Recently I was having a conversation with my oldest daughter. I asked her if there was one thing she would’ve liked for me have done differently when she was an adolescent. What was one thing she could’ve changed about me when she was growing up? How could I have served her better?
This is a tough question, but one I really think deserves reflection. While I don’t believe in living in the past or fretting over regret, I do believe in helping you guys. So let’s dig in!
Having a teen that likes to live on the wild side, on the edge, or right on the line – I see you. I know how scary that can be, and I know how worried you can be as a mom. The only thing I wanted to do with my teen was to lock her away. If it meant I could keep her safe, I was ready to try any drastic measure necessary.
The thing I started to recognize was that trying to hold her back was making it so much worse. The more I would hold her back, the more she would fight me. The more she would rebel. The more she would push back.
Enough of that, friends. Enough of the power struggle.
Here’s what she had to say. I’m hoping you’ll find it helpful and insightful.
My mom seems to think I had a “wild hair”, and I suppose it’s true. I was never really one to stick to one group of kids – I wasn’t an athlete, didn’t belong to any clubs, wasn’t really into music. I didn’t fit into any true “niche”. Sometimes, I felt a little lost – my brother played collegiate baseball, and my sister sings like a Disney princess.
Maybe it’s that I felt a little … “talent-less”. Maybe it felt like I didn’t really have any kind of tether. I wanted adventure, I wanted to travel and see and do. I wanted to live on the wild side.
And that is, perhaps, what my mom struggled with the most. She often didn’t know how to support my risky behavior. She didn’t understand how to channel it into something positive or purposeful.
A great example of this is in Juarez, Mexico. A few times, I went on a mission trip in high school to Juarez – a dangerous border city that is run almost exclusively by drug traffickers. I wanted to live there for a summer – fully immersed in their culture. The only thing that my poor mother could see was red flags. I realize now why she was so worried.
While she mostly saw red flags, I saw an opportunity. I saw my risk-taking and wild streak as an adventure of a lifetime. I saw it as a chance to explore and move outside of my comfort zone. I saw it as a chance to be away from my mom’s stifling fear.
We recently chatted again about those aspirations for a summer in Juarez. Now, I can tell her what I needed – to feel alive, and to help people, and to feel the sense of adventure that I was so thirsty for. We talked about how my mom could’ve helped my precarious behavior, rather than fearfully trying to control me.
If you’re struggling with your own child that has a “wild hair,” I would vehemently encourage you to find outlets that will support them, while still channeling that wild streak into a positive purpose. Embrace your child. Explore with your child. Take a step out of your comfort zone, take a step away from your desire to control every single situation.
Your child will be so thankful for your supportive gestures, and I can almost guarantee that you will help them find their niche. Not only will you help to “contain” their wild side, but you will build a connection, and a healthier relationship together.
Whew, right? Those are some powerful, important words. And, while I admit that I still struggle with her risk-taking, wild side, we have a much more productive relationship after having this hard conversation. She still loves to work in the inner city, in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. It terrifies me.
There are a lot of times I wonder why she couldn’t be wired differently, which would definitely help me worry less. But that would never help her be the best version of herself. My job as a mom is to grow in trust, to let go, to allow her to live her own life. My job as a mom is to prepare her for the world.
As a mom, one of my greatest desires is to love each of my children for who they are, and less from a place that is in my own comfort zone. And that can be just so, so tough.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you if you have a child living on the wild side is to be proactive. Rather than fighting against their sense of adventure, try instead to create a purposeful and positive outlet. Learn to love your child for who they are, even if that means they are much different than you. As always, we can all grow our capacity to love our children well.