November 2012
Written by Celeste White

My kids are 13.5 years apart. My daughter is a freshman in high school and my son is 9 months old. The spread mostly works to my advantage: I have a semi-adult to talk to besides my husband, and the extra pair of hands is immeasurably helpful. The spread doesn’t work when I’m suffering both a screaming baby and a screaming teenager. The baby, at least, has a short list of possible needs. The teenager has a complex, nuanced, five-sheet long, 10-point font list of needs, grievances and desires. Wallowing through that and not saying anything that exacerbates the situation is time-consuming.

Even when I can identify the problem, I rarely know for sure whether I should be, (a) telling her to cut the BS or (b) quietly listening to the story she wants to tell me. It’s my job to help her identify and eviscerate emotional hand-wringing. It is also critical that she trust herself and me when dealing with genuine, deeply felt emotions. There is no concrete way to identify which role I’m to inhabit in a given set of circumstances. It’s difficult and I fail regularly.

I do have successful cases in point. (1) Issue: hair length. You’d think that would qualify for “cut the BS,” but it didn’t. The hair issue had everything to do with how feminine or masculine she felt and how her identity was wrapped up in what was expected of her and what she actually wanted. That heady stuff involved a two-hour conversation. (2) Issue: lying to a dear friend. You’d think this would involve some listening and hand-holding and a discussion about the importance of honesty. But I called it a “cut the BS” moment, and it worked. Lying is point blank unacceptable. She owed an apology and an offer to repair, immediately. She spoke to the friend within a couple of hours, cried in shame when the friend gracefully accepted her apology, and their friendship went through a week or so of roughness after which it repaired splendidly.

But I more often fail. I failed when she had her first crush. I admittedly felt uncomfortable with the idea that my little person was harboring adult emotions. I let that insecurity leak out by blowing off her confession to me about who she liked. She reacted by not speaking for over a year to me about it. And when she did finally talk to me, she cried about how I’d missed the ball. That was heart-wrenching. How could I miss that?

Mostly, I’m stuck in the middle. I’m confused about how to proceed, even when my decisions exude confidence. I fear in some situations that present themselves to us, to our family, I am, in any sort of final analysis, no better equipped than she is.

Celeste White is a 34-year-old mother of two who practices law in Lafayette and enjoys reading and running.

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