I know I’m long overdue on posting about Australia and I will soon but I have a question rolling around in my head and I’m very curious to hear about other people’s experiences with their teenagers. Last year I attending a GCSE evening at Patrick’s school and the head teacher was discussing the different tracks the students could take based on their academic performance and long term goals. The way it works in the UK some students would be out of school and into either apprenticeships or the workforce within 2 years, some 3 and most likely a technical school or in Patrick’s case 4 years and then university. As I was sitting there and he was talking about preparing kids to enter the real world it hit me that 4 years isn’t very long and we have this short period of time to prepare Patrick to really be independent. Up until know it has been about teaching him the intangible things that make up a person, how he treats other people, manners, the importance of school, how to love each other as a family. For the next few days I found myself making a list of skills he needs in order to function outside of our home. I am definitely guilty of just doing things myself because it’s easier and I realized that I need to let/make him do some things on his own. I don’t go get laundry out of his room, I at least want him to bring it to me, but I do all the laundry. He has always done little things with me like make cookies but really we haven’t taught him to cook. Jamie needs to teach him how to mow the lawn. All of these little skills that he should know when he does live on his own. Some of these things will come naturally with time, we will teach him how to drive but not at 14. But more importantly I have the Talk in my head about choices that I want to have with him. Shortly after the GCSE night I was telling my girlfriends about this and they were saying that it’s a very American idea that everything that happens to you is a result of choices you personally make but in a lot of ways they agreed with the overall premise. Maybe it’s too many conversations with my Mom about different people and the situations they find themselves in and she will mention that it is a series of choices they have made over the years that lead to where they are today. So here is The Talk I want to have with Patrick and in reality I think it’s a series of smaller talks and conversations over the next few years.
What I really want Patrick to understand is that he will be making a series of decisions. Some of these decisions will be big ones and they will feel like big decisions; do I go to university? Do I want to marry this person? Am I ready to start a family? I hope that we have long conversations as each of those decisions come up like I know Jamie and I did with our parents and I’m not as concerned with those ones because he is a thoughtful boy. I think the tricky part is the decisions that seem small but have a potentially big impact on his long term options. Do I go out drinking with my buddies and skip class for the 3rd day in a row? Does it really matter if I don’t use protection this one time? Do I drive myself home instead of taking a cab? Should I just buy this thing I really want even though I know I can’t afford it? I think each of those types of decisions feels like a small momentary thing but in the long run decisions like those are what can throw someone off path. I really want him to understand that I think we all have made the wrong decision many times, I can remember plenty of times heading into an early meeting with a splitting headache wishing I had skipped happy hour the night before. Jamie and I are still learning about where and how we want to spend our money and those priorities have shifted over the last 5 years as our family has grown and our locations have changed. I’m sure we’ll have to keep learning over the next 25 years. Looking back I feel that I accepted the wrong job when I joined the small recruiting agency. It wasn’t a good fit, I didn’t do well there and I hated it every day but I learned from it and realized that a big company is a better fit for me and then I actively pursued working for Microsoft. He will make bad choices, or maybe choices that aren’t bad but not the ‘right’ choice and then he’ll have to learn how to take responsibility and make things right for himself and I think that is a good thing too.
I want him to understand that sometimes you just get lucky too. When I think of this move to Australia I feel so lucky that there were leaders in the finance org that helped Jamie network and put him in touch with the right people to give him really valuable advice on his career plan and what jobs fit in well for both the long and short term. Had they not taken that extra step I don’t think we would be here today just by submitting a resume through the internal career site. But then I stop and think of how hard Jamie works and how much thought and prep he put into each of those conversations even though they weren’t even interviews, how he has worked long hours since joining the company to earn a good review history and good reputation. Things don’t just get handed to you through no effort on your part. At the same time I want him to know that sometimes you can just have bad luck. People get sick, accidents happen, some things may be harder than you anticipated. I think of family members who have dealt with serious illnesses and there is no way you can just decide your way out of those situations. But, knock on wood, should anything like that ever happen he does have us and we band together and figure it out.
I don’t think this process ends, or at least I haven’t reached the point in my life where you stop feeling like you trying to make the right decision. We’ve discussed and agonized over big decisions like whether or not to move and then again whether to move. Does the benefit of the exposure Patrick is getting outweigh the social strain of moving a teenager twice in 2 years? I don’t know. We tried to make what we thought was the right decision and if a year from now we find that we made the wrong one we’ll do everything we can to try and make it right. But I still feel like I make small decisions every day and I know I don’t make the right ones all the time. Do I lose my temper with the little ones every now and then? How do we set the rules? What rules do we set? How do we give Patrick enough freedom but also keep a close eye on him over the next few years? These are all things I’m trying to do well each day but don’t always succeed at, but I’m trying to learn.
So my question is this. How do you teach these things to a teenager without making them afraid to wake up in the morning in case they make the wrong decision? I never want him to be afraid to fail or set big goals. This isn’t about being perfect. I want him to understand that while we will always be here and be support he is the one who will make this happen for himself. My plan is to start naturally with smaller conversations as different topics come up but by the time he moves to school I hope the message is cemented in his brain. I also think we should probably teach him how to turn on a lawnmower someday soon.