardized test scores were really low. I never tested well, but I also didn’t really care, so I filled in some bubbles without even reading the question to get it over with. My father was furious and said, “How does it feel to be in the bottom third of your class?” He then let me know I’d never get into college and I might as well forget that dream.

One thing I want to teach my kids is this: Just because I am mad, sad, or let down by something they do, I am never, ever going to throw up my hands and give up on them. Who wants to live under that type of microscope?

I want them growing up with healthy relationships around all things including making mistakes, and having disagreements. I want them to see me get upset, then have things go back to normal. I never want them to feel scared that they can’t come to me and talk to me about anything for fear I am going to write them off and not support them.

I’ve caught all my teenagers smoking pot.

My son flipped his car speeding down the road while his license was still under restriction — and he had kids in the car with him.

There have been a few times when I didn’t think he was going to pass his classes and graduate to the next grade.

My youngest took a picture of his teacher during a Zoom class and decided to send it to all of his Snapchat friends.

They make me mad. They disappoint me. They make choices I wish they wouldn’t.

But if I were to give up on them, stop believing they could turn things around and make good after they’ve done something wrong, if I canceled them for making human mistakes, where would that leave them?

When a child sees that a parent doesn’t think they are worth it, they stop seeing their own self-worth. If they know their own parents aren’t going to stick through the messy shit and be there to see them through it, where are they going to turn?

I need them to know that even when I’m mad — whether it’s about something small like letting red meat rot in their room, or something big, like smoking pot in their room during a sleepover — they still have my love and support, and I’m not going anywhere.

I can show them that by giving them proper consequences and reminding them that I expect more. And it can be done without letting them feel like they have to be perfect or else it will damage my perception of them. That only leads to them hiding a whole slew of things and not believing in themselves.

It’s okay to argue and get upset, then turn it around and still love and be there for each other. I want them to see that’s how a good relationship works — things aren’t always happy, but you can come back each time and still maintain love and hope for each other.