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WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

Who Do You Want To Be?

49 comments | March 29th, 2011

(submitted by Guest Contributor Mir from Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda)

I am struggling, right now, because my child has managed to reach the age of not-everything-is-fair-Internet-game at the same time that her misbehavior has reached new and crazy-making heights. Do you have a teenager? Do you know a teenager? Were you ever a teenager? Answer "yes" to any of these questions and then you likely know that teenagers are clinically insane.

And they can't help it; their brains aren't fully formed, their bodies are galloping ahead in new and horrifying ways, and they're surrounded by a group of similarly-confused peers. All of them are facing pressure to be a certain way, only none of them can ever reach consensus on what way that is.

 

And so, they're crazy. Their emotions run rampant, and even truly good kids who were never a moment of trouble start making questionable choices. They can't help it, I suppose. But my job is to shepherd my kids into adult as their best selves, and yet I cannot find a reliable manual for how a person makes that happen.

Here's what I will tell you: As of right now, my teen no longer has a bedroom door. The whys and wherefores are not my story to tell, but suffice it to say this was the culmination of feeling like she needs to learn some lessons about honesty and trust and what it means to earn respect back after you've sacrificed it. This is hardly the first punishment in this battle and I suspect it won't be the last.

When the metaphorical smoke cleared, I sat down with my daughter. My beautiful, brilliant, kind, loving, and yet sometimes incredibly-dumb-choice-making daughter. 
 
"Who do you want to be?" I asked her. She stared at me, wondering if this was a trick question. "I know," I continued, slowly, trying to measure out the right words, "that this feels like punishment. Like meanness, because you did something you weren't supposed to. I would really like it if you would take this not as an example of 'oh I got caught and I got in trouble,' but as an opportunity to think about who you want to be." Still, she didn't get it. I thought of everything I wanted to say that would cause her to tune out, shut down, and shrug me off. I tried again.
 
"This is the part of your life where you're growing into who you'll be for the rest of it," I explained. "Not that you can't or won't change, but this is where you consciously start making choices. This is where you start deciding, what kind of person do you want to be? Do you want to be the kind of person who lies, who breaks the rules, who sneaks around?" She flushed and shook her head. "I'm not asking to make you feel bad. I'm asking because I want you to think about it. Which is more important: having a bedroom door or being the kind of person we can trust, so that we don't have to worry about you having a door?" She nodded a little, to show she'd heard me, but didn't look up. "I'm asking you to think about what sort of person you want to be on the inside. And to think about what you need to do to actually be that person." She nodded, again, and I hugged her and let her slink away to consider this, or—more likely—to just think about how mean and awful her parents are.
 
I feel like I'm walking a tightrope, with my daughter's self-esteem cradled in my arms.
 
If we come down too hard on her, all she'll take away is that she's bad, disappointing, and can't do anything right. If we're too soft on her, she takes away that shortcuts and justifications are fine, and we don't expect any better of her, anyway. Either way, ultimately she loses. Every move I make, I wonder if this is the incident she'll look back on, the memory she'll dredge up when wondering at what point, exactly, she concluded that she simply wasn't capable of more, so why bother.
 
I was well into adulthood before I figured out that I mattered, and older still when I realized that the bitch about standards and morals is that almost nothing is absolute, making "right" a moving target. It was not until very recently that I realized that nearly always, it's better to be kind than to be right. In the case of parenting, though, it doesn't often feel like I get to err on the side of kindness.
 
So I will continue trying to demonstrate the lessons I hope she will learn. I will punish when I must. But always, I will keep asking: Who do you want to be? Is this behavior part of that? If it isn't, what needs to change? How can I help? Do you understand that we expect more from you because you are better than this?
 
And—unspoken, underneath, in my heart—the other questions: Do you know how much I love you? Do you know I don't want you to walk through the same heartaches I did? Do I put too much pressure on you? Can't you see that if you choose to be your best self, there's nothing you won't be able to handle?
 
And all I can do is say my piece (and maybe take down a door), and then shut up and cross my fingers.

Do you feel like you grew up to be the person you wanted to be? Can you think of what's helped you the most, in terms of staying true to yourself?

Check out Mir’s amazing blog at www.wouldashoulda.com.

 

 

 

 

 

49 comments

  • Anonymous

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    I’m new to this blog, but my parents removed my brother’s door (for slamming it too much) and mine (for being a sneaky teenager) at different points. I am in college now, so not quite grown up, but I do believe I have more self-confidence and, almost more importantly, self-respect then the majority of my peers thanks to my parents. They erred on the side of strict, with clear consequences for rule breaking in any form that they STUCK to (if they took my car away for 1 month, it was 1 month exactly, not 1 week then I forget and it’s more convenient for me if you drive anyway). That is rare, and something I hope I can uphold one day with my own kids. I think it’s harder sometimes to stick to right and wrong and follow through then to be your kids friend and be kind.

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  • Chris

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Your question to her made me catch my breath. Stunning bit of parenting, Mir. I will steal shamelessly from you.

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  • Debbi

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Wow! You are an exceptional mom! The question you gave to Chickadee is perfect. I will hopefully remember this for when I need it. :-)

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  • Lucinda

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    “I was well into adulthood before I figured out that I mattered, and older still when I realized that the bitch about standards and morals is that almost nothing is absolute, making “right” a moving target.” Uh, yeah. One time I was trying to do the “right” thing and someone kindly pointed out there was no “right”. Only better and worse. That has helped me so many times. To let go of being right and know I am doing and being the best I can. Good luck with Chickie. I read daily how you are absolutely doing the best you can with her.

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  • Tenessa

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    My parents were very hard on me growing up. The rules were hard and the consequences for breaking them were fast. There was no flexibility. My parents weren’t my friends. They weren’t my peers. They made the hard choices, unafraid of me yelling my hatred of them to their faces. I had a VERY healthy respect for my parents. (Not that I feared them (my parents). It wasn’t that level of consequences.)

    Still, I made stupid mistakes. Mistakes that could have, and in at least one case maybe should have, cost me my life. But because of the example of my parents. Because of their expectations. I turned away from the peer pressure. I turned away from those peers altogether and got new peers, and I went on to live my life.

    And now? No, I’m not where I thought I would be 15 years after high school, but I like where I am. I like who I am. I like where I’m headed. And I’m friends with my parents.

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    • Tenessa

      Posted on March 29, 2011

      And I admire you for making those hard choices and choosing to set the example for your daughter. You won’t regret it, I don’t think. And neither will she, this I know.

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  • Deirdre

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Wow, beautiful post. I commented on your lead-in on Woulda Coulda Shoulda, but feel compelled to say I am bookmarking this for the next time I need to have a discussion like that. I will totally give you credit! :)

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  • Jenn H.

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    I had this same conversation– That it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about the person you are becoming, the choices you are making– with my 5 yr old yesterday. :). (I think we’ll revisit it once or a thousand times over the next decade!) After a blow-up with her (3 yr old) sister where it was evident that she was in the wrong, I asked her how she hopes her sister would describe her to a stranger… Very interesting to hear her response– a peek into her value system. Anyway, provided for a great conversation about how the choices you make MAKE you into the person you want to be.

    Parenting is not for wimps.
    Keep doing what you’re doing, Mir.
    Galatians 6: 9

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    • mamaspeak

      Posted on March 31, 2011

      Jenn,
      I’m stealing that from you (how do you think your sister would describe you?) My girls are 7 & 4 and mostly BFFs, but also total frienemies. I try to remind them how lucky they are to have each other and to love each other so very much, most of the time. I think your question will allow them to realize that on their own. Which is what I was looking for.

      See Mir,
      You vent and you’re a self-help blog in the comments.
      Also, I know you didn’t give us the whole detail of how things went down and you’re kicking yourself bc you don’t think you handled it as well as you might have. I disagree. I think you’re doing a stellar job. The thing about being a parent, is that it’s not always fun. Often doing your best, feels like your worst. But, I hope to handle difficulties like this w/my girls half as well. Give yourself a hug (from me) and a glass of wine or 4. You deserve them.

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  • The Other Leanne

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Yes, Mir, I grew into the person I wanted to be, but only after asking myself the question you asked Chickadee. Unfortunately, I was 40 when I asked it.
    I don’t know if anyone asked me that when I was in my “formative years,” but if they did, I probably thought in terms of WHAT I wanted to be–famous, rich, etc. I had no self-awareness or conciousness of the effect of my behavior on the people around me, or how others viewed me, and it was a sorrowful day when that awareness came to me.
    What has helped me the most has always been the standards my parents and friends set for me–in the end, it was honesty, thoughtfulness, generosity of spirit, moral character that helped me align my compass.
    The bottom line is that you won’t damage her by setting reasonable expectations for behavior, attitude and character, and she is capable of meeting them.
    Oh, I’m full of advice, because I was that kid.

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  • Adrienne May

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    I love this post, mostly because it echoes how I feel so much of the time with my 12 yr old step daughter… she doesn’t understand that her actions have consequences, that she can’t erase something she did by saying sorry one time.

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  • Shannon

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    You are not THAT parent. THAT parent would have yelled, taken down the door, and not had any discussion whatsoever about it. When she looks back on this in ten or twenty years, she will remember you asking her “Who do you want to be?” and she will be glad you made her think about it.

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  • The Mommy Therapy

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    I think this is a phenomenal question to ask you child. It shows you respect them, want to help them be their best self and know that they are capable of realizng when they are doing something that is moving off that path of life they want to have.

    Oh, I so very much dread these years with my three kids. I feel your pain in questioning your responses to her behavior, wanting to make the correct decision that will help her become a wonderful adult. I already feel it in my 5 year old, I can only imagine once my children are entering the teen years.

    Keep talking to her, keep letting her know she can talk to you, that you love her…and then perhaps pray? It seems a lot of this parenting stuff is doing the best we can and then praying for the rest….

    good luck!

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  • Lynda M O

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Mir, you are doing really well with your kids, from my perspective. We used to ask our daughter, “What will the 25-yr old “Rose” think of what you have done today?” Well, she’s 25 now and has a home and a life and a career. These teen years will end, Mir.

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  • Heather

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Seriously Mir, it sounds like you did very well. And that’s a great question to ask oneself at any age.

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  • JennyM

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    See, I’m feeling all flushed and heart-racy because I’m in a place where I really need to say that to myself. Generally speaking, I’m more or less who I want to be, but… BUT. I have fallen into “getting away with things.” A healthy guilt complex and pretty rigid sense of moral obligation have so far kept me from really dropping the ball, but how long can that last? Am I being who I want to be? No.

    Which all goes to show, I guess, that not only is “right” a moving target, but apparently “who do you want to be” is a constant inquiry I should be making of myself. I’m reminded of the Hyperbole and a Half entry about how adulthood is not something that you simply achieve and then can display like a trophy on the mantel — that “being a grown-up” is something you have to do, constantly, every day. Even when you’re tired, or depressed, or it just doesn’t seem FAIR that you have to be the one to suck it up and make the “better,” harder choice over the “worse,” “easier” one.

    I know my response isn’t anything about parenting, and for the record, I think my parents did a terrific job with me. I tested boundaries much in the same way it seems like Chickadee tests yours a lot of the time. And I am now an adult who is, at the very least, self-aware enough to realize when I’m being an ass and, I hope, enough *not* an ass to be who I want to be most of the time. To know that one of my greatest fears and nightmares is letting people down, and to keep myself from edging too close to that line.

    Am I there right now, though? No.

    Sigh.

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  • Shana

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Mir-

    I read your other blog and have been following you over here. I’m so glad I did today. I love the way you handled this and though I think my parents did a great job those questions weren’t something I ever asked myself until I was in college and watching an Oprah show about integrity and character. I was basically a good kid which is maybe why my parents never asked me those questions but I certainly was not doing the work I needed to become the adult I wanted to be. I was an awesome liar but I didn’t realize that I was hurting myself and that despite the fact I almost never got caught in lies I always knew they were lies. I changed that day I started asking myself that question and I have a feeling that Chickadee will too. You might not see it until she is older but I’m sure you just made a huge difference in her life! Thanks for being such a great Mom (don’t worry we know you aren’t perfect!) and being a parental inspiration to all of us!

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  • Celeste

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    I hear you, Mir. I struggle with that fine line between being so hard on my kids that they give up, or being so easy that they think I’m a pushover. I want them to not be afraid to tell me when things have gone haywire and they need help…but to consider the consequences of their actions. And every kid is different too.

    All we can do is give it our best shot. And pray a lot.

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  • Megan

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    I was raised with a very black-and-white morality system, and with it a very black-and-white view on someone, say a teenager, who sometimes landed on the wrong side of the divide. Unfortunately what that left me with was not, ‘this behavior is dishonest’ but ‘YOU are dishonest’ or ‘what you’re doing is lazy’ but rather ‘YOU are lazy.’ Like you, it took a very long time to figure out the difference.

    I so wish that someone had asked, or maybe just that I had been able to hear, the question you asked your daughter. Keep asking – during the good times as well as these trying ones! It’s good for her to remember that she’s making those wonderful choices as well.

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  • Mir

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    I am sending a fluffy pink pony to every one of you! Check your mailbox!

    Seriously, y’all. You made me cry. (In a good way.) How did people keep their sanity while parenting before the Internet was around? I love the reality check of knowing we’re not in the trenches alone. Mad love going out to everyone, for real.

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    • Jean

      Posted on March 29, 2011

      Mir! You had to know we were with you on this one, that we all struggle with this. You did a great job with your discussion. I try to do similarly, but maybe not quite as eloquently. And I even had a door removed in my house a week or so ago, for unrelenting backtalk and general disrespect. I’m with you all the way and I wonder with you how anyone got through parenting before the internet. I know finding your writing has certainly helped me.

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  • Monique

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Best. Post. Ever.

    Seriously, I could go on about/with details, but the question you asked was brilliant and I’m totally stealing it when my child is old enough to understand.

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  • Jamie

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    I also need to bookmark this to use in the future, my oldest is almost 10. I’m always learning something from you about how to parent, so THANK YOU! for that. Growing up, 2nd-7th grade, we (sis and I) lived with my mother. Mom worked swing shift, so we were latch key kids once we stopped going to the babysitter. I started to hang out with a few wrong people and get into trouble, so she sent us to live with my dad in another state(lived there until I got married). He was strict, there were more expectations, he “saw” everything as we lived in a town of 25,000 people where everyone knew our large extended family, and I am a better person because of all of it. We didn’t have a lot of extra money, so when it came time that I had friends starting to do expensive drugs, I knew that I could not afford to even try them, plus, my dad would have kicked my butt something fierce if he found out. I wouldn’t say I lived in fear, but there were expectations and I was not going to be the one to disappoint my dad! (I guess it was a healthy fear.) He was loving, too, and I think that’s also what made the strictness not so bad. Sure, my sister and I cooked and cleaned and we didn’t go out a lot after school unless it was to work, but we also didn’t get into a lot of trouble, and we have a healthy respect for ourselves and those around us. Strict works and I hope I can do as well with my two as our dad did with us.

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  • karen

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Mir, beautifully states, as always. THis is such a difficult time for a parent, and a growing tween-teen too. You’re handling it beautifully, doesn’t feel so great though, does it.

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  • ScottsdaleGirl

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    My turning point with my mother was when after being a particularly foolish and stupid 20-something she sat me down and said “Remember who you are”

    That was the most powerful thing she ever said to me and 23 years and her death later? I still tell myself that to cope with day to day issues.

    And now I have to go cry and remember what you said to your daughter as I hope your question will steer a certain step son in the correct direction.

    Thanks MIR

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  • Tracy

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    I think you are an outstanding Mom. I understand the feeling it gives you when you are so disappointed in the behavior and choices our kids make. My children are all young adults now and it’s so hard to stay silent when I see the wrong choice being made. And I also, sometimes, take the blame. It’s that thought pattern every parent experiences at least once, What if…I did this, What if…I showed them that. It’s the woulda, coulda, shoulda, Mir. I applaud you for your parenting methods and I know the feelings you carry. Just know that you aren’t alone. Every parent has or will eventually go through it. My youngest is now 23. And I know, I’m not out of the woods yet.

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  • Lynn in Mass

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Mir,
    I have been following on Woulda coulda Shoulda and today I am glad I followed here as well.
    I love how you presented the question to Chickadee.
    My parents were pretty strict in my up bringing but, for the most part I respected them for it. I feel that I am pretty grounded because of it.

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  • Rasselas

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Sigh. This is actually the question that’s been plaguing me through my twenties. Who did I become? An artist. Despite my parents trying to talk me out of it, forbid it, make me take a major that was a compromise so I could become a teacher. They wanted the safe option for me, but the safe option was killing me inside. All that time, I was trying to live someone else’s life. I almost believed them and the rest of the world, that this just couldn’t be done. Now I’ve done it anyway. :)

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  • Randi

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Mir – I have to tell you that until about 10 years ago, maybe even less, I didn’t know who I really was. My husband helped me to become a much better person (I often tell him that he raised his wife LOL), and two years ago I told myself that I wanted to take baby steps to be the person I want to be. I know you’re an amazing mom, simply because you actually try to walk on that tightrope instead of just going one way or the other.

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  • Eva@OOC

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Mir, I love the question that you pose to your daughter. Our girl is only 5 and a half, so I read stories like this with trepidation! How will I know what to do or say? Can’t they stay sweet and innocent forever?!!!! Your words are reassuring and helpful. We need each other on this wild journey of parenting. Thanks so much.

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  • amy

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Wow, Mir. The fact that you took the time to ask her that instead of just telling her how angry you were with you, is MONUMENTAL. My mother never told me that I was my own person, and never had me examine who I was becoming. My self-esteem is still rock-bottom and I’m crawling my way up and I’m in my thirties.

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  • Kati

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Yeah, me too. We have similar hard-and-fast consequences for ignoring nonnegotiable behavior rules. No doors lost yet, but there has been the loss of all toys, and of nonessential clothing, with specific goals set for earning each piece back. And we always say,”You will not grow out of your behavior; you will grow into it. Now is the time to make adjustments before the behavior becomes a habit.”

    I’m not competing, just showing my solidarity for your methods. And understanding the horrible ambivalence that comes with these types of behavior-linked consequences. So, as the kids say, “Word, Mir. Word.”

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  • Nancy R

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Ooh, the Master Class series on Oprah’s Network? They made a segment on Oprah and Part 1 just aired on Sunday night. It’s on OnDemand right now…and she includes some pretty powerful statements. My teenager sat down just as I started watching it and I was so glad she did.

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  • Flea

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    We’ve had similar conversations with all of our teens. One in particular. In fact, that one is nearly seventeen and we’re still asking the questions, “Who do you want to be and where do you find your truth?” It’s paying off. It is. You’re doing well, Mir. You are.

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  • Navhelowife

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Mir, you did exactly right.
    And I had to laugh because my oldest was told yesterday that ONE More slam and I was taking the door off. And I’d have done it, but he calmed down and we were able to discuss the issue.

    However, it is a really effective way to get your point across.
    And the discussion/question you asked C? Perfect.

    It won’t be the last time you have to go through this. But I think you did well.

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  • jen

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    This is the same conversation we’ve been having with our 13 and 12 year old boys in the face of some relatively minor bad choices. Good for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    this post? I loved it. Who do you want to be? We can still be asking ourselves this no matter what age we are. For example right now in my life, there are a lot of rumors running around at work, and it’s tempting to join in–things are rough and we’re all trying to figure out what’s going to happen. But–it doesn’t feel good… It’s not who I want to be.

    And it’s certainly how I want to help my own soon-to-be-a-teenager to think about her choices… Thank you! This is really helpful.

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  • Stimey

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    Oh dear. First of all, I want to say that I LOVE what you said to your daughter. I’m going to have to remember that, because that’s what we want, right? We want them to be able to make their own choices about who they want to be with the hope that we have raised the so that they make the right choice.

    Second, I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but have I mentioned that I want to stop my children from growing into teenagers? Because I’m serious.

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  • parodie

    Posted on March 29, 2011

    I remember internalizing some version of this question or idea (you are currently shaping who your future self will be) from an Anne of Green Gables sequel. A very powerful thought – and one that definitely shaped my choices. Not perfectly, but, well, I’m human too.

    Courage, Mir. :) Parenting sure isn’t for the weak!

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  • MomD

    Posted on March 30, 2011

    As a teenager/pre-teen I never once thought about what kind of woman I wanted to be. I thought about what I wanted to wear, what I wanted to look like, where I wanted to be, but NEVER WHO I wanted to be.

    That’s also a great question for new moms. What kind of Mom do I want to be? I wish I had asked myself that question a million times during my children’s growing-up years.

    I think your words to her will do much more good than removing the door will. Removing that door will just help her to remember them better. :)

    Chin-up Mir, it will get easier.

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  • J from Ireland

    Posted on March 30, 2011

    Wow Mir. I am going to ask both of my teenagers this question today. I am constantly learning from you. I was a lucky girl the day I found your blog. Thanks so much.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on March 30, 2011

    My mother once made what felt like a thoughtless comment. I was being unpleasant for whatever reason, and my unpleasantness had hurt my younger brother’s feelings. I don’t even remember what I did. She said ‘you used to be such a nice little girl, I wish you’d decide to be that nice little girl.’ I was 10 when she said this. I have never forgotten it, and still think of it now when something gets me iritated. I make the choice to be the nice girl, because that’s who I decided, at 10, that I wanted to be.

    Keep talking, she hears everything you say, she’s just trying to figure out which parts she can make the most sense of.

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  • Cheryl

    Posted on March 30, 2011

    I share with you a phrase my mother used with all of us very, very frequently as we were negotiating our teen years. It went hand in hand with the type of situation you’re describing in our house. “At the end of all this, I hope that we’re friends but it is not a requirement. At this moment in time, however, it is more important for me to be your mom than your friend.” She also has told my sister and I that you haven’t done your job completely well as a parent if your child never once turns to you and says “I hate you”. That’s your key to know you’re on the right path.

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  • Andrea

    Posted on March 30, 2011

    I love this conversation. I have 6 year old twins and worry about parenting them into the wonderful adults they deserve to be. You’re doing that for your daughter. Who do you want to be? How can you be the person you want to be Z(from anonymous above)? Two questions for me and my daughters for years to come. Thanks for sharing this.

    My best to you and your family.

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  • Caroline

    Posted on March 30, 2011

    You Mir, make me want to step up my game in this parenting business. And I thank you for that.

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  • Aimee C

    Posted on April 5, 2011

    Wow. God has sent me the exact words I needed to hear at exactly the right time….and YOU delivered them in this post. Thank you.

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